“Hey,” I murmur, and tilt her chin up. “Stop with the crying.”
She wipes her nose with her hand. “Stop with the disappearing,” she says.
“Electrical failure. That’s odd, isn’t it?” Carrick won’t leave it alone.
“Yes, crossed my mind, too, Dad. But right now I’d just like to go to bed and think about all that shit tomorrow.”
“So, the media know that Christian Grey has been found safe and well,” Katherine comments, looking up from her phone.
Well, they snapped me coming home. “Yes. Andrea and my PR people will deal with the media. Ros called her after we dropped her home.”
Sam will be in his fucking element with all that attention.
“Yes, Andrea called me to let me know you were still alive,” Carrick says with a grin.
“I must give that woman a raise,” I mutter. “Sure is late.”
“I think that’s a hint, ladies and gentlemen, that my dear bro needs his beauty sleep.” Elliot gives me a teasing wink.
Fuck off, bro.
“Cary, my son is safe,” Mom announces. “You can take me home now.”
“Yes. I think we could use the sleep,” Carrick replies, smiling down at her.
“Stay,” I offer. There’s enough room.
“No, sweetheart, I want to get home. Now that I know you’re safe.”
I ease Ana onto the couch and stand as everyone starts making a move. Mom hugs me once more and I embrace her.
“I was so worried, darling,” she whispers.
“I’m okay, Mom.”
“Yes. I think you are,” she says, and gives Ana a quick look and a smile.
After some lengthy good-byes, we usher my family, Katherine, and Ethan into the elevator. The doors close and it’s just me and Ana in the foyer.
Shit. And José. He’s hovering in the hallway.
“Look. I’ll turn in. Leave you guys,” he says.
“Do you know where to go?” I ask.
He nods. “Yeah, the housekeeper—”
“Mrs. Jones,” Ana says.
“Yeah, Mrs. Jones, she showed me earlier. Quite a place you have here, Christian.”
“Thank you,” I respond, and place my arm around Ana and kiss her hair. “I’m going to eat whatever Mrs. Jones has put out for me. Good night, José.” I turn and leave him with my girl.
He’d be a fool to try anything now.
And I’m hungry.
Mrs. Jones hands me a ham-and-cheese sandwich with lettuce and mayo.
“Thank you,” I tell her. “Go to bed.”
“Yes, sir,” she says with a sweet smile. “I’m glad you are back with us.” She leaves, and I wander into the living area and watch Rodriguez and Ana.
I finish my sandwich as he hugs her. He closes his eyes.
He adores her.
Can’t she tell?
She waves him off, then turns and sees me watching her. She walks toward me, then stops and stares.
I drink her in. She’s crumpled and tearstained, and she’s never looked more beautiful to me. She’s a welcome, welcome sight.
My throat burns.
“He’s still got it bad, you know,” I murmur, to distract myself from my intense emotion.
“And how would you know that, Mr. Grey?”
“I recognize the symptoms, Miss Steele. I believe I have the same affliction.”
I love you.
Her eyes grow larger. Serious. “I thought I was never going to see you again,” she whispers.
Oh, baby. The knot in my throat tightens. “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.” I try to reassure her. She collects my jacket and shoes from where they lie on the floor and walks toward me.
“I’ll take that,” I say, retrieving my jacket.
And we stand there, regarding each other.
She’s really here.
She was waiting for me.
For you, Grey. When I thought no one would ever wait for me.
I pull her into my arms.
“Christian,” she chokes, and she starts crying again.
“Hush.” I kiss her hair. “You know, in the few seconds of sheer terror before I landed, all my thoughts were of you. You’re my talisman, Ana.”
“I thought I’d lost you,” she says. And we stand. In silence. Holding each other. I remember dancing with her in this very room.
That was a moment to remember. Like now. And I never want to let her go.
She drops my shoes, and it startles me when they bump on the floor.
“Come and shower with me.” I’m filthy from my marathon trek.
“Okay.” She looks up at me but doesn’t release me. I tip her chin back.
“You know, even tearstained, you are beautiful, Ana Steele.” I kiss her tenderly. “And your lips are so soft.” I kiss her again, taking everything she has to offer. She runs her fingers through my hair.
“I need to put my jacket down,” I whisper.
“Drop it,” she orders, against my lips.
Leaning back, she cocks her head, bemused.
I let her go. “This is why.” And from the inside pocket I pull out her present to me.
SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 2011
* * *
Ana glances at her watch and takes one step back as I drape my jacket over the couch and place the box on top.
What’s going on?
“Open it,” she whispers.
“I was hoping you’d say that. This has been driving me crazy.”