AN: As always…I do not own these characters. All rights go to E.L. James
"Betting It All On You"
Ana's pulse fluttered as Hanna's SUV stopped in front of a storm battered house. More than just the roof had suffered from the high winds. Half the front porch was missing and a pile of wood stacked next to a gaping hole in the front yard hinted at a tree that was no more.
A dozen men swarmed the roof and yard. Ana had little trouble spotting Christian's tall form as he jumped off a ladder and headed her way. She snatched her gaze from the worn denim riding his narrow hips and wrapping his powerful thighs. She'd never seen him in jeans before and found the view disconcerting.
His expensive business suits gave him the air of an aloof multimillionaire. Fascinating to look at but remote. The casual clothes made him much more approachable. Touchable. She wanted to hook her fingers into his belt loops and tug him close enough for a long, slow kiss. Heat bloomed in her cheeks as he stopped beside her.
"Hi." Her mouth had gone too dry to offer more. The clean scent of sweat, soap and something uniquely Christian was so tempting, she had to shove her hands into her back pockets to keep from reaching out to him. "Thanks for helping, but you didn't need to."
He, too, wore a hat. The brim shadowed his eyes, forcing her to guess at his mood.
"I'm happy to pitch in."
"I didn't know you could handle a hammer."
"Figured me for a spoiled rich kid, didn't you?
Ana hunched her shoulders. "Can you blame me?" Surrendering to temptation, she took his hand and turned it palm up so she could trace the lines and contours. She discovered rough spots she'd never thought about before, old calluses that revealed he hadn't spent his entire life behind a desk. "You don't have a workman's hands, but they're not exactly soft, either." Not like Boyce's hands. He'd never been one for physical labor.
"You'd better eat. We're only breaking for fifteen minutes." Her brother John held a sandwich in front of Christian's chest and gave Ana a meaningful look. "Why don't you get Christian a bottle of water?"
"Sure." Ana sent her brother a meaningful look of her own and released Christian's hand. When she returned a second later, her brothers had formed a crowd around Christian, blocking her from conversing with him.
Why were they keeping her and Christian apart? Was it to protect her or him? Watching the camaraderie between the five guys, she decided her brothers had come down on Christian's side. Resentment bubbled. Even they didn't think she was good enough for him.
And why was she so close to tears? Maybe it was because she agreed with them.
Christian waited until Ana had driven away with her sisters in law before he returned to work. Repairing roofs hadn't been the plan when he'd drove halfway across Seattle to find Ana. But, now that he was here, he remembered how much he enjoyed the satisfaction of a job well done.
The afternoon flew by. A pleasant ache entered his muscles as he and Ana's brothers accepted the homeowner's thanks and packed up the leftover materials.
"We really appreciated your help," Luke said, slamming the tailgate shut on his pickup.
John nodded. "Never would have gotten it done that fast without you."
"I enjoyed it." Christian joined Luke in the truck and leaned his arm on the open window. "How many more projects you got?"
"How many weeks can you stay?"
Christian laughed but gave the question serious consideration. How long had it been since he'd taken time away from the business to do something he enjoyed? Probably the last vacation had been his honeymoon and he wouldn't exactly call that fun.
The truck sped through town as Luke headed back toward the parsonage. Christian removed his hat and let the wind dry the sweat from his brow and temples. He liked Ana's family. Discovering her father was a religious man had caught him off guard at first.
Why hadn't she ever told him about such an important part of her? What was there to hide about her family? From what he could see, there was nothing to be ashamed of. Each brother was happily married with kids. They had successful careers, good standing in the community.
What else didn't he know?
For three years she'd dressed and behaved in a manner he could only call conservative. Nothing flashy about her clothes or her lifestyle.
Then, in Las Vegas she'd unveiled a different side of herself he'd never dreamed existed. He loved both women and now, after spending time with her family, he'd become that much more determined to keep her in his life.
Christian saluted Luke as he drove away. Hat in hand, he entered the house, eager to talk to Ana. Earlier, when she'd taken his hand and traced the lines on his palm, the simple touch had aroused so much more than his libido. If her brothers hadn't been standing nearby he'd have taken her in his arms and kissed her until she promised to love, honor and cherish him until death did they part.
Not that he was convinced that she'd have him after what he'd said to her.
The turn of the century house contained an empty stillness as he entered. Wood floors creaked beneath his step as he headed for the back door. He paused in the kitchen for a glass of water and caught sight of Ana in the backyard, hoe in hand, tackling the weedy flowerbeds. He stepped onto the back porch to better admire the wiggle of her rear end in denim shorts as she dropped to hands and knees to attack the weeks crowded too close to the perennials to remove with the tool.
He released a sigh. The woman was flat out delightful no matter what angle she presented. Although he admitted a keen appreciation for the sight of her round backside thrust into the air. Grinning, he started down the steps for a closer look.
"You all done with the roof?" She straightened to a kneeling position and smudged her forehead with dirt as she wiped sweat from her brow.
How long had she been aware of him? Did she sense his nearness the same way he noticed hers? As if some invisible cord connected them to each other?
"We finished half an hour ago." He sat down beside her. "Looks like you have your work cut out for you."
"No one has time to keep it up since I left." She returned to her weeding. "Gardening was my mother's love. She designed and planted all these beds. After her stroke, she couldn't take care of them anymore, so I took over." She attacked the invasive plants as if they personally offended her. "I used to hate working in the garden. It would take hours to weed even a single bed. The stupid things seemed to grow ten inches overnight. Mulching helps, but they still find a way in."
"Some things are like that, finding ways to thrive where they're not wanted." He longed to touch her, to get her to take down the wall she'd erected to keep him at bay.
"My mom was the most giving and kind person on the planet. Everyone loved her." She stabbed at the soil with her trowel, loosened a weed's roots from its hold, and flung it aside. The act seemed cathartic. As if she was ridding herself of stuff that bothered her. "She and I never got along. I suppose that makes me sound like a bad person."
She'd never talked about her mother except to say she'd had a stroke around the time Ana had turned fifteen and died a few years later.
"My dad and I don't either," Christian said. "It's not unusual to get along better with one parent than another."
"My dad loved me unconditionally when I was growing up. It was my mom who was always trying to turn me into someone different."
"Less tomboy, more young lady." Ana snorted. "I don't know why she expected me to act like a girl when all I wanted to do was run with my brothers and do everything they did." She drove the trowel into the dirt and sat back to dust off her knees. "See these scars? I got those jumping my bike off the ramp by brothers built in the parking lot behind the church. Busted my arm, too." She shook her head. "But do you think they got into trouble for daring me to try the jump? Nope. I got yelled at for doing something dangerous."
She wrapped her arms around her legs and set her chin on her knees. "Then there was the time when I almost drowned down by the lake because I dove off the dock and went in too steep and hit my head. That was my brothers' fault, but I got banned from the lake for the rest of the summer."
Christian couldn't stop a chuckle. "Sounds like you were lucky to survive childhood. I got to admit, I never pegged you for a tomboy."
"I gave it up when I turned thirteen and figured out boys didn't date girls that could do more tricks on a bike or a skateboard than they could." Her grin came and went. "It was about that time that my mother really had her hands full with me."
He could see where she might have attracted a lot of male attention. "You were a little wild?"
"I was all about acting like that stereotypical daughter of a minister. You know the one who behaves badly because life at home is so restrictive? I felt smothered by expectations of how I should behave and by how small the town was. My future stretched out in front of me like a highway. Empty, flat and endless. Some days I thought I would explode if I didn't get out of here."
It wasn't a stretch to imagine her full of energy and frustration.
While Christian threw away the pile of weeds Ana had pulled, she gathered her gardening tools and put them away in the shed. They entered the house through the back door and headed upstairs to clean up for dinner.
"My dad told me what you asked him," Ana said as she reached her bedroom door. The way her remark came out of nowhere told Christian how much it had been on her mind. "It's nice of you to offer, and all, but I can't marry you."
"Any reason why not?"
"You're marrying me because I'm pregnant."
"In part." He cupped her face and held still until she met his gaze. "But that's not the only reason."
"No one expects you to do the right thing," she said, applying pressure to his chest.
"I expect me to do the right thing." He made sure she saw that he meant every word. "Besides, I don't want to stay a bachelor forever. I built my house with a family in mind. I want you and our baby to be that family."
She shook her head. "This is not the way I saw my future."
"How is it so different? In Las Vegas you resigned because you wanted a husband and children. You will soon have one. Why not the other?"
"Sure, but I never considered marrying you."
"Really?" Doubt and laughter tangled in his voice.
"Really." Her scowl told him she meant what she said.
"My dad thinks you're in love with me."
Her mouth popped open. Outrage brewed in her blue eyes. "I won't deny having certain feelings," she said, her tone tart. "But even if I was madly in love with you, I'm not sure marriage between us is a good idea."
"If you were madly in love with me?" he teased. "You mean you're not?"
"It really doesn't matter if I am or not."
"It matters to me."
"They'll say I seduced you. That I got pregnant on purpose. I'm the one who's going to be looked at as a gold digger."
"No one will dare say anything to you." He kissed her long and slow to soothe her worries, keeping up the gentle pressure until she sagged against him. Only then did he release her lips and begin nibbling down her neck.
"Maybe not, but they'll be thinking it." She tipped her head to offer him better access. "I won't be accepted by anyone."
He never dreamed he would have to convince a woman that marrying him was a good idea. "That's nonsense."
"Is it? Up until five weeks ago, I was your executive assistant. Face it Christian, I'm the last woman in Seattle you'd have picked to marry."
Was she? If she'd said that before Las Vegas he might have agreed with her. Since then she'd become his obsession. "That's not true. Stop telling me all the things you think I need." His ex-wife had been shallow and showy. He'd sworn the next time he married it would be to a woman with depth and concern for more than herself. "You're warm, sensitive and real." He turned over her left hand and traced her lifeline the way she'd done earlier to him. "As much as I appreciate a glossy cover, what I can't get enough of is what's written on the pages between."
She tried to take her hand back, but Christian tightened his grip. Her lashes fluttered as he plied her palm with a soothing massage until her shoulders relaxed.
"I don't fit into you world."
"Stop saying that. I'm not your high school boyfriend."
"You accused me of seducing you to make you believe another man's child was yours."
"That was a stupid reaction to things that happened in my past. I've regretted it every second since it happened. I swear I've learned my lesson. I'll never hurt you again."
"I want to believe you."
Her continued hesitation was scaring him. Christian knew it was time to pull out the big guns. "Maybe this will help."
He scooped something out of his pocket and slid it onto her ring finger. Against her dirty palm, the enormous diamond sparkled like a miniature star.
Groaning. Ana closed her fist, hiding the ring. "It's gorgeous."
"It's a Katherine Grey original," Christian said. "I had her design it especially for you."
"You had it designed for me?" Her resolve began to waver. Katherine took weeks from design to execution. That meant that Christian had been thinking about proposing long before he found out she was pregnant. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"What?" his gray eyes were as dazzling as the diamond clutched in her palm. "Torturing you with expensive engagement rings and marriage proposals?"
"Because I don't want to live without you."
Hope surged in her. "You don't?"
"Of course not." He dusted her lips with his. "I love you."
"You do?" She didn't think she'd ever heard three more wonderful words.
A growl rumbled from his throat. "What do you think I've been saying?"
Ana bit back a flippant reply. She'd been wrong about so much. By not embracing her strength and not trusting Christian to keep her from harm, she'd nearly walked away from the love of her life.
"I love you." She launched herself against Christian's body, pressing her face against his chest. "I love you," she repeated, her declaration fierce and sure. "Marry me before I do something stupid."
Chuckling, he released the loose knot she'd bound her hair into. The strands rushed forward to consume his fingers as he framed her face and gazed down at her. Ana met his grin with one of her own as he lowered his head and kissed her.
Christian tugged her into the bathroom and got them out of their clothes. As hot water poured over them, his hands skimmed her body, his touch equal parts reverence and passion. Ana trembled beneath his gentle kisses, her blood heating to a quiet simmer as he toweled her dry.
"You room or mine?" she quizzed, opening the door to the hall.
He came up behind her and slipped his arms around her. "Which room is closer?"
Voices filtered up the stairway toward them, followed by the thundering feet of excited children.
"You have way too many family members," he groused, dropping his chin onto her head. "Shall we get dressed and go tell them the good news?"
"You know my father and your mother are going to fight over where we should get married." She looked up at him. Her heart expended as she realized this man was going to be hers for the rest of her life.
"That crossed my mind."
"What do you want to do?"
"I don't care as long as it happens sooner rather than later."
"I'm glad to hear you say that." She smiled. "Did you know it's only a fourteen hour drive from Burbank to Las Vegas? If we leave now we could be there in time for lunch."
"Or, we could fly and be there in time for a late dinner." He nudged her inside her bedroom. "After we swing by a wedding chapel, of course."
"Of course." Ana grinned as he left her to go dress and pack.
Five hours later, Mr. and Mrs. Christian Grey checked into the same hotel that had hosted the GEH Executive Conference. As they headed toward the elevators, Ana gazed with longing at the casino.
"We have a bridal suite waiting for us," Christian said.
"Just one spin of the wheel." She smiled at him. For old time's sake? Please.
"One spin." Christian followed her to the roulette table and changed a hundred dollar bill for chips. "Black or red?"
Ana took the chips and put them on red. As the silver ball spun round, she leaned against Christian and for a second it was only them.
"Fifteen black," the dealer called.
"I lost?" She couldn't believe it.
"Lucky at cards, unlucky at love." Christian drew her away from the table. "Looks like your luck has changed."
"It has indeed," she said, snuggling against his side as they headed upstairs to start their honeymoon. "And I couldn't be happier."