THE ROSE

Who would ever have thought that Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele would have Elena Lincoln to thank for introducing them and ultimately saving them from lives of loneliness and lack of love?

Elena Lincoln certainly had other plans for them.

This story is being published completed. A couple of reviewers had mentioned preferring weekly chapters. I'm sorry, dear readers, but this baffles me. I am waiting on at least half a dozen stories at one time and every time a story is updated, I'm left confused to the point that I have to literally begin rereading in order to remember what was going on.

Also, I am very frustrated by those who haven't updated in years.

I need to write to completion in order to revise and proofread properly and, frankly, to not get lost myself.

Since my stories are finished when submitted, clicking on the little favorite heart is really unnecessary and, while it is gratifying and flattering to open my inbox and find 50 new followers, it also leaves me with a whole lot of annoying deleting to do. Therefore, if you wish to compliment or critique the work, please write a review at the end. I do check for those. Thank you.:)

Since I am so new to this, I'm barely able to figure out how to use the submitting page. After I submitted my first (and only other) story, Prisoner of Love, I discovered that despite all my careful attempts to justify my margins, Fan had royally screwed up the margins. Anyone who has any advice, please tuck it into a review.

Also, I didn't realize that Fan Fic would automatically enter an author name. I thought that I needed to do that which resulted in a title of Prisoner of Love by Filly. I'm sure that many of you wondered what the heck "by Filly" had to do with the story.

Finally, my first story was so well received that I now dread submitting my second and disappointing people. Yep, got some vanity going, I guess. However, mostly I write these to amuse myself and try to keep my brain sharp. I also love to spend time with C & A.

So, here is #2. Hope it arrives without too many screw-ups. Oh, to the person who wished I'd use a larger font…at the top of the page you'll see a couple of capital As. These can be used to enlarge the font. I've certainly made use of them .

Also, I don't understand how FanFiction loads (?) stories. It would seem that the latest would be at the top of the list. However, I've been through all 43 pages of listings and have not found my story anywhere. Somehow followers have. I don't understand how. Could anyone enlighten me? Also, I so enjoy your stories as well and thank you.

Chapter 1

Elena was saying something but, as usual, Grey was not listening. She prattled on while he nodded and mumbled. Elena's ego would not permit her to acknowledge that her protégé was tuned out. She prided herself on her control of Grey and so ignored the occasional slippage.

She raised her scrawny arm high in the air and snapped her fingers, signaling her need of a refill of her non-fat latte, without even looking back at the waitress. She considered herself to be superior. She was in full-time dominatrix mode and expected to be catered to without question.

When her cup was not immediately attended to, Elena was forced to look around for her waitress. Brenda, a woman of about 60, was serving someone else, someone less entitled than Elena. Thus, she had not noticed Elena's summons.

Elena glared at Brenda and then snapped at her. "Refill my cup this instant, you bloody cow, or I'll have your job!" Grey shook his head in dismay and cautioned Elena to tone it down. Brenda looked taken aback at first and then frightened. Elena had that effect on people. There was a dangerous glint in her black eyes and a hardness about her red mouth.

Brenda hurried over. Elena did so like it when people scurried at her command. What she didn't like was having her non-fat latte refilled with black coffee. She picked up her coffee mug, now filled with hot liquid and raised her arm, ready to throw the contents into Brenda's terrified face.

In a flash, before anyone noticed that she'd appeared, a woman's small hand flew out, grabbed Elena's wrist and lowered it forcefully to the table. She was faster than Grey who'd been intending the same thing, except that he'd have 'accidentally' dumped the hot coffee into Elena's lap.

Elena looked stunned. People were not to touch Elena. She tried to raise her hand again but the woman's grip was strong. Elena released her hold on the mug and looked up into the smiling visage of a girl no more than 17. The girl picked up the mug and handed it to Brenda, asking her to please remove it to the kitchen. Then she turned back to Elena, still smiling.

"Non-fat latte, wasn't it? I'll return with that in just a moment." Grey was as stunned as Elena but for different reasons. The girl was breathtakingly beautiful. Slim build, long mahogany hair and the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. They were, in fact, mesmerizing. As she walked away, he noted the graceful sway of her hips and the perky ass attached to them. Grey was not an ogler. In fact, he never noticed women much. His mind was always on his business or, if it was a weekend, a satisfying scene with his latest sub in his playroom. His 30 story office building was filled with gorgeous blondes who fainted in his wake but he took no notice of them.

In just moments, it seemed, the girl had returned with Elena's latte. She smiled again and leaned

down to speak softly to Elena.

"One non-fat latte on the house….to go. I put in just a pinch of cinnamon to spice it up."

Elena was staring at the girl. Her dazzling eyes had hypnotized even Elena. However, being Elena, there was no appreciation forthcoming. She had not forgotten the girl's firm hold on her wrist earlier. There must be retribution for her insolent behavior.

Chapter 2

"Your poor attempt to placate me for the horrible service provided by that fat old waitress and for your physical assault on me will not work." Grey thought Elena's haughty screech had reached new heights. His ears hurt. He felt compelled to shut her down and apologize for her rudeness but something about the girl held him back. He wanted to see how she handled Seattle's premier dominatrix.

The girl feigned being puzzled. "Brenda is actually around your age, from the looks of things. As for fat," she stopped and looked back at Brenda standing behind the bar, near tears, "I think of her as plush. Her cozy arms have enveloped me when I've needed a hug. Boney bodies don't offer much comfort. Of course, I don't think that someone like you is in the habit of being a comfort to anyone anyway."

Elena was about to go nuclear while Grey struggled to hold back a roar of laughter. This was good. Oh, my god, this was so good.

With a voice dripping icicles, Elena demanded to speak with the manager immediately. The girl smiled sweetly again. "Well, you're in luck if you insist on immediate. I am the manager."

"What kind of place is this that a child, and one with bad manners, is made shift manager?"

"I am the manager, period. Full time."

Elena's eyes narrowed to slits. "Then summon the owner of this dump. NOW!"

The girl continued to smile while Grey wondered how in the hell she managed her good temper.

"Voila! I am the owner of this dump."

"You're lying. You're no more than a teenager. And you can consider this your last day. When I speak with the owner, you'll be out of job!"

By now, Elena's loud, grating voice had attracted the attention of the entirety of the patrons of the café. As Grey noted their curiosity, he also noted that the place was packed. Every table, every bar stool and a few people gathered near the front, awaiting their opportunity. No one seemed bothered or anxious to leave.

Without so much as a signal from the girl, Brenda rushed over with the framed certificate that had been hanging above the bar. She shoved it in front of Elena's face and pointed to the owner's name. "See there. Anastasia Rose Steele, owner. This place is all hers," Brenda said proudly.

Elena didn't flinch. "Liar," she spat at Anastasia. Then Brenda brought out a picture of Anastasia wearing an apron that said 'The Boss' and posing in front of the café. "Nope", said Brenda, "Ana signs the checks." Elena continued to look skeptical. "You can't be more than 17 years old."

"I'm 22 and you have taken up enough of my time. Now you will take your cup-to-go and, well, go." Ana leaned in to quietly whisper, "Do not return." She took a finally speechless Elena by the elbow and lifted her to her feet, showing her to the door. Grey continued to sit. Elena looked back over her shoulder and said, "Christian, aren't you coming?"

Chapter 3

Christian smirked. "No, I don't think so. I'm hungry. Ms. Steele, could I get another latte and a chocolate scone, please? See you, Elena." Boy, was he going to get a phone call later but he didn't care. He planned to spend the next little while just watching Ms. Steele.

"Here you go, sir," smiled Brenda. "Can I get you anything else?"

"Yes, I want to offer my apologizes for the behavior of my...um...business associate. Her treatment of you and Ms. Steele was inexcusable."

"She isn't the worst we've had in here," shrugged Brenda. "Ana can handle them. So, will that be all?"

"Do you think that I could have a quick word with Ms. Steele, ma'am?"

Brenda looked at her watch and then shook her head. "Ana is gone by now," she hesitated, "I believe that she had an appointment."

Grey simply smiled in return. After all, he could find out all he needed to know about Ms. Steele with one call to Welch… or Barney, if need be. Ms. Steele would not be a mystery for long.

He finished his latte, left an exorbitant tip and headed out to his Mercedes SUV. He handed off the scone to his driver, Taylor, as he passed the door being held for him and slid into the back seat, immediately hitting speed dial.

Grey expected answers and he expected them fast.

Welch was back on the line before Grey exited his car at GEH.

"Ms. Steele is a 4.0 graduate of WSU with dual majors in English Literature and Business with a healthy minor in Finance."

"What the devil is a "healthy minor, Welch?" demanded an irritable Grey.

"It's a minor with just 3 credits short of a major, sir."

"You mean that she completed nearly three majors?" marveled Grey.

"And, sir, she did it in three years on a scholarship while working 40 hours a week. This is a woman with synapses firing off like fireworks."

"How is that possible? She must have had to sleep sometime. What about her personal life?"

"It doesn't appear that she has one. No relationships of any kind listed. Parents deceased. No siblings. No community or church involvement. I'll keep digging but I think she's a machine."

Grey sat flummoxed until his phone's ringtone began playing 'Runnin' with the devil'.

Chapter 4

"Before you even start, Elena, you brought it all on yourself. Your attitude stank. You were beyond rude and I'm not going to defend you."

"But, but," stuttered Elena.

"No buts. You embarrassed me and I can only hope your little display of pique' doesn't find its way into the gossip rags tomorrow. That place was packed with people with cell phones. Your cherished reputation as a lady of high society might be a dirty splatter on the front page of the Seattle Nooz first thing in the morning. Goodnight, Elena."

Christian hung up on his mentor without pausing to hear another word. He knew that she wanted him to justify her boorishness and help her plot revenge. By the look of the place, its popularity would not be affected by any childish vengeance perpetrated by Elena.

When Elena had called that morning and insisted that they needed to hold their monthly meeting at this wonderful new place that she'd just hear about, Grey had been reluctant. He would have preferred to hold no meeting at all. It was ostensibly to be a discussion about Esclava, the beauty salon in which they were partners but Grey truly didn't give a damn about the salon. He was a silent partner, after all, but Elena used their business tie as an excuse to be seen in public with the Christian Grey. Her friendship with him and his family was key to her success among the elite. It was the reason that she was invited to all the right parties where she could meet all the right people.

They usually held their meetings at Grey's office or in a private room at Grey's Mile High Club but Elena was anxious to renew public awareness of their connection. Of course, her excuse to Grey was that it was a rare sunny day in Seattle and they should get outdoors. Grey had his suspicions but following his initial irritation with Elena's scheming, he was pleased.

Pleased because he had met, sort of, the delicious Anastasia Rose Steele. He had not been so taken with a female since he was a mute six year old and his mother had settled him on the sofa and placed into his arms a tiny, cooing baby girl named Mia. He smiled thinking about it. He felt as though joy had walked into his heart when the baby wrapped her wee hand around his index finger. She beamed a toothless grin at him when he looked down at her. For some reason, he began to sing 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' and Mia stopped smiling and, instead, simply stared enraptured up into his eyes.

His adoptive parents began crying and he thought that he'd done something wrong. No matter how much they told him that they loved him, he still braced himself for the day that they realized their mistake. He lifted baby Mia up to them but they sat down on either side of him, wrapped their arms around the couch behind him and kissed his head and called him 'precious, precious boy' while his older brother, Elliot, repeatedly said "Ew."

Now he found himself taken with another female but his intentions toward her were not so innocent. He wanted her all right…. naked and in his playroom.

Chapter 5

Usually Grey felt himself start to come alive late Friday afternoon. His sub would arrive at 8 and within 15 minutes he would be wearing nothing but his faded old jeans and his sub would be wearing nothing whilst kneeling before him, head down, awaiting his instructions. For hours he would feel energized as he played scene after scene with his latest obedient little brunette.

But as this Friday afternoon rolled around he found himself feeling anxious. He didn't know the reason but the closer it got to 8 pm, the more on edge he became. He was still in his suit pants when the elevator bell pinged. He saw Sara, his sub of just 2 weeks, walk quickly past his study on her way to the playroom. The study door was only slightly ajar so she didn't notice him sitting in the dark at his desk. She would go straight to the playroom, he knew, and await his entrance.

An hour later Grey was still sitting in his study. He was a master Dom of Seattle and he was hiding in his study from a 110 lb. brunette who wanted him to cuff her, bind her, blindfold her, spank her with paddles and beat her with floggers and belts before pounding himself into her with brutal force. Her contract had no limits. She was a pro with a superior pain tolerance. Well, tolerance wasn't exactly the correct term. Craving was more like it. She'd left her previous dom because he couldn't deliver the strong discipline that she desired.

By 9:00 Grey knew that he could no longer avoid Sara. He knew that she had spent the last hour kneeling with her legs growing increasingly numb and achy and he knew that she was probably enjoying the pain. Still, she anticipated sexual release and he knew that for some reason he couldn't give it to her tonight.

By 9:10, Sara was dressed, disgusted and dismissed. By 9:30 she would be demanding the return of her fee from Elena, a fee of which Grey was unaware and by 10:00, Elena would be trying to tear Christian a new one. By 11:00, Grey would be lying in bed, eyes open and sleepless, completely perplexed.

He knew only one thing and he didn't know why that one thing even mattered but it did. He knew it as truly as he'd ever known anything. He wanted Ms. Steele.

By 6:55 a.m. Christian was standing outside of The Rose Café, waiting for signs of life from within. He had played piano until nearly 3 a.m., going over and over in his head what he needed to do. It didn't make much sense to him what he needed to do…what difference it would make in his life. He'd, after all, seen her only once for a few minutes.

The lights within flickered on. A young woman tying on an apron walked to the door, unlocked it, and flipped the sign to OPEN. Then, showing no sign of recognition, Ana turned and walked back into the café toward the kitchen, calling out over her shoulder, "Good morning. Sit wherever you like and someone will be right with you."

Grey sat at a corner table not knowing that this would be his seat for many mornings to come.

Chapter 6

Ana made her way back to the kitchen. She'd been up most of the night. Sleep wouldn't come.

This was nothing new for Ana. Heck, throughout most of high school and college she'd slept maybe 3-4 hours a night. She'd been okay until the car crash the night of her 14th birthday. After that she'd had a breakdown and sleep became an anomaly in her life. Sleep no longer meant rest and peace. It meant nightmares, horrible dreams of screaming metal and shattering glass and mighty pools of blood. It meant loss of such depth that the heart could not comprehend surviving it.

Without sleep to occupy her nights like most people, Ana turned elsewhere to fill her time and her mind. The state put her into foster care and Ana put herself into books and school. The usual classes and assignments did not suffice so Ana took more classes when other students were using study hall time to finish homework so that they could party all weekend.. By her junior year, she'd finished most of the work necessary to complete high school and had begun to take college level course work. She'd won a scholarship to WSU and began college in earnest. She aged out of the state foster system so she worked a full-time job to support herself and to buy supplies and books. She needed still more to occupy her time so she took more and more classes….nights, weekends and independent study. Her professors and classmates thought that she was a bloomin' genius but she laughed at that. She was smart, yes, but mostly, she simply had time.

As her college time wound down, she became concerned about how to fill the sudden deluge of time coming her way. She knew that an insurance trust established by her parents would be released to her upon her 20th birthday. She'd learned enough through her business and finance classes to chance running a business. She also knew that a business selling fresh-baked goods would require exceptionally early hours. Thus, she opened The Rose, named after her mother. It would necessitate many hours and perhaps even exhaust her enough to sleep. Also, she loved the fragrance of a bakery.

Ana found a nicely sized space close to the GEH building which would provide a good customer base. Aside from a few professionals to deal with utilities, she used YouTube tutorials to learn how to renovate an old store front. She found deals on kitchen equipment; so many restaurants had short lives. She painted walls and ceilings, restored wooden tables and chairs and essentially put the whole place together herself. With 20 hours to her days, the work went quickly. She found bartenders named Harry and Bill and because she was available most of the open hours, she needed only Brenda and Naomi to waitress.

Within a month she was up and running. She didn't advertise. Word of mouth spread fast and within a year she was successful and in the black. She was proud, busy and, as always, dead on her feet. She sometimes wondered how long her body could continue.

And now she wished that she'd taken law classes as well. That bitch she'd booted out earlier in the week had just served her papers. Ana was being sued in civil court for assault and a few fancy law violations that she didn't even know existed.

Chapter 7

Perhaps it was the scones she'd burnt at 5 a.m. while distracted by the law tutorials she was studying on YouTube but Ana was tuning out her surroundings. It wasn't that she was unaware of good looking men and, of course, she'd noticed the incredibly handsome man sitting with the bitch last Tuesday. However, she doubted the character of anyone who'd associate with such a creature. Brenda was quite motherly toward Ana and for a girl who'd never really had much of a mother, that was, indeed, an attractive quality. She unabashedly treasured Brenda and it had taken every ounce of her self-control to keep from dousing that woman with the hot coffee with which she'd tried to burn Brenda.

And that man just sat there…like a bump on a log. Ana suspected that he was the bitch's boy toy.

Ana was always first in and last out. She handled everything by herself until 8 a.m. when Harry and Brenda arrived for the first shift. Thus, she would have to serve the bump. She growled quietly before turning to walk to his table wearing a labored welcoming smile.

"Good morning, sir. Are you dining alone or would you like to wait until your companion arrives," asked Ana, privately thinking that his cougar had better not be coming in or there would be blood to clean up.

He seemed to read her mind, smirking that he would be alone today.

"You left the other morning before I had the chance to apologize for my companion's behavior."

"That's quite all right, sir. It really wasn't your apology to make," Ana replied with a professional smile.

"I'm wondering what you must think of me being with such a person," Grey said.

"Please don't concern yourself, sir," Ana coldly smiled, "I really wasn't thinking of you at all."

Inside she was laughing at the chagrined expression on Grey's face while inside he was screaming 'Ouch!'

"Tuesday you ordered a non-fat latte and a scone…chocolate, I recall. Would you like that again?"

Grey stared up at Ana. He hadn't yet recovered from being verbally slapped before he was being amazed at her ability to remember his order. From that he went straight to succumbing to speechlessness as he got lost in those killer blue orbs in that sweet, sweet face.

Ana was growing impatient with this pretty boy. Well, okay, he wasn't just pretty. He waselectric and she was not unaffected.

Men normally made little impression on her but this one…this one was different…and different was dangerous.

Chapter 8

Somehow Grey found his tongue…although imagining what he'd like to do with it was making it hard for him to sit comfortably. Ana was holding her order pad, tapping it impatiently with her pen. He figured that in about a second from now, she'd be shoving the pointed end up his nose.

"Yes, the same, please. That's quite the memory you have for someone who's been here once."

Ana made a quick note on her pad, holding her tongue, and motioned to the free copies of the Seattle Times sitting on the counter. "Borrow a copy, if you like. We ask only that you return it in the same condition when you leave. I'll be right back with your order," she said as she wheeled on her ballet flats and walked away.

And there they were again…those hips, that ass. Mocking him and almost screaming NO!

Grey had not been told no since he dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year.

Not that a few CEOs hadn't tried...and failed. But women, never. He tried to recall but no, no… women gave him whatever he wanted from them. Indeed, it was women who heard no from him. So, why, he pondered, did he actually like NO from Anastasia Steele?

He didn't go to quaint cafes at 7 a.m. He didn't care for lattes and he'd never eat a sugar soaked scone. He liked his women obedient and subservient, for the most part. His #2 Ros Bailey, his mother, Grace and his sister, Mia…they were the only females in his life who were allowed to treat him as an equal. What was he supposed to do with this one? He didn't even know how to have a conversation with her. Not that she seemed inclined to bother with him.

Maybe he could ask Elliot to come with him to The Rose. Elliot certainly knew how to talk to women. Grey could listen and maybe pick up a few pointers. On the other hand, Elliot didn't currently have a girlfriend and he'd get one look at Ana and….

No, Elliot must not know of this café. Grey did not want to have to kill his big brother.

"Here you go, sir. Now, is there anything else you'd like before I leave you?"

Grey looked up from his contemplation of the table top into the kind eyes of…Brenda.

Hah! So, he did have an effect on Ana…of one kind or another. Probably the other.

"Thank you, ma'am. This will be fine."

As Brenda walked away, Grey pulled out his phone and speed-dialed Elliot.

"What the fuck, man! It's 7:15 in the god damn morning. You'd better be dying, Christian."

"Sorry, El. I forgot the time. I need some help with something. Hmmm…I need to know how to talk to a girl." Grey felt like a fool but he knew that he'd have to suck it up.

"Huh?" guffawed Elliot, "so you are dying…"

Chapter 9

"Is he still out there?" Ana asked Brenda as she returned from the dining room. Ana was pouring over YouTube law tutorials in the corner of the kitchen that she used as an office.

"Yep. Looking kinda hangdog, too. He sure is a looker. I'm way too old for him but I think I'm flushing a bit. And don't lecture me about pride, missy, I'm only looking…sorta like I'd admire fine art that I know I can't afford."

"I'm pretty sure that no one can afford that particular piece of art, Brenda," sniped Ana. "Besides, I'm also pretty sure that he is bought and paid for by that bitch cougar who brought him in here yesterday. I don't know what he's doing back here but I'm glad you came in early."

Brenda looked dumbstruck.

"You don't know what he's doing back here?! You can't be that clueless! He left a puddle of drool on the table after you walked away!"

Ana tilted back in her chair, banging against the fridge and laughing in astonishment at Brenda's suggestion that that gorgeous man could be interested in her. When Ana looked in the mirror, she saw a plain face with messy brown hair and basic blue eyes. She was too skinny to have much shape and too short in a world obsessed with 5'10" blonde models.

"Men come in asking for dates with you every day, Ana," Brenda pointed out.

"Yeah, they're usually around 50, paunchy, and married, Brenda," Ana said, returning fire.

"Besides, I'm not interested. Harry and Bill are all the men I can handle."

"What makes you think that you can handle this, little girl?" Harry challenged, puffing out his chest as he exited the kitchen, heading for the bar and the incoming latte crowd.

Ana got up from her chair, leaned through the swinging doors and giggled at Harry's retreating posterior. "Because, according to your paychecks, you are bought and paid for, cutie pie!"

Meanwhile, Grey sitting in a still quiet café, could hear Ana laughing. His heart lurched. Then he heard her giggle and he was a goner. He left his untouched latte on the table and wrapped the scone in a napkin.

He handed off the scone to Taylor who mused that if his boss kept coming to The Rose , his driver and CPO was going to need to go on a diet. They were exceptional pastries and this coming from a man who got to eat Gail's cooking. Of course, Gail never baked for the boss, the health nut, but she loved to bake and Taylor loved Gail so….

"It's Saturday, Taylor. Why don't you take Gail to the movies? I'll work at home."

Good grief, thought Taylor, it's the end of days.

Chapter 10

Grey leaned back in his desk chair in his study, twirling around in circles. He'd been at it for 2 hours, stopping occasionally to let the dizziness subside. He had gotten nothing done vis-à-vis GEH and was finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for mergers and acquisitions. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw oceans of blue looking back at him. It was seriously fucking with his mind.

The elevator bell pinged. Thank god, thought Grey. He'd been waiting on Elliot and what he was sure would be useless advice on women. Still, it was all Grey had at the moment and he was getting to be a desperate man. How the hell did that happen? All he'd done was go out to coffee and 5 days later he was spending a working morning spinning in his chair while staring at his ceiling.

As he sat up to greet his brother, he heard the clattering of stilettos bearing down on his office at a furious pace. Shit, shit, shit. It was about to hit the fan.

The study door flew open and slammed up against the opposite wall as Elena stomped through in six inch Louboutins, eyes wild with fury, frothing at the mouth.

"I am going to kill that little miscreant, that rube, that, that"….Elena was choking on her own bile.

It infuriated her even more to see Christian so calm and unaffected by the indignity that had been visited upon her, his only and dearest friend.

"You act as if you don't even care for my feelings!" Elena said as she flung her anger at him.

"Depends," Grey answered with fake innocence on his face. "Who is that you want killed

and why?"

"You know perfectly well. That rude, insufferable brat from the café. Have you seen the Seattle Nooz or social media? That lowlife had all her customers film her behavior toward me and then edit it to make me appear to be the villain!"

"I was there, Elena. You were the villain," Grey responded blandly. He didn't give a damn about her feelings. He just wanted her to go someplace else to grumble about her 'loss of dignity'.

"Well, I'm going to add libel to the list of things I'm suing her for. I'll bury her so far under lawsuits that she'll have to shut down her precious café and she won't be able to find even a waitressing job anywhere in Seattle. She'll regret trying to make me look the fool. I'm too important in this city to let this pass unpunished."

Elena was so consumed with loathing for Ana and concern for her public image that she didn't notice the dangerous darkening in Christian's eyes and the way his hands were now closed into fists.

Chapter 11

Like a bolt of lightning Grey was across the room, pinning Elena against the wall. For a moment or two he saw a satisfying flash of real fear in her cold eyes. It passed only because a dominatrix like Mrs. Lincoln didn't feel fear like real people. She was accustomed to rather being the cause of others soiling their undergarments and her own emotions had long ago been reduced to nothing more than rage. Most of the time, she felt nothing but extreme self-satisfaction. This was the state of mind she believed was due her so all the more reason she despised the waitress who made her feel the unusual state of embarrassment.

The fear faded from her eyes even as Grey held her to the wall by her wrists while his menacing glare lasered a hole through her. She was enjoying his control over her. It had been a long time since she'd taught him to be a Dominant by offering herself as his sub. She idly wondered if she could seduce him into taking her to his playroom. Meanwhile, however, his steely grip on her wrists was growing tighter and was bound to leave marks which would interfere with her wardrobe choices. Thus, she needed to end this scene.

"Christian, darling. What's come over you? You're hurting me," she whimpered, unconvincingly.

Grey laughed…as if Elena could be hurt. He knew that she was actually pleased with his closeness and his touch and he suddenly felt too repulsed to be within range of her. He pushed himself off and turned his back on her. Now, that would bother her, he grimaced to himself.

"Hear me, Elena," he said, looking out the window. "Whatever you have planned as revenge I want it stopped. Now. Understood?"

The fierceness in his tone was unusual and aroused Elena's curiosity.

"Are you actually interested in that little guttersnipe?"

"I know that you terminated Sara after just 2 weeks. She was perfection. I trained her myself for your specific needs. She's actually blonde, you know. She was up for anything and, my god, you could cane her within an inch of her life and she'd love it. She told me what happened and I must say that I am baffled."

Elena was having a slight moment of sincerity. She also regretted having to offer Sara a partial refund of her "finders" fee. Grey didn't know that Elena supplemented her income with $10,000 charges for referrals to the Christian Grey. Every girl wanted him and the cars he gifted them and the wardrobes and the jewelry. He was a drop-dead gorgeous sucker who believed sob stories about ill grandparents who needed $100,000 for medical expenses.

"Geez, Elena, you think you know me so well. If you did, you'd know that I don't want to beat anyone nearly to death. I remember well your "classroom" where I spent a lot of time being unconscious thanks to your "training". I like my partners sentient and participating." Grey understood that Elena was perfectly capable of the worst brutality.

Chapter 12

He wondered, in fact, if she ever had actually taken a life. She was a harsh and savage mistress. After what she put him through, he'd determined to be nothing like her. He was, in fact, known as a kind and thoughtful Dom. He was, therefore, able to obtain only the best submissives. He'd made a few enemies in the BDSM community by poaching subs although he was unaware of it. Elena had done the actual poaching but she'd also made sure to give the impression that Grey was the culprit. This subterfuge kept her in good standing in the community and weakened Grey's position.

The Seattle BDSM community included judges, attorneys, the police commissioner, surgeons, many CEOs and a host of other prominent and influential members of the city. As BDSM was socially unacceptable, Elena had fashioned herself into one of the most powerful in its community. She could push any button she wished. She'd already sent her friend from the health department to harass that simpleton owner of The Rose. He'd assured her that he'd be able to find something. He'd once destroyed a restaurant that offended Elena with an medium steak when she'd ordered well-done. This little start-up of Ms. Steele's would be a piece of cake. He'd laughed at his clever pun. Elena didn't.

She was especially not laughing when he returned to say that The Rose was the cleanest café he'd ever seen. You could, he threw in a nice cliché, actually eat off the floor. Again, he laughed. Again, Elena didn't. Within days, his long-time sub had quit and he couldn't find another. He also found himself blackballed from the clubs. He concluded Elena's involvement but, despite her suggestion that she could help him find a new sub if he found damning "evidence" against Ms. Steele, he refused. He would have had to smuggle a dead rat into the place in his pocket. He would have had to commit fraud. Mostly he would have had to terribly wound the charming, lovely Ana Steele, which he could not bring himself to do. Instead, he became one of her regulars. He especially loved her red velvet cupcakes.

So now Elena would have to use the law to destroy this wee worm. It would, unfortunately, cost her to file suits. She knew lawyers who owed her favors but the clerk of court had a fee schedule that Elena couldn't avoid. Still the thousand or so in fees would be worth it. She was sure that Ana Steele couldn't afford $500 an hour for attorneys to fight suit after suit. Certainly most would be thrown out as frivolous but the damage would be done. The Rose would be bankrupt. Elena smirked.

Let Christian growl about it. When he saw the snot running out of Ana's nose as she wailed at the closing of The Rose, he'd turn from her in disgust. If a sub of his ever cried, she would be immediately terminated. He hated such weakness. And Elena would wear Ana down, day after day, week after week, until her glossy hair was a dull bird's nest, her shiny eyes faded and her plumb lips quivered with despair.

Yes, she would help Christian to see that Ms. Steele was just another common girl…not at all worthy of the man Elena had created

Chapter 13

The elevator bell pinged again and the sound of heavy boots clomping down the hall signaled the arrival of Elliot.

Christian cringed. First, the boots of the CEO of Grey Construction were probably leaving a trail of muddy clumps across the pristine marble floors of Grey's penthouse. Secondly, Elliot would question the presence of Elena Lincoln in Grey's inner sanctum where few were allowed.

Christian's eyes flashed a signal to Elena and she understood to be discrete.

Elliot was a big guy who generally dwarfed everyone else in a room, even his 6 foot brother. Right now his heavily muscled bulk was filling the doorway as his green eyes took in the sight of the hag Lincoln in his little brother's study. He knew, of course, that Lincoln was close to Christian but he sure as hell hated it. Her proximity to both his brother and his mother made his skin crawl. Why could neither of these, two of the most intelligent people he knew, see through this bottle blonde with the leather suits, the stilettos and the red talons. She was a feral thing…vicious and vile.

"Mrs. Lincoln," Elliot nodded, gruffly.

"Oh, so formal, dear. I've known you since Grace and Carrick first gave you refuge. Please call me Elena, Elliot. "

Christian sighed. Refuge, indeed. "Elena, we were not given 'refuge'. Our parents adopted us, made us their children."

Elliot grinned with a touch of evil as he replied to Elena's insinuation. "Too bad you weren't given 'refuge', Mrs. Lincoln. "It must have been tough growing up in state care. It's a shame that your drug-addled parents wouldn't agree to let you be adopted. How many different homes were there? 15? And, gosh, all that back and forth between your briefly rehabbed parents and then back to juvenile housing and into a foster home yet again. It's a wonder that you aren't totally screwed up."

Elena's face was blood red as Elliot faked an expression of pity while reminding her of her humble origins. Christian stood off to the side, hands in his pockets and head down to hide his amusement. However, he needed to end this before Elena's claws ruined his brother's pretty face and tore out his blonde hair.

"I'm sorry, Elena, I'll have to catch up with you later. Please remember what I advised. Your agreement would be best for the salon, don't you think?"

Elena walked out the door without a word but even over the noise of her stilettos clacking on the marble floors, she could hear the roars of derisive laughter coming from the study.

Chapter 14

By 3:30 the lunch rush was over and it would be another hour before the dinner rush began. So the café was quiet. Ana used the time to go over her defense for the upcoming civil suits that Elena had filed against her. She'd gone over everything she could find online and several of the GEH staff attorneys who came to The Rose for lunch had gone over her case and advised her on how to proceed. They wanted to handle her defense for her but that would require asking their CEO for pro bono time and going up against his friend, Mrs. Lincoln. Ana had been turned down by several at large attorneys and couldn't shake the feeling that they were nervous even talking with her. So, she was on her own but that was nothing new. It's just that there was so much at stake…her café, her employee's jobs.

"Ana, Ana," Naomi called to her, shaking her out of her reverie. "That guy who always comes in for cupcakes is here. Should I serve him?"

"What? Oh, no, no. I'll take care of it."

Ana put a cup of coffee and a red velvet cupcake on a tray and took it out to the middle aged man waiting with a smile.

"Good afternoon, Ana!"

"Hi, Ralph," smiled Ana graciously. Ralph had done the surprise health inspection of her business a few weeks ago. It was a surprise because, Ralph revealed, there had been a complaint lodged against The Rose. Ana suspected Elena Lincoln, of course, but it didn't worry her. Ralph had given an honest report on the café. She had to smile at what she imagined Mrs. Lincoln's reaction had been. She probably tried to bribe Ralph to "find" mouse droppings.

"My wife is jealous, you know. I don't get this excited about her baking," smirked Ralph.

"Well, you'd better start or you'll be eating all your meals here at The Rose," warned Ana with a grin.

Around 4:30 the senior citizens would start arriving. A lot of them came on the bus from the retirement home 2 miles down. It was a nice place with a lovely park next door…lake, ducks, that sort of thing. Ana really enjoyed the elders. She'd never had grandparents so she kind of latched on to some older people because they were so warm and kind and made her feel cared for. It was illusionary, of course. By 5:30 they were gone and the dinner crowd started arriving.

Sometimes, after Naomi and Bill left at midnight and Ana locked up, the loneliness would hit her without warning. Then she would wash the floors, the kitchen, even the walls… get supplies ready for baking at 5 a.m. and head upstairs to her apartment.

Often she'd collapse on her couch, wake up at 4 a.m. and after washing up, head back down wearing the clothes she'd worn the day before.

She never thought to wonder if she was living much of a life.

Chapter 15

For several weeks, Christian had been a 7 a.m. regular at The Rose. It was the only time he could be sure that Ana would be his waitress instead of Brenda. He tried to order something different every day; otherwise, Ana wouldn't stop at the table. She'd just have a latte and a scone waiting at "his" table. He was always polite; she was always cold. He couldn't figure out where he was going wrong. Elliot had coached him but nothing was working.

Damn it. If it hadn't been for Elena, he might have worked through his issues and gone on to have normal relationships. He'd have learned how to talk to girls. Now he was just a bumbling adolescent in CEO clothing. He wanted so badly to just have a friendly conversation with Ana—one where he could sit and look into her blue eyes and listen to her laugh. Sometimes he heard her laugh with other people in the café. He loved to listen but he was also eaten up with jealousy.

He wanted to make her laugh. He couldn't recall a time when he'd ever made anyone laugh. He wanted to be silly for her so that he could hear her giggle. He wanted her to feel safe with him. He wanted her to talk to him all the time and tell him stories about her day and her life. He wanted a reason to work regular hours so they could have dinner together. He wanted to take her home to meet his family. He wanted…he wanted… He just wanted her.

Christian had never before been aware of loneliness. He'd been so consumed with Elena and her 'tutelage' of him and then with building his company that he never thought about being alone. During the week, he had Gail, his housekeeper and Taylor. From Friday night through to Sunday afternoon, he had subs. He, therefore, never considered himself to be alone. Sometimes, although his family thought too few, he would spend Sunday afternoons at Grey Mansion but he preferred to work in his study. He loved his family but he was not good company. He had the sense of humor of an elk in rut. He rarely spoke and rarely responded with more than a grunt. Why the heck they wanted him around he didn't know.

Elliot dropped by uninvited frequently and he often found Mia waiting for him when he got home. Thank god she was busy clubbing on Friday and Saturday nights or things could have gotten awkward what with subs running around naked. Then, of course, his mother dropped by often on Sunday mornings before her shift began at the hospital. One of his subs tried to do a meet and greet with Dr. Trevelyan before Christian stopped her. That was Judith's last weekend.

With all this going on, Christian had always felt lacking in alone time rather than being lonely.

Until that first day at The Rose. Until those blue eyes and that hair and that body and that feisty spirit. Until Anastasia Rose Steele.

And now, the only time that he didn't feel lonely as all hell was when he sat at his table in the corner, his back against the wall, at 7 a.m. in The Rose Café. The only time he felt alive was when he ordered his latte and his scone as Ana stood over him, looking down at him as if he were dog droppings.

He was lonely now. Lonely for Ana.

Chapter 16

Ana, too, was beginning to recognize loneliness. It's having been her companion all her life, she knew nothing else. Both of her parents had been losers at life, kept afloat mostly by their tiny daughter since she was 5 and old enough to realize that her daddy needed his beer and her mommy needed her drugs. Her 6th Christmas, Ana had walked herself down to the store Santa and requested a toy wagon. The kindly Santa had asked her if she intended to give rides to her dollies. She matter-of-factly replied that she had no dollies but she needed the wagon to give her daddy's beer bottles rides back to the grocery store.

When the toy wagon failed to appear on Christmas morning, Ana gave up on magical elves and simply swiped the necessary funds from her mother's purse. There were so many bottles that the deposit returns could pay for a loaf of Wonder bread and a jar of peanut butter which Ana wisely stored under her bed. Her parents rarely remembered that little girls needed to eat now and again.

St. Dominic's was the closest school so Ana followed her 7 year old next door neighbor one day and began going to school. None of the sisters thought to call social services but they did find used uniforms for Ana and, thus, for the remainder of her elementary school education, Ana had clothes. She was the brightest and hardest working child in her class so although her parents were rarely seen, it was assumed by the nuns that Ana was being looked after.

She earned money babysitting, mowing grass, cleaning and other chores that enabled her to support herself. Her father earned enough as a farm hand to buy beer and Hershey bars, his basic diet. Her mother made drug money working as a prostitute on the weekends. If they hadn't crashed their ancient truck the night of Ana's 14th birthday, killing themselves and hospitalizing their daughter, Ana might have been home free in another few years. As it was, she spent 4 years moving from foster home to foster home. She considered herself lucky. Her caretakers were mostly just neglectful and only occasionally abusive. If Ana felt endangered physically, she would take the bus to the nearest clinic or sometimes fire station to show off her latest injuries and thus get herself removed from the situation and into somewhere less lethal.

Her high school years were problematic for her teachers. They needed her suggestions on how to keep her busy. She would finish her textbooks and assignments a few weeks into the new semester. As they sat staring at her in the perplexed principal's office, she would gently suggest that they allow her to move onto the next semester's work. She spent most of her freshman and sophomore years reading and completing course work on her own in the library. Then a kindly counselor settled Ana into a series of college level programs. By the time that Ana graduated from high school with her classmates, she was really a college sophomore and a stranger to her fellow students. The counselor easily secured a full tuition scholarship to WSU for Ana. Ana found a couple of part-time jobs and at the age of 18 was a fully independent adult.

That her life never included friends or family seemed not at all strange to Ana. She'd loved her parents but they had, after all, been too much responsibility.

Chapter 17

"Miss Steele, why won't you talk with me?" Was that pathetic? Grey wondered. Yes, yes, it was. She would smirk at him and sashay away.

"Miss Steele, you look exceptionally lovely this morning and I would like to know how you are."

No, she would think him chauvinistic to comment on her appearance and intrusive to enquire about her well-being.

"Miss Steele, I sleep even less than normally and I've begun eating the scones because my driver's wife is getting concerned about his growing girth and I'm incapable of wasting food."

Oh, god! He'd said that one out loud and she was gaping down at him

She was staring at him now, with concern in her eyes. It was the longest she'd ever looked at him. "Sir, are you unwell?

This was his in!? He idly considered imbibing mild doses of arsenic.

"I didn't realize that I'd said that out loud. Your pastries are excellent, my driver tells me and he eats regularly at the Mile High Club. Mia is also a Parisian trained pastry chef. She'd like to open her own shop but, knowing Mia, I'm sure that my investment would be money down a rat hole."

And then… she laughed. Ana laughed. He had made Ana laugh! Probably at his verbal diarrhea but still…..

He was simply staring at her in wonder. She noticed the intensity of his gray gaze and blushed.

Oh, god, he marveled. She blushes. I didn't think that she could be anymore adorable.

"Is Mia your girlfriend?" Ana giggled. Now was not the time to tell her that he didn't do 'girlfriends'. I don't have girlfriends, per say, but I could offer you a very nice contract, the best quality in ropes and handcuffs….

"Mia is my baby sister. She lacks drive and direction. She's the opposite of you except that she is also quite beautiful." Ana scowled for a moment. Oh, lord, had he'd blown it?

"What is it about my scones that you dislike,?" she wanted to know, indifferent to the comment on her beauty. She sat down in the chair next to him. He felt nervous with her so close.

She was sitting. Next to him. She smelled of bread baking and jasmine and soap. He crossed his legs to hide his sudden erection and wrapped both of his hands around his steaming mug of coffee to keep from wrapping them around her face.

He couldn't think of what to say. His brain was racing. How to keep her next to him. How to keep her talking to him. How to keep from falling off his chair.

Chapter 18

"I'm sorry," frowned Ana. "That was selfish of me to worry about my scones."

Selfish? Grey considered himself to be a very selfish man. True, he gave millions to charity and he single-handedly supported the agriculture projects at WSU that could give millions of people in poor countries better soil conditions, better farming. He and his family had built half of his mother's hospital. But these were all things important to him. He did them for himself. Selfish.

"There is nothing about your baked goods to dislike. They are exceptional. I really like the raspberry truffle scones. It's just that I try to eat healthy and, well"….his thoughts trailed off.

"Sugar isn't healthy," Ana guessed, smiling, at him!

"I've been developing healthier alternatives, esp. for my diabetic customers, using Splenda. Quite a few of my elders have Type 2 so I'm working on no sugar, low to no carb meals. The low carb part is difficult and I've been distracted of late so…."

"Why don't you sleep?" she asked, her eyes so kind and soft and shiny. Oh, couldn't he kiss her, just a little, a peck perhaps? He'd keep his tongue in his mouth, he promised the gods of kissing.

"I've never slept well. I have nightmares. Lately, I, too, have been distracted. I've encountered a problem new to me and I'm at a loss as to how to deal with it."

"Perhaps if you ask yourself if the problem is really all that important to bother with, you'd find that it isn't and you could forget about it," she kindly suggested.

Grey looked at her for a long moment, as if considering her suggestion. She, he knew, would never be his sub. It was his lifestyle, all he'd known and he liked it. Elena told him that he was born to be a dominant and that "normal" attachments were not for him. How could he walk away from it?

"No," he continued looking into her eyes, "I don't think I could ever forget my "problem".

No, Ana, I am no longer merely attracted to you or curious. I'm in deep. Even after that first day, I couldn't have walked away. I don't even have the will to attempt it.

He decided to redirect the conversation.

They were having a conversation! He inwardly beamed.

"May I ask, what is your distraction?" I'll fix it. Whatever it is, consider it gone. Except for the baking issue. And can diabetics eat grilled cheese?

Ana sighed. God, even her sighs turned him on. He had to find a flaw in this girl soon or he'd be living in a permanent trance.

"It's kind of you to care but it's my problem. I'll handle it…somehow. It's what I do."

Chapter 19

Ana couldn't sleep. She accepted it. Tomorrow…today? was one of the most important days of her life. She'd been over and over the materials, the witness list. She practiced her opening and closing. She'd questioned and cross examined her hat rack. There was nothing left to do but worry. She'd never worried much in her life unless one counted her breakdown after the crash. Her parents were never more than issues with which to deal which she handled as efficiently as possible.

She had no memory of how she'd survived the first 5 years of her life and she was curious about that. Surely she hadn't changed her own diapers. Of course, it was possible that she wasn't diapered at all. How was she fed? she wondered. Babies need milk for at least the first six months, right? Ana chuckled at the idea of her mother or father having the coordination or inclination to mix formula and infants couldn't hold bottles anyway.

Well, anyway, her first memory was of picking up beer bottles and moving them to their own corner because she couldn't walk very well and kept falling over them. She also remembered climbing onto the kitchen counter to inspect the cabinets for the possibility of food. She knew that she wasn't yet three. Generally, she had a very serviceable memory. Her first clear memories were around 4 when she came to realize that things needed doing and her parents needed taking of…and so she did. It never occurred to her to think otherwise.

Her apartment above The Rose was immaculate. She spent most of her time downstairs and only slept upstairs. Every day she wore the same combination of white t-shirt, black skinny jeans, apron and little ballet flats so laundry consisted of washing out panties in the kitchen sink once a week. She periodically bought a new set of panties with the days written on the back. She'd been in that habit since she was able to buy clothing. It was efficient, made it easy to keep track of her underwear….and the day of the week.

Seattle was frequently rainy and there was a winter season of sorts. Sometimes there were a few inches of snow. Thus, in the event that Ana felt the need to leave the café, she had an old coat and a pair of rain boots. Last year, her employees had given her an umbrella. She figured that she was set.

This court appearance, however, required a more professional look. She'd unearthed the suit and heels she'd purchased for the oral defense of her business major thesis. Bill, her second shift bartender, had been a tailor in a previous occupation and offered his services to take in the material. Ana was thinner than in college though' she'd certainly been underweight then. She couldn't afford much in the way of food and was so busy studying and working that there was little opportunity for meal breaks anyway.

"You work in a café, fer gosh sakes, woman. You make pastries. EAT some!" scolded Bill as he pinned and sewed, muttering the entire time.

Chapter 20

Elena studied her face in the mirror. No, It wasn't quite right yet. That malicious little tramp would try to use her youthful appearance to win over the jury. Dolts were so easily manipulated. Elena had used her power to manipulate the court into having the case decided by a judge only…one she owned. She certainly had enough connections to get one of her judges on the bench but the clerk of court felt that the defendant ought to have the choice of judge or jury and that vicious trollop had chosen trial by a jury of her peers. This was not, Elena felt, to her advantage. She had no peers. The jurors would all be working class slum dwellers like Ms. Steele.

Elena continued working on her face. Her attorney, $1000 an hour for peons who didn't frequent BDSM clubs, had advised her to tone down her wardrobe and makeup. No eye makeup! No nail polish! No lipstick! And definitely no leather suit! Simple, plain and appealing to a jury, he'd begged. Ridiculous, she thought. She was a woman of elegance and refinement. She wasn't going to show up looking like Pat Nixon in her simple cloth coat. When she strutted into the court room in her six inch Louboutins, she wanted those jury members to drop their jaws in awe. No matter their inferior status, when they got a gander at the stunning lady before them, they would immediately understand that someone of her caliber must be treated with the utmost respect.

Yes, she smirked to her image in the mirror. She would knock 'em dead and ruin Anastasia Rose Steele. She threw her head back and cackled wildly in glee. Her frightened maid ran to hide in the pantry. She was, thought the maid, like a villainess out of a Disney movie.

Later, as the mistress stepped out of her chauffeured town car, her lawyer caught sight of her and groaned. He was going to lose this case and Elena would blame him, send incriminating photos to his wife and his firm and his life would be ruined. He tried desperately to think of a way to arrange a mistrial, after which he would somehow contract West Nile fever and retire.

A block down, a city bus stopped and a young woman stepped down the stairs a bit unsteadily and unto the sidewalk, beginning the approach to the courthouse steps. She was clearly unaccustomed to wearing heels. She practiced walking back and forth. The heels were only 3 inches but she teetered up the courthouse stairs with a determined look on her face.

She was quite pretty, the attorney thought, instantly envisioning her hanging off his St. Andrew's cross while he flogged and fucked her. She was wearing a powder blue fitted suit with her hair styled into an elegant French twist. She wore no jewelry save a small pink pin shaped like a ribbon—a breast cancer awareness pin. As she completed the daunting climb to the landing outside the courthouse doors, he blatantly stared at her. Although his expression was like that of a lion about to eat a rival's cubs, nonetheless, she acknowledged his look with a polite smile.

"Quite the climb, isn't it? You're lucky to be wearing wingtips." Her deep blue eyes looked directly into his and the light dawned.

This was Anastasia Steele. He was a dead man walking.

Chapter 21

Fury couldn't begin to describe the rage that stormed through Christian Grey . He had warned Elena in the strongest possible terms to leave Ana Steele alone. He should have known not to trust that the she-devil would back off. He'd been so delighted and distracted by his fledgling friendship with Ana that he'd failed to pay attention to Elena's activities for the past few weeks.

Since their initial conversation a couple of weeks ago, he and Ana had taken to having longer and longer visits in his little corner of her café. Every morning at 6:55 she'd see him leaning against the light post across from the entry door, suit jacket thrown over his shoulder with one hand, the other hand in his pocket, one shoe crossed over the other. He'd watch as the lights came on and with one hand, she'd unlock the door and with the other, she'd flip the sign to OPEN. Then she'd step back a few feet as he walked in, trying very hard to be a gentleman who doesn't stare at perfectly round little breasts and perfectly round little nipples. He wished that she'd wear a bra. He was so grateful that she didn't wear a bra.

Neither knew that the other was trying to breathe evenly. Neither knew that the other thought that they were looking at the hottest human on the planet.

This morning, instead of assuming his post at her post, Grey had been served…a subpoena, ordering him to appear in civil court at 8 a.m. to testify for the plaintiff in Lincoln vs. Steele.

Elena, he thought, is clearly delusional if she thinks that his testimony will help her or harm Ana. Elena's attorney will have to request that he be considered a hostile witness but no matter how he tries to twist the truth, Grey thought, I am not above lying to a jury to protect Ana from this barracuda.

No, he thought. Nothing will stop him from keeping her safe. Even if Elena threatens to expose him, which would ruin him and his blossoming bond with Ana, he will protect this woman. In his life, only his mother and Mia would ever have warranted sacrifice on his part. And now he was prepared to throw everything away for a woman he'd never even kissed.

He chose his most intimidating CEO suit and tie. He slipped into Dom mode, body and brain. He would make Elena's attorney soil himself. He suspected that the poor shmuck was a BDSM practitioner and that Elena was blackmailing him into taking her case pro bono. He idly wondered how the fellow had explained to his firm that he wasn't charging a woman known to be wealthy. Hell, maybe all the partners were members of one of Elena's clubs.

"You look extremely handsome this morning," Gail smiled up at him. Ok, his mother, Mia, Ana and Gail. "Thank you, Gail. I was going for extremely intimidating, even terrifying."

"Oh, well, then consider me to be quite frightened," she affectionately teased, as she straightened his tie, his lapels and brushed a bit of lint from his shoulders."

Grey walked into the elevator thinking that he was apparently out of practice and needed to work on his Dom mode.

Chapter 22

Elena waltzed serenely into Courtroom #3, trailed by her perspiring attorney. She stopped just inside the door to survey the room before her and to draw a deep breath. It was good to be back. She hadn't ruined anyone's life in a court of law in several years. Trials, she sniffed in disgust, were all too rare anymore with regard to civil suits. Most were quietly settled out of court, out of sight, averting public disgrace for the loser. Elena so loved a very public and grand old courtroom full of wood and framed by tall windows. Her attorney, defying Elena's wishes, had tried to arrange a settlement with Ms. Steele but the brat had refused to accept her guilt in the matter. That was fine with Mrs. Lincoln. More than fine. Her attorney had all but begged Ana on bended knee to accept a settlement. He had, in fact, offered to pay the award for her out of his own pocket, without Elena's knowledge, of course. Anything to avoid a conflict in court. Ana had never read of anything like that in her YouTube tutorials. She wouldn't have accepted guilt anyway and she most certainly would not have agreed to Elena's demand for a public apology.

Elena had insisted that several of the law firm's interns attend as well because it made her look still more important and, she hoped, would terrify the little twit. She was pleased to note that Christian was sitting in the back corner. He was probably trying to maintain a low-key presence to avoid attention. Paparazzi were not allowed into the courtroom anyway but Elena had arranged for a couple of ordinary-appearing suits bearing briefcases equipped with hidden cameras to sit in spots convenient for candid shots of the multi-billionaire. There would be dozens of paparazzi, as well, waiting for Grey to exit the courthouse. His need to be subpoenaed to appear on her behalf would not go unrewarded, she sneered to herself.

As she studied the room, she almost missed the small form of Ms. Steele sitting quite alone at the table opposite her lawyer-laden side. Now isn't that just pathetic? It was rather like a .22 going up against a tank, she happily smirked.

As Elena approached her seat, she permitted herself a sneaky glance toward Ms. Steele. Ana was sitting up straight with a yellow legal pad, a manila folder and a couple of pencils placed neatly on the surface of the table. She had her hands on her lap, fingers entwined, face forward. As the bailiff came forward to announce his Honor's taking of the bench, everyone stood. Ana stood alone. Oh, thought Elena, this is too easy but at least it wouldn't occupy too much of her day. She'd hoped to get in a spa treatment in the afternoon. A tap of the judge's gavel and everyone sat in respectful silence.

Elena was silent, as well, but intended no respect. She owned the bastard and she was quite angry that he'd not done more to secure a bench trial. Now she had to sit through jury selection, a singular misuse of her valuable time. Ah, well, he'd pay and she'd have that to look forward to as well as Ms. Steele's destruction. I'm always one for seeing the silver lining, Elena smiled to herself.

She glanced again toward Ana. The girl didn't have the sense to look terrified. She, in fact, had a look of serenity about her. Well, Elena figured, she did have mush for brains.

Chapter 23

His Honor informed the court of the intent of the day's proceedings and asked if the attorneys were ready to begin jury selection. On Elena's side a half dozen heads bobbed up and down. Ana simply nodded. Christian broke into a cold sweat. His Ana, his sweet gentle girl was defenseless in a lion's den filled with Elena's cats. How could he not have seen this coming? He could have saved her. Well, no matter Elena's invalid victory, he would see to it that Ana did not lose The Rose. He knew, unfortunately, that Elena would also demand a very public, very humiliating apology. She'd not only require that a retraction be printed on the front page of every possible publication but she'd probably expect that Ana stand on her own bar at rush hour to announce her sorrow for her unfounded demeaning of a gracious lady of Elena's standing. Elena might win this one but it would be her last and she would suffer dearly for it, he swore to himself.

The plaintiff's attorneys began the juror questioning. There were 25 potentials in the jury pool. After Mr. Lemon, Elena's attorney, had finished with the first juror, the judge asked if Ana had questions or challenges for the woman. Ana stood to reply 'no, thank you' and retook her seat. This became the pattern for the questioning of all 25 potentials. Mr. Lemon asked many questions. Ana challenged no one.

Thus, jury questioning went quickly and smoothly. Within an hour and without a single challenge from Ana, the plaintiff's side had chosen their preferred jury. Christian felt sicker by the moment.

Then Ana was asked by the judge if she had anything to say. She spoke so softly, Christian couldn't hear her reply but it was apparently in the affirmative because she stood and walked over to the jury. Christian stopped breathing.

"Good morning, everyone," Ana greeted the 12 people in the jury seats.

"Thank you for coming today. This is a civil suit, which is not the most interesting of cases to sit for in hard chairs for hours so I'll try to make my inquiries brief and to the point."

Christian watched her with fascination and worry. He recognized the judge as a Dom, no doubt being blackmailed by Elena. He wondered how many of the jurors were also Doms or subs. Ana looked beautiful, so small and beautiful and helpless. She was being so brave.

Ana smiled sweetly at the people in the chairs before her.

"May I ask all of you a simple question and you may raise your hands if in agreement? Yes?

Okay, then. Who among you believes in truth?" Without hesitation, every hand shot up.

"Then, would you mind one more question?" Every head bobbed swiftly yes.

"All right. Do you believe that telling the truth and believing the truth will set you free?"

Again, every head nodded emphatically and every face was serious and solemn.

"I accept all these jurors, your honor. I am confident that they will be impartial and fair."

As Ana turned back to sit down, she didn't see the smiles on every face.

Chapter 24

Christian sat stunned. Ana had the jurors eating out of her hand and the trial hadn't even begun. He knew Elena's team saw it as clearly as he did. Elena's arrogance would not, of course, allow her to see the truth. She'd already lost.

Lemon looked pale and ill as he presented his opening statement. Being desperate, he droned on way too long and repeated himself. He spoke of Ms. Lincoln being a well-known and beloved member of the community who devoted herself to many charities. Having, he thought, established her good character, he referred to Anastasia Steele as a too-big-for-her-britches owner of a shabby café who'd treated the lovely Mrs. Lincoln with contempt. He referred to her injury at the hands of Ms. Steele, implied that Ana had tried to burn her with hot coffee and had then forcefully thrown her out of the café in front of dozens of patrons. Mrs. Lincoln had suffered shock and had decided to sue only after Ms. Steele had refused to privately acknowledge her guilt and apologize.

He would, he promised, present 6 eyewitnesses to confirm his case against Ms. Steele.

Ana then rose to tell her side of the story in just a few sentences. She would be calling no witnesses. The judge looked at her sadly and sympathetically. Christian sighed and rested his aching head in his hands.

Mr. Lemon then called four men and one woman to the stand, all of whom relayed similar stories of Ms. Steele's brutish treatment of Mrs. Lincoln. Ana asked to delay her cross-examination until all of Mrs. Lincoln's witnesses had spoken.

All five looked frightened and tried to avoid looking in Elena's direction. If they didn't perform well, there would be hellfire to pay.

Ana approached the first, a fellow by the name of Mr. Allen, who was quite pale and sweating profusely. She kindly asked if he would like a glass of water and sweetly warned him about the dangers of dehydration. He gladly gulped the cold water and gripped the glass tightly, then accepted Ana's offer of a napkin to mop his brow. Christian watched her in absolute awe. Not ten minutes earlier this same man had described Ana as a heartless bitch who twisted an old lady's arm and shoved her out on the street, all because Elena had asked for a refill of her latte. Yet Ana's kindness toward him now was genuine. Her concern for his health real.

Once Mr. Allen seemed on better standing, Ana spoke gently to him. She asked him to repeat to the jury the time that this supposed attack on Mrs. Lincoln had taken place. He confidently reiterated 1:10 pm and he knew this because he could clearly see the large clock above the bar.

Each of the five witnesses had given the same testimony, almost word for word.

Ana returned to her table and picked up the manila envelope. She opened it slowly, removed several large photos and asked the judge if she could admit these as evidence. After he agreed, she handed two to the jurors to pass amongst themselves and then gave one to the judge. Lastly, she gave one to Mr. Allen and asked him what he saw in the photo.

He blanched.

Chapter 25

"Mr. Allen, please describe what you see in the photo. Oh, wait, I forgot to share with the plaintiff, didn't I? Please excuse me. Here is a copy for you, Mr. Lemon. Lemon paled.

Now, Mr. Allen, what do you see in the photo?"

"It's a picture of Mrs. Lincoln sitting at the table," he gurgled.

"Go on, Mr. Allen."

"You're holding her hand down by the wrist," He stalled.

"Now, Mr. Allen, you said that you observed this happening at 1:10, is that correct?"

"Well, it's right on that big clock, right there, right there," he pointed, poking at the photo.

"This photo was taken by a patron's cell phone. There are many similar to it. On the lower left hand corner is the time stamp of the phone. Could you please read the time?"

"2:33..but these can all be edited, fixed, she said so," he stumbled desperately along.

"Who said so, Mr. Allen?"

"Mrs. Lincoln."

"Hmmm, Your Honor, I had over 30 patrons observing the events of that day, 30 patrons with cell phone recordings of the incident. It would be most unlikely that 30 people would find a way to tamper with the date and time stamp on their separate phones. Just as a side note, the clock above the bar is an antique that used to hang in my bartender's tailor shop. It died there one day….. at 1:10 p.m."

"Mr. Allen, you testified earlier that you work on the janitorial staff at the GEH building a few blocks up the street from The Rose. At what time do you begin your lunch break?"

"Noon", he answered with a shaking voice.

"And at what time are you expected to be back at your post?"

"12:30", he whispered, voice quavering.

Ana leaned in closely and blocked Mr. Allen's view of the evil eye of Mrs. Lincoln. All he could see were Ana's kind and sympathetic blue eyes. "You don't want to commit perjury, do you, Mr. Allen? You aren't really that sort of person, are you, sir?"

He hesitated and then, straightening his back, said firmly, "No ma'am. I am not. None of us are but we have families to support and protect and we did what we had to do. I am very sorry for lying to the court and playing a part in hurting you. You don't deserve this."

"Thank you, Mr. Allen. You've been quite helpful and I wish you the best. Please come by the café sometime, no hard feelings, okay?"

Then she turned to the judge. "Under the circumstances, I don't think that it is necessary to cross-examine the other witnesses since all their stories are the same and the results of questioning will be the same. I don't wish to put anyone else through the same embarrassment."

Then Mr. Lemon played what he thought was his ace-in-the-hole, Christian Grey.

Chapter 26

It was only 11 am. The morning was flying by. It took all of Christian's will power to simply walk by Ana's chair without leaning over to whisper words of encouragement. It wouldn't be kosher, he knew. No matter. He was about to blow Elena out of the water… the filthy, bacteria-infested scummy water she swam in every day of her wasted existence.

Poor Mr. Lemon didn't know this, of course. His client had assured him that her very dear friend, the Christian Grey, would substantiate all her claims. She'd also urged Mr. Lemon to pack the jury with women. Grey could smile at them and tell them that green was blue and they would acquiesce, anything to please the god beaming down on them.

"Mr. Grey, were you present at The Rose Café with Mrs. Elena Lincoln on the day and at the time in question?"

"Yes, we were sharing a table. It was approximately 2:30."

"Did you observe Ms. Steele attacking Mrs. Lincoln?"

"I observed Ms. Steele gently but firmly save Mrs. Lincoln from assault charges. If Mrs. Lincoln had accomplished her goal, she would have severely burned the face of the waitress, Brenda. She was attempting to toss a full cup of steaming hot coffee into Brenda's face. Ms. Steele grasped her wrist, lowered the cup to the table and then took the cup from her. She then gave Mrs. Lincoln a cup of her preferred non-fat latte to go, on the house, and very quietly, for her ears only, asked her to never return. When Mrs. Lincoln did not move, Ms. Steele again, firmly and gently helped her up with a hand under her elbow and walked her to the door."

"Any further questions or confirmations, Mr. Lemon?" Grey asked, his face impassive.

Poor damp Mr. Lemon answered no. The judge asked if Mr. Lemon wished to contradict Mr. Grey's testimony. Again, no.

"Ms. Steele, have you any questions for Mr. Grey?"

"Yes, your honor. Mr. Grey, you heard your friend insult my employee, you watched as your friend tried to scald her. You did nothing to intervene, is that not correct?"

Christian stared at Ana. All this time as he kidded himself that they were becoming friends, she was harboring resentment for his role or lack of one in the events of that day. Why had she said nothing to him? Her coldness toward him those first few weeks certainly made sense now. And did she think that he was only testifying on her behalf today because they'd had a few conversations? He'd so wanted to gain her goodwill but she'd been playing him for weeks. Luring him into the enemy camp. He'd thought her so innocent and helpless. He'd worried about her.

He began to burn with rage and resentment. They were not going to walk out of the courtroom, arm in arm, comrades and hopefully soon more. He'd been a fool.

"That is correct. I felt that you had matters well in hand," he spoke calmly with a deadly glare.

Chapter 27

"Well, it was fortunate that I did, wasn't it? I'm sure that had my reflexes been insufficient to prevent Mrs. Lincoln scalding my employee, you would have felt quite badly about simply sitting by, wouldn't you? Mr. Grey?"

"Yes," he replied through gritted teeth. His Dom persona was out in full force. He couldn't help it. He wanted to take her over his knee, pull down her skirt and panties and spank her…hard. She was insubordinate and required punishment. He wanted to drag her out of the courtroom and into his playroom. He wanted to….

Suddenly, he became aware. The judge was staring at him. His Honor knew what he was looking at…his own kind. So did the bailiff and Mr. Lemon. One of the women on the jury held her head still and looked down while all the others simply observed with interest. Elena grinned at him like the Joker from the Batman movies. Where the hell did she get such red lipstick anyway? It's main ingredient was probably blood.

Ana was not afraid or aware. She smiled at him.

"I'm sorry to put you on the spot, Mr. Grey. I'm trying, perhaps clumsily, to make a point. None of us can stand by and trust that someone else will do the right thing. I'm sure that if you think about it, you'll be more aware in future. Thank you very much for your testimony."

The judge permitted him to step down, ordering a recess of 15 minutes after which opposing counsels would give closing statements to the jury which would then retire to deliberate.

Grey took a deep, hard breath, tapping down his Dom. He stepped down from the witness stand. He knew that he was about to face the unholy wrath of Elena but, for the moment, she was not the person with whom he was concerned.

Ana had turned away, heading for the Ladies Restroom it seemed, when she suddenly stopped to speak with two fellows with suits and briefcases. Grey halted his quick stride toward her. What was she up to now? He immediately realized the purpose of the briefcases. Jesus H. Christ! The woman had spies in the room! She now had perhaps hundreds of photos to sell to the tabloids! How had he yielded so easily and stupidly to a pretty, okay, heart stoppingly beautiful girl? He was a master Dom! He yielded to no one!

Now what was she up to? He watched as Ana's face showed anger. Wow, that was a first…a very hot first. She looked ready to throttle them. They were frozen in place, unable to take their eyes from her white-hot gaze. He wondered if they were terrified or incredibly aroused…like him. He leaned against her table, trying to disguise the growing bulge in his pants. Note to self: buy roomier slacks or tighter boxers.

She put out her hands expectedly. The men handed over the briefcases and walked away, shame- faced and defeated by 105 lbs. of furious young woman.

Chapter 28

Elena watched in horror as Ana confiscated her spy equipment. Those pictures were worth thousands. She couldn't even demand their return without admitting to the judge that she'd smuggled paparazzi into his courtroom.

Even she now realized that she had lost this case to the trollop. How the hell could this be happening? Her addled and vengeful mind was overloading with plans of revenge on her witnesses, her judge, Christian and, mostly, the little beast.

Christian watched as Ana carried the cases up to the bailiff and turned them in. He knew his fellow dominant would destroy the pictures. How did she know? he wondered. It didn't appear that she'd even seen the men until she began walking toward the restroom and how would a girl like Ana know about spy equipment? Christian's mind was a whirl of confusion over Ana although the response in his pants was completely clear on what it felt and what it wanted.

Meanwhile, Elena was peering at him with ice in her eyes. Maybe it was Ana. Maybe it was the general circumstances. Maybe he was reaching the limits of his sanity. Whatever it was, it compelled him to grin maniacally and wave madly at Elena. The ice melted. She simply looked flabbergasted.

The judge returned. Mr. Lemon's closing statement was awkward, lacking in conviction and leaning toward lunacy. But, then, he'd been sitting shoulder to shoulder with Elena Lincoln for an entire morning while being bested by a rank amateur who learned law from YouTube. It was a wonder that he was still on his feet. He did not look well.

Ana laid out the facts of the case, succinctly refuting the plaintiff's complaint and finished by thanking the jury for their hard work. Mr. Lemon had rambled on for 20 minutes. Ana was done in 5. The woman certainly didn't like to waste the court's time.

The judge gave his instructions to the jury and sent them off to reach a verdict. The bailiff returned a few minutes later to report that the jury would not be needing a lunch break. Several minutes after that, he reported that the jury was ready to return with their verdict.

The verdict was a given…as was the plaintiff's reaction.

Elena screamed at the jurors, loudly ordered Mr. Lemon to begin the appeal and generally made a fool of herself as the judge watched, resting his chin in his hand wearily. After having had enough of her tantrum, he sighed, slamming down his gavel. She startled and sat down.

"I am awarding punitive damages to Ms. Steele in the amount of…" he stopped, noticing Ms. Steele's small wave. Without a word, he sighed and signaled to her to approach the bench. Christian's heart flipped a little bit as he watched Ana stand on her tippy toes to reach the judges ear. That pert little ass. The judge looked askance and seemed to be arguing with her. Finally, putting his head in his hands and shaking it from side to side, he took a deep breath and nodded yes as Ana happily bounced back to her chair.

Chapter 29

"As I was trying to say, Mrs. Lincoln, the evidence from the dozens of cell phone footages I've studied in chambers, in addition to Mr. Grey's testimony, shows that you were not the injured party in this case. You, in fact, intended grievous bodily harm to Ms. Steel's employee. I will be referring the evidence to the district attorney and said employee may wish to press charges. Mr. Grey was correct when he pointed out that Ms. Steele actually saved you from far more serious assault charges. Do you understand, Mrs. Lincoln, that you could have burned and disfigured your intended victim?"

Elena was trying to look contrite but the hard expression on her face gave the truth to her lie. She believed herself to be the injured party.

"You will also be called to account for witness tampering. You, Mrs. Lincoln, are in big trouble.

I urge you to take these matters seriously.

Now, as to the amount of punitive damages….considering the circumstances, Ms. Steele is due quite a hefty sum. The kind of money that buys small private islands and the jet plane to get there."

Elena's eyes were bulging out of their sockets as she imagined her entire fortune being transferred into the bank account of that empty headed schemer who'd somehow bested her in court.

"However, Ms. Steele does not want your money, Mrs. Lincoln."

Christian, sitting in the back of the room, had been watching Ana's slim shoulders and her hair wrapped up in a French twist with little hairs escaping down her bare and delicate neck, suddenly snapped out of his erotic reverie. She what!? God, she gives him fucking whiplash every 10 minutes!

"Ms. Steele would rather you attempt to learn a little humility and concern for others. Therefore, you will donate $10,000 to Heifer International. You will also complete 200 hours of community service working with the city's less fortunate. A probation officer will arrange for you to work in shelters, food centers, and the like. Should you fail to honor any of your commitments, the number of hours will double. Mrs. Lincoln, are you in agreement with this judgement? If not, despite Ms. Steele's objections, I am more than willing to return to my original monetary award."

"What say you, Mrs. Lincoln?" Do you accept Ms. Steele's generosity or my lack of same?"

Mr. Lemon humbly thanked Ms. Steele for her kindness and conceded to the donation and service.

"I'd much prefer Mrs. Lincoln to acquiesce on her own, Mr. Lemon, and I am growing impatient waiting for her to speak. You have 10 seconds to answer yes or no."

Mr. Lemon dragged Elena to her feet, whispered fiercely in her ear and out popped a small, tinny "yes, your honor".

Chapter 30

Christian waited outside in the corridor for Ana. She didn't know what, or rather who and how many of the who, would be waiting for her on the courthouse steps. He wanted to stop her and steer her through the rear entrance to avoid the paparazzi waiting to blind her with flashbulbs and inappropriate questions. After lingering for several minutes he looked back into the courtroom to discover that she was not there.

"Excuse me," he spoke to the bailiff, "did you happen to see where Ms. Steele went off to?"

"Yes, Mr. Grey. She just left through the back entrance, through that door over there."

Christian strode quickly in that direction and out the back door. He spotted her, carrying her heels and walking barefooted toward a bus stop. He ran to catch up to her, noticing his SUV and Taylor waiting for him just across the street.

"Ana! Wait!", he yelled, "Stop!" He caught her by the arm and swung around in front of her. As he caught his breath, she looked at him in alarm. Then she relaxed, realizing that he was not a reporter. "Why are you chasing me down in the street?" she chided.

"Hmm…trying to, uh, save you from the media hoard," he panted, feeling foolish as he realized that she'd already saved herself. He was the only person running after her. Ana looked behind her and then back at him, quizzically. "Sure. Thanks?" The bus pulled up with the door already opened and Ana mounted the steps so rapidly that Grey didn't have a chance to mention his waiting luxury Mercedes. He stood there with his mouth agape, as the driver grinned at him and shut the door in his face. As the bus moved off down the street, Ana waved from the window.

"Mr. Grey, I think you'd better get in before the reporters figure out where you've gone, urged Traylor. I think that they've already grown tired of listening to Mrs. Lincoln retry the case in her favor." Grey trudged over to the car, looking like the puppy he'd been trying to rescue had just peed on his pants.

"Taylor, I'm really tired," whined Christian.

"Yes, sir. Home, sir," smirked Taylor. Good, he thought. An early day, an early dinner with his Gail and an early night. He could hardly wait to get that woman of his alone. Grey didn't have a sub to wear him out and he'd have nightmares and be up playing piano at 2 or 3 so Taylor needed to get in as much sleep as possible before it wasn't possible anymore. He didn't understand how Gail slept through all that racket. He, after all, was ex-military, ex-Iraq, ex-Fallujah, and ex-Afghanistan, for gripes sake. He'd taken naps as bombs went off around him. But Grey plays dirges in the middle of the night and Taylor stares at the ceiling, waiting for his boss to fall asleep on the keys.

He idly wondered if Ana would sleep well following her victory.

Chapter 31

Elena slumped down in the back seat of her Lincoln Town car, not bothering with her seatbelt. At that moment, she would not have been unhappy if the vehicle had stopped abruptly, flinging her face first through the front window.

Her lawyer, that waste of an law license, had informed her that she had no grounds for an appeal and that the other suits that she'd planned to file would be considered frivolous and challenging to the authority of his Honor. Furthermore, any retribution she planned in the form of expose's

of Dominants or Subs present in the courtroom would likely backfire. She was, after all, in just as much peril from exposure, perhaps more. A hallmark of the BDSM community was discretion. Members protected each other or risked drowning in the deluge of disclosure certain to follow the loose lips sinking the ship. Elena would find herself at the bottom of the sludge with an anchor 'round her scrawny neck.

No, she thought. For the time being, she was stuck. She would have to pay up, put out and play nice for the foreseeable future. She would find a way to portray herself as victim. She would glean good PR out of her contribution to that cow charity and plead ill health to avoid picking up litter from the side of the road. She would be the Mother Theresa of homeless shelters and food pantries. She would serve more than her court ordered time, appearing to revel in the opportunity to help the indigent despite her innocence and the injustice dealt her.

Meanwhile, she would be plotting an ever more ruthless reprisal on the wretch and her champion, Christian Grey. He, even more than she, was deserving of the cane. She'd raised him to be the Prince of Seattle, the Master Dom, the multi-billionaire. Grace and Carrick had tried and failed for 11 years to bring him to heel and it had taken her just a few weeks to turn him into a choirboy. She taught him to behave, to earn 'A's, to act with respect toward his elders. She had given him the money to start him on the road to his incredible business success. Of course, the money had belonged to her now ex-husband who wasn't pleased to find that she was playing angel investor to her boy toy but, until recently, the investment had more than paid for itself.

She considered for a moment that perhaps she'd erred in bringing her pet's ire down upon her

head. She'd let her fury and her pride get the best of her…she, the Grand Mistress of Dominatrices. Her cool passivity heated to a boiling point by the gall, the insolence of one of the lesser beings revolving around the planet Elena.

How the hell had that happened? It was nigh unto impossible for Elena to admit to mistakes but what might she have done differently? she fretted. If she had, however unlikely, made an err in judgement, what could it have been? As much as she drove her brain to think, she could only see the errors of others.

Ah, well, spilled milk, she thought, congratulating herself on her wise and philosophical turn of thought. Those who so unkindly wounded her would need to be punished and be made sorry for their uncharitable behavior toward her. It would be so much fun devising suitable satisfaction.

Chapter 32

Christian was exhausted. He hadn't slept much the night before, not that that was unusual, but this time was because he was worried about Ana being thrown to Elena's wolves the next day. Then he'd been subpoenaed unexpectedly. He couldn't believe Elena's hubris. Had she really seen the events so differently from him along with every on-line video or did she truly expect that he'd out and out perjure himself for her? He questioned her mental stability.

And Ana. He had gone to court expecting to be her Sir Galahad. He had thought he'd find her with some cut rate lawyer, sitting shaking in her seat and crying throughout the entire proceedings. Instead of a fearful young girl, he'd seen a calm and steady woman, prepared for anything.

He remembered the look on the presiding judge's face. Grey knew immediately that he was in the life, that His Honor had assumed his dominant persona as he'd taken his seat on the bench. He was looking at Ana with the face of a Dom. He seemed indifferent, of course, but any other Dom would recognize the burning lust in his expression. He was presiding over the case of dominatrix vs. potential submissive. Christian feared that this judge could not be objective. He knew that Elena saw the same man he did and between blackmail and lust, she couldn't lose.

They were both so wrong….both shocked and disappointed.

Elena, for her obvious loss. Christian, for his less obvious emasculation.

He had not been needed. Yes, his testimony counted for something but by the time Mr. Lemon had begun questioning him, it was just a formality. Ana had already won. The dom in the judge had long gone and left a respectful admirer in his wake. The bailiff was enchanted and even the sub on the jury was watching the floor. She, apparently, thought that she was in the presence of a dominatrix, albeit a gentle one.

Heck, he hadn't even been able to save her from the paparazzi and give her a lousy lift back to the café. Some knight in shining armor he turned out to be. But what, he berated himself, did he expect? He, who liked to tie up and beat up and fuck up little brunette girls who resembled his late crack whore mother…how the hell could a man like that be a hero? It was a pathetic notion.

Still, damn, wasn't she something!? How had she known what to do in the courtroom? Lemon was a highly experienced attorney...the best partner at his firm. He'd never lost a case, except for the time his client died mid-way into the hearing. Yet Ana had destroyed him, destroyed him!

After the judge left the chambers, it was Ana who turned to Lemon and offered her hand in friendship. Lemon had simply stood, staring and stunned, along with Elena and all the bobble heads…who were undoubtedly reconsidering their decisions to have careers in law.

It was going to mean a major crushing of his ego but Grey had to face Ana again to ask how she pulled it off. Welch's report on her had not mentioned a law degree.

He was also yearning, deeply yearning, to float again into her ocean blues.

Chapter 33

It had been an exceptionally bad night. Crashing glass, slamming doors, elephant feet stomping through, screams and curses and waking in terror at 1 a.m. It was nightmares like these that made Ana wish that she was a drinker. She had arrived back at The Rose after early dinner time, sorry to have missed her elder diners. Talking with them always calmed her. Today she changed into her usual uniform, finished with the rush hour and the bookkeeping, after which Naomi and Bill sternly insisted that she take off at 8 p.m. It had been a really tough day, she had to admit, and the lack of sleep the previous night had left her drained and weakened so she allowed herself to be helped up the back stairs and put to bed.

At least, she thought, she'd managed 5 hours of sleep. Those were pretty good numbers for her.

Still, it was only 1 a.m. and she knew that she was probably up for the night. She mentally ran through the usual list of things to be done but realized that Naomi and Bill knew her well enough to know that she'd head downstairs… so they'd have already beaten her to all the cleaning. Upstairs she had only one set of panties to wash out in the sink. She'd read every book in the place at least twice. Besides, she needed to get out of the building, get some cool night air.

So, she retrieved her MacBook Pro, googled "best bars" in Seattle and settled on The Verdict, which she guessed to be a bar catering to law firms. Seemed apt, she smiled to herself. She'd never been a drinker so she knew nothing about the bar scene in Seattle. The Verdict was also just a few blocks downtown so she could walk there in relative safety. Lightweight that she was, a couple of glasses of wine should be enough to knock her out for an hour or so. Then she could get up in the morning and put this lawsuit anxiety behind her.

She reflected that at 6:55 a.m. she would find that being sued wasn't the only thing she'd put behind her. She did not expect to find Christian Grey leaning against her lamp post. She'd not only infuriated him in the courtroom, lecturing him on personal responsibility in front of everyone but she'd left him standing on the sidewalk behind the courthouse looking downcast. He was a wealthy, proud man who was not going to accept humiliation at the hands of a lowly waitress who lived above the shop. She was sure that he was done with her.

Strolling down the road toward the bar, she confessed to herself that she was going to miss their chats. She'd liked the soothing warmth of his voice and he had a smile that increasingly stirred something inside of her, something that she didn't recognize. She appreciated that he was so intelligent and generous. She knew from googling him that he was quite the philanthropist yet he'd never mentioned it to her until she brought it up… after which he gave himself little credit. "…of those to whom much is given, much is required,"…and then he quickly turned the subject back to her. He admired her early dinner discounts for seniors. She smiled and shook her head at the irony. She offered 50% off meals while he spent millions to find better, more successful ways to feed the poor of the entire world.

More and more, she'd come to think of him as a nice man, a good man…one whom she would miss. She blinked back tears as she approached the bar.

Chapter 34

"Good morning," smiled the bartender. "What can I get for you?

"Oh, I'd just like a little something to take the edge off, " Ana enquired, peering closely at the name badge, 'Winnie?' I don't know much about wine. Do you have a recommendation?"

"We have a lovely 2015 VSG Zinfandel, bold and fruity, a bit pricy. How about I let you sample it first?" suggested Winnie. While Ana waited, she glanced around. It was a high class bar, elegantly designed and befitting the army of perfectly suited men and women who sat about sniffing and swirling their glasses. Although no one was giving Ana a second glance, she was fine. She had worn her skinny jeans, a sweater and her usual pair of sneakers. She obviously did not fit with the others so no one would bother her.

Winnie's choice was excellent, esp. from the perspective of an amateur like Ana. It was so good, she didn't bother to sip. She drank it back like it was soda and ordered another. She knocked a 3rd one back like the first two and ordered another. Winnie tried to warn Ana that these drinks could catch up to you before you were aware but Ana didn't feel drunk, just warm and content.

She was puzzled as to why Winnie next brought her a large glass of water and added that she'd be right back with another Zinfandel. She followed Winnie's gaze to the gorgeous man who'd found an empty stool next to Ana's.

He smiled at her, his gray eyes shining. "I've been wanting to ask you a question since this morning. I saw you "confiscate" those briefcases from those men in the courtroom. What was that all about?"

She considered him for a moment. "Paps…they were filming. You, mainly."

"How did you know that? They looked like a couple of lawyers just curious about the case."

"They didn't just set their 'briefcases' aside on the bench. They were aiming them, at you. I'm surprised that you didn't see them sitting across from you with their briefcases on their laps, pointing in your direction," she laughed. "When I was walking back to my table, they were filming you on the stand. Pretty obvious and pretty amateurish. Mrs. Lincoln was rather upset when I turned the cases over to the bailiff."

She reached for the Zinfandel but Christian had a good grip on it. He pushed the glass of water toward her. She didn't like that and her head was fuzzy. She turned to face him. Geez, he was a gorgeous man.

Ana's vision was a bit compromised but she had no trouble falling into the gray eyes looking intently into hers. Her common sense was also compromised as she slid off her stool and whispered, "spread your legs." The man with the copper locks obeyed, allowing Ana to close the distance between them. She slipped her hands through his arms and moved them up his back, enveloping him tightly. "Lower your mouth to mine and kiss me softly and then hard."

Christian did as he was told. He didn't care that he was taking advantage of her inebriation.

Chapter 35

Grey allowed her warm tongue to tangle with his for some time. Then he gently moved her back to her stool and reached over for the glass of water.

"Drink this," he ordered.

Ana began to pick up the Zinfandel when Grey gently grasped her wrist and lowered it back to the bar top. "Learned that move from a girl I know," he smiled at her. "Water first will ease the hangover," he cautioned.

Ana looked at him, slightly irritated. "I've never had a hangover".

"Really?" Grey looked surprised, until the light dawned. "When did you last have a drink?"

"I have never before indulged in alcoholic beverages," Anna slurred with rather haughty arched eyebrows. Grey couldn't help but grin.

"Drink the water, then the wine, okay?"

She eyed him suspiciously, not really buying his explanation and not liking his interference but his grip on her wrist was getting between her and that "lovely" Zinfandel so she let go of the wine glass stem and picked up the water. Interesting, she thought, that it was so much easier to down wine quickly rather than water. She drank a bit, glanced over at the man who'd taken her wine hostage, drank some more but it was soon clear that she wasn't getting that wine back until she emptied her glass of water. Besides, she intended to kiss him again before she fell over.

When she pushed the empty glass aside, the gray eyes smiled and he released her wine. She sipped a bit and then turned back to Christian. She smiled rather devilishly and then slid off of her stool again. This time he was standing and he was almost inconveniently tall. She stood on her tiptoes and reached for his copper hair, lacing her fingers thru from his temples to the back of his head. He closed his eyes, moaning softly.

"You have unusual hair coloring," she mused aloud. "What salon do you frequent, Mr. Grey?"

Christian touched his forehead to hers, chuckling. "Oh, I just use the boxed stuff from the drugstore," he teased. She pulled his mouth down to hers and crashed her lips into his, her tongue sliding over his teeth then easing off to explore his lips with hers. He had wonderful lips and she wanted to play with them. He found this way of kissing unexpected. Her lips were plump and soft. He sucked on them. He pulled the bottom lip into his mouth and then the top and then he simply wrapped his lips tightly around hers. He felt the floor disappearing beneath his feet and the din of the bar quieting to a breeze off a lake and then there was nothing but her lips, her hands in his hair, her body melting into his.

"Baloney." A soft giggle from a cloud. "You've never been in a common drugstore in your life."

Chapter 36

He wanted her mouth back so badly but she wanted her Zinfandel. The noise of the bar returned and the floor was back beneath his feet. He wanted to go back to the cloud, a kind of peace he'd never before known. He watched as she sipped her fourth glass of wine and wished she'd just chug it. With Ana being a booze beginner, he knew she could pass out at any time. He quietly beseeched the gods of sucking face to keep Ana awake long enough to kiss him again.

As Ana sipped the last of her Zinfandel, Christian handed a stunned Winnie a couple of hundreds and with an almost imperceptive shake of his head warned her off. Another glass could leave Ana with alcohol poisoning and a visit to the ER was not the way he wanted to end this night.

Ana set the glass down, exhaled a soft breath and made no move to order another. Christian breathed a sigh of relief. An argument over further drinking was not what he wanted either. He wanted her to put her hands through his hair again and her arms around his back. His fear of touch seemed to have disappeared. He, in fact, wanted her to rip open his shirt and put her luscious lips on the burn scars left by the crack whore's chain-smoking pimp.

What the hell was going on with him? He'd been in therapy for most of his post-crack whore life in attempts to rid himself of his haphephobia. His wonderful parents wanted nothing more than to embrace him, yet… More than one of his subs had had their contracts instantly terminated when they violated his first and most inviolable rule…no touching. In fact, he'd rarely fucked a woman face to face in order to keep them from inadvertently touching his chest. Why did he want this woman to cover his body with her hands and her mouth? Why, in fact, did he need her to… desperately?

While he was trying to think all this through, Ana had paid Winnie for the drinks, again, ignoring her protests that her companion had already paid for the drinks multiple times over. It was a big night for Winnie. Meanwhile, Ana was regarding Winnie rather seriously.

"Winnie, do you enjoy being a bartender," Ana inquired.

"Umm…it's okay, I guess," answered a confused Winnie. "Of course, the hours aren't the best. I have a daughter. She stays with a neighbor until I pick her up around 5 am."

"I own The Rose down the road a ways. I need more help. I pay well and I provide benefits.

Interested?" Ana cocked her drunken head at Winnie.

Winnie was perplexed. Was this woman serious? A day job would be great, esp. one with benefits.

"Um, okay," responded a skeptical Winnie. "Health care would be great."

"Well, thanks for the wine recommendation. Stop by The Rose and ask for Ana," Ana beamed.

I want that beam, thought Christian. He bid Winnie goodnight as well and, without discussion or her assent, trailed hopefully behind a wobbling Ana like that lost puppy, realizing suddenly that he had, in one manner or another, been following her around for months.

And he would keep doing it.

Chapter 37

They walked together back down the blocks to The Rose.

"VSG is an acronym for virtual grape superiority," said Christian, in an attempt to make conversation.

Ana smiled genially at his comment. "I believe sommeliers prefer the Latin "Vitus Grandus Selectus" but then, they're all snobs of course."

At the surprised expression on his face, Ana laughed.

"The Rose has a well-stocked cellar," Mr. Grey, and my personal sommeliers, Harry and Bill, consider themselves to be connoisseurs. They're constantly insulted by my refusals to either drink or ask about their expert selections. Not a word to them about tonight, understood? I'd never hear the end of it. They 'advise' the customers enough as it is," she giggled.

Grey tried to remember if he'd ever heard such a stirring sound. Surely Mia giggled? He'd never noticed. Mia certainly laughed. She howled. She snorted. She guffawed. Most sounds coming from his adored baby sister were loud but he could not recall this sound. He loved it.

"How are you feeling? You had quite a bit to drink and you're unsteady on your feet," he said, as he dared to slip an arm around her waist to prevent her stumbling.

"I like this," she smiled up at him, referring to the position of his arm.

"Good. So do I," he grinned down at her. She was so small. She seemed to be so vulnerable although he knew it was just an illusion. Despite his running regimen and his daily and punishing workouts with Claude Bastille, he had a feeling that Ana could deck him.

"Have you taken any self-defense classes?" he wondered aloud.

His question was followed by a hesitant silence. As he was about to apologize for being intrusive, she unexpectedly answered.

"Yes, in a way. I've never had the money for formal classes but I'm sort of self-taught, if you will. YouTube. Then I test my abilities with the help of some of the police officers who come into The Rose. You can get anybody to give up their break time for free coffee and pastries. Plus, it's rather entertaining for the other customers, esp. if I win a bout," she laughed.

"And, do you?"

"More and more frequently. I think I'll soon need better partners to up my game. I should also put down a mat on that hard wood floor. I bruise easily and then my opponents start going too easy on me and my staff worry. One of the cops invited me to their gym so I'm trying to find the time for that opportunity."

"You open at 7 am and close at midnight. Do you work the whole 17 hours of the day?" asked

Christian in disbelief.

Chapter 38

"You once told me that you run at least 6 miles before you head to the office at 8 am. Answer honestly now...what time do you leave the office?"

"Well, my CPO likes to get home to his wife so usually no later than 6 pm." Smirked Christian.

"And what do you do when you get home…?" Ana smirked right back at him.

"Eat dinner…um…work in my study until, um, late. Yeah," he confessed, "midnight."

I'll sleep a few hours before a nightmare wakes me and then I play until dawn. Sometimes, I'll manage another hour asleep on the keys."

He looked shamefaced. Ana noticed. She leaned into him in companionable camaraderie.

"I get maybe 3-4 hours a night. Nightmares. No piano. Maybe I should get one. It would be funny to listen to Harry and Bill curse their way up the stairs with a piano." She giggled again and his heart flipped. "They both spent time in the navy and apparently that is the best part of the armed forces in which to learn obscenities."

"Harry once heard me cry out in pain after a particularly rough beat-down by a cop and he cussed him out so bad that there wasn't a closed mouth in the café. Every jaw dropped open and I had to stop some of patrons from beating on the cop. The rest just stared at Harry in amazement. A couple of them bravely asked for definitions of what Harry had just said."

Ana and Christian were roaring with laughter as they arrived at The Rose's door. Neither of the young couple noticed the ancient sedan parked across the road or the driver watching. Grey could not recall ever laughing so hard. He marveled at Ana. Brilliant, hilarious, brave and so breathtakingly beautiful that she left him stunned and speechless at times. How did she become all that? He wanted to know everything about her and he wanted to hear it from her, not Welch.

He also definitely wanted other things from her that he couldn't get from Welch.

They were at her door. Could he kiss her goodnight? She'd sobered up a bit from the walk so he figured her inhibitions were probably sobered up as well. She seemed suddenly shy again. It was charming but not what he wanted right now.

He wanted wanton Ana…sliding off her stool and grabbing his mouth Ana.

He gazed down into her killer blues and felt shaky on his own completely sober feet. He told himself to be satisfied with his incredible good luck tonight. He hadn't planned on going out to a bar. He had everything he could want in his own wine cooler. He didn't realize a couple of hours ago that everything he really wanted had planted her delectable posterior on a bar stool at the same bar he'd decided to visit that night.

He took a chance. He leaned down and softly kissed her cheek.

Chapter 39

"Where is your car?" asked Ana.

"Oh, I walked. It's only a mile or so back to my place. Taylor was down for the night and I didn't want to take him away from Gail. I run him pretty ragged anyway."

"Doesn't he need to know where you are at all times?"

"Yeah, that would certainly be his preference. If he doesn't hear me screaming and then hear the piano, he'll wake up and go looking for me."

"Okay, then you'd better text him now so he doesn't worry."

"Oh, I'll be back in 15 minutes or so…"

"Just in time for screaming and tinkling the ivories?" Ana chuckled. "It's already close to 3. I don't think you'll have time to fit it all in, will you?"

"Taylor will check the security monitors to see if I've come home."

Ana was quiet for a minute. She had, indeed, sobered up some but her body was still quite drunk. Her brain was better but it was enjoying some pleasant confusion. She looked up into the grey eyes for which she'd come to feel such fondness. They were so light at the moment that she felt that she could look right through them, like the proverbial windows to the soul. Sometimes they were so dark, like yesterday on the stand when she was laying into him. And tonight when she'd stepped back from kissing him….Jesus, they were dark. They sent an indescribable thrill through her. She'd felt almost afraid. She knew in those moments that he could ask anything of her, do anything to her and she would welcome it.

Feeling like that had never happened to her. Books, studying, working, surviving…these she knew. Stoicism she had down to an art. Determination, oh yeah. But want? She'd, of course, always known a kind of want. Food, shelter, safety…but this kind of want? She had no words for it. She'd read about it, of course, but never felt it and so didn't know how it truly felt….until now.

She wanted. What did she want? She'd known a while ago in the bar whilst in her cups. She had even felt driven by some force inside her to touch this man. She'd needed her tongue in his mouth, something she'd only read about and that, on the page, sounded disgusting but with him was deeply necessary, to get close, as close as possible.

He'd responded but yet he seemed as unsure as her. She couldn't know, of course, that he'd rarely kissed a woman. It was too intimate for him as a Dom. Some subs had more or less forced kisses on him but he feared the closeness. What if they touched his chest?

They all wanted something he didn't have to give. But, tonight, with Ana, he had too much to give and would she want any of it?

He didn't want to be a Dom with her. He wanted to be a normal man but he feared that he didn't know how. YouTube?

As he started to walk away, she called out. "You'd better text Taylor so he doesn't worry."

Chapter 40

She took his hand and walked him up the stairs to her bedroom. He felt like a freshman boy about to be deflowered by a senior girl. Actually, he'd been a sophomore when he was deflowered by Elena but on that occasion, he'd felt terrified as well as excited. And it was only a means to soothe his overwhelming horniness. Also, the sex came with 6 years of caning, whipping, butt fucking with giant dildos, hanging from crosses while being flogged, being burned with hot waxes. Looking back, he could see the insanity of it. For the sake of an orgasm, he'd allowed a woman almost three times his age to fuck up his mind, teach him to keep secrets from his family and put distance between them and now he could only have Dom sex.

He'd never had vanilla sex with anyone. He was suddenly scared. What was Ana expecting? What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to do it? He stopped dead on the steps.

She looked back at him, puzzled.

"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," he lied. "I don't want to take advantage of a woman who's had too much to drink."

Ana stopped, seemed to be considering what he'd said. She sat down on the steps and pulled him down beside her. "Well, that isn't your only problem here. I'm not only intoxicated. I'm an intoxicated virgin."

Christian suddenly began choking on his own saliva going down the wrong way. Ana patted him on the back until he calmed down.

"Are you joking?" he gasped.

"Nope."

"You're 22, beautiful and I've seen the way men look at you."

"Men look at me? Really? Hmmm. Brenda tells me that but I always figured that she was trying to be nice or the men were ugly and creepy."

"There were men in that bar tonight who couldn't keep their eyes on their own very pretty dates, Ana."

"Oh. Okay. Well, in that case, I guess you can leave."

Christian gaped at her until she began laughing so hard that tears came to her eyes.

"I don't want them, Christian. I want you. I thought that you wanted me as well but if you've changed your mind…."

"Absofuckinglutely not! I've never wanted a woman like I want you, Ana.

Chapter 41

Ana stared at him for a long moment.

"Those are pretty strong feelings, Christian. Are you sure? You're older than me, wealthier than shit, worldly and women probably throw themselves at you. You could have anyone. I'm pretty sure that Kate would dump Prince William for a shot at you. And you're telling me that I'm 'it' for you? You know, you don't have to say such things. I may be a virgin but I'm not naïve. I don't read romance novels. You can take me to bed, fuck my brains out and not call me in the morning. I won't hold it against you."

"Are you serious?" Christian looked appalled, disappointed and even angry.

"Nope. I'd break your dick the first time I saw you with another woman. Heck, I'd break it if you didn't show up here the next day for a non-fat latte. Fair warning."

She had to be the most adorable human being on the planet. He threw his arms around her and buried his face in her neck. "Please don't change your mind when you sober up. It would darn near kill me."

"Okay," Ana sighed. "You know, it didn't take getting drunk to make me feel the way I do about you."

"You were mad at me for not stopping Elena before you stepped in. If I had, she would never have targeted you, put you through all that hell. Ana, I'm truly sorry. I didn't step in because, well, I was fascinated by you. I wanted to watch you. I've never seen anyone "handle" Elena and it was just a joy to see. I guess you could say that I sacrificed your well-being for my fun. I didn't think of it that way at the time because I wasn't thinking.

Later I warned Elena that messing with you would have dire consequences for her. Of course, the consequences were meant to be coming from me. When she went ahead with the trial, I had my attorneys go ahead with severing our business connections."

"You were in business with that harridan?" Ana was astonished.

"Yeah, she loaned me the money to start GEH so I felt the need to repay her. She wanted to open an upscale salon and spa. Have you ever heard of Esclava?"

Ana's eyes bugged out. "I could never afford a peek through the windows, much less a spa visit. And why on earth would she name a spa for women Esclava?"

"Why not? I've never given it any thought. What's wrong with the name?"

"It's Spanish for slave, Christian. That's odd, don't you think?"

"No. Knowing Elena, no. It was a very deliberate choice, a quite telling choice."

Chapter 42

She had to get up early in the morning to meet with some social worker to discuss her community service options. Her check for Heifer International was due to be sent by certified mail in two days. Christian's lawyers had served her papers with his signature dissolving their partnership in the salon. He'd gifted her his shares with the proviso that she never again contact him for any reason. She was also to never again accept or initiate invitations to the Grey Mansion. Whatever excuses she came up with were up to her but his mother was never to be hurt. Were any harm to come to his family or Ms. Ana Steele, the repercussions would be swift and devastating including but not limited to Mr. Grey requiring the return of his salon shares.

The cheek! How dare he give orders or ultimatums to his teacher, his creator! It was bad enough that he'd turned on her in court just to get into the panties of that impertinent child but ever since that day, he'd become someone she didn't know. Where was the gratitude, the reverence she was due? He knew perfectly well that without her he'd be less than nothing. He, in fact, might very well be dead or in jail. Only her intervention had saved him and given him the chance to become the Christian Grey, multi-billionaire and Prince of Seattle. She was owed and if he thought that he could renege on his obligation to her with a little note from his attorney, well, he still had much to learn. The next lesson would be the hardest he'd ever had to suffer.

She would let him believe that he'd accomplished his goals. She would let him believe that his world was safe, that that simpering woman he called 'Mom' was safe and, most of all, that his little girlfriend was safe. When he was completely comfortable and content, she would take it all away from him. She would deliver blow upon blow until he was ruined in every way.

Of course, she was not an unreasonable woman. She knew it would take time and a lot of thought to accomplish her goals but she had unerring instincts. The simplest methods were often the best; nothing fancy or complicated. The fewer moving parts, so to speak, the best chance of things working, the least chance of things breaking.

It was rather like lying. Keep the lie as close to the truth as possible, she'd found, and the easier it was to believe, the less chance of forgetting the details.

Besides, the most fun was to be had in the planning, the anticipation. The least risk in organizing simple plans. Then all one had to do was watch without worry of failure.

Now where to begin. Complete her court-ordered duties, giving Christian time to woo his new sub and, oh delicious, reestablish good relationships with his family members, to become happy!

Time to settle into his fresh new life so that bit by unholy bit, it would all begin to disappear as Christian slowly began to notice that all was not well.

He would grasp at the straws, at all the pieces, that began to break apart, slip away. He would go mad as his desperate attempts to keep it all together failed again and again until it was too late, until nothing could be saved.

Chapter 43

He was beyond nervous. Sure, he knew the mechanics of making love but he'd never done it.

She seemed less nervous than him. He supposed that he was expected to lead the way. Ana could sense that he wasn't at ease but she didn't know how to make him so.

"Um, should we talk for a while?" Ana asked.

"God, no. I've wanted you naked since I first saw you."

"Oookay. How would like to get me naked? Undress me slowly?" Rip my clothes off?

"Ana, this is going to be your very first sexual experience, the very first time you'll be without clothing in front of a man. Aren't you going to feel some embarrassment?"

"Should I? I mean, you've indicated that you think that I'm beautiful. Are you expecting to find a lump or a bump, some kind of blemish that would change your opinion?"

"God, no. Nothing could make you any less beautiful to me!"

"Okay, then. Let's get this show on the road."

"How romantic," Christian grumbled.

Ana walked up to him and stood on her tiptoes, pushed her hands through his hair and looked into his eyes. That was all it took for the roiling embers inside him to erupt into flames. The Dom always in control seemed gone. He grabbed her face and crashed his lips into her, pushing his tongue into her mouth, fighting with her tongue. He couldn't get enough of her mouth. He couldn't breathe but he needed more and more to catch his breath and that made no sense.

Ana frantically began to unbutton his shirt with fumbling fingers and finally gave up, simply grabbing at the material and tearing it open, with buttons flying.

Christian reluctantly released her face to grab the hem of her sweater and pull it over her head, mumbling "skin, skin".

He tried to unhook her bra, needing to feel her breasts on his chest until she undid the clash herself where it unhooked in the front. While she undid his belt, he unbuttoned her jeans and slid the zipper down. They were each, at the same time, trying to get each other's pants off and falling over and unto the floor. They would have been laughing but lust was in charge.

Finally, somehow, neither was left with a stitch of clothing. They didn't take the time to stare at each other's bodies. They were just too desperate to clasp hold with hands and arms and mouths…to get closer and yet it was never close enough.

He wasn't thinking about techniques to bring Ana to orgasm and she wasn't thinking about what she should be doing to please him. They just were wild to connect, to somehow meld into one body.

Suddenly he was inside her, buried as deeply as possible, her legs wrapped around him and his arms holding her as tightly as possible, still not enough. It would never be enough.

Chapter 44

Her legs curled tightly around the middle of his back with her ankles crossed. Her arms grasped around his neck, with one hand holding the back of his head, forehead against hers.

His knees bent up along side her body and his arms encircling her, crushing her to him. Their faces mouth to mouth, nose to nose, forehead to forehead. They seemed to have melted into one another.

He'd come screaming her name into her neck. He'd been too far gone to think about bringing her to orgasm. She was heaving and shaking and clinging. She didn't know if she'd come and wasn't thinking about it anyway. She just felt an overwhelming need to have Christian be a part of her. And thus, they clung to each other like madness personified, neither wanting to let go even a bit. They couldn't, in fact, conceive at the moment of how they would do that.

They didn't hear Winnie knocking at the front door. They didn't hear Brenda and Harry opening an hour late or calling to Ana. Fortunately, they assumed that Ana was still exhausted from sleepless nights and the rigors of the trial so they left her to sleep in.

They didn't, of course, realize that Ana and Christian were upstairs, awake and holding each other as if to part even a bit would break them into bits. Their brains were quiet. They held no thoughts other than to stay together just as they were.

Tears fell from Christian unto the tears brimming over from Ana's eyes. Finally he began to softly press his lips to hers, just to feel them. She caressed his head, gently combing her fingers through his curls. He loved it, she knew, only from his contented sighs. Finally, he unwrapped his arms from around her body just enough to lean on his elbows.

At her whimpered protests, he smiled. "I weigh at least twice as much as you. I'm afraid I'll crush the breath out of you."

She brought her hands down to place on either side of his face just to hold him and study him.

"You know," she whispered, "you're not half bad looking."

"You've been taking my breath away since the moment you grabbed Elena's wrist and I looked up at you. There's not a moment since then that I've not thought of you. Erotic thoughts, funny thoughts, serene thoughts, every thought has been yours. You own me, it seems. Never, as you go about your day, imagine that at that moment, you aren't on my mind."

"You have a multi-billion dollar company to run. That requires a lot of concentration. How will you manage to think of me as you squabble over mergers and acquisitions?"

"I will think always of getting all of that out of the way so that I can get back to you. Nothing, Ana, will ever be more important than you. GEH has been my baby for 6 years. Now, you're my baby. I will protect GEH because so many people depend on it for their livelihoods and for the charitable contributions it enables me to make but it being first in my life? That has ended. I never dreamed of there being anything more.

Now, you are more. You, my Ana, are everything," he pledged, gazing into her blue eyes.

Chapter 45

"Ana," called Brenda softly from behind the apartment door. "Are you awake yet? I'm just a little concerned. Could you just answer me so I can stop worrying and then I'll go away, okay?"

"I'm fine, Brenda. I'll get dressed and be down soon," answered Ana. She looked up into Christian's eyes solemnly. "Well, we knew that we couldn't stay naked forever," she giggled. He smiled down at her and buried his face in the crook of her neck. "How will I let you go?" he whispered.

Then, with a deep breath, he lifted himself off Ana and rolled onto his back, reaching immediately for her hand. They lay there for several minutes, looking at the ceiling. With more effort, they sat up on the edge of the bed. Christian sat still naked, watching as Ana got dressed. With every article of clothing that covered her body, he felt more bereft. It wasn't like she was leaving the country. She was just going downstairs… but he needed so badly to hold her.

"Do you think that you could maybe take some time off soon? You know, for us to get away and just be alone for a while?"

She'd finished dressing and came to sit beside him on the bed. "I was just thinking about possibly hiring Winnie, the bartender from The Verdict? Everyone here is used to having a full time manager but I could train someone else to handle things, at least short-term. Where would you want to go?"

"Anywhere, anywhere at all…just to be alone with you. I want to talk with you, learn all about you. And there's some very important things I need to tell you about me, too. I need to make some changes in my life as well."

Christian took her hand and cupped her right cheek with his other hand, looking as deeply as he possibly could into her blue sky eyes. "You know, everything starts now, we start now. There's so much ahead of us….." Ana put her hand into his hair and pulled his face close to hers.

"You're sitting here gloriously naked and I want so badly to lie down with you again but I have to get to work so please put on some clothes and come downstairs for an omelet before I throw myself at you again."

He pulled her back down on the bed, kissing her deeply while he lowered the zipper on her jeans.

Her heart began to beat faster and her breath came harder. "You need to be putting your clothes on, not take mine off….she tried to talk but as his hand slipped under her panties, her breathing seemed to stop. He whispered "spread your legs. Now."

She obeyed. "I believe that I owe you an orgasmic moment," he breathed into her mouth, as his fingers entered her and found her g-spot. He massaged it gently, than firmly, Ana's back arched off the bed as her hands grasped the sheets. He muffled her screams with his mouth on hers.

Chapter 46

Brenda apologized to yet another disappointed customer, excusing the absence of pastries on "problems" in the kitchen. The problem was that Ana wasn't in at 5 to bake. Harry had abandoned the bar to mix dough and make croissants. He did his best but he was no Ana. Finally, at 9 am., he simply put up a sign on the door that there would be no pastries until noon or later.

People settled for oatmeal and eggs and bacon and pancakes but complained their days were starting off wrong. They had no idea, of course, that their beloved Ana's day was starting off with a bang.

When she emerged, looking dazed and flushed, Harry and Brenda exchanged glances. Flu, perhaps? Lack of sleep, surely. Her smile was different. It was beatific, beaming. "I'll have scones up in 30 minutes. Brenda, would you kindly take the names of all those who have been waiting and tell them that their orders will be delivered free of charge within the hour?" They stared at her and then back at each other again.

"Umm, I've been making a few," said Harry, holding out a tray of what others would call doorstops. Ana kissed his cheek and expressed her gratitude. "Now, wouldn't you rather get back to your bar and your lattes? I'm sure that people are waiting just for you."

As he walked away, Harry gave a "Keep an eye on her" look to Brenda who replied with a small nod. Ana got to work while Brenda made a general announcement to the patrons. She passed around a paper on a clipboard ordering everyone to indicate their choice of pastry, their name and place of work. Luckily, most were employees of GEH so delivery would be simple.

"Ah, Ana. Someone named Winnie left a note for you. Said she'd try again later? That make sense to you?"

"Uh huh…I'll take care of it. Thank you, Brenda, and thank you for this morning." As Ana popped a couple of large trays of pastries into the oven, Brenda's head swiveled off her shoulders as a beautiful man with copper hair and grey eyes entered the room from the back stairs.

Burglar? Sure, here, take it all. It took Brenda several moments to recognize Christian Grey. She didn't get in until 8 by which time he was usually gone. She knew him mostly through the news.

It was catch-up time for the staff of The Rose. He smiled politely at her. "Hello, ma'am. You're Brenda, I believe? It's a pleasure to see you again. No more unpleasant assaults, I trust?"

Brenda just stared. "Of course, hangdog!" she recalled. Ana's laughter pealed from across the room as Grey looked puzzled. Harry hollered in through the swinging doors, "Orders to take, Brenda. Wanna get an egg or two cracked?"

Ana called over to Christian. "Hang around a while. Your occupational status has just been upgraded to delivery boy."

Chapter 47

"I think I can get us some extra help," said Christian as he texted Taylor. Soon, Gail arrived and began to build biscuits and scones and pastries of every kind while he and Taylor gathered tissue paper and put boxes together. Meanwhile, Harry made drinks and Brenda made omelets and pancakes. It was mad and hectic. Ana and Christian, two people who'd only ever known a kind of lonely independence, looked at each across a restaurant kitchen with hearts and eyes filled with love.

Finally, the Mercedes stuffed with boxes of pastries and Gail covered in sugar and flour, Taylor drove off to GEH. Christian and Ana stayed behind to clean the kitchen and ready it for lunch. "You do have to hire more help, Ana. I don't know how you've managed before now."

"Well, the business kind of crept up on me. I started with just me, hired Brenda and then Naomi. I was gradually more and more surprised to find that the tables were filling up each day and people were lining up at the bar for lattes and so I hired Harry and then Bill."

"At first, I opened at 7 and closed after lunch. Then demand started for dinner and before I knew it, I was closing at midnight. It worked for a long time because I put in 20 hours a day."

Christian grimaced. "You can't do that anymore. Look, I'll cut back to 10 hours a day if you do as well. Maybe even 8. I want to be with you, Ana. I can't go back to 15 minute chats at 7 a.m."

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly. "Don't send me back to that empty place in which I merely existed. It wasn't enough but I didn't know that. I know it now. That wasn't a life. It was just a time-suck. Be with me. Just be with me."

"When you're done with me, I don't know if I'll recover," her eyes were unsure and fearful.

"I wouldn't recover either so I guess we'll have to stay together. No take backsies."

"Take backsies? How old are you?" she nuzzled into his chest, giggling.

"I have a lot to tell you and I pray you won't leave when you hear. I'm a real case of arrested development, Ana, but I am most definitely with you now, so I have to learn to be a man that you'll be proud off."

"I'm am proud, very proud." She held on hard and buried her face in his chest.

When, he wondered, you know the truth of me...when you've seen my red room…when you know what kind of monster I've been for 13 years and what I've done and to whom and why? How can I ask you to trust me, to even tolerate me? And all I do is go on lying to you.

Inside he screamed. The panic rose in him. It was too much, to awful to ask of this most special of women to understand and accept rooms full of torture, humiliation, cold mechanical sex. A sense of doom seized him. He was going to lose her even as he clasped her tightly to him.

Chapter 48

Ana hadn't known Christian long. She didn't know him well. Still, she could feel the heat of panic radiating off him and a fierce need to protect him overtook her as she enveloped her man in her arms. She would keep him and save him. From what she didn't even know. Perhaps John could help.

As she kissed Christian goodbye and waved him off down the street, she decided to spend some time looking over her books that afternoon. He was right. She needed to cut back on both her hours and her responsibilities—not only for the sake of this new relationship but because it was time for her to use her success to supply jobs for others. That had been one of her motivations for starting her own business instead of going to work for someone else. She had to laugh. She had forgotten that two headhunters had tried to recruit her for positions and one had wanted her to go for GEH. She'd have to remember to tell Christian.

Hours later, having dinner with her elder diners, Ana called The Verdict to enquire after Winnie who, she was told, would start her shift at 9 pm. It would, Ana hope, be Winnie's last shift at the bar. She also needed another baker. Brenda was a great waitress but she was also diabetic and didn't need to be hanging around scones. Naomi could manage but she liked her afternoon hours so….

Ana had had a good idea earlier during dinner with her elder diners. She mounted a sign on the door asking for a good baker to work from 5 am to 10 am. Surely amongst all those older people there was one who liked to bake and was up early. After all, her elders were always complaining about not being able to sleep or having to wait until 8 for breakfast at the retirement home.

Christian called around 6 pm to tell her that he had to take a video conference call from "those arse-holes in Singapore who refuse to do business with Ros. They're going to wish they'd been respectful of my #2 even if she is a woman. Sometimes doing international business puts me up against people like these misogynists."

"Are you going to make them rue the day they turned down Ros in favor of the Christian Grey?"

She could hear Grey's smile through the phone. "Especially since they're keeping me from my favorite business connection," he laughed. "Anyway, it's going to be a long night. Would it be okay if I came by late?" Of course, she said…he'd better.

By midnight, Christian still hadn't turned up and Bill hadn't felt well so Ana sent him home early. Thus, she didn't get to The Verdict until after midnight. It was a slow night so Ana was able to get Winnie alone for a bit. She apologized for the misconnection that morning and asked Winnie to take a break so they could talk.

She explained to Winnie that she'd like someone to open at 7 and work until 3 pm. She'd get better pay and good tips along with health insurance. At the reminder of health insurance, Winnie's face lit up. It was a rare benefit anymore and not available to bar keeps. She could get her daughter up 15 minutes earlier and have her neighbor get her breakfast and off to school with her daughter. And, just like that, Ana had a new waitress. Ana handed over the keys to The Rose and welcomed her new employee. Winnie was thrilled.

Chapter 49

With the addition of Winnie, Brenda could relax a little. The increasing business had been wearing her out and Ana had worried that Brenda would need to cut back on hours. Now Ana could keep her and that was important to her. Now she would need a baker and perhaps a 2nd waitress to help Naomi. Naomi was younger and stronger but, nonetheless, could also use the help.

Ana left the bar around 1 a.m. feeling optimistic about the future of The Rose. She'd just worked without thinking for such a long time. She'd not even really noticed the crowds or the workload. She'd taken so much of it on her own slender shoulders. The baking was done by 7 a.m. when she opened, alone. Harry shuffled in at 8 a.m. and took over making coffee and such but for the first hour, Ana did everything.

Now, with Christian in her life, she thought that she might have other things to do at 7 a.m.

Grinning to herself as she thought of how much her life had changed in just a couple of days, Ana didn't notice the old blue Gremlin slowly following her down the street. It was a lovely, cool evening as she looked up to see a man running toward her from The Rose, waving madly. Oh! Christian! She waved back happily, so blissfully distracted that she didn't feel the blow to her head, didn't notice the blackness, didn't hear her lover screaming her name.

As he reached Ana's body, Christian slid to his knees and gathered her up in his arms. Taylor pulled up to the curb at the same time and left the engine running as he ran around the side of the Mercedes and opened the back door.

"Sir, sir, in the car. NOW!" he ordered. Taylor had had to make a choice. Pursue and slam into the Gremlin, an easy maneuver that would have resulted in the capture of the assailant or stop to get the victim to the hospital. He made his decision the second he spied the pool of blood on the sidewalk. Ana wasn't just stunned. She was bleeding to death.

The traffic was almost non-existent after 1 a.m. allowing Taylor to speed without hindrance to Seattle General, running lights and passing cars. In the back seat, Grey was rocking Ana, his forehead to hers, repeating her name. Neither was safely belted, of course, so Taylor was forced to slow and carefully pull up to the door of the emergency entrance, laying on the horn. White coats flew out the door, Christian lifting Ana unto a gurney and watching the gurney being rushed down a hallway and through swinging doors. For a moment, Christian reflected that there were swinging doors leading back into Ana's kitchen. He could smell the bread baking. She'd be making scones, raspberry truffle scones. She'd be okay and smiling at him as he walked in.

Taylor could see that Grey was in shock. He was clammy and ashen. He lead his boss over to a chair in the waiting room and called out for a nurse. Even in this condition, Grey was stunning and Taylor wanted to smack the wide-eyed nurse who hesitated long enough to gape.

Chapter 50

"Was there a lot of blood?" Elena demanded to know. She'd done some reading and determined that she didn't want to outright kill Ana. That would be too quick, too easy, too painless. She'd not planned on Christian being a witness to the battering of his little gal pal but his distress at the sight did add a bit of charm to the proceedings. Elena wanted the brat alive, aware and hurting…in fact, brain damaged enough to require long-term rehab…a recovery period that would bore Christian and discourage him from continuing the relationship. She did not want a dead and still beautiful corpse for Christian to mourn. Lord, no, she thought. He'd probably plant her under a spectacular memorial stone with a sappy inscription…something that he'd feel compelled to visit once a year and sob onto.

"Umm….I wasn't expecting company at that hour, ma'am. I was lucky to get the opportunity at all. After weeks of surveillance, I realized that Ms. Steele rarely leaves her building so tonight was unusual. The only time before this she was with someone. So, I had to take my shot. The streets were deserted at first and then I saw this guy running toward her AND an SUV coming at me, too. I had just seconds to whack the dame and take off. Luckily, the Mercedes stopped or I would have been toast. That old car I "borrowed" had a top speed of about 30 mph."

"Still, with no time, I did get in a good swing," he said, congratulating himself. "You know, I played ball back in high school. Guess I still have the touch," he smiled proudly.

Elena glared at him. Men…no wonder she preferred to beat them up. He was a good sub but dumb as a dildo.

"Okay, time for you to get gone. Did you wipe down the car?"

"Wore gloves and coveralls, ma'am. Nothing to trace. Left the car where I picked it up."

"Here is enough money to get you out of the country. Baja is nice this time of year. Stay gone and do not contact me in any way, understand?" Elena snarled.

The man looked sad. "Are you sure that you don't want to be my dom anymore, Mistress Lincoln?"

"Consult the list I gave you. You'll find someone else. Do not return. We're done."

He sighed. "This is a lot of money, Mistress. I'm set. I'll miss you," he gazed at her with sadness as she slammed the door in his face.

"Oh, brother," she sneered. That was the trouble with every sub she'd had since Christian Grey. They were so stupid. He was one of a kind, a jewel. So sad. His loss had been hard to take but she'd never lost hope that one day he'd return to her. She'd kept him as close as she could by supplying him with the very best in submissives. She'd tied him to her financially through Esclava. She'd convinced him that she was his only friend and that he lose his family should he ever confess to them.

She never dreamed she'd lose him to a wench who baked donuts..

Chapter 51

The room was so quiet one could barely hear the people breathing…but they were breathing and breathing hard. Frustration, anger, filled the air. Ros had been tapping her pencil's eraser on the table top for several minutes until she looked up into the glower on Carrick's face. She was not one who was intimidated but she stopped anyway and folded her hands on her lap.

After long minutes of this deathly quiet, the detective spoke again.

"Mr. Grey, how can I make you understand?"

"Detective, how can I make you understand? I am a very powerful and influential man in Seattle. I have used every bit of that power to honor my son's request. You will not interview him for the sake of completing your god damn paperwork. Your boss's boss, the police commissioner, has capitulated to my demands.

Likewise, should there be any leaks to the media in an effort to force my hand, you will find yourself sweeping the streets of cigarette butts instead of crime.

Christian Grey is involved in classified negotiations that require his absence from his office in Seattle. Period. The police have thoroughly investigated and determined that nothing is amiss. You thank GEH and the Grey family for cooperating and putting interested parties at ease. Got that?"

The detective was stymied. All he had was a report of a mugging and a sighting of Christian Grey at Seattle General in the early hours of that Tuesday and no connection confirmed between the two. His father was a tiger at the gate and there was nothing more to be done.

"For now, sir. I suppose that we are stuck. I sincerely hope that all is well. Thank you for the meeting. Ms. Bailey, we appreciate the use of your conference room. We'll be going now."

With a tight smile from Ros and a glare from Carrick Grey, the detective left the room. He would tell those who'd called and urged him to look into Christian's sudden disappearance that all was well. A man of Grey's importance wanted his privacy to pursue particularly sensitive business matters…that was all.

After the police left, Carrick sat wearily back into his chair and Ros spoke.

"Any updates you'd care to share. It's isn't like I'm reporting back to the Seattle Nooz, you know?

"No, of course not, Ros. I know that Christian trusts you implicitly. No updates. She is comatose. Christian is practically the same. I've not gotten more than a few words out of him in days. His mother and I know little other than what Taylor has told us about that night. I suspect he could tell us more but he knows better than Christian's own parents how he thinks and he apparently believes that he should keep some things to himself."

"How is Grace?" Ros asked with a sympathetic expression.

"Well, you know, her son has never been very open with us, a source of sorrow for her, but she never gives up. She spends part of every day sitting with him, watching him hold Ana's hand.

And I spend part of every day drinking bourbon.

And that's my life these days, Ros, he grimaced."

Chapter 52

Her head was no longer bandaged and the stitches had been removed. Some color had returned to her alabaster skin and her lips were no longer white. He smiled. She looked like Snow White, except that the prince had kissed her a dozen times a day and yet she would not wake up.

His mother and the doctors had told him often that her vital signs were good. She was finally breathing on her own. She would awaken when her body was ready. Yes, they'd reluctantly confessed, sometimes people were never ready but, still, they were hopeful. Thus, that was all that he could be as well.

He talked to her, caressed her face, even sang to her. Grace pointed out that the monitors glowed brightly when he spoke to her. She showed healthy brain activity. She is aware of you, his mother tried to tell him.

He had a lot of time to think even though he found it hard to concentrate on anything but Ana. He told her all about his early childhood and its effects on him. About being adopted and not speaking. About his siblings.

The fifth day he gulped hard and told her about his horny 15 year old body and its introduction to Elena Lincoln and BDSM. He was afraid that she would wake up and remember everything and be repulsed by him. He imagined her screaming and begging for him to be removed from the room.

But he needed so badly to talk to her, to tell her everything, to have her know him as much as he needed to know her. He'd thought of having the red room dismantled… nay, demolished with sledge hammers and chainsaws but he needed to show her, to bare every part of himself to her.

He didn't know her well, he knew, and he didn't understand this desperate desire to connect with her. It had come on him so suddenly. One day she didn't exist and the next she was his world. It didn't make sense. He tried to call it infatuation, a crush, but that was wrong. It was more like he'd found what he'd always had but had lost and could not tolerate losing again.

If she hadn't been mugged, they would have spent most of the past weeks in each other's arms. Instead, he'd enlisted the help of his father in holding her in another way. Welch had determined that Ana had no living relatives, no one to speak for her. Carrick had used his considerable influence to secure custody of Ana. Christian needed to be certain that he could speak for her, direct her care, ensure that no further harm came to her. Although Carrick didn't realize that Christian had referred him to a fellow dominant, the judge who'd presided over the civil suit had honored his fellow dom's request to grant all powers of attorney to Christian and Carrick.

Ana was safe now. Taylor and other elite close protection officers stayed at her door. Whoever had mugged her and perhaps worried that she could identify them wouldn't so much as get near her floor. And no one would approach her without Welch's assurance of their character.

Chapter 53

Her father had had a bad day. He'd lost yet another job. One could not handle logging equipment while impaired by a hangover. So he handled his impairment by sitting in his lounger and calling for his daughter to bring him a beer.

At times like these, being both shamed and half-drunk, Frank could become violent. Ana knew that her mother would be home soon from her night in other men's beds and Frank would be aware and angry enough to hit her. So, Ana would kiss her daddy to soften his demeanor and bring him his beer with several sleeping pills crushed and dissolved into the amber liquid. He would be incapacitated by the time Rose stumbled in, still high on that day's drug of choice.

Ana often tried to get her parents to eat something but their awake and aware states were uncomfortable and even dangerous for themselves and for Ana so…..

By her 10th year, Ana no longer had to hide Wonder bread and Jiffy peanut butter under her bed. She stocked the kitchen and made various kind of sandwiches—tuna or chicken salad—which she kept on hand for her parents up and hungry moments. Generally, the house was quiet, however. Ana was not an abused child in the sense of physical beatings and she did not consider herself to be neglected. She had taken note of the family life of her classmates and had learned to present herself to the nuns as an independent and quite happy child of shy parents. Those who did know her father and mother decided to 'stay out of it'….too much trouble and Ana seemed fine so…..

Today Ana stayed home from school. Her parents had fought until late and at times like that Ana's bravery failed her. She tried to be unconcerned but still she curled under her bed with her pillow over her head. Her father would be quite drunk and would try to go to his latest job in the morning but Ana knew he'd be back home, wanting to start up again with her mother. Ana would need to be there to protect Rose. Ana loved Rose and Rose loved Ana, in her way. They were not huggy, kissy like the mothers Ana saw dropping off and collecting their children at school but Rose was never angry with Ana and would sometimes let Ana cuddle against her as the drugs put her under. Then Ana would wrap her mother's arm around her and pretend. Sometimes Ana would fall asleep after being up all night and would fail to see that her father was stirring and ready to make Rose pay for his failures.

Ana tried to get up in time to get him what she called a 'sleepy time' beer but he was already on his feet and riled up.

Christian looked up in alarm at the monitors. They were beeping madly. Ana was agitated. He frantically pushed the button for the nurse. They'd already noticed from their stations and were racing in the door as he pressed his lips to Ana's forehead and shushed her. The private charge nurse he'd hired held up a needle, checked its content level and injected it into Ana's IV. The several seconds it took to take effect seemed like hours to Christian. Slowly, the monitors calmed. Ana's heart rate eased and Christian's with it.

No one knew what caused these spikes. The doctors couldn't name Ana's pain.

Chapter 54

Elena was dog-tired. It wasn't so much the kitchen work at the homeless shelter as it was the mental effort to appear congenial. If there was one thing that Elena was not, it was congenial. She smiled at the smelly, dirty people who held out their plates to her for mashed potato refills-a popular dish for people with rotten teeth. Elena's efforts to smile were hurting her face. So, she chose a sad, sympathetic look instead toward the end of the day.

She was only a fourth of the way through her community service hours and wondering how in hell she'd manage the rest, much less her plan to enthusiastically offer herself for more. She was pleased, however, to see that her watchers were happy with her. She had them fooled. No one had even thought to suspect her of having a part in the assault on Ana Steele.

In fact, she puzzled, no one even seemed aware of the assault. Why had there been nothing written in the papers, nothing on the evening news? She'd even chanced entering The Rose late in the day when Brenda wouldn't be there to recognize her but her sly questioning of other patrons had yielded no information. Everyone seemed to believe that Ana was just back in the kitchen, happily baking her crappy little bits of pastry.

It was frustrating for Elena. She couldn't begin to plot her next move if she didn't know how her first had turned out. And Christian? Where was he? Elena had tried to visit him at his penthouse only to find that the elevator codes had been changed. When she inquired at the GEH building, she was told to make an appointment and then advised that Mr. Grey would be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

Elena tried to arrange a lunch with Grace Grey but the housekeeper answered the phone and said that Mrs. Grey's schedule was currently too full for social engagements. Good grief, thought Elena, if she couldn't get that ninny Grace to talk, what connection could she next exploit?

Thus, her days were spent slinging hash and flogging her sub. He, as required by Elena, had no limits and thus was treated to long and extreme sessions in her dungeon. Everyone knew that Elena was the harshest of dominatrices but there were many subs whose needs were extreme so she was in demand.

She pretended that her latest was his Honor who'd so badly disappointed her or the jurors who'd failed to at least arrange for a hung jury or the bailiff who'd given her no warning and, of course, Mr. Lemon.

Due to her failure to understand the bond among doms and subs, she'd been unable to dole out the proper punishment to those who failed her. She was the Mistress of Dominatrices of Seattle and had not been given the respect due her. This was confounding. There was so much payback due to so many, Elena hardly knew where to begin.

So much to do.

Chapter 55

Carrick sat in the chair next to Grace holding her hand while she watched Christian hold Ana's hand.

"Ah, Christian? I hate to be critical at this juncture, son, but you've been wearing the same clothes for quite some time and, frankly son, you're starting to reek. I'm sure that you don't want Ana to catch a whiff of that when she wakes up. That's no way to woo a girl."

Christian looked up and smiled at his father's attempt to be humorous…and truthful. "She would enjoy mocking me, " he agreed as he texted Taylor. "I'd better clean up. The doc said that she could come to any time now." Christian's mood had improved considerably in the last day since the doctor's prediction.

"I'm going to take your mother out for lunch against her will, right, dear?"

"I guess so, Cary," smiled Grace. Things were finally looking up and she was sick of cafeteria food.

Taylor arrived soon after with supplies and a change of clothes. "Stay with her, Jason, while I shower. I don't want her left alone. Unless you know the doctor or nurse, no one gets near her."

"Understood, sir". Taylor stood next to Ana.

When Christian emerged from the en suite, he was surprised to find a strange middle-aged man standing over Ana across from Taylor. The man was looking down at Ana and reaching down to stroke her forehead. Taylor glanced at Christian, a signal passed between them and Taylor left the room.

The man looked up at Christian and nodded a greeting. "Who are you?" asked Christian.

The man offered his hand to Grey. "My name is John Flynn. I'm Ana's friend and one-time psychologist. I was alerted by a member of the staff who remembered me and thought Ana might need me." Grey shook Dr. Flynn's hand and then picked up his phone and began texting.

Dr. Flynn grinned. "You can have your people check me out. While they're doing that, I'll tell you what you want to know anyway." Flynn indicated Christian's chair while he took one for himself.

"I gather you're quite fond of my little friend here, "said Flynn.

"How do you know Ana?" asked Christian.

"We met eight years ago. I was her doctor during her breakdown following the deaths of her parents. While she was physically recovering from the crash, her mental state was precarious. We worked together for almost two years before she felt well enough to go forward on her own.

I wasn't so sure myself but she was a very determined young woman whose personal history indicated her strong intentions to do what she felt was best. After all, she'd raised herself so all I could do was encourage her to keep in touch and take care. I figured that without her parents she'd actually have two fewer people to worry about than before. And she's done okay until now. From the surprise on your face, I gather this is all news to you."

Chapter 56

"Ana and I have a lot to tell each other. However, we have deep feelings already. As much as I want to know everything about her, I don't know if I want to find out from anyone else. I've already figured out that she has no family or relatives so my father and I secured power of attorney so we could speak for her and protect her. We don't know who attacked her or why. We don't know if she was targeted or if it was a random mugging. Either way, we'll hunt him down."

Christian's phone buzzed. "My contact says that you are legit and you practice here in Seattle. Naturally, HIPPA prevents us from determining if your claims about Ana are true."

Christian's head shot up in astonishment as John Flynn's head flew back in laughter.

He continued chuckling as Grey stared at him.

"Mr. Grey, I do know who you are, you know. HIPPA means nothing to you. I'm sure that within the hour you could tell me all the names of my current clients and every one of their issues. No pretense is necessary, truly."

Christian looked a bit embarrassed to be caught out. Dr. Flynn was right. If he wanted to know something, HIPPA wasn't going to be a hindrance. Still, he really did want to learn all about Ana from Ana. Dr. Flynn, he felt had already told him too much. Why had he, Grey wondered? He wanted to ask but Flynn was already getting up to go.

"Ana could suffer some brain damage or issues from this incident. Here is my card. Call if you think it necessary? Good day."

Yeah, thanks, thought Grey. I was feeling better and now I get to worry about brain damage.

Christian fell back into his chair, automatically reaching for Ana's hand and leaning his forehead unto her stomach. He'd met her just a relatively short time ago and yet his ache for her was almost constant and unbearable. Somehow knowing that she'd been out there in the world alone all this time, all her life really, made the ache even worse. There was no way to go back and rescue her from worthless parents and foster homes. All he could do was make the rest of her life as perfect as possible. The rest of her life? Huh?

No matter what she wanted or needed, he'd see to it that she had it. If she'd let him. Dr. Flynn had intimated that Ana was completely independent. Maybe she wouldn't want Grey to take care of her. He knew only control, dominance. That was his version of caring and it would never fly with a woman like Ana. How was he going to be a different man?

He put his head into his hands and then looked over into Ana's beautiful face for answers.

He was startled to see her eyes wide open and looking into his. His heart bursting, he took her face into his hands and began to kiss her lips and her head and her cheeks, crying out her name and then "baby, baby, baby'' over and over again….until he heard her voice rasp out a giggle…

"Hi, Christian. I think your vocabulary has deteriorated since we last spoke."

Chapter 57

A few blessed moments alone and suddenly the room was filled with white coats shoving Christian out of the way. A nurse yelled for him to leave. A doctor, altogether too young and too attractive for Grey's comfort, took his place next to Ana. He felt himself being dragged out of the room and as he turned with ready fist, he saw Taylor.

"Get off me! I'm not leaving!" Grey raged. All this time he'd been the one sitting by her side, talking to her, applying balm to her dry lips and sticking those little sponges into her dry mouth, lifting and moving her body a few inches every hour to prevent soreness, alerting staff when the her IV bags were getting low or her bladder bag was filling up. He was the one who deserved to be with her now!

"Mr. Grey! Listen to me. If you don't do what the staff order you to do, they can kick you out of here. It doesn't matter who you are or that you probably built this wing." Taylor tried to quietly reason with the furious man whose arm he was griping. He firmly tugged Grey down the hall to the waiting room and deposited him into a chair.

"You're fired, asshole," Grey growled at him.

"Of course, sir. I'm going to get you some water. Stay right where you are, understand?" Taylor stood over him until Grey reluctantly nodded agreement.

When he returned with a cup of water, Taylor was mildly surprised to find that Grey was still in his seat. He handed him the cup and noted that Grey hadn't eaten in some time. Then he indicated the cooler on the seat next to them. "Gail sent over some food. Why don't you try to eat something while we wait."

Grey looked at the cup in his hand and then at the cooler.

"Did she send wine or whiskey?"

Taylor sighed. He was tired. He'd been hanging around this hospital for as long as Grey and he missed sleeping in his own bed with his warm wife.

"I don't know if you've ever had occasion before to spend much time in a hospital but regulations do not usually allow for loved ones to set up camp next to the patient. Be grateful and please be calm while the doctors check out Ms. Steele. Drink the water before you're admitted for dehydration."

"When did you get so bossy, Taylor?"

"I think about day 3 when you wouldn't eat or drink. Or maybe it was day 4 when you told my wife to 'get off your back'," snarled Taylor.

"Sorry. Didn't really see her there," Grey apologized. "I suppose she was trying to feed me?"

Taylor reached into the cooler. "Tuna or chicken salad?"

Grey didn't answer. All his attention was directed down the hall toward Ana's room. Taylor had spent years enduring Grey's 'lifestyle' and his vacuous subs and that Lincoln woman but his boss's obsession with The Rose and its owner had been more draining than any of that. It was the intensity of it, he minded. Grey's anxiety and unusual behavior upended Taylor's humdrum days of driving him around and watching for paparazzi and kidnappers.

Chapter 58

After Taylor had more or less inserted a sandwich into Christian's mouth, he stepped off to the side and made the necessary calls. Grey's parents were now on their way. Gail said she loved him and to eat. Ros said that all was well at GEH and PR was managing all potential leaks. Checking Grey's own phone, Taylor was pleased to note that Grey had ignored more than a dozen attempts by Mrs. Lincoln to speak with him.

Lord, he loathed that woman…or whatever she was. Every time he heard her heels making all that racket as she stalked across the marble floors of the foyer, he wanted to drop kick her right back into the elevator. He'd been in wars. He'd seen some real soma-bitches pointing weapons at his men but nothing raised his hackles like Lincoln. She was the noisiest person he'd ever met what with her stilettos, her creaking leather outfits and her nails-on-a-blackboard voice.

His own wife, with her soft voice, soft soled shoes, soft cotton dresses with her soft flowered aprons and gently gliding walk, made her way around the penthouse like a stealth fighter…. doing daily battle with dust and laundry.. He could always smell her though. Her perfume wafting through the air reached him just before she did. Sometimes it was whatever she'd been cooking. Sometimes it was whatever was in that little bottle on the dresser. Grey bought her an expensive Parisian scent every birthday, Christmas, Valentine's Day. Taylor wondered how he always knew when Gail was running low on the stuff. He wasn't sure how he felt about his boss being so familiar with his wife's perfume needs. It was nice stuff but his favorite was the scent of vanilla that Gail used so often in the kitchen. He also like when she smelled like pot roast.

Taylor was startled out of his latest reverie about Gail by Welch's ringtone, the theme from the old TV show 'Dragnet'.

"What do you have?"

"How's the girl doing?"

"Nice of you to ask. She's awake. Talk."

"Nothing concrete."

"Then why are you bothering me? Grey's looking at me. In about a minute he'll be hounding me for info about the mugger."

"Cops found the Gremlin. Parked in the lot in its owner's usual spot. Guy didn't even know it had been gone. Our perp deliberately picked up a crap car that wouldn't be missed for a short while and went cruising for a victim to rob? Then he returned the car? Also, it was clean, too clean. Except for one thing. A hair. From a brown wig. The car's owner is bald."

"So, what are you saying? That this was not a random mugging?"

"That's what I'm thinking and so are the cops. Gotta go. My soap's on."

Grey was watching Taylor. He'd want answers. All of them. To everything. God, the guy was just exhausting sometimes.

"Welch and the cops think Ms. Steele's mugging might be attempted murder."

Chapter 59

Ana tried to be patient with all the poking and prodding and the questions but about the 4th time a light was shown into her eyes, she'd had enough.

"Get off of me," she demanded. She was naturally a polite person but this fussing was truly annoying. And where was Christian? She was in a bit of a fog but she was sure that he'd just been here, calling her 'baby'. She liked that.

As patiently as she could manage, she asked that Grey be returned to her. Her doctor said that she looked remarkably well but that she needed to get her rest now. Ana looked at him. Then she spoke to him the way she sometimes had to with cranky elders at the café.

"You just told me that I've awoken from a coma. That would seem to be a pretty deep sleep. I'm hungry, thirsty and I want to see Christian. Please." She smiled at the doctor as if he was in need of medical intervention of the psychiatric sort.

The doctor knew he was being condescended to but this patient was really cute and that was influencing his judgement. He asked the nurse to bring chicken broth as he explained to Ana that it would be a day or so until she was ready for solid food. He said that he'd let her "eat", visit with Christian and sleep before he had some tests performed. The nurse rolled her eyes as she watched the doctor trying to charm his pretty patient. Anyone else would be getting an injection to be put them right back to sleep.

Ana smiled sweetly and then sweetly demanded that her catheter be removed and that "cow udder" be taken away. Perhaps later today we'll test your strength and see if you can be helped to the restroom, the doctor replied.

"Perhaps the second you leave this room I'll rip the thing out and take myself unaided to the toilet," Ana warned.

Why, the young doctor wondered, did no one appreciate the convenience of having a tube do all your peeing for you? He appraised Ms. Steele for a moment and then found her weak spot.

"If you spill urine all over the floor, some orderly who makes minimum wage will have to mop it all up." He watched Ana's face and knew he'd hit home. He smiled at her disappointed expression and promised that later in the day, they'd revisit the issue.

A nurse's aide arrived with a tray with broth and water and something foul-tasting that was supposed to be nourishing and the doctor left with a see-you-later. Just as Ana was about to yell his name, Christian popped back into the room with a beaming face and a chicken salad sandwich hidden in his coat pocket.

Despite her protest that she had bad breath, he kissed her like she'd been clubbed nearly to death and had been comatose for weeks and he was finally able to breathe again.

Chapter 60

"Cary! Get a move on! I want to meet Christian's girl!"

"What are you talking about? You've been sitting by her bed for weeks, doing all that 'tending stuff' you do."

"Changing someone's IV and emptying their urine drainage bag while they're comatose is not the sort of 'getting to know someone' I had in mind. Good grief, Cary, you do understand that this is Christian's first girlfriend? She's awake and I'm a nervous wreck. What if she doesn't like me?"

Carrick Grey had never seen his wife like this. She was physician, for cryin' out loud. Calm, cool and collected. Christian had never been an easy child, like his brother and sister, but Grace had always been far more at ease with his weirdness than Carrick had.

"Why wouldn't she like you? Everyone likes you." Carrick tried to be reassuring but he was more comfortable with logic and legal formalities than soothing. His idea of caring for someone was winning their case. Clients were always hugging him as he stood there like a plank. Maybe that's why he'd never been overwrought about his odd middle son, his fellow plank.

Approaching the hospital, Grace sat in the passenger seat wringing her hands. Carrick, after decades with this woman, still felt a rush when he heard her car pull into the garage. He knew he wasn't the most demonstrative husband and often tried to be more affectionate with his wife but maybe he was just like Christian. Now, he felt ill at ease knowing his wife was ill at ease. He reached over to squeeze her hand. "This girl is going to love you, Grace." She smiled at him and looked out the window. She was thinking that maybe her beloved Christian would finally have a life. She never let on, she hoped, but he was dearest to her heart. He needed her more and yet asked so much less of her than Elliot and Mia who took their good mental health for granted.

Meanwhile, Ana was vomiting up the chicken salad sandwich that Christian had smuggled in. Her stomach couldn't handle solid food yet. She hated the doctor being right and she tried to blame it on the chicken broth. In fact, she decided, it was the chicken broth.

Christian's response to her upchucking in front of him while he held her hair was weird, she thought. Rather than fleeing to the nurses' station for aid and cleanup, he grabbed a kidney dish for her and then a warm wash cloth to wipe her face. Concerned for her discomfort, he seemed pleased to be present and able to help. While Ana thought this odd, for Christian it was a step toward greater intimacy between them.

"I just want to be closer to you," he explained while she watched him carry her vomit dish to the toilet. Ana had, lord knows, participated in enough vomit episodes with her substance abusing parents throughout her childhood but had never thought, "oh, goody, a chance to bond with Mommy and Daddy."

After he cleaned up, he brought out a toothbrush, water and another kidney dish for her to spit in. She silently decided that if he wanted to take charge of the toilet tissue when she was freed from the catheter, he could forget it.

He'd just have to deal that intimacy gap.

Chapter 61

Ros had been dealing with GEH on her own which required more hours which made her wife pissy as all hell. Christian had informed her delightedly that Ana was awake and did not appear to have any lingering health issues. Ros replied 'goody' and told him to get his ass back in his desk chair asap. He offered her a raise, she said thanks and now get your ass back to work. They had a couple of major acquisitions in the works and had to get to Tokyo soon. Also, Gwen was not getting any easier to deal with so if he wanted Ros to be easy to deal with, he'd do his share of the work at GEH.

Christian sighed. There was no getting around it. He had to spend at least part of the day in the office. He'd always hated meetings. Why did he have to smile and stroke CEO egos to close deals? Couldn't he just threaten and browbeat? He was little more than icily polite to his own employees and they did what he wanted. And, gripes, the Asians were the worst. So many rituals and courtesies and teas to endure. He didn't trust their smiles anyway. Businessmen smiles, no matter the culture, were just grimaces belying their true intentions…which, of course, were to put in the knife and twist. He figured that the guys in Tokyo with their days of 'getting to know you' were just trying to tire out the competition before going in for the kill.

His mother was smiling beatifically at Ana while his father was just studying her. Ana appeared unaffected by either 'getting to know you' technique. This girl was just unfazed, he was learning, by anything. Dr. John had said that she had basically raised herself and a couple of nut ball parents so normal people must seem like a walk in the park.

Hmm…mused Christian. He wondered if Ana would like to walk in the park. They could hold hands or she could hold onto his arm or he could wrap his arm around her shoulder or her waist. Could they manage some combination of that? He'd fold his left arm around her shoulder and then reach his right hand over to grab her left? Or maybe they could just stand in the park with their arms around each and he could nuzzle her neck. That's it. They would have Taylor drop them off at the park and then they could walk a few feet in and then just stand there and kiss.

Problem solved, he smiled to himself.

As he mulled this over, he heard his mother's voice calling his name.

"Christian, where are you?"

Ana was staring at him. "You have the goofiest look on your face. That's new. Of course," she turned to his parents, "we're mostly new."

"Well, that expression is new to us, too," smiled Grace. She was trying mightily to suppress her joy at the happiness of her usually grim son. Elliot would probably say that their grinch's heart had grown three sizes. She'd have to get to him before he blurted that out in front of Ana. In fact, she'd have to get to Mia, too, although she doubted Mia's ability to contain her enthusiasm.

She sighed. It had been a lovely visit. Ana was charming and easy to talk with. Of course, she was the proprietor of her own café so she certainly knew how to schmooze with customers. Still, Grace smiled to herself, this is a genuine person in front of me.

Chapter 62

Elena was genuine, too…genuinely wicked. She'd finally found a source at the hospital to spy on Ana for her. Even Elena was sometimes surprised at the number of people who practiced BDSM. She hoped to god that no one ever wrote a book with an eye to normalizing the lifestyle she held so dear. Its unacceptability to polite society made it such useful fodder for extortion and blackmail. She grinned to herself as she thought of how easily her source had cracked when she suggested that he be 'helpful'. And how ironic that Ana's own handsome young doctor enjoyed subbing at her favorite club.

It was a shame that it had taken her so long to find him. Ana was recovering and soon to be released. Christian had not left her side. Well, that game of whack-a-mole had not proven to be a long term solution but it had certainly caused the both of them some consternation, at least.

On the other hand, Elena frowned, it was possible that Ana's temporary helplessness might have deepened Christian's feelings for the brat. She had hoped for brain damage and her pet's subsequent boredom with a tiresome recovery period. A lousy few weeks of tender worry made for poor results…for Elena, that is.

After a couple of weeks of being kind to the homeless, she'd now been assigned to read to blind shut-ins and clean their homes! She'd tried to beg off the cleaning part by claiming to have a bad back. Unfortunately, the judge being a Dom, he knew that Elena was capable of quite strenuous exercise for several hours of BDSM scenes so he informed her "keeper" that she could handle house cleaning. Elena solved this issue by sneaking in her own maid to quietly clean while Elena read Madame Bovary to an old lady who said "oh, my" a lot. Elena discovered that if she read quite softly and with a drone, her elderly duty would fall asleep leaving Elena with the free time to play Angry Birds on her phone or plot against Ana Steele.

She tried to blackmail Dr. Dreamy into poisoning Ana…perhaps a nice overdose…but he had taken an oath and actually believed in the thing. And, of course, exposing him would anger the community so….

Her source at the Seattle PD told her that the police no longer thought that the attack on Ana was a random mugging. If they were looking for suspects, Elena thought, she would certainly be at the top of the list. Of course, they were looking for a man and hers was long gone….still she knew that Christian would suspect her. She would have to work out something to disabuse him of that notion. She wondered if she could realistically appear to regret her animosity toward the brat…you know, express delight with his newfound happiness, blah, blah. He was so furious with her about the civil suit. She'd never seen him that displeased with her. She could usually handle him. After all, you don't spend 13 years brainwashing someone and lose control of them overnight. On the surface, he might be angry but a little sweet talk, a heartless heartfelt apology, tears of regret and expressions of endearment…yeah, she could bring him around.

He would want to believe her because not believing the woman who'd burrowed herself into his brain would be unthinkable and Elena was the parasite in Christian's brain.

Chapter 63

Christian stared at the tasteful floral arrangement on Ana's beside table while Ana stared at the accompanying GET WELL card. Then they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"Elena wishing me well!" Ana was laughing so hard that tears were welling up in her eyes.

Christian, meanwhile, was using google on his phone, trying to divine the meaning behind the kinds of flowers Elena had sent.

"Hah! Yellow roses mean jealousy and diminishing of affection toward the recipient. Well, that's Elena all over," chuckled Christian, "although I doubt there was any affection to diminish. She's probably trying to get her name off my suspect list. Fat chance."

Suddenly, Ana looked quite serious. Christian threw the vase and all into the bathroom wastebasket. He nudged Ana's hip with his and she moved over to allow him to slip in next to her. He put his arm around her, nestled her on his shoulder and kissed the top of her head. He held her thusly for a quiet while before softly reassuring her that he would protect her.

"You're mine now. You've been mine since I first became yours that moment in the café when you grabbed Elena's claw and I looked up into the sky, the bluest sky I'd ever seen... so bright, I was blinded. Then it darkened a bit as you looked down at Elena. I had to grab hold of the table to keep from jumping up, to get closer."

Ana grinned, "Gosh, that's very romantic."

Then she looked at his face. His grey eyes had darkened and they burned into her. She reached up to capture his face and his mouth. When their lips parted, breathless, she spoke her truth. "You're mine now."

Christian wrapped his arms completely around Ana and threw his leg over hers while she snuggled into his chest. He brought a hand up to stroke her hair while he nuzzled against her head, careful to not bump her injury. He laughed softly. How, he wondered, had he managed all this time as one body.

Elena would pay, he promised himself. He'd no doubt that she was behind the attempt to kill Ana. If he couldn't take care of her legally, he'd do so illegally. Taylor loved intrigue. They'd come up with something. But the first order of business was to protect Ana from further harm...harm that Christian knew Elena would be at that very moment plotting. To Elena, plotting was a way of life. Everything was a BDSM scene to Elena. Her mind was on autopilot…always thinking blood and dungeons. Well, this time she'd be the one shackled, bound, gagged, suspended from a ceiling, whipped and flogged. You came after MINE, he grimaced.

When the nurse came in to announce dinner and medications and the drainage of urine bags and the taking of blood pressure and pulse readings, she found Christian and Ana tightly wound together…sleeping in their own, safe world.

Chapter 64

"YOU'RE WHAT?" screamed Ros.

"uh, working from home?" Christian whimpered. Ros was the only person in the world who could make Christian squirm…well, since he became a Dom anyway. She had made it clear that he'd better get his ass back to work and now he was trying to worm his way out of it. He'd also tried to get out of going to Tokyo by suggesting that Ros take Gwen and have a vacation of sorts. However, Gwen hated flying, even on the luxurious private GEH jet.

"They go up in the air, unless they crash on takeoff. Then they hang up there unless an engine flames out and then you get to watch out the window for an eternity until the ground comes up to smash your face. Or they crash land because of wind shear or geese or something. It is an insane way to get around." Thus spake Gwyneth.

"You are going to Tokyo with me," declared Ros, "or you are going to Tokyo alone, got that?

Or you could bring Ana along?"

"Yeah, I thought about that but the doctor thinks her head should stay grounded for a little while longer. It's the pressure or something. I'm trying to talk her into staying with my parents while I'm gone so my mother can keep an eye on her. Also, whoever wants her dead is still out there.

"Christian, what a delightful surprise! I'm so happy to see you! Come in, come in. Would you like something to drink? Sit, sit.

Now don't even start. We've been dear friends for far too long. We'll let bygones be bygones and begin anew. All is forgiven.

I hear that Ana is doing well, yes? Now, of course, you know I'd prefer you have an experienced sub but if she is the one you're sure that you want... I'll even help. We'll have to start slow because it is clear that she is rather headstrong but with my guidance, we'll have her submitting to your needs before you know it."

Christian smiled at Elena and backed away as she reached for his lapels. She then reached to straighten his Windsor knot and again he backed away, still smiling. She looked confused.

"Why do you keep taking steps back from me, dear?"

"Because your touch repulses me," Christian replied politely. "And your cloying perfume is turning my stomach."

"Christian, you're being rude," Elena said in a tight voice.

"Am I? You know what I think is 'being rude', Elena? Hiring a thug to kill my girlfriend. Putting her in a coma was rude. Don't you agree?" Christian asked with menace burning in his gray eyes.

Elena was alarmed. He knew. She could pretend but it would be futile. Still, he had no proof.

Christian smirked. He could read her malevolent mind.

"Do you think that I require evidence, Elena? Do you think without it that you're safe? Do you?"

Chapter 65

He advanced on her. She retreated.

She'd been careful when she and Linc had begun looking for their first house together. They'd also been at odds. Her husband wanted a small place by the water in a friendly neighborhood but Elena wanted something ostentatious with a lot of acreage for the kids she said that she wanted but that she had no intention of ever giving him. He held her in his arms, comforting her after both miscarriages. He never connected the dots. She got pregnant. They rejoiced at the sonogram. She flew to New York to visit friends. When she returned, the baby was gone and Elena was heartbroken.

Meanwhile, as Linc had to travel on business, Elena was busy converting a portion of the basement into the 'classroom' down into which she would one day lead 15 year old Christian. Without children to play in a rec room, Elena said that she couldn't bear to finish off the basement so it just filled with junk instead. Linc never saw the hidden door and never heard the screams from the sound-proofed dungeon.

When she took such an interest in the young boy who lived up the road, he thought she was kind to give him odd jobs. Heck, he didn't even ask why there were so many odd jobs to be done around the house.

When, after ten years together, she asked for a divorce, he was not perplexed. They barely spoke anymore. He gave her the house, a huge cash settlement and monthly alimony. He wasn't aware that his never employed wife was already independently wealthy, the owner of 2 quite elite BDSM clubs that also trained and provided the best in submissives to rich people.

He continued coming for her until she was hard against the wall. Screaming would be useless with the house so far from any other. Besides, with his hand around her throat, breathing was difficult, much less screaming for help. He slowly tightened his grip, enjoying the look of growing panic on her stretched, botoxed and painted face. As soon as she seemed about to lose consciousness, he released his hold… slightly.

"Breathe," he ordered in a deep Dom tone.

She obeyed.

As color returned to her face, he again tightened his grip, again slowly, watching the fear and panic also return to her face. And again, as she felt herself slipping away, he loosened his hold.

"Breathe," he again commanded.

"I like to see you afraid, Elena," Christian's eyes seemed almost black with hate.

"Are you wondering how long before I don't allow another breath, Elena? I used to wonder that when you tied such a large ball gag onto my face that I literally choked on my own saliva. Is this the fear you saw in my eyes as I pleaded silently for release?"

As he taunted her, his grip was tightening again and this time his thumb pressed down on her windpipe. As she gagged and gasped, he asked her, "Do you feel the pain, too? Your lungs not only ready to burst but the choking that induces an additional terror?"

"Mr. Grey, stop!" Taylor grabbed Christian by the shoulders. Elena crumbled.

Chapter 66

Taylor shoved his boss into a chair. Christian wasn't even breathing hard. He'd been dangling Elena in the air, making her stand on her toes, bringing her to the brink and back again for almost 30 minutes. With one hand. Yet he looked as relaxed as a man who'd been sitting on a park bench tossing bread crumbs to ducks.

Taylor looked a little disturbed, however. He pulled out his phone and texted Gail. Then he glared at Christian. "You know how you were looking forward to pot roast tonight? Well, you can forget it. I've been sitting out in the car for half an hour while you're in here playing 'choke the bitch'. Then while you'd sit at home eating my wife's cooking, I'd have to figure out what to do with the body!"

Elena sat in a heap on the floor, astonished, looking from man to man. Gasping for breath, she said, "You two are insane."

"Well, if that ain't the pot calling the kettle crazy," said Christian as he and Taylor began roaring with laughter so hard that Taylor had to fall into a chair next to Christian.

"I told you that Russian Roulette was fun," grinned Taylor. He checked his watch. "It's getting late. We'd better get going or we'll have to answer to our women," he said, getting up from his chair. "Never a pleasure, Mrs. Lincoln," he looked back at Elena, still collapsed on the floor. "And, ma'am, we'll see you soon….unless you can run faster."

Christian was just getting his breath back as he sat up in his chair.

"God, I haven't laughed that hard since…well, I guess since Ana got your flowers. You really are a hoot, Elena. I didn't know that your eyes could bug out so far. I'll have to choke you more often," he said, as he began laughing again.

"You are insane. That was sadistic," gasped Elena, staring up at him, feeling the pain in her chest.

"No grasp of irony, I see," responded Christian, sitting forward, leaning on his knees.

"Now, one of two things is going to happen. I will find jury acceptable evidence to put you away for attempted murder or…I won't. Can you guess what I'll do if I don't, Mrs. Lincoln? Hmm?

I'll be back for more fun and games. The next one will be called, 'Christian Grey-Judge, Jury

& Executioner'.

I know you, Elena. You'll have learned nothing from this. You're too arrogant to stop while you're ahead or even still alive. Ten minutes after I'm gone you'll be plotting revenge. So, this will all end badly for you unless one of your ten brain cells kicks in. Don't think for a minute that I'm not capable of stopping you anyway I can."

"You sealed your fate when you came after Ana. I protect what is mine. I, Christian Grey, Master Dom of Seattle, will kill to keep what is mine.

This woman is mine. Are you clear on that NOW?"

Chapter 67

"Well, think that worked?" asked Taylor as he pulled out of Elena's driveway.

"No, but it was fun. You could have given me more time, you know," whined Christian.

"I'm hungry and we're having pot roast," whined Taylor right back.

There was a moment of silence.

"Could you really have killed her?" asked Taylor.

"I'm afraid so, Jason. There was a flash of memory. Ana on the ground, blood pooling all around her head," Christian confessed. "Am I the monster I often think I am?"

Another moment of silence as Jason considered the question.

"Well, if you are, so am I. If that had been Gail…" an involuntary shudder ran through him.

"You know, I have killed. All those tours of duty. All those Mideast hotspots. With enough motivation, it isn't as hard as you think. Probably a monster in any one of us," he conceded.

Grey didn't have to think over his next comment.

"Not in Ana. Not in Grace. Not in Gail."

Taylor nodded in agreement. "Now, maybe Miss Mia…"

Christian fell over in the back seat, howling with laughter.

"Not a minute too soon, you two. You know, my roast is very sensitive. Make it wait around and it'll dry out. I made up a cooler for you to take to the hospital, Mr. Grey. I talked to your mother and she said that Ana can have solid food for dinner."

"Thank you, Gail. Ana will love that as will I. How come we don't have it more often?"

"I told you. My roast is sensitive. Maybe if you two kept regular hours. Where were you anyway or should I ask?" Gail chanced the question, knowing the answer.

"Well….." muttered Grey.

"And did it do any good?" Gail again knew the answer.

"Doubtful, dear," replied Taylor as he settled himself at the breakfast bar.

"I suppose that asking you two to let the police handle it would just be spittin' in the wind?"

"Geez, Mrs. Taylor, where'd you pick up a vulgarity like that?" said a semi-shocked Grey. "That's quite the image. I don't think my Mrs. Jones ever talked like that," he side-eyed his CPO.

"That's rather mild compared to what can come out of my mouth if my pot roast is dry. I'm eating now. Say hi to Ana." Taylor waved as he stabbed a potato.

Christian decided to drive his R8. He was kind of wound up after almost killing Elena. And, having almost killed Elena, he decided that taking Ryan along would be a good idea. He didn't want to leave his car unguarded. It could blow up next time he turned the key in the ignition.

Besides, tonight he had to face a bomb of another kind. Little Ms. TNT would not be happy when he tried to persuade her to come home with him in the morning.

No, not happy at all.

Chapter 68

"No."

Christian sighed

Since he became a Dom, since he became a CEO, since he became the sole owner of a multi-billion dollar company, his command was final. Gripes. She was half his size, a heart of gold and the face of an angel.

"No."

That was a word that he knew he was going to have to get used to hearing. The learning curve since the day he'd met her was steep and getting steeper. He could go back to subs, he thought to himself. Yes. Sir. Master…..but it was cold there and dull and pointless.

"No"….a word he was starting to appreciate and even like because he sure liked the mouth that said it and the blazing blue eyes that looked into his. However, accepting 'no' was not an option. Elena was probably out buying a bazooka.

"That was incredible pot roast! Do you think your housekeeper would share the recipe?"

The blaze had turned to excitement over a pot roast. How could a woman who ate so little get so excited about a recipe? It was like someone who didn't read going ape-shit over a first edition of Jane Eyre.

"If I get you the recipe, would you….?

"Nope," she swiftly cut him off.

Okay, it was time for a reality check.

"So, you get to leave the hospital in a couple of days…with conditions, the doctor had said.

You cannot be alone. You have to have someone with you 24/7 to watch for seizures, severe headaches, odd behavior and so on. Do you agree that you've heard him say this?"

Ana narrowed her eyes at him for a long minute and then nodded in the affirmative.

"Ok, what is your plan for this necessary care?" He narrowed his eyes right back at her.

"Well, I'll be downstairs with my crew most of the time and the rest of the time, I'll be upstairs sleeping." Even as she said the words, she knew they wouldn't fly. She wasn't going to get away with working 20 hour days and sleeping alone for 4. She was just getting to know Christian but if that rotation of beefy guards at her hospital room door was any indication, her days of being on her own were over. And even if he hadn't told her yet, Ana knew that her "mugging"...well, wasn't.

She'd been thinking a lot during the few hours that Christian wasn't with her. She'd always been completely, unequivocally, on her own. It was all she knew and she'd been okay with it. Now, she knew, those day were done. That understanding had slowly dawned on her as she sat in the corner of her café having little conversations with the man who seemed to look right through her. 22 years of making all decisions on her own. Sleeping alone, with her nightmares. She knew that Brenda and the others cared for her and watched out for her as she did for them but still….

Could she let a man in? Was she truly capable of sharing?

Chapter 69

When Christian entered her room, he found Ana asleep but restless. She was having another nightmare. Weren't they a pair? The few times they'd slept together both had slept peacefully.

Without waking her, Christian slipped in beside her and pulled her close. She struggled at first and muttered but soon settled. They were facing each other and he noticed the drying trail of tears on her cheeks. He kissed her lips and whispered soothing bits of nothing to her until the little V between her eyebrows evened out and her whole face relaxed. She was at peace and he was as well, knowing that he had brought her that peace. She did the same for him. He'd come into the room, tense and anxious over some deal at work, see Ana and feel a blanket of calm settle over him.

Even though he dearly loved his parents and siblings, he'd never been able to show it much. He did things for them instead. Flew his family to his Aspen chalet for the holidays. Gave his brother the seed money to start Grey Construction. Gave Mia a no-limit Amex…probably a mistake, he smiled to himself. Allowed his mother to hug him, carefully, and shook his father's hand. Still. He would sometimes attend Sunday brunches but he wasn't good company and he knew it. Elliot called him a grinch. Even when he'd had a successful tension relieving weekend with his sub, the effects soon wore off.

When he found himself racing down the hospital corridor to get to a contentious young woman who wanted out, NOW, he recalled how he felt after a Friday night of abusing a sub, albeit consensually. The effects quickly wore off and it irked him that there was a strange person occupying a bedroom upstairs. He'd wake up on Saturday mornings, usually with the side of his face bearing the imprint of the black piano keys, and remember that that person was up there, in his home. More and more, that bothered him. It wasn't supposed to bother him. It was supposed to excite him. He did need the release but he wished the woman could just vanish like a puff of smoke until he needed her again. Instead, she'd hover about, awaiting his commands. He used to like it when they'd cook for him, wearing nothing but stilettos and an apron. Now he told them to stay in their room while he reheated whatever Gail left for him and then he'd leave a tray outside their door. They had enjoyed puttering around him naked, kneeling at his feet in his study in case he felt like a handy fuck. They just wanted to be with him and he just wanted to be alone. Sometimes, after a morning session, he'd forget that they were even there, upstairs, awaiting his command. He had more than one sub terminate their contract early because he was not giving them the attention they craved. They would even commit infractions in hopes of punishment but he'd begun to take no notice. His last sub had left the weekend after he met Ana. Elena was in the process of persuading him to interview a couple of prospects when coffee-gate happened. Since then there'd been no one and, Christian had come to realize, there would never be another. It was the end of an era, the end of a way of life.

Although they'd yet to fully discuss it, both he and Ana understood that all they'd known was over, was now 'before'. They were both happy and ill at ease as one is with change. In a way it was an even greater change for Ana who lived as she had all her life while Christian had lived as he had only since he was 15. They knew, without discussion, that they would change together.

Chapter 70

Ana knew that she ought to be pleased to even have options for her care when she was released from the hospital. Without Christian and his family, she would have had to go to a rehab/nursing home to have 2 hours of daily physical therapy and 22 hours of boredom. The doctor had even been reluctant to release her "early", as he put it. He daily reminded her that a head injury such as she had sustained could easily have killed her. That she had retained her memory and suffered so few ill effects was worth a write-up in the AMA journal. She tried to be impressed. She wasn't. She really just wanted to get back to The Rose. She had to settle for Christian's promise that they would visit often.

Winnie, as it turned out, had quite the affinity for management and the employees liked her. She enjoyed doing the books and organizing the day. She had found 3 older ladies who loved to bake but none wanted a daily 5 hour commitment so Winnie hired them all and they took turns. Winnie especially liked that Ana had no problem with Winnie's daughter, Daria, coming by after school and on the weekends. The Bakers Three, as they took to calling themselves, loved to teach Daria all their baking tricks.

When Christian brought Ana by for a visit, she was pleased but a little hurt that things were working so well in her absence. She didn't feel needed until Christian put his arm around her shoulder, tilted her head and brought it to his lips. His need for her was as palpable as was hers for him. Neither truly mourned the growing distance from the jobs that used to consume all their time and thoughts. As soon as they said goodbye to Brenda et al, they held hands and walked away, already forgetting everything but each other.

Christian had, with painful reluctance, left Ana in the care of his parents and a dozen bodyguards as he flew to Tokyo. At the airport, he clung to Ana as Gwen clung to Ros. His pilots looked at each other, befuddled. They were used to the clinging, crying and carrying on with Ros and Gwen. Ros's wife was always sure that they would crash on takeoff so she watched the plane until it was out of sight. The pilots were accustomed to reassuring Gwen repeatedly that the weather was calm, the mechanics had fully inspected the jet and there were no geese on the runway. They knew she would be there when they returned, ready to squeeze the life out of Ros and then each of them in turn for bringing her wife back safely.

They were also accustomed to Grey ignoring the tarmac drama, settling himself behind his desk and pouring over piles of paper until landing. They were most assuredly not used to more tarmac drama as Grey and some woman crushed themselves together, kissing madly and having to be forcibly separated by Ros. He then ignored the piles of paper that Ros encouraged him to peruse in favor of staring sadly out the window.

Natalia, the flight attendant, screwed up her courage and took one for the team, approaching Ros. "Ma'am, um, what, I mean who….none of our business, of course, but…"

"Her name is Ana aka girlfriend. Get used to it. The new normal." Ros smirked. "Also, get used to less him, more me."

Chapter 71

The Greys were lovely people…too lovely. They hovered. They worried. If she took a nap, they fretted that she was unconscious. She'd often open her eyes to find one or more of them staring down at her. If she didn't nap, they'd suggest, repeatedly, that she do so. They tried to give her space even as they inserted themselves into it. She'd catch Carrick peeking around corners. Grace would wander by, smiling, inquiring into her physical comfort. Elliot came by for dinner every night to tell her stories about Christian. And Mia seemed oblivious to Ana's need for rest. Her answer to every headache, every dizzy spell, was shopping and spa visits. When Ana blacked out one day during dinner while Christian was in Tokyo, Elliot carried her to the couch. As he and Carrick stood by, watching Grace checking her blood pressure, Mia loudly declared that Ana would have been fine if they'd gone out that afternoon to get facials at Esclava like she'd insisted.

Ana refused to let anyone tell Christian about the episode. Negotiations in Tokyo were tense. Christian didn't need the worry, Ana said. She already knew him well enough to know that he'd blow up an entire deal just to get back to her. They talked every day during his lunch break, her breakfast. He wanted to skype but she pretended to not understand how it worked. She knew that she didn't look good and that he'd worry. It was the longest week of his life. He ran across the tarmac in Tokyo to get to his jet while Ana sat on the couch hugging her knees and rocking to try to calm herself. She hadn't wanted him to know that she, like Gwen, was terrified of flying and terrified that he wouldn't make it back.

Grace and Carrick sent Mia off to a full day at the Esclava Spa to keep her from trying to "help" Ana's nerves. They took turns sitting with her, trying to sooth her but she grew worse by the hour. Her blood pressure was climbing and the pain in her head was growing. They waited as long as they could to sedate her but knew if they waited any longer, she'd need to be taken to the ER.

When Christian touched down, he immediately called home because when Ana wasn't there to meet him, he knew something was wrong. Although Grace tried to calm him, he was a wreck by the time he rushed through the doors of Grey Mansion. He took the stairs 2 at a time to Ana's room to find his mother taking Ana's blood pressure.

"She's okay, I promise you. Her pressure was getting too high so I sedated her. She'll be under for another couple of hours and when she wakes up, you'll be here and she'll be fine."

"What the hell happened, Mom? She sounded fine on the phone before we took off in Tokyo."

"I think, perhaps, that Ana has had a lot of practice pretending to be okay with things but she couldn't hide physical symptoms with a doctor in the house. Sawyer said that she was very quiet on the way home from the airport. Then when she got back, Mia and I were out. She told Carrick that she was just a little tired but when he passed her room, he heard the shower. When we got home 30 minutes later, I went up to check on her and the shower was still going. She was sitting in the shower, sobbing with fear and trying to disguise the sound.

She didn't stop shaking until you called upon landing safely in Tokyo."

Chapter 72

"Son," inquired Grace gently, "you know, you haven't told us much about Ana. We didn't even know that she existed until she was mugged. Doesn't she have family or friends we should notify?"

"No, Mom, she doesn't. That's why Dad and I secured Power of Attorney. When she was in the hospital, I met a psychologist who used to treat her. I don't know what I was thinking to not leave his number with you. He told me that her parents, such as they were, died in a drunken crash when she was 14. After that she was in foster care until she turned 18. Her parents were substance abusers. She pretty much raised herself. He was violating HIPPA telling me that much but I think he wanted to give me an inkling into the kind of life she'd had. We promised each other that we'd share some personal facts when I got back from this trip."

Grace reached down and touched Ana's cheek. "She tried to act like she was fine but anyone with two eyes could see that she was not okay. She pushed the food around on her plate or she'd ask if we minded if she ate in her room. I suspected that she was flushing all of it down the toilet. The closer the time for you to return, the more nervous she became. We didn't understand it. We'd try to help by telling her how close you were to getting on the plane and coming home. We figured out that the plane was the problem when that 747 crashed on takeoff last Wednesday. We were having dinner and Elliot pipes up about how the debris covered over a mile of runway. Ana turned white and fainted dead away."

"That arsehole!" swore Christian.

"Now, honey, he didn't know. He spent the rest of the evening explaining to Ana that your jets were safer than Air Force 1. I swear, she hung on his every word. We thought she was better after that until today. She sat on the couch, rocking back and forth. Then she began hyperventilating. I monitored her blood pressure until it was getting to the point that either I sedate her or we take her to the ER. She was so out of it by the time I gave her the injection that she didn't even know that I was doing it."

"The way you look right now I'm wondering if I should sedate you. You've got to slow your breathing down, Christian."

"I'm trying, Mom. I'm going to just lie down with Ana, maybe nap. When she comes to, she'll find me here. Mom, thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you." He reached down to rest his hand on Ana's forehead and then brush her cheek. Grace watched her son in wonder.

"I don't know how to explain it, Mom. I hardly know this girl and she's become everything to me.

I suppose that sounds crazy," he said as he gazed down at Ana.

Grace smiled to herself. Children always think that they invented love and sex.

"I knew by the end of our first date that Cary and I would always be together. Cary knew it, too. Of course, we didn't tell our parents. Oh, the hissy fit they would have thrown!" she laughed.

Then she left her children safely cuddled together.

Chapter 73

Ana's lashes fluttered a bit until her blues looked directly into gray, tears brimming.

Christian leaned in, closing the inches of distance between them, gently touching his lips to the tears beginning to fall, then to her mouth. "I'm desperate to take you here and now but I'm sure that my mother is about to…."

"Oh, good, you're awake," beamed Grace, as she poked her head in the door.

"….walk in," laughed Christian. "We go home right after my mother force feeds us."

"Dinner will be ready in just a few. Wash up and come down," Grace ordered as she closed the door.

Ana giggled and cried as she threw her arms around Christian. He cooed at her and nuzzled her and held her tightly. "It's all right, baby. Remember to breathe. Oh, my god, you feel good. Oh. so. good. I'm not going to leave you again even for a flight to…well…to anywhere. Why didn't you tell me that you had such a fear of flying?"

"Not so much me as other people. You had to go. I didn't want to make it harder for you," Ana began to weep. "And Gwen was practically hysterical so I didn't want to set her off even more. How does Ros ever leave her?"

"Ros is a hard ass, " he laughed. "Poor Gwen just stands on the tarmac bawling and Ros doesn't even look out the window. Just wait, though, Gwen is getting pregnant next year. Then Ros will be the one bawling on takeoff as Gwen tells their kid to 'wave bye bye to mommy'…"which reminds me," Christian looked at her seriously.

"Do you want kids?"

"I didn't know if we were even officially dating as yet," giggled Ana.

"Probably other conversations we should have first, huh?" smiled Christian.

"Probably, yeah."

"Any particular topics you'd like to hit on first?" he wondered.

"Well, where is this 'home' you speak of going to right after dinner?" she asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Well, your choice, my darling. There is a real nice rehab/nursing facility right up the road where you can get the physical therapy you require along with a 12 x 12 foot room all to yourself…or there is a swanky penthouse downtown complete with adoring boyfriend and fabulous view. Do you have a preference?" he moaned as he cupped her face, slipping his tongue into her warm mouth.

Several minutes of tonsil hockey later, he drew back, needing to look into her eyes.

"Hmmm," she murmured, "I know of a swell little place that smells like a bakery…."

"I know the place. Nice…but not one of your options considering your current precarious health."

"Are you referring to my head injury with my tendency toward severe headaches, dizziness, and possible seizures…or the next attempt on my life?"

Chapter 74

Christian froze.

"What?"

"Math wasn't my best subject but I can add 2 and 2," smirked Ana, "or rather, a half dozen bodyguards here and a half dozen bodyguards there. Even got a suspect in mind. Someone with violent inclinations who feels the need for a spot of revenge…a great bloody spot, preferably."

"Come on. Let's get downstairs before your mother sends Mia for us," Ana grinned.

She hopped off the bed and teetered unsteadily until Christian caught her.

"Ana, you're safe. Do you understand? I won't let anyone hurt you ever again."

She smiled up at him. "No one will catch me off guard again. I've taken down a couple of cops, you know."

"Ana, Elena is not going to fight fair. There are any number of ways to get to someone. I'm not trying to scare you but I wouldn't put anything past her. Do you own a pair of golden bracelets that you can use to deflect bullets? How about a Kevlar vest and a bullet proof helmet? Don't get cocky. You're smart but you're not cunning or devious or bloodthirsty."

Ana looked up into gray eyes growing ever darker. She felt a chill go through her and gratitude that the man behind those stormy eyes was on her side. She wondered what he was capable of in his determination to defend what he called 'mine'….because that's what he felt her to be….MINE.

It was then that she realized that he was shaking. His eyes were black and he grasped her to him tightly. He was scared….and there was nothing more dangerous than a man afraid of losing everything. She needed to bring him down, back to her. She stood on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around his neck and her hands in his hair, lowering his forehead to hers.

"Mine," she growled playfully.

He picked her up, crashing his mouth into hers and kissing her deeply.

"Yours," he growled in return. Then he set her down, taking a deep breath. She watched his eyes return to the light gray that seemed to shine as they looked into hers.

"Dinner!" Grace called out. "We're having pot roast."

Christian laughed as he swung Ana around and then carried her down the stairs.

Dinner with Ana was more fun than Christian ever remembered having with his family. He felt a sense of relaxation and ease like he'd never known. He'd always been tense and removed, often not even hearing the conversation and wondering only how long he'd have to stay until he could pretend that he had a work emergency. Now he sat laughing and talking, watching Ana eat and feeling….complete. Yes, that was the word...complete. It was a new feeling. He wasn't sitting there thinking that he had nothing to contribute, nothing to give to these wonderful people who loved him and couldn't get through to him.

Chapter 75

As Christian sat in the living room with his siblings and his mother, his father asked him to step into his office for a chat. Christian didn't think anything of it. He expected that his father would give him paternal advice on his relationship with Ana. It was new to his family and, while they couldn't help liking her, he figured that his father was going to be concerned about his fortune.

What his father did have to say was surprising.

"Christian, it is easy to see that you adore this girl and that your attachment to her is, well, extreme. Where this is going and my concerns about it are a talk for another time." Well, that was a relief to Christian, seeing as how he never wanted to have that conversation anyway.

"I was just wondering if you have any idea of how sharp she is? I mean she is clearly intelligent but…"

"Dad," Christian interrupted, "she graduated from WSU in 2 years with a 4.0 GPA. Her SAT scores were 1580, 10 pts lower than Bill Gates, even though the day she took the tests she had a high fever and was so ill the proctor called in the school nurse. She had a waste basket next to her desk because she was vomiting so much. They had to put her in a separate room so she wouldn't bother the other students. They wanted to take her to the hospital but you know Ana. She sweetly told them to fuck off and then she finished the testing before any of the other students.

She was soaked with sweat and nearly delirious when they got her to the emergency room.

The people grading the tests figured hers would be gibberish. They couldn't figure out how she managed to score so high in her condition and they knew that she hadn't cheated because she was in a room all by herself with a proctor watching her like a hawk because she was so sick."

Welch could certainly be thorough.

Christian took a breath. He loved talking about Ana and he was so proud of her.

"So, yeah, Dad. I know how sharp she is," he smiled.

Carrick couldn't help smiling, too. He'd never seen his son like this and he'd never, in the 22 years since his son started talking at the age of six, heard him string so many sentences together all at once.

"Okay, well, a few days ago Mia announced that she was leaving to go to Neiman Marcus because there was a pair of boots, blah, blah, blah…you know Mia. Well, anyway, Ana made a little fuss about wanting to read this book but having a hard time because her headache was so bad. She asked Mia to stay and read to her. An hour later she was after Mia to bake red velvet cupcakes. Then she needed Mia to teach her how to use an ipad and then it was needing fashion advice and, well, eventually she wore her out and Mia went off to take a nap. Grace thought that it was lovely that the girls were getting on so well but I was kind of suspicious so I sat down next to Ana to try to suss out what she'd been up to all day. I knew she was exhausted and had struggled to stay alert. So I asked her if she was okay.

She just smiled at me and said that Mia's covert wasn't feeling well and she didn't want him to have to chase Mia all over the shops. She said it as casually as if she was noting that it was raining. I was dumbfounded."

Chapter 76

"How the hell…? Dad, you're the only one in the family who even knows that I have covert protection officers on everyone since I made my first billion. I mean, even Elliot hasn't figured it out 'cause you know he'd be furious."

"Like I said, son, I was dumbfounded. I don't even know where mine is most of the time…but Ana does. I asked her how she knew and she just laughed. She said she saw the poor guy upchucking in the bushes. Somehow neither I nor Mia noticed that Ana took a couple bottles of water and some aspirin out to him earlier today. I spoke with him and he said that she told him to find a place to sit and rest because she'd keep Mia in the house all day. He was so embarrassed. He kept apologizing and offered his resignation which, of course, I didn't accept.

When I got back to the house, I looked around and could not see him."

Christian was a little dumbfounded himself. "Umm…well...didn't see that one coming. She keeps surprising me. I gotta say that is a little disconcerting. She's already figured out that she wasn't mugged, Dad. She knows that someone tried to kill her. She also knows who and that it won't be the last attempt."

Grace popped her head in the door to tell Christian that Elliot had carried Ana up to bed. "She was as exhausted as I've seen her all week. I think a day with Mia was too much. I checked her blood pressure and it's good so don't worry now. Okay?"

"Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate the way you've looked out for her all week. I still worry but a lot less so," Christian smiled.

"Oh, it was a pleasure, son. She is a delight...so sweet and guileless. I've never met anyone quite like her," beamed Grace. Her son had a girlfriend!

Grace shut the door. Christian and Carrick looked at each other and burst out laughing. "You know that I could have brought home Godzilla's daughter and she would have been thrilled," grinned Christian.

"Oh, come on," chuckled Carrick, "I think that your mother is a little more discriminating than that. But you are right that just about anyone would have been fine with her so when you bring someone as special as Ana…well… Anyway…tell me what are your plans now that you're back? You know that Ana is welcome for as long as you want her here."

"I know that, Dad, and I don't know how to thank you for taking such good care of her. I'd like to get her to Escala but it's going to be a battle trying to convince her. She is as independent as is possible to be. However, I'll tell you this…

If she really insist on going back to The Rose, she's going to find that most of her customers are large, male and armed."

Chapter 77

Meanwhile, the wicked witch of the west….and east and north and south…was home drinking heavily and trying through her alcoholic haze to think. She'd had to spend the day once again slinging hash at the soup kitchen. She preferred the reading to old ladies gig. She would serve them tea with a small dose of sleeping powder and then she had the day free. They would be awake just before her time was up and she would thank them for a lovely day of chatting about the old days. Only one of them was ever alert enough to know that she'd slept for 5 hours and she apologized for being poor company. Oh, that's okay, Elena smiled. It gave her time to do some dusting and laundry. The maid had just left, of course.

Elena thought the whole thing was a lot of fun. She would cackle all the way home. Deception was one of her favorite pastimes. Another was manipulating people so fooling her probation officer into thinking that she was lovely to old ladies was a real hoot. However, as much as she was able to fool her keeper, she was not fooling the judge. He ordered probation to assign Elena to a variety of jobs with as much manual labor as possible. Thus, she was back to feeding the indigent and cleaning the kitchen.

She started drinking the minute she got home and, sitting at the dining room table, thinking up ways to avenge herself on virtually everyone she'd met since that fateful day at The Rose. She knew that she would have to be clever, indeed, to get to Ana but the small fish, well, they were low hanging fruit. Wait, she mused through her Jack Daniel's daze…fish, fruit? Low hanging fish? Small fruit? Something, something…..Her drunken head hit the table top and she began drooling her way to dreamland and a hungover morning.

Elena was not alone in the world, however, tho' she would not be comforted had she known of her company. The company that watched her every move. The company that had planted cameras with audio all over her house and her salon and tracking devices in her cars. The company that made certain that she never ran out of her favorite comforting drink and the same company that dosed that drink with a little extra something. Elena never seemed to notice that she didn't run out of bottles of Jack Daniels or even that the plastic wrap was a bit loose. She was too eager to open the bottle and get that first slug of comfort.

Thus, night after night the tech monitoring the security cameras in Christian's penthouse watched patiently as his target poured glass after glass until she drifted into oblivion. With the small dose of Flunitrazepam added to each bottle, it didn't take more than a few shot glasses to knock her out. The advantage to drugging her was that she never thought that she was drinking too much and she was out fast. As soon as she was down, an agent would refill the bottle to just below the point where she'd started and check her pulse and blood pressure to be certain that she was safely asleep. It wouldn't do to have her awaken feeling ill or worse not awaken at all. An autopsy would arouse suspicions that she was a victim of foul play.

Of course, a lot of people wanted her dead but the first suspect would be Christian Grey.

Chapter 78

"No," Ana repeated softly and patiently as she packed, with Christian following her around her room. He'd been trying for two days to talk her into moving into Escala with him at least until she was fully cleared by her doctor. He'd been relentless. She'd been unmoved. She missed The Rose and her employees. She promised to take it easy and pointed out that she now had 3 bakers along with Winnie and a new part time waitress, Joanie.

"I'll have virtually nothing to do all day but help out a little with the rush, talk with my elders and work out with the cops."

"No, no! Absolutely no knocking around on the fucking floor with the flatfoots. You have a head injury, remember?" Christian was beginning to panic at the thought of his little Ana being body slammed by some 200 lb. cop.

Ana stopped packing for a moment and looked out the window, considering his comment.

Jesus H. Christian, he wondered, was she actually paying attention to something he said?

"Okay, yeah. No workouts with the cops for a while," she agreed.

Thank god, he thought, as he collapsed on the bed. He was beat after arguing with her for hours.

"Honey, are you okay?" she worried, as she saw him lying on the bed. She crawled over to him and placed a hand on his forehead. "You're not feverish. That's good. But, you know, you do work too hard. Perhaps you ought to consider getting more help at your shop."

She started to get up but he pulled her back down and wrapped his arms around her.

"I don't work in a shop," he chuckled. Then he put his fingers under her chin and lifted her lips to his. "Kiss me," he ordered, his eyes darkening. She put a hand on his chest and rose to look down at him. "Open your mouth," she ordered, looking into his black eyes, every fiber of her being ignited at the sight of his lust for her. He placed his hand on the back of her head and slammed his mouth into hers. Their tongues in a mad dance for dominance, his other hand holding her face tightly to his, they deepened the kiss until they had to part, gasping for breath.

"I need your clothes off and the door locked," she begged. He jumped up, pulling his sweater over his head as he locked the door. When he turned around, she was already down to her bra and panties, a sight that always drove him wild. "Your pants," she panted, as she unhooked her bra and tossed it aside. He almost fell over getting out of both legs and then throwing himself on top of Ana. Oh, god, how he loved the feel of her skin on his. Every time he flashed back to the first time they were both topless and crushed against each other.

As he covered her mouth with his, he reached down to push off his boxers. Then he sat up, leaning back on his knees, looking down at her nearly naked beneath him. He was breathing so hard, he could have passed out except for his concentration on his goal…to slowly, deliciously lift Ana's hips as he pulled down her panties.

Chapter 79

Ana lay on top of Christian, her head on his chest, their legs entwined. He had one arm wrapped tightly around her and the other holding her head close. They had fallen asleep for a short while, having exhausted each other. Finally, he moved his head down to kiss her shoulder and then her neck. Holding her, he shifted until she was beneath him and he could lift his head to look into her eyes. They were his favorite thing about her. All of her seemed to be in those eyes. Everything he wanted was in those eyes. Oceans of blue and like the ocean itself, so many moods. He loved even the storms in Ana's eyes. Now, he saw gathering clouds.

"I have to finish packing. I want to get to The Rose in time for the elder diners. I miss them."

Christian tucked his head into the crook of her neck, nuzzling her like he had that first night on the stairs, remembering how he'd begged her to still want him when she sobered up. Now he felt that same fear. Tho' he said nothing, she somehow knew what he was thinking.

"I'll still break your dick if it goes near anyone else," she smiled into his neck.

He laughed a little. "Promise?"

"Yep. It better show up later with you attached." She kissed his neck softly as she eased out from under him.

He sat naked on the edge of the bed just like that first morning together, feeling just as bereft as he had then watching her getting dressed. It seemed as though she was getting further away from him with every article of clothing she put on. When she'd finished with the last button, she sat down next to him, throwing an arm up around his shoulder. "You can't drive me home while naked. We'd have to stop every other block to get my clothes off. Could take hours to get across town not to mention getting arrested at least once a mile," she teased.

He sighed and started pulling on his boxers. Ana picked up her suitcase.

"No, I'll get that. Just give me a minute."

"You don't think I can lift my suitcase?" she grinned.

"I want to lift all your suitcases," he pouted.

Sometimes he was so cute, she thought, when he wasn't being as sexy as all hell. She didn't tell him but it killed her to watch him get dressed. What was she doing? she wondered. She didn't want to be without him. She certainly didn't want to sleep without him. They'd just spent a couple of hours fucking and making love and fucking and still she didn't want to stop…so why was she?

She knew full well that with intermittent pizza delivery and a couple of hours of sleep here and there that they could just keep going with no end in sight.

He finished dressing and picked up her suitcase with one hand and held out the other to her. She slipped her smaller hand into his and, taking one last look at the room, opened the door. Together they walked down the stairs. On the landing, she stopped. He looked at her, a question in his eyes. "I don't like to watch you get dressed either," she said, with tears brimming.

Chapter 80

Christian dropped the suitcase and put his arm around her. There was something else going on here, he knew. He enveloped her in his embrace, swaying gently. She began to sob. He picked her up and settled on the first step, holding her as tightly as he could. The tighter he held her, the harder she seemed to cry. She buried herself, her hands curled in his chest. Her pain, whatever its cause, was terrible and all he could do was hold her and rock her. He didn't even realize what he was saying, "It's okay. I love you, Ana. You'll never be alone again. I love you, Ana. I love you, Ana", he crooned softly to her, over and over. He didn't know how long they sat there, his head down and his face buried in her hair.

He felt arms around him as he had his arms around Ana. He looked up into the eyes of the woman who had loved him for 24 years. She stroked his hair the way she used to when he was a child. It was the only way he would really let her touch him and it soothed him when he would wake up from nightmares. At the bottom of the stairs, his father stood with Elliot and Mia, their arms around each other. Somehow everyone understood and he wondered how that was possible…but they did.

Ana had fallen asleep. His mother smiled at him. She had been his first angel, smiling at him in the hospital when he was a terrified 4 year old who wanted his mommy and didn't know that he'd never see her again. Grace kept everyone else from touching him. She'd saved him and taken him home and given him a father and a brother and a baby sister who helped him say his first word…her name.

"I'm going to put Ana back to bed," he said as he kissed his mother's cheek.

She took the suitcase and together they walked back into the bedroom. Grace put the suitcase down. Ana, being the good guest, had already stripped the bed and piled the sheets for the laundry. Grace pulled a blanket out of the closet and covered Ana with it.

"I'll be down in a minute, Mom," whispered Christian, as he sat smoothing Ana's hair.

Grace nodded and left, closing the door behind her.

She wasn't surprised, when she reached the bottom of the stairs, to find her family still waiting.

They didn't say anything. Carrick and Elliot looked solemn. Mia was sniffling and needed her mother's arms for a bit. They all went into the living room to sit.

After a while Christian wandered in and sat down heavily into a chair. He didn't say anything for a bit. Then he looked up at his family, watching him. "I'm going to go back in a bit. I don't want her to wake up and find herself alone…again. I don't know how I know this because Ana has never said anything. She's never complained. But I somehow know that she broke down because you have all been so good to her. You have all treated her as if she were your daughter, your sister. I don't know everything yet but I don't think that she has ever had anyone take care of her. I'm not sure that she even understands what just happened to her but I want to thank all of you for being here for her and for being my family."

Chapter 81

After Christian went back to Ana, the family sat quietly in the living room. Mia curled against her father. Elliot sat with his arm around his mother. No one said a word for a long time. Then Mia piped up, "I don't suppose we can adopt Ana if Christian is going to sleep with her." Elliot roared and Grace and Carrick just grinned and shook their heads. "Mia, you are something else," smiled Carrick. "Yeah, but what?" laughed Elliot.

"Does anyone know her story?" asked Mia.

"I guess we'll have to wait for her to tell us someday. We'll just give her a safe place to do it when she's ready," said Carrick.

Upstairs, Christian was spooning Ana and thinking about what he'd said to her on the stairs. He knew it was true. He did love her. He'd been falling since that first look up into her eyes. He thought back to the last 28 years of his life when he never even dreamed of such a thing. Four years living with the crack whore and 13 years of Elena in his brain had made him believe that such a thing wasn't for him. There was a tiny voice inside him that reminded him that his grandparents Trevelyan and his own parents weren't fools but he pushed the voice down under the pain. Now one lovely woman made him listen. She had no one to tell her to love. She just did it. He held her tighter and whispered, "Thank you."

Ana began to stir. At first, Christian thought that she was waking up. Then he thought that she was having a bad dream. Then he rolled her over onto her back and saw her eyes rolling back into her head while she shuddered.

"Mom! Get up here. Hurry. I think Ana's having a seizure!" Christian screamed down the stairs.

Grace ran into the bedroom and looked at Ana. "There is nothing we can do but let her ride it out. Let's very gently roll her onto her side. There. It's subsiding. Now she may wake up or simply go back to sleep."

Christian was shaking. He looked terrified.

"Shouldn't we call an ambulance?"

"No. This isn't surprising considering her head injury. As long as she sleeps peacefully, she's probably all right. When she wakes up, she may be confused," Grace said, seeming calm but Christian saw her concern.

"Mom, what are you thinking?" he asked. By this time, the whole family was in the room, all staring at Grace.

"I'm just a little concerned. Sometimes a head injury like Ana's can lead to the development of epilepsy. I'm going to arrange tomorrow for some tests. Just as a precaution, that's all. But her plans to leave today are definitely cancelled. I know how stubborn she can be but this will be her home for the foreseeable future. All right everyone, let's go back downstairs."

Ana was quiet again. Christian was grateful that this hadn't happened after he took her back to The Rose. If it hadn't meant leaving Ana, he'd be over at Elena's, choking her to death. He called Ryan who was on duty at Escala. He was assured that she had just arrived home and was already hitting the Jack Daniel's.

Chapter 82

"Don't get complacent. She's dangerous and unpredictable. Double check that all equipment is working well and hasn't been tampered with. Tell Sawyer when he goes in tonight to check her pulse and pressure to also check her cameras for possible tampering. Ditto the tracking devices on her vehicles. Also, have him take a look at her phone. See who she's been talking with, texting with and tell him to check around for possible burner phones. That's exactly what she'd use to connect with thugs like the one she hired to kill Ana. Ryan, watch for possible loops. Be certain you're looking at Elena in real time. Yeah, you can bet she's that clever."

Christian paced the room, never taking his eyes off Ana.

"Taylor, anything to report? Yes, I know you'd call if there was. What are you so snarly about? Did I interrupt you communing with a pot roast? Oh, sorry. No, I'm just upset. Ana had a seizure. Yeah. I'm thinking the same thing. We should have been on Elena the minute Ana kicked her out of The Rose. Taylor, I want this guy bad but I want Elena even more. No, nothing more tonight. I won't be coming back to Escala for a few more nights at least and when I do, Ana's coming with me if I have to hogtie her."

Christian couldn't recall the last time he'd felt so tired. He thought back to the days before he first took a seat at The Rose. He would run six miles every morning. He tried to take down Bastille every other day and sometimes even managed it. He beat and fucked brunettes on the weekends. He had nightmares every night and slept on his piano. He worked mostly and sometimes honored his family with his grumpy presence on Sunday afternoons. His life was simple, routine and empty. The only threat from Elena was that she'd show up unannounced to browbeat him into having lunch.

The good old days. The days to which he never wanted to return.

Now he was in love with a beautiful woman whose life he seemed to be ruining thanks to the crap life he used to lead. Oh, please, if anyone is really up there, please let Ana be all right. Hasn't she suffered enough from knowing me?

He sat on the edge of the bed and watched her carefully. She did seem to be sleeping. Her breathing was even and quiet. Her skin was dry and soft. He placed his lips against her forehead like a mother checking on a child's fever. She was cool. He wanted to lie down with her and hold her but he was afraid that he'd fall asleep. He had to stay awake and keep watch. Maybe he should get a pot of coffee. She might sleep for a long time. And if she slept all night, he'd have to be awake to take her to the hospital for tests in the morning.

He took out his phone and texted his father to ask Gretchen to bring up a thermos of strong coffee. While doing that he noticed a phone number he'd just entered recently. Dr. Flynn. Maybe he should give him a call. Would Ana mind if he called in the cavalry? Maybe ask first.

Carrick walked in with the thermos and offered to sit with Ana while Christian got some rest but he couldn't sleep, he knew. Not without her.

Chapter 83

"Hi, Christian, how are you doing?" Dr. Flynn looked down at Christian, sitting on a plastic waiting room chair with his head in his hands, waiting for Ana's test results.

Christian looked up at the man who knew Ana better than anyone, the only man of whom he was actually jealous. "I've spent too much time on these chairs. I put in a call this morning and all these will be replaced with comfortable, upholstered chairs by this afternoon."

"Well, I'm sure that that will be much appreciated. I was asking more about your mental health than the state of your buttocks," he said drolly. "Ana should be done soon."

"Really? You mean until the next thing? I should have left her alone."

"Well, Ana doesn't feel that way. Besides, as I understand it, Ana's fate was sealed the second she grabbed Elena Lincoln's wrist or perhaps it was when Elena raised her hand to scald her waitress."

"If I'd been a second faster, it would have been me stopping her and Ana would never have been a target."

"I see," replied Flynn. "So you could have seen Ana and walked away?"

Christian sighed. "No. I just go back over things in my head trying to figure out where I started messing up Ana's life….even though it's too late now. She's so sick, John, and it's my fault. The last person in the world that I'd want to hurt and she's spent weeks trying to recover from knowing me."

Dr. Flynn tried to settle his bulk comfortably into one of the plastic chairs. "Should have come by to talk with you later this afternoon," he joked. Christian could only smile weakly.

"You know, Christian, Ana considers you to be her greatest blessing. She never expected to have someone like you in her life. She kind of thinks of Elena Lincoln as the price of admission."

"She does? She thinks I'm a blessing? Geez, what kind of hell must she have been living in before me if I'm a blessing," Christian smirked.

"Has she told you much about her life? I doubt it."

"Well, we've kind of bypassed the getting to know each other phase and leapt right over it to being in love. At least, I did. Every time I think we're getting around to storytelling, something gets in the way. You know, attempts on her life…comas…seizures.

I want to know everything and I want to tell Ana everything….even if a lot of it is pretty awful."

Christian took a ragged breath. "John, I'm afraid that once she knows the truth about me, she'll run the other way. She probably should, too."

"Funny, she kind of thinks that about her past. I suspect yours is the more difficult tale to tell, however. I mean, how do you explain being a dom before you met her?"

Chapter 85

Christian's head shot up so fast he thought he heard a vertebrate crack. He whipped around to gape at John Flynn. His flight response kicked in and he had to use everything in him to stay in his chair. His shock and fear must have been writ large on his face because John smiled kindly at him and patted his back. "Would you like a glass of water?"

Christian just nodded numbly as he stared at Dr. Flynn filling a cup from the water cooler in the corner. Grey knocked it back like a shot of bourbon.

"No, I'm not in the life, Christian, although I treat a few patients who are, so to speak, in recovery from it. BDSM is quite the addiction. I don't judge. It's consensual and fine for most."

"How did you….you didn't tell Ana?" gulped Christian.

"No, no. Of course, not. That is your tale to tell and I imagine it will be quite difficult for you. You think that she'll be so repulsed that she'll leave you, that she'll think you're a disgusting human being."

"Well, she'd be right, wouldn't she?"

"No." asserted Flynn firmly. "Nor would she think so, either. I thought you knew her better than that. She is not judgmental. She is curious. She'll probably have a lot of questions and concerns but she would never run, Christian. That isn't Ana. Once you get to really know each other, you'll find that nothing much rattles her."

"I noticed that already. In fact, the only time I've seen her really upset was when we were about to leave Grey Manor. John, she looked down the stairs at my family waiting to say goodbye and she just broke. I don't know how but I understood. I'm not usually perceptive about people's feelings except for business rivals…makes it easier to squash them...but somehow I knew that she was upset about leaving my family. I'm not entirely clear on why but I got that much anyway."

"Well, you know that she's an orphan but there is more to it than that," hinted John.

"How did you know that I am…was a Dom? Christian was stunned. He knew that Flynn hadn't been in the courtroom and that was the last time that his Dom persona came to the surface. He was usually in control.

"The day you came out of Ana's bathroom to find me next to her bed. It was a good thing that you didn't have a flogger in your hand or I would have been on the floor, begging for mercy," he laughed. The expression on your face….your bodyguard was ready to restrain you. He looked nervous and was obviously afraid that I'd seen something I shouldn't. You saw me touching Ana and, whoa! Your face practically screamed, MINE! If I hadn't had some experience dealing with BDSM clients and their issues, I'd probably have run from the room. Your Dom is quite powerful."

Christian stared. Fuck. He was out of control.

Chapter 86

"That woman has ruined me," he almost smiled but it wasn't really amusing. He'd spent years learning to be a Dom and years being the best in Seattle. He knew when to bring it out, when to show it, both to his subs and in business. Now, he didn't even know he was using it.

"It's okay, Christian. Try to relax."

"You don't understand, John. This is twice now, that I know of, that I've Domed out in front of people without being in control of it. I can't do that. I want to give it up….for her… but if I can't handle it…."

"Only someone in the life would recognize it. Anyone else would just think that you were angry."

"You don't realize how many people are in the life, John. There were at least four people in that courtroom-besides Elena. The judge and her lawyer, for crying out loud, were both staring at Ana like she was already roped and tied. I was probably doming out the minute the judge took the bench without even realizing it. I wanted to save her from just about everyone in the room! She was like a lamb in a lion's den."

"But she won the case, right?" John reminded him.

"Yes, without a bit of my help. It was humbling, to say the least. Took me the rest of the day to find my missing dick," he groaned, remembering how she waved as the bus drove away.

"How am I going to tell her, John? Do you think if I show her my playroom, she'll freak out. I don't want a repeat of today's seizure."

"Do you want a Dom/sub relationship with her?"

"God, no! I don't want a sub anymore, John. I don't want or need submission in my life. I want a partner, someone to share with, not someone to order around even if she does argue with me."

"Then explain to Ana how it was and how it will be. I agree that she would never be your sub."

John stood up and put his hand on Christian's shoulder. "You might feel the need to sit down with or without Ana sometime. Call my office. I'll be glad to help." Then he was gone.

As Dr. Flynn walked out the door, a delivery man walked in, looked around the waiting room and snarled something at the receptionist who looked confused and made a phone call. Then she turned to the delivery man and shrugged. A few minutes later he returned with a few more guys and within 30 minutes, the waiting room went from pathetic and plastic to luxury and leather.

As Christian sat on the edge of a club chair, Ana's doctor came in, looking down at a clip board, and Christian jumped to his feet, eager for a report. When the doctor looked up, he took a step

back, looking wide-eyes and stunned. "What the hell happened in here?"

"Never mind. What the hell is happening on here?" snapped Christian, poking at the clipboard.

Chapter 87

"Where are the old suited-up men with cigars and newspapers?"

"Ana!"

"Yes, yes…well, she is doing just fine. No lasting damage. As your mother probably told you, seizures are one of the possible results of a head injury. All the dangers will lessen as time goes on but in the meantime, avoiding stress is key. I've already told her, you can thank me later, that she is going back to Grey Manor and not work. We've already had our little argument so you get out of that one. She just doesn't seem to get how lucky she is. I've had patients with far less of an injury who are relearning everything and she's walking away with headaches and some muscle weakness. But don't worry, I'm not taking anything for granted. I'm keeping a close eye on her."

"Can I take her home or does she have to stay the night for observation?" Please let me take her home, Christian silently pleaded…if I have to sleep another night in a hospital chair…..

"Yeah, I happen to know that your mother is off tonight and speaking of off, your girlfriend will off me if I tell her that she has to stay here. So, go, take her away. I'm going to put my feet up for a bit. Is this really a recliner?"

While the doctor was testing out the new seating, Christian was dashing down the corridor to Ana's ER room. He stopped suddenly and then pretended to slowly walk in with calm dignity. Ana was laughing and pointing at him as he quietly strolled in.

"You're wearing hard-soled wingtips. Did you really think that you could do a 100 yard dash down tiled floors without being heard? You wanted to kisssss me, didn't you, Christian? She teased mercilessly.

Christian looked at Ana with exasperation and then a wicked gleam in his eyes as he stood at the foot of her bed. Ana stuck out her tongue, giggling like a ten year old as Christian slowly crawled up the bed, backing her against the headboard. He grabbed her feet and pulled her forcefully down the bed and underneath him, both of them laughing until they could barely breathe. Then Christian slipped his left arm under and around her while his right hand cupped her cheek. He pressed his lips to hers and his tongue into her mouth, breathing in her warmth, moaning with his desire for her.

"I think," Ana whispered, "that we'd better leave before we get caught doing more than making out while lying on this bed together."

"I don't want to stop," Christian groaned. "This is like that first morning on your bed above the shop. God, Ana, I thought it would kill me then to disconnect from you."

"When we get back to your folk's place, we can connect again and stay that way…at least until I have to pee, of course," She snorted. Christian looked at her strangely. "Mia snorts. You're spending too much time with her."

"Did I mention that I'm developing a need for pink? And boots, lots and lots of boots.

And, Christian, I wanna go to the mall!

Chapter 88

"Is she sleeping okay?" asked Elliot.

"Yeah, thank god. And thanks for that great idea about the baby monitor, El. Without that stroke of genius, I don't think I'd be able to leave the room. The doctor said more seizures are unlikely as long as we don't let her stress but she has nightmares, too."

"How about a nanny cam?" Elliot suggested.

"Don't those go in teddy bears? I don't think that I could explain the out of the blue appearance of a teddy bear on Ana's bookshelf. And I don't need to tell you what would start going blue if Ana thought that I was spying on her while she slept."

"I think that Ana would like a teddy bear," said Grace as she walked into the room. "She has a childlike heart. Maybe a regular brown one though."

Grace watched bewildered as her sons rolled around laughing. "Well, I don't see what's so funny about teddy bears. Both of you loved your bears."

Elliot fell off the couch and Christian was wiping tears from his eyes.

"Oh, never mind. Honestly. I'm going to check on Ana for a bit and then I'll get dinner started," Grace scowled as she started up the stairs.

As Elliot and Christian were still recovering, Carrick signaled to Christian to come into his office.

"What's up, Dad? Lookin' kinda serious there."

"Ryan couldn't get you on your phone so he called me."

Christian felt his stomach clenching. "My phone is in…never mind, not important. What did Ryan say?"

"He said that something's up with Lincoln and he said that you would want to know right away.

Christian, he said that Taylor's on it and would be in touch soon. Try to relax, son."

"Dad, I just got her back out of the hospital again. It's like it's one thing after another and now Elena's up to something. You better start working on my defense, Dad, because I will end her before I let her get near Ana again. I'm not going to live in fear for Ana's safety for the next 30 years. And Ana's bright, Dad, you know that she'll know if there is anything wrong. I mean, for god's sake, the doctor said no stress. The next seizure might do damage. She's only 22. She shouldn't have to live like this. She wouldn't have to live like this if she'd never met me."

Carrick watched with concern as his son worked himself into a worried wreck.

"Stop, Christian, please. You don't want Ana to see you like this. And none of this is your fault. Mrs. Lincoln could have walked into that café all alone that day and Ana would still have stopped her from burning her waitress. Gripes, how many people has Elena sued over the years? She used to pop in here at least once a month for a couple of years until she finally realized that I'd never represent her.

Now, wait for Taylor. "Up to something" could mean anything and even if it means something, we've got eyes on her. She can't make a move without getting caught."

"Dad, all due respect, you have no idea what Elena is capable of and how murderously devious she can be. Relaxing about her is never an option."

Chapter 89

"She's stopped drinking and she spends her evenings reading. Books. She doesn't appear to have a sub and she doesn't go out to the clubs. What the hell! Has she found God or something?

We do have her completely covered, right?"

Taylor just shrugged. "I don't get it either, Boss. The minute she sat down on her couch with a book and a cup of tea, Ryan called."

"She knows we're watching."

"No doubt but we'd know if she'd had the place swept. She doesn't appear to be aware of cameras. You know how vain she is. She's been sitting around in her bathrobe with no makeup. We got a close up, sir. Her claws, excuse me, her nails are chipped. She hasn't been near her salon in a week."

"Dad?"

"I'm on it," Carrick acknowledged as he slipped off to another room with his phone.

"Taylor, she's been leaving the house to do her community service, right?"

"Yes, sir. Her vehicle trackers, in addition to our operatives, have her at the places she's supposed to be. Today was a meal center. She served over a 100 people mashed potatoes."

"While Dad's on the phone, I'm going to check on Ana."

Grace was making dinner and singing to herself as Christian passed by. Having her youngest son's girlfriend in the house was making her giddy. Christian smiled. In one brilliant stroke of good luck, he'd made everyone happy and none happier than him. "When's dinner, Mom?"

"Oh, munch on something, Christian. It'll be another hour at least."

Christian mounted the stairs, smiling, intending to munch on something.

He was surprised to find Ana awake, wrapped in a bathrobe, her hair wet. She was sitting on the balcony, seemingly unaware of his entrance, tears streaming down her face. Alarmed, he knelt before her, his hands on her knees. "Ana, Ana, look at me, please."

For a moment, she continued staring out at the waters of the Sound behind his parent's home.

Then she spoke. "It's so beautiful, isn't it, Christian?"

"Yes, my love, so beautiful," he said, without taking his eyes off of Ana.

"Christian," she looked down at him, "I love you. Is that okay?" Christian beamed. "Yeah, it is."

"Okay," she sniffled, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I had a dream that you said…well, I thought you should know. You don't have to…you know…but it was bubbling over and I couldn't stop it anymore."

"Again. Say it again." He looked into her eyes. "I love you, Christian, very much," she beamed.

Chapter 90

He took hold of her hands and helped her stand up from the chair. Then he reached for the wrap around her robe and undid it. As her robed fell open, he slipped his arm around her naked waist and cupped her breast with his other hand, leaning his lips down to hers. She moaned as he caressed her breast and explored her mouth with his tongue. Then he pushed the robe off her shoulders and onto the floor as he scooped her up into his arms. He carried her over and laid her gently onto the bed. She watched as he undressed himself, her heart beating faster with every article of clothing he left on the floor. He was hard, erect. He wanted her.

As he laid down with her, his hand spreading her legs and lifting her knee, he dipped his head to the place he called 'home' and began to draw his tongue long and slow over her most sensitive space. She was so recently a virgin, never touched, never even kissed. She'd never expected sex would come so naturally to her, much less that she would crave it, him, so. But, omg, she did. She reached down and held his head against her. She tried to stay still, as he once instructed her, but it was hard. She wanted to push up into his tongue. She wanted to wriggle and scream but if she did, he'd stop and tell her to remain still and just feel. She certainly didn't want him to stop as he licked and sucked and nibbled. As she was arching her back, he lifted his mouth and inserted two fingers into her and pressed them against a place on her inner wall as his mouth covered hers as she cried out his name.

He wanted her home with him, at Escala, where they didn't have to be quiet. He wanted to hear her scream out his name. Soon.

As she lay panting, he separated her legs and lifted her knees over his elbows supporting his weight. Then he slipped inside her, as deeply and completely as possible. It was where he needed to be….home. He felt the urge to push harder and harder but at the same time, he didn't want to come. He wanted to just be there.

He buried his face in the crook of her neck and his arms around her small body as she wrapped her legs high around his back. She wanted him, too, to be inside her as deeply as possible. She giggled as he looked at her perplexed. "Anatomically speaking, there really is only so much room in the typical vagina and I don't think they make one deep enough for your dick. I'm stretched out as it is to accommodate your girth." He was shaking his head at this crazy woman he loved.

"Well, I just don't want you to be disappointed. You always try so hard to fit entirely inside me and….maybe the next time I'm mad at you, I'll just snip off a bit."

Christian was laughing even as he could no longer keep himself from thrusting into her, still trying to drive ever deeper. She was tight and warm and the feel of her walls holding him, squeezing him made his brain shut down. He pushed deeper into home until he had to bury his face in her shoulder to muffle his own scream.

Breathing hard, barely able to speak, he said, "it wasn't a dream, Ana. I do love you. I am so in love with you. I'm lost in you and I always will be."

He raised his head to look into her blues, now wide with surprise and wonder. "I've never been in love and I will never love another. It would be impossible for me. I know myself. I know I'm done and complete."

Holding her, he rolled onto his back, Ana now above him, her glossy hair falling over his shoulders, his chest. "Do you understand me, my dearest love?"

"You. Are. Mine."

Chapter 91

"I. Am. Yours."

"Yes, and I am yours, Ana. Nothing will ever change that."

"You know so little about me, Christian. You could learn things that will make you feel differently."

"You, too, know little about me and, I am positive, that what I show you about me could end us.

So, I'm begging you. Don't leave me. I'm trying now to be a good man for you."

"Oh, Christian, you are a good, good man. No, don't open your mouth to argue with me. If there is one thing you must be clearest on about me, it is that my life and, I suppose, my nature, have taught me to know people. I never read people wrong. Even when I thought that you were Elena's boy toy…"

"WHAT!"

"Shh, I'm speaking. Even then, try as I might to think badly of you, I knew that I was wrong. I tried to fight the truth but I knew. Now, there is nothing you can ever do that would make me leave you….though there could be times that you might just wish I would at least leave the room," she giggled.

Christian closed his eyes and felt his body hum as he listened to her giggle. What was it about that silly sound that moved him so? No matter. It did move him…like her beam…like the shine in her eyes that was just for him. When he walked in the room, they looked at each other and everything else was just a cloud around them.

"Boy toy…geez. Okay, that one stings a bit."

She giggled again and he held her to him as tightly as possible without cutting off her ability to breathe. This was another one of those times, like so many of late, when he couldn't bear to let her go. Christ, his cock was still inside of her...so warm and part of her. How could he still be hard enough to not slip out? He came like Mt. Vesuvius so you'd think that he'd be shriveled and

flaccid like an old gherkin but he was hard and thick yet spent. Ana's vagina was magical, he decided.

"Children! I called but you mustn't have heard me. This door is stuck. Can you hear me? I'm sorry if I've awakened you from your naps but dinner will be ready in about 5 minutes. Can you hear me?" Grace was too damned persistent.

"Yes, mother. We are awake, now, and we hear you. We'll be down shortly. Ana wants to comb her hair," he laughed. "It really gets messy when she sleeps on it."

Ana was whacking him as he spoke while he raised his arms to ward off her blows.

"Ok. Hurry up. And Christian, your father wants to speak to you first so let Ana comb her hair while you come downstairs." They listened as Grace's footsteps moved on down the hall.

"Oh, this kills me," Christian complained as he pulled out of Ana and unwrapped his arms from her and she from him and they sat up and were just two, disconnected naked people.

"It doesn't feel right," he muttered.

"I'm going to talk to Dad." "Go comb your hair," he laughed, "and I love you."

Chapter 92

"Good nap?" Carrick chuckled.

"Has Mom always been so dense?" Christian asked.

"When your brother was bringing home girls every night, your mother pretended to believe him when he said that they'd sleep in the guest room. She sees what she wants to see, tho' I had to wear earplugs. Love the boy but can't say that I joined your mother in her tears when he moved out. Now, at the age of 28, you've finally brought a girl home…hell, I'm so happy that you could fuck her on the living room couch during dinner time and I'd just concentrate on my roast."

"DAD!"

"Truth, son, sorry. Now, I spoke to His Honor, Jack Holland. He said that Elena's probation officer said that Elena's attitude had been changing of late. She's been visiting with the men and having meals with them. She smiles and offers to stay late to help sweep up. Yeah, Jack's suspicious, too. He suggested that we have someone listening to these chats and watch the men she's been talking to."

"Elena doesn't change. Maybe she's trying to suss out one of these men to do a little work for her. She knows that she can't get within miles of Ana but I've been concerned about The Rose and Ana's employees."

"And the neighbors of The Rose." Ana's lilting voice swept into the room. Carrick and Christian shot around to stare. I really have to start locking doors, Grey admonished himself. Women were always walking through them at inconvenient times.

"What do you mean, Ana?" asked Carrick.

"I know that you're already watching out for my employees. I know that you're checking food deliveries for tampering. I know that the café has been outfitted with fire suppression equipment and burglary alarms. You probably have men disguised as homeless watching the place."

The two men just looked at each other. Why ask? Curiosity?

Before they could delve into the ways of Ana Steele, she answered, "Good grief, fellas. You're not the only ones with spies. And I know that you'd prefer that I just lie around healing and all but I had to make a few phone calls.

Now, I really appreciate you looking out for my crew, my customers and my café but Elena is only going to go after somebody else, anybody within range of me and mine next."

"Your neighbors?" asked Carrick.

"My building is bordered on one side by a nice bookstore and the other by a crafts boutique. Nice flammable material."

"Lord, there is no end to it, is there?" snarled Christian, "I'm just going to have to kill her."

Carrick looked appalled and Ana just shrugged. "Probably. Who's up for dinner?"

Chapter 93

After a very quiet dinner, with only Ana and Mia chattering away about boots or something, Christian, Carrick and Elliot sequestered themselves in Carrick's office….with the door locked.

Mia was suspicious. Grace understood. Ana seemed oblivious.

"Hey, Mia. Want to go shopping tomorrow?" asked Ana. Mia's eyes lit up as if Ana had offered her a kidney.

"Really? You and me? Mom, is that okay, is Ana well enough?" Ana thought it was so sweet of Mia to be concerned about her health. She thought that the family tended to think of Mia as empty-headed and self-absorbed. It was true that she did come off that way sometimes but Ana had seen how concerned Mia could be for others. Ana thought that she was kind and unselfish in her own way. And no one could deny that Mia was a hoot, so funny and a delight to be with even when she spent 30 minutes talking about nothing but boots. She certainly had a thing about boots.

"Well, if Ana feels up to it, sure she can go shopping. However, Mia, you must keep in mind that she doesn't have your energy level. Be aware. I know, sweetie, just pretend that you're out with me," advised Grace.

"Good grief, Mom. Ana can't be that slow. I promise to be aware and to make her rest every once in a while. And Ana, we can stop for lunch at The Rose! I'd love to actually see your café," enthused Mia.

Ana smiled. What's not to love? Mia had an adorableness to her that just charmed.

"I can't wait, Mia. I'll call ahead and make sure that there is an empty table for us. We don't take reservations and we could find ourselves standing around for a while. Oh, this is going to be such fun," Ana clapped her hands and laughed with glee. She did feel guilt, however, to be using Mia. She hoped that she would be forgiven but she had to do what she had to do and she hadn't been able to think of another way. Well, she'd just get down on her hands and knees and beg for mercy. She just didn't want Mia to think that she had used her and didn't really want to spend time with her. Somehow she'd have to make Mia understand.

And Mia isn't the only one who'll need to understand. Christian would be furious with her. Carrick and Grace would be disappointed. Elliot would probably yell at her first and then stop talking to her until his natural tendency to chatter got the best of him.

She wondered if they'd kick her out of the house. If her plan worked, she could go back to The Rose, of course. She missed her little rooms. They were all hers. After a lifetime of living in places that didn't belong to her…foster homes, rentals, shelters…she finally had three rooms that she owned. No one could enter them without her permission and she could put anything she wanted in them. She could hang up pictures and pick out towels and bedspreads. She loved it up there. Trouble was, she also loved Christian. Changes were coming.

Chapter 94

"You're going out?!" Christian was not pleased but then she hadn't expect him to be. If he had his way, and he always expected to, she'd not leave his side. Thus, Ana was prepared for him to make a fuss.

She smiled at his tantrum. "I'm not going to walk into traffic or off a pier, Christian….although spending hours at Neiman Marcus may feel that way…I'm just going shopping with your sister. It'll be fun and I'd like to get to know her better."

Christian opened his mouth to further object when Ana raised a finger. "I hate to play the sex card but…"

"You think having sex with you is more important than your health and safety to me. You need to get to know me, woman," Christian said as he grabbed her waist and pulled her to him. "You promise to sit whenever you need to?"

"Yes, will rest, sir"

"You promise to obey your CPOs?"

"My whats?" teased Ana, "Yes, when they say 'drop', I will crash to the floor."

"Go to lunch when the cops are there. Couldn't hurt…but do not kick box with them."

"I think that exercise would be good for me," Ana protested.

"Then walk on the treadmill. You're still in danger of having seizures," Grey's eyes softened. "Please, honey, please just have a conversation with your cop buddies. No throwing down."

"So, what are you going to do while I'm out with Mia and her black Amex card?"

"Work"

"Wheee! By the way, why did you give Mia her own unlimited Amex? She spends like a drunken sailor on shore leave…you know, if he was inordinately interested in boots and pink."

"I know I shouldn't. I'm inhibiting her personal growth, right?" he smiled as Ana nodded.

"Let's go, let's go. Oh, this is going to be so much fun!" Mia was bouncing up and down as if she had springs on her shoes. You'd think that she'd never been shopping when, in fact, it, clubbing and baking were all she ever did. Christian began to think that maybe he should invest in a little bakery for her. Help her grow up a little. He'd always treated her like she was still that baby in his arms, holding his finger with her tiny hand. When he had given her the Amex card after he'd made his first billion, Grace sighed, Carrick growled and Elliot laughed, calling his little brother an idiot.

Mia and Ana climbed into Christian's SUV with Sawyer behind the wheel. The Mercedes was bulletproof which was comforting. Grey still thought that Elena had purchased a bazooka. He would have sent Taylor along but he needed him around to….whatever, the guy was always there and Grey didn't feel comfortable without him somewhere in the vicinity. Right arm and all that.

As the car pulled out of the driveway and into the big, bad world, Christian had an uneasy feeling that maybe he should have sent Taylor with Ana.

Chapter 95

Three hours of Neiman Marcus and other stores like it had worn Ana down. Mia was still high and getting higher. Her enthusiasm only grew every time she found the 'perfect' whatever and realized that if she'd found one, there would probably be others 'out there' to be discovered.

Every clerk in every store knew Mia well and would direct her to her next favorite thing. They seemed to love her. Ana hoped their feelings were genuine. She knew that Mia would never understand someone being nice to her just to make a sale. She also hoped that Mia would forgive her.

Around noon, Ana and Mia arrived at The Rose. You'd have thought a celebrity had strolled in for lunch. All the staff surrounded Ana with hugs. The patrons didn't mind being ignored. They, too, were more interested in seeing Ana than in ordering. The cops gave her big hugs, lifting her off the floor. Mia looked at her in awe.

"Geez, it's like you're the second coming!" Mia giggled.

Ana noticed that the place was packed. Most of the patrons were regulars, a lot of them the GEH crowd. The floors were clean, the table cloths bright white. Winnie was doing a good job. Ana felt a little sad that she could be replaced so easily. Joanie, the new waitress, was smiling and efficient so…Ana smirked to herself…maybe I should retire.

The food was delicious and Ana marveled that she'd never really just taken a seat and eaten a meal in her own café. Usually she grabbed a bit of this and a bit of that as she ran by, delivering a plate to someone's table. Lately, she sat down every morning and every night for meals with the Grey family. Sometimes Grace had to work but usually everyone was there. Even Elliot came by since he lived just down the road. They would all sit around the table and talk about everything. Carrick would get livid about politics while Elliot would grumble about clients and their constant changes to his plans…"And then they get mad when I tell them that changes cost money. You know, you can't decide to make a room bigger by taking down the wall we just built yesterday!" Ana would laugh and then try to get Christian to talk about his work. "It's just mergers and acquisitions. Nothing interesting." But Ana would ask about Ros and other people and why they did certain things and what he planned to do with a particular acquisition and pretty soon, he would start talking and everyone would stare at him in wonder.

And Grace would look at Ana and smile at the girl who brought her son home, who made her son talk to his family. Elliot, too, would glance from Ana to Christian, his grinchy little brother who smiled now and liked to sit around after dinner and visit with his family instead of escaping as soon as possible back to Escala and his study and his spreadsheets. Carrick would look in amazement at Ana who would sincerely want to have Christian explain spreadsheets to her. And then after he did, Ana would nod and sadly tell him that spreadsheets are really boring and Christian would pretend to be hurt and then the two of them would laugh like loons.

Elliot was helping his mother in the kitchen, slicing up pies, when he remarked to Grace,

"They really like each other, don't they? I hope I find a woman to like someday."

Chapter 96

It was time. Mia was happily devouring her lunch. The CPOs were scattered around eating lasagna. Ana had seen to it that their driver was being fed as well out in the SUV. Everyone was distracted.

Ana remarked to Mia that she was going upstairs to get something from her apartment and that she'd be right back. There might be a guard posted by the fire escape but only Ana knew about the back stairs down to a door in the alley.

She didn't have time to look around her apartment. In five minutes they'd be coming to check on her. She quickly slipped down the back stairs. It would take them quite a while to find the door disguised as a bathroom cabinet.

As she came out into the alley, she saw one of the CPOs sitting on the fire escape, watching the street. She went the other way and hailed a cab. Her phone had a tracking device so she left it tucked between the seats when she got out of that cab and transferred to another. Several blocks later she got onto a city bus and rode until she got out by a drugstore where she bought a burner phone and called for an Uber. She hoped all that dodging had thrown off the bloodhounds for at least an hour. Finally the Uber left her off at her destination.

Elena wasn't expecting or desirous of company. She hadn't yet put on her face or started on her plans for Ana's demise. Maybe it was her sub at the door. Sometimes he was rather needy.

Maybe caning him for an hour would relax her mind enough to work out a good plan for Ana.

"Hi, Elena. Long time, no see. How ya been?" Ana chirped breezily as she brushed past Elena into her entry hall.

"I hope that you don't mind my just dropping by. I don't have a lot of time to talk but I thought it was important to sit down together and hash things over.

Gosh, you have a lovely home, quite elegant. I'm rather into shabby chic myself but that's more a convenience because I've never had time or money to spend."

Elena stood stock-still with her coffee cup, staring dumbfounded at Ana as she twirled about the room peering at art work and Elena's fine furnishings. She was finally able to collect her wits enough to demand an explanation for Ana's intrusion.

"Yes, it is rude of me to barge in without notice or invitation but you know Christian. He certainly wasn't about to let drive me up to the door," Ana laughed. "Come, do sit on your lovely settee while we talk. I won't keep you long."

Elena lowered herself gracefully onto her divan, self-consciously fluffing her hair. I am a Domme, she reminded herself. I need only the authority in my voice to lower you to your knees and you don't have Christian to help you now. "What is it you wanted, Ms. Steele? First, I must warn you that the time for apologies and amends is past."

"Oh, how true, how true. Not interested anyway. No, I'm here to offer to you fair warning to take yourself well out of the range of the Grey family, and, for that matter, me…immediately.

Chapter 97

"Now do not misunderstand me. I am not threatening you. I am not like you. You do like to make threats. You like to frighten people into doing as you ask. And I am sure that that has worked for you. I, however, am not as sophisticated as you. I know only that as a grizzly bears down on me, I need to shoot now. There will be no second chances. The grizzly isn't going to take a swipe at me, back down to think it over and then charge again. No. He is simply going to finish what he started. Do you understand what I am saying?

You look confused, Mrs. Lincoln. I will try to be clearer. You tried to kill me. You will continue to take aim at me in some fashion and perhaps harm someone dear to me in the process. This threat has made its intended impression on me. I'm sure that you had hoped that I would thus think better of my association with Christian Grey and, in a way, you are correct. As it slowly dawned that the mugging was an attempted murder, I feared that you would next try to get to an easier target. Christian and I have carefully considered all who might be in your sights and they are all well-protected now. However, I don't want to live aware of your lunacy and bitterness for another 30 years or however long it takes you to die so I have made it my mission to stop this vendetta NOW.

It comes down to you or me, Mrs. Lincoln. You can live with ease, safety and comfort throughout your remaining years or you can wait for me to kill you. You have a rather enviable lifestyle at the moment, wouldn't you say? Wealthy accommodations, elegant vehicles, a profitable and prestigious business and, how to put this, all the right kind of friends. Why, Grace Grey still thinks of you as a dear friend and, thus, will be inviting you to her annual gala along with all the other elites of Seattle. Of course, sadly, due to illness you won't be able to attend. Yes, your current circumstances cast a rather bad light but people forget so quickly and soon you'll have turned their minds around.

So, there you have my proposition, Mrs. Lincoln. Back off. Come to your senses. Leave me and all my loved ones in peace. Do that and live the life you wish to live. The only thing you can't have, and that is your own fault due to your poor behavior, is Christian Grey or anyone in his family. And even he you can still claim as a dear friend as long as you stay away from him. No one need be the wiser when you refer to him as "my dear friend, the Christian Grey". I would suggest that you never slight me publically, however. That could rain hellfire down upon you. Christian is a bit protective.

So, Elena. You've said nothing throughout my long-winded proposal. Do you accept or do you not? Considering that you've attempted to kill me, I believe that I am being more than generous in my offer. I'm waiting on an answer. I've an Uber arriving shortly."

Elena stared at Ana for a long time. Ana didn't blink. Elena's Domme persona had no effect. To Ana, all Elena had was resting bitch face, something older women needed to avoid. But there was something to what Ana had said. While Elena might wish with all her heart to destroy her, she would also destroy herself. No matter how cleverly she disposed of Ana, Christian would suspect Elena.

No proof would be necessary. He would destroy her.

Chapter 98

"I will never forget that you've destroyed my creation and his devotion to me. I will never forget the unfounded humiliation you dealt me in your diner or in court. I will never forget, do you understand?" Elena snarled at Ana.

"Yeah, yeah. You hate me. It's all my fault that you no longer have a multi-billionaire under your thumb. I'm an incredible pox upon your peace of mind. You will have been forced to swallow the pain of undeserved defeat the rest of your days. Got it. But get this, Elena, you did not make Christian the man he is today. He is a good man with a good heart and those he loves, he loves deeply and truly. He became that man in spite of you and all the damage you tried to inflict.

Now. Your answer or the destruction of your life as you know it. Oh, don't think we'll ever forget. Your word means nothing. Our guard will always be up. I am simply giving you this chance. Take it or leave it."

"You'd never have the nerve to go through with it."

Ana grimaced at Elena with overwhelming malice and for the first time in her adult life, Elena felt the burden of fear. "Angels, Elena, in defense of their charges are capable of burning the devil to ash. Never before in my life have I had occasion to defend someone with violence. This time, Elena, this time….."

"Your answer, Elena." Ana rose from her chair where she was sitting as she stared down the Master Dominatrix of Seattle. Elena considered in that moment that Ana had been completely unaffected by her Domme. Unheard of. Who was this girl? Perhaps someone she ought to be careful of for the present time.

"All right. We have an agreement. I will rebuild my life without my prize pet. I will not attempt harm to you or yours. In return, I am assured that no threats will be forthcoming from you?"

She shivered as Ana nodded and Elena could not avoid the feeling that she'd been out-dommed.

"Let me show you to my door. Oh, and I assume your word and our agreement extends also to Christian."

"Of course. Goodnight," said Ana as she walked out the door to the waiting Uber.

Only, it wasn't an Uber. It was a Mercedes SUV with a devastatingly handsome man leaning against the car with his arms crossed. Ana and Elena stood for a moment in the doorway until, leaving the door open, Elena walked back into the house.

Ana walked to Christian until he broke into a run, screamed 'down' as he pushed her body down to the gravel with his covering hers and there was the sound of a pop. This pop was immediately followed by another pop.

After a second, Ana looked up to see Taylor, standing in firing stance, pointing at Elena's front door, where her body lay bloodied on the steps, a gun in her hand.

Chapter 99

Ana idly reflected that the firing sound of a handgun was always 'bang' on TV. So what was this pop sound? She looked up, past Christian's head, at the car door. There was a hole in it, in Christian's brand new SUV. She didn't know then that the bullet had not missed her head, that only Christian's instant reaction had saved her from the bullet actually entering her head.

Christian was dazed. Ana gently helped him to his feet and lead him to the car, sitting him down and buckling him in so that he wouldn't fall over. He stared at her while she smiled at him, repeating over and over that everything was all right.

Taylor checked Mrs. Lincoln's jugular vein, concluded that the bullet to her brain had ended her life and pulled his phone. He first called Carrick and then the police. Then he returned to his boss. He noted the hole in the door and the lack of attending blood. There will be 5 bullets left in Mrs. Lincoln gun and she'd lowered her aim the second time. Toward the figures on the ground.

"Mr. Grey, can you speak?"

"Yes, of course," Grey replied, wavering. Ana looked up at Taylor and noted that Christian might be in shock. "Yes, well, ma'am…he's had a rough afternoon," Taylor answered without emotion but Ana had come to know him well. He was very angry with her. They'd had to track her down straight to hell's door, just as it opened, and then employ lightning fast reflexes to keep her alive. Taylor would never admit, of course, that putting a bullet in between Elena's two black eyes was a dream come true but it would still leave him open to a police investigation and a possible inquest.

Carrick arrived just as the police and emergency vehicles did, cautioning Taylor to say nothing.

He then advised Christian and Ana to do the same. After the initial shock passed, Christian coldly informed Ana that there would be hell to pay when they got home but she knew that he couldn't stand to not be touching her and all her histrionics had worn her out so she simply curled up against him. When he didn't embrace her, she told him that she was cold so, of course, he wrapped her tightly to him. "You know, I'm really angry with you."

"Yes, dear," she answered, before she fell asleep on his chest.

When Ana awoke, the car was just pulling up to the door of Grey Manor. Grace, Elliot and Mia raced out, all aflutter and unraveling. All they knew was that Elena had tried to shoot Ana and had been subsequently shot by Taylor. On the news there were a dozen anchors trying to sort out the facts as they came in. Thus far the story was that Elena Lincoln, society matron and recent felon, had tried to shoot Ana in the back and as she was knocked to the ground and thus saved by her handsome and enigmatic multi-billionaire boyfriend, Christian Grey, Grey's bodyguard had prevented Elena from continuing to fire by putting a bullet in her forehead.

Despite his anger, Grey picked up his girlfriend and carried her into the house, setting her sleepy self on the kitchen counter. "Mom, Ana's knee got scrapped pretty badly when we hit the gravel. Could you clean it up and see that it doesn't get infected. She doesn't need that on top of everything else. Dad, your office, please. Taylor?"

Chapter 100

"I'm going to have to kill her," he seethed.

"Yes, you said that about Elena as well. You throw that word around entirely too much," Carrick warned, "Let's stop saying it now that someone has indeed been killed, even if she was the perfect choice," he actually winked at Taylor.

"Do you think that the cops will find the cameras?" worried Elliot as he came into the room.

"For god's sake, El, keep your voice down and close the door. Lock it as well."

"Don't worry, bro. The girls are busy with Ana. Boy, she's a mess. What did you do? Drag her across the gravel?"

"What are you talking about, El?" Christian snarled. "She's got a scratch on her knee."

"Have you seen your shirt, buddy? Or is that yours?"

Christian looked down. The front of his shirt was, indeed, covered in blood stains. In a panic, he rushed into the kitchen. No one was there. He ran through the house, yelling for Ana. He found her in the bathroom, her dress off, being tended to by his mother, now being very much the doctor. Mia looked alarmed.

"Christian, turn around."

"Mia, I sleep with this woman. Mom, how bad is it?"

Ana, he was correct, had a badly scraped knee but she had scratches all over her arms and legs and his mother was actually stitching her scalp. Ana was sitting a tub of red water.

"Good lord, baby," said Christian, looking horrified.

"It's okay, Christian. Just superficial stuff. Really, I'm fine."

He looked her over. Her arms and legs were covered in bloody scratches and there was a bloody trail down the side of her face.

"It's just from the gravel, Christian. Although the bullet did mildly graze her head, just enough to open the skin. Probably doesn't even really need stitches but I'm being overly cautious." Grace tried to reassure him.

"But look at her. I thought all I did was knock her to the ground. It looks like I dragged her in the stuff."

"Well, you know, there was slippage and what not and I didn't even feel any of it, really. Mia noticed the blood coming off my head. Mia, are you feeling better? You were awfully sick there for a while. Anyway, had I known that I'd be rolling around on gravel, I'd have worn a shirt and pants. Little sleeveless dresses aren't good for this kind of roughhousing." Ana smiled at Christian.

"Are you still really mad at me or down to just mildly so," she pouted with her hand on his cheek.

Looking at her little body, covered now in scratches and bandages and stitches, nearly killed by Elena…Christian just lost it. He wrapped a towel and himself around Ana and cried.

Grace urged Mia to leave the room with her. Mia resisted. She'd never seen her brother emotional, except angry, of course. She was fascinated by the sight of him crying. Grace grabbed her hand and pulled her away.

"Ana. Baby. Try to stop nearly dying on me, please?" begged Christian.

Chapter 101

Ana smiled up the police detective sitting on the desk top, looking down at the very pretty pair of blue eyes shining up at him. He was trying, of course, to be stern and objective. He was losing.

Christian and Carrick were also trying…only they were working on not enjoying this interview. They knew the effect that Ana unintentionally had on men and, in this instance, it was amusing.

"So, you see, Detective, no one knew that I was going to see Mrs. Lincoln. Had they any idea, my boyfriend and his family would have tied me to a kitchen chair," she giggled. The detective sagged a little. Sitting straight up, firm and strong, looking down at suspects, usually was quite effective. 'Course, they had to notice first.

"What was your intention in going to see her, Ms. Steele?" His voice was trying for cold and hard.

"Well, I thought I might try to talk her out of killing me and/or my boyfriend, his family, my employees, the people at the craft boutique, the bookstore…." "Enough," yelled the detective. "You really believed that she had murderous intentions toward all those people!" he glared down at her?"

"Well, of course, had she managed to kill me first, she might have forgotten about the others but…" Ana shrugged apologetically while Christian ran his hands through his hair. He wanted to tell the detective that his girlfriend had a 4.0 GPA with three majors and ran her own business and was truly not a total flake but his father's hand on his arm warned him to stay calm and quiet. He was lucky to be here. Boyfriends were not usually allowed to be in on such interviews.

"I know it sounds a little nuts, sir, but Mrs. Lincoln was a little nuts, actually. She sued me for not allowing her to scald one of my employees and then tried to kill me for dating Christian. I mean," Ana said as she made a circular motion around the side of her head, "a little nuts."

"The civil suit I'm aware of but weren't you mugged?" questioned the detective.

"I think if you look a little further into your paperwork, detective, you'll see that the mugging was upgraded to attempted murder," interjected Carrick.

"Oh, yeah. However, there is no indication that we had evidence to indict Mrs. Lincoln although she was a subject, wasn't she? So, Ms. Steele, you thought that you could 'talk' her out of killing you?"

Geez, thought Christian, I'll be lucky to keep her out of a sanitarium at this rate.

"I know it sounds risky, visiting the home of the person trying to kill you, but it really did make sense to me. I simply explained to her that she had a good life and much to lose if she didn't get over her anger. And by the time I left, she had agreed to let bygones be bygones for the sake of her comfortable lifestyle. I'd also promised her an invite to the Grey's annual gala. That sort of thing was of utmost importance to Elena. I think she understood that she would be, at the least, under a permanent cloud of suspicion if she killed me and that that fact alone would curtail invitations to the right parties."

Chapter 102

"To be a member of the elite would derail her interest in murdering you, you're saying?"

"Well, to people like you and me, it wouldn't seem to be much in the way of motivation but to someone like Mrs. Lincoln, yes, to keep her perceived respect as someone of importance…yes, she would make the choice in favor of being able to walk amongst the wealthy."

"Then, why, having made this 'agreement' with you, did she try to shoot you as you left her house?" said the detective with much skepticism.

"Well, our leave taking was initially quite pleasant until she opened the door and saw the man she felt she'd lost to me, said loss her reason for wanting to kill me, and, I suppose, she just cracked. We'd expected the Uber I'd ordered but, seeing that Christian had come for me, well…I guess it was just too much for her. As I said, she was not stable.

Fortunately, Christian and Taylor were able to save my life. She was quite a good shot."

"Speaking of good shots," Detective, "the bullet did graze my client's skull so I'd like to end this interview if you haven't any other pertinent questions. I think, after all, that the facts are clear, don't you?" Carrick looked stern and authoritative.

"Yes, as puzzled as I am by the behavior of both women, you are correct. Ms. Steele, next time someone wants to kill you, please let the police deal with it, okay?"

"He thinks you're nuts, you know," Christian pointed out to Ana as they drove home.

"How did things go with you, Taylor?" Ana inquired with a concerned tone.

"Very well, ma'am. Mrs. Lincoln's outside security cameras pretty much made my case open and shut. The police returned my gun and that was about it."

"Oh, that's a relief. I know that that was your favorite gun," Ana smiled. "Let's stop for ice cream to celebrate."

"Yeah, a soft-serve cone sounds good," agreed Taylor.

Christian thought that he was the only truly sane person in the car.

"The house and salon have been swept, the trackers off the vehicles…no sign that we were ever there, sir."

"Thank you, Taylor, good job."

Taylor looked disturbed. Christian noted this expression. "What's wrong, Taylor?" "Sir, these expressions of gratitude and appreciation are relatively new and after so many years in your service, sir, are unexpected and disconcerting."

"Ana." Christian explained. "Can I at least thank you for saving our lives? That seems appropriate, doesn't it?" "Still just a part of my job, sir."

"I love Ana and you saved me from a lifetime of grief so you will accept my gratitude, understood?"

"That seems reasonable, I guess. Understood, sir." And Taylor left the room.

Chapter 103

"Hey," Christian greeted his family as they were seated around the dining table. Gretchen set down six plates and a big bowl of salad. Christian waved away the extra plate.

"Ana is filling in for Winnie tonight 'cause Daria has a school event. That gives me a chance to talk to you alone. It's about Ana. I know that I kinda just dropped her into your lives."

Looks passed back and forth. "Well, son," said Carrick, "It is true that we've all been curious about Ana. I mean, you've never introduced us to a woman friend and suddenly we've got one living with us. We can see that she's special but still we know little about her background. Your mother and I have trying to find a way to open a conversation. Even Mia's tried to be discrete."

There was a general chuckle of agreement around the table. "And now this thing with Elena."

"So, yeah, bro," offered Elliot, "can we ask for a little history? I mean, one day there's no one and the next you're sitting vigil at the bedside of girl. Don't get me wrong. We like it her, a lot, but she's a relative stranger.

"Listen, when I met Ana, I couldn't get her to talk about herself. She'd always turn it back around to me. So, one night, I got her to tell me a couple of things but when I wanted to know more, she told me that the only person who knew her whole story was a psychologist named John Flynn."

"Oh," said Grace, "I know Flynn, from the hospital. He is a fine man. How would Ana know him?"

"He was her doctor during her breakdown and on a few occasions since then," said Christian.

"Ana had a breakdown?" asked Mia.

"I'm not sure where to start. When Ana was 14, on her birthday, she and her parents were in a car crash. They were killed. Ana had so many broken bones and busted up this and that's that the only way the doctors could manage her pain was to put her in a medically induced coma. She was out for a couple of months. When she woke up, there was Dr. Flynn to tell her that if she thought things were bad before, that they'd just gotten a whole lot worse. She was put into foster care for four years. She was an odd duck in a lot of ways so she had no friends. With no friends or family and with nightmares keeping her up most of the night, Ana studied. She made it through high school and her first year of college by the time she was 18. When she aged out of the state system, she started working 40 hours a week and polishing off three majors, graduating when she was 20. With insurance money left by her folks, she opened The Rose." Christian could see that he'd wowed them. He was so proud of his girlfriend.

"Whoa! Five years of university damn near killed me and Ana finished 8 years of high school and college in 4! Like, man, what is her IQ anyway?" marveled Elliot.

"I don't know but Ana swears that she just had a lot of time because she never slept. I never have nightmares anymore but Ana does still. I wish my being with her helped like her being with me does. Maybe it's because I had 4 bad years and she's had 22. Her dad was an alcoholic and her mother was a coke addict. John Flynn said that he did some research. He literally could not find an adult present in her early childhood. I've got Welch on it but all we can figure is that somehow her mother managed to get her through her first year.

Chapter 104

"Now, I told Ana that I wanted her to tell my family about herself but she said that if I felt that you should know about her, I should tell you….after I learned most of it from John. Since then I've had a couple talks with him and this is what I learned. There is a great wagon story you should try to get her to tell you. She'd probably answer questions but she'll never just tell you the whole story start to finish. I just wanted you to know how incredible she is 'cause I know that sometimes she just looks like a ditzy little sweetheart but she is hard-core-can-take-care-of-you-and-everything-else. Dad, you saw the tapes, right?"

"Yes, I did. Very impressive. Don't worry, I destroyed them. I figured that it was best that no one get the right impression.

"Wait, Cary, don't you mean, the wrong impression?" asked Grace

"No, dear, I meant what I said. Part of the reason that the police bought Ana's story is because she seemed kind of naïve and innocent and because they didn't see that tape. I don't know to describe it. She was like a different person. Strong, scary even. She even told Elena to cooperate or die. It's as if she is really someone I didn't know. Quite the act, eh, Christian?"

"No, dad. That was all Ana. Mostly she's a sweetheart but if she thinks her cubs are in danger…. If the cops had seen that tape, we'd be trying to bail out both Ana and Taylor right now." In truth, Grey had seen the tape and if he didn't know better, he'd think that he was looking at a couple of Dommes trying to out-Dom each other, with Elena backing down. He knew that Ana was a virgin their first night together but he'd seen her out-Dom two different people now. How, he wondered, was she unaffected by Lemon and the judge and Elena? Not a tremor of fear. Anyone else would have crumbled just being in the room with any one of them. Was it possible to charm a Dom? No, no. Never.

"Well, dinner was great. Thanks, Mom…

"I'm going to go back to Escala and then take my car over to The Rose."

"No need," Ana called out, "I took a cab. Could you pay the cabby, tho', please? His company doesn't take plastic and he had to get permission to come out this far." As Christian went off to do his girl's bidding, Elliot piped up, "What kind of cab did you hail anyway?

"Quality taxi. They're a start-up outfit and I figured they needed the fares. This driver was so nice…although it might have had something to do with the address. He loved telling the dispatcher that he had to go out to Bellevue, to Grey Manor. Yes, that Grey Manor! I figure he'll drop over when Christian walks up to his window," Ana laughed with delight.

"Does the taxi driver not talk?" Christian asked Ana. He just kept staring at me. Finally, I gave up and just threw him a c-note. Strange fellow."

"Hey, Elliot," enquired Ana. "I need to ask you something. Could you stop by The Rose sometime this week? Your little bro has finally browbeaten me into moving into Escala, although I still don't recall actually agreeing to that….."

Chapter 105

"No, there was no browbeating….(although, Christian smiled to himself, for answers you want, ask during her orgasm).

"Umm…anyway, I won't be needing the apartment above The Rose anymore. When I moved in, it was just a big open space. I put in a kitchen, a bath, living area and a huge bedroom. Now I need updates on the kitchen and bath and my gigantic bedroom divided into two. I'd like you to do the work as long as you agree to let me pay you the going rate."

"Sorry, sis, no can do. I do it for free or I don't do it at all AND if you fight me on this, I'll blackball you to every contractor in Seattle. And…I'll ban you from YouTube tutorials as well."

Ana huffed with resentment. "And how do you plan to ban me from YouTube, smart guy?"

Mia piped up with a warning. "Oh, Ana, I don't know how but he is some kind of tech genius. I can't get view cat videos since he told me that he'd kill me if I ever sent him one more. Just let him have his own way. They both manage it every time somehow."

"Look who's talking getting her own way," smirked Christian. "I recently found out that I'm buying the building housing the boutique next door so someone can have her own pastry shoppe AND I don't remember agreeing to that either."

Two can play the orgasm game, snickered Ana to herself.

"So, I'll need two outside walls torn down or a gateway built. Preferably I'd join the two buildings so the kitchens can be joined and enlarged. That way Mia can use our equipment and supply our café with pastries as well. We can't keep recruiting old ladies because they aren't reliable. Two of my best died last week. I can't help but think that the old darlings took on too much. And it is way too hot in that kitchen for fragile bodies. We need to update ventilation, as well, El. And even tho' I love those old floors, they do not work well in kitchens. They are wide boards so you can have them, El. Someone will pay you well for them to put in their new home.

With the buildings connected via the kitchens, Winnie will be available to oversee Mia's management. If you listen to Winnie, Mia, you'll be in the black in no time."

Mia clapped her hands with glee and threw her arms around Christian's neck, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she squealed.

"What else did I agree to while throwing my head back and screaming your name, eh?" he whispered, smiling over Mia's shoulder at Ana. Ana mimed unrolling a long list while Christian winced.

"You'll be working mostly with Winnie, Elliot. She and her daughter are moving into the apartment. They live in a total dump right now, miles from Daria's school and a mile from the bus line. This arrangement will be so much better for them. Mia, be patient. I want Elliot to tackle this job first. Besides, we need to sit down with your business plan. You okay with waiting a while?" asked Ana.

"Fine by me, Ana. You seem to have a miracle mouth." "Yes," agreed Christian.

Chapter 106

"So, are you going to tell me what else I agreed to while you were vacuuming out my dick?"

"If you tell me what else I agreed to while my pussy was getting a rubdown," challenged Ana.

"Seems that we're at an impasse, my love. Christian kissed the top of Ana's head. "So, we are agreed that after brunch tomorrow, you and I throw our bags in the back of the Mercedes and head home?"

"Yes. Although, I will admit to being nervous about it. After spending so much time with your family, I feel like I'm leaving home."

"Well, we'll be back every Sunday for brunch. You might get sick of seeing them."

"No, never. I feel like I have a family here. By the way, I know I told you that you could…but did you, you know, tell them about me?"

"Yes, briefly. I also told them that you said that they could ask you questions."

"Good." That will be easier than starting with "Hi, my name is Ana. My parents were an alcoholic and a prostitute/coke addict. I don't think I ever wore diapers and I might have potty-trained myself," Ana laughed. And then she made an unexpected spin into Grey's head. "Do you ever visit your mother's grave?"

"Whoa, hard right turn….umm…no."

"Aren't you curious?"

"No, can't say as I am. How about you? Ever sit by your folks stone and ask the hard questions?"

"No, they were cremated. I don't think there are any potters fields near my hometown. Folks with a little money went down the road to Seattle but all my parents had was me. When I woke up, I was told that they'd died in the crash and their ashes dumped in the river. I was quite angry for a while. I told the adults that I could take care of my parents, that I could bury them properly but I suppose it was for the best. I used the insurance money when I opened The Rose. How do you want to go? What happens to Grey's?"

"We have a family plot in Forest Lawn in Seattle. It's a big place, still mostly empty, so it'll probably serve the family for many generations yet to come."

"So, you want to be buried?" asked Ana.

"Actually, never thought much about it. How about you?" queried Christian.

"I've already signed up to have my body given to a teaching hospital. After the students are done, the bodies are cremated and the ashes either returned to the family or buried somewhere on hospital property. I wanted to be useful," shrugged Ana.

Christian grew very quiet. "If you were to die, I'd be right behind you, Ana. I know that's probably selfish but living without you wouldn't be possible."

"What if there were children or if your parents needed you or Elliot got hurt falling off a roof and needed 24 hour care or if Mia was alone in the world? Huh, you selfish bastard, what ja gonna do then, huh?

"Well, I'm thinking that I might shoot myself any minute now," Christian laughed out loud.

Chapter 107

"Holy cow!" gasped Ana as she stepped off the elevator and into the foyer of Christian's penthouse. There were several more Holy Cows as she wandered into the main living area.

Her eyes were popping out of her head as she tried to take in her surroundings; a state of the art kitchen, a grand piano, art on any walls that weren't floor to ceiling windows overlooking Seattle from 30 floors up, marble floors, a sweeping staircase winding its way to a second floor.

"Do you like it?" Christian asked nervously. "I mean, I know that it's a bit much. When I bought it, I just needed a place to live. I wasn't even looking for a home. I added the art, the piano and a couple of other things but mostly what I needed was already here. I never gave much thought to decorating. I mean, even the artwork is just investments. I mostly just sleep here. My housekeeper and Taylor live here in their own quarters. I'm rattling on….say something."

"It needs a little warmth and comfort. Maybe flowers, pillows, definitely pictures of loved ones."

"Baby, it's your home now. You can change whatever you want…although you might want to consult with Mrs. Taylor first about any changes to the kitchen. That's kind of her domain."

"Is it upstairs?" asked Ana innocently.

"What? Is what upstairs? Umm…there are more bedrooms and baths. I don't go up there anymore." Christian hedged. He knew that he had to reveal all but he wanted to wait until he got Ana all settled in. He hoped to show her the library and the media room and his study. He wanted to go shopping with her for all the things she'd want to add or change about his cold fortress in the air. He did not want to go upstairs….yet.

"So, you don't go upstairs…anymore, you said. When did you stop going upstairs?" she smiled slyly.

"Umm….I don't know. Months ago. There hasn't been any reason to for some time. Everything I wanted and needed was first at The Rose and then at my parent's house. My bedroom is around behind the stairs. My study is just over there. Down that hallway are the library and the TV room. Sometimes my sister or my brother sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms, usually after they party or shop too hard. Both my sibling like to go clubbing on the weekends so we'll have to expect a couple of drunks crashing here now and again." Christian felt himself blithering on.

"That must have been inconvenient," Ana smiled again. Why was she smiling like that? Christian wondered. She was really making him nervous.

"Well, yeah, they usually wake me up around 4 when the bars closed, crashing around. I have to get up and make sure that they get to bed and don't fall down the stairs. Actually, I've considered turning the library and TV rooms into bedrooms and moving those upstairs. What do you think?"

Ana said nothing and began to climb the stairs with Christian following hesitantly. Ana opened each door, looking inside and commenting on the loveliness and the views.

Then she came to a door that was locked with a number pad. It had no handle or knob. Ana didn't move on. She asked for the code.

Chapter 108

"Christian? Don't you have the code?"

Christian began to perspire. Of course, he knew the code. Every other important number in his life he might have to look up but this number was branded on his brain.

Ana wasn't going to let it go. Besides, he knew that somehow she already knew. There was no delaying it. Please don't leave began pounding over and over in his head.

"Ana, what's inside this room might shock or even sicken you but I want you to know that this room is no longer in use. I planned on dismantling it. Soon after I met you I almost gave Taylor instructions to demolish it. I mean, he's always hated it and who went with it but then I knew that I wanted you to know everything about me. I want you to know that I've never lied to you and I will never lie to you. I want you to trust me. No secrets. In many ways I've been alone all my life and I know that you have as well.

Now I want us to be together in everything."

With each number he entered, he felt more and more terrified. He had to trust her. It was all he had. There was a click as the lock retreated and the door eased open just a bit. Christian reached in and pressed a button for the light. Then he pushed the door all the way open and stood back for Ana to enter.

The redness of it all was the first thing that struck her. The lighting was intended to be dim, not bright or harsh. As her eyes grew accustomed to it, she could see clearly. She allowed her gaze to travel around from the chesterfield couch on her left…red, naturally...to a wall hung with leather in the form of whips, floggers, straps. Further along the wall was covered in canes of every shape, some plain, some dotted with bits of metals. There were cat o'nine tails and then belts of every thickness. In the middle of the room was a table. Then a large X that seemed to hang from the ceiling, a glass cabinet within hung cuffs and pipe-like things with leather cuffs and then a small cabinet with many drawers, like a jewelry case. Finally, just to her right was a large bed, with four black posts and sheets of blood red.

All in all, it was a strange and intimidating room. She felt a sudden need to curl into a ball on the bed…the only place in the room that didn't seem to promise pain. That is, if you ignored the metal circle hooks on the posts where ropes could slip through. She dragged in as deep a breath as possible. She reached out to grab hold of the bed post to steady herself.

Even in the dim light, a light to which Grey's eyes were well acclimated, he could see that she was pale….more so than usual. He wanted to hold her but he didn't think that his touch would be welcome. Right now he was like one of the implements of pain in this room. He was part of it all. He had to give Ana time no matter how desperately he needed to embrace her and assure her that this was not his room anymore and would not be his ever again.

As he stood there, he flashed back on his time in the room. The beatings he'd delivered with whips and canes. The women he'd hung from the cross who moaned with pleasure as he first beat them and then fucked them. The bed where he'd tied them spread-eagled, dribbling hot wax and oil on them, pushing dildos into them, watching them orgasm.

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He felt his eyes burning. Please, he asked Ana silently, don't ask me what I did to women in here. I don't know if I can even say it. It didn't matter that they wanted it, that they got off on it. It didn't matter than it was fine for others.

He'd held a woman in his arms, feeling nothing but love and the deepest need for her. Now he could never again imagine using a woman and being used by a woman. He tried to remember the pleasure he must surely have felt but nothing came to him.

He did remember all too well being used by Elena. He suddenly wished that she were still alive. He wanted to hurt her. He thought back to that day he nearly choked her to death in her garishly overdone "reception room" as she called it. He'd loved tormenting her. Maybe he shouldn't be proud of what he'd done but he was glad he'd done it.

He was jarred from his reverie by the sound of Ana's voice… soft, musical… and by what she said.

"The others weren't this nice."

He froze. Could he have heard her correctly? No.

"I suppose they didn't have your money or your taste."

A ragged breath, a hand dropping limply as her small body leaned, no, fell against the black post. Christian reached out, catching Ana as she began to slip down. He picked her up and almost laid her down on the bed before thinking better of using that bed. He curled her against him and carried her downstairs to his, their, bedroom. She wasn't unconscious but unresponsive. He had her drink water. He watched her. She was so pale, staring into space. He didn't know what to do for her. He took a chance, removing her shoes and then his own, slipping in beside her and then wrapping her in his arms, her head on his chest.

He didn't know how long they'd slept. He'd felt so wired and stunned that he didn't know how he even managed to fall asleep. Ana was still out cold and it was getting dark outside. They'd been on top of the covers so he pulled a duvet from the closet and tucked it around her, kissed her forehead and left the door ajar just enough to let in a bit of light. Then he headed upstairs to turn off the lights and close the door to the playroom.

To his surprise, the door was closed and locked. He started to open it again and then thought better of it. He didn't need any more flashbacks. He went back down the stairs and into the kitchen where he found Mrs. Taylor preparing dinner. She smiled at him, told him what she was preparing and continued working. He wanted to say something to her.

"Gail."

She looked up, expectedly. He needed to say something but what? He couldn't think.

Taylor popped in, looking for something to hold him over until dinner. He looked at the uneasy scene before him and wondered if he should quietly back out of the kitchen to safer ground.

"Taylor," Grey began again, "I'm not sure how to begin."

"If this is about your playroom, Mr. Grey, I was just upstairs and saw the door open and the lights on so I closed up. I apologize if I did the wrong thing," Gail said in a tentative voice.

Taylor closed in. Grey was not going to berate his wife.

Chapter 110

"No, no, of course. No, what I was going to say was that I need to apologize to you, to you both, really, but more so to you, Gail. I don't think I realized all this time what I was asking of you. Every Monday morning you'd have to go into that room, pick up condoms, change sheets and in general clean up after my mess. And Taylor, all the women you had to kick out. There weren't that many who left willingly. And having to announce Elena's visits when I know you really hated having to be polite to her. And having to restrain yourself when she treated Gail in such a demeaning manner.

"Well, sir, I always appreciated that you would order Gail to her quarters. Of course, you didn't understand that then I had to spend the rest of the evening with a really pissed off missus pacing back and forth growling about "that bitch and one of these days, etc."

"If I had it to do over, Gail, I'd have let you have at her. It would have been fun to watch Elena get completely unhinged by "the help's insolence". I wish I had a tape for you of that day in The Rose."

The three were laughing so hard that they didn't notice Ana leaning shyly against the staircase, watching. Gail looked up and called out to her, "Hello, dear, I hope you're hungry. We're having a pasta dish, one of Mr. Grey's favorites."

Christian jumped to his feet and strode quickly over to Ana, fearful of her reaction to him coming close. He stopped in front of her, not even knowing what to say, so he said the only thing he'd really needed to say. "Please don't leave and by don't leave, I don't mean before dinner. I mean please don't leave me. Please stay with me, Ana," he begged in a whisper, even though both Taylor and Gail had discretely left the kitchen.

Ana reached up and placed her hand on his cheek. Then, on tiptoe, placed a kiss on his lips. He still looked distressed, as if she were bidding him a sweet goodbye. "I'm not leaving, ever. I like the view," she said, looking up into his face. His expression was that of a man who'd just dodged a shark attack. "Oh, my god, thank you, baby, thank you. I was sure that you were so horrified and repulsed that I'd lost you. I've been so scared for so long that that room would be the end of us."

Grey held her so close, with such gratitude, that she had to remind him that she couldn't breathe and she was hungry. He swept her up and placed her on a stool at the breakfast bar. He was grinning like a loon but he wasn't able to stop. His greatest fear was unrealized. His greatest desire was. She didn't hate him and she was staying.

As soon as dinner was over, they took a long bath together. They didn't say much. Ana laid back against Christian and played with the bubbles, blowing them into the air. Then he dried her with her towel and took her to bed. It was the first time he'd ever had sex in that bed. It was a huge bed, much larger than king size but they still almost fell off of it several times, rolling and wrestling. He'd never laughed while having sex. He'd never had to stop to catch his breath. He'd never wanted to kiss every inch of a woman's body.

Chapter 111

"Get off me, Christian, I have to pee. You can't fuck a woman for 2 hours without her having to go to the bathroom," Ana informed him as she tried to shove him out of her way.

"Just pee. We'll change the sheets in the morning."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not sleeping in urine-soaked bedding," Ana snarled back at him. "And

no, you can't come with me. I don't like an audience while I relieve myself."

"You said that you'd never leave me," whined Christian.

"Well, I'm not going to leave you but I may toss you off the balcony," she said, slamming the door in his face.

Christian knew that he was being crazy but all this was so new to him that he didn't know what to do with himself. He and Ana had been sleeping together for quite a while now, in between murder attempts, comas and seizures but tonight, for the first time, she was out of danger and they were in their own home. She knew the truth of him and she ate a whole bowl of noodles and the bed was theirs, not a guest bed in his parent's home. Life was truly starting. When he opened his eyes in the morning, he'd be able to look out at that familiar skyline and then over at the woman he loved. He sat up against the headboard with his arms behind his head and smiled at the world.

The bathroom door opened and Ana peeked out. "Hey, come on in and shower with me?"

Christian nearly broke his ankle leaping out of the bed and running into the bathroom to join Ana in the shower. Mixing water and Ana was on his top ten list of favorite things to do. As he soaped up her hair, he could tell that she was very relaxed so he decided to finally push her on what she'd said in the red room.

"Ana, what did you mean 'the others weren't this nice?', he said softly as he gently massaged her head. She became very still as he rinsed the shampoo from her hair. If she had nothing to say, he wouldn't ask again. She turned and leaned into his chest. "I'm so tired, Christian." He toweled her off and then picked her up and took her back to the bedroom and set her down on the couch.

"The sheets are kind of sticky," he smiled gently. "I'm going to change them, okay?"

By the time he'd remade the bed, Ana was asleep so he put her back to bed and crawled in with her, enveloping her in his arms, and lay staring at the ceiling, a sick feeling in his heart. What she'd said…he knew it could mean only one thing. His sweet girl…but she was a virgin the first time he was with her. He didn't understand and he didn't want to have to but he needed to.

Once again, he felt the hate for Elena and her kind. It wasn't entirely fair, he knew. Many good people were into the kink. He knew that his subs wanted to be with him…didn't they? Yes, yes…he wasn't wrong about that.

He knew, as well, that most wanted to be his girlfriend. He had to wonder how much of what they agreed to do, even asked to do, was because they wanted to please him enough to be special to him. He'd been with one girl almost a year and she'd cried so hard when he refused to take her to his mother's gala that he was done with her. Heterminated her contract.

Chapter 112

Ana had a bad night. He'd held her and rocked her through one nightmare but the second one an hour later scared the hell out of him. She stopped breathing at one point for so long that he opened her mouth and breathed into her, literally performing CPR. She began coughing finally and then muttered that "it was too tight" before relaxing back into sleep. He'd heard that once before…from a sub, wearing a ball gag.

As the daylight crept into the room, he picked up the remote from the nightstand and closed the blackout curtains. She needed to sleep and she always woke with the dawn…to get started on the baking. He wanted her to sleep more now. No more up at dawn and working for 20 hours. She was too thin, too fragile.

He went back in his mind to the first moment he saw her, to his first thoughts of her being his next sub. Then he'd admired her slender figure and her energy and how perfect she would be in his playroom. He didn't see that she was thin because she ate so little. He didn't see that she was tired and pushing herself hard every minute. He didn't know that when he finally went to bed at midnight, she'd would be on her knees scrubbing her café's floors. It was only when she first began to sit with him for a few minutes in the morning that he noticed that her bright blue eyes were also tired.

It was only when he began staying to sleep with her after making love that he discovered that she had nightmares. Their first time together they hadn't slept at all and he'd thought nothing of it. He'd taken a nap later in the day without thinking that Ana was working the dinner rush. When they slept together, he'd awakened, wondering why and marveling that he felt good and wasn't having a nightmare. Some of her nightmares were easily calmed. Some were so disturbing that he considered calling his mother in to sedate Ana. However, with time, he learned how to ease her back into sleep. He accepted that this would be the norm. He asked Ana once if she remembered the dreams and she said no. He didn't bring it up again.

Now, holding her tightly to him, he began to understand and tears pricked his eyes.

At 8 am he slipped out of bed, making sure that Ana was tucked in and sleeping well.

She could sleep without him. He, however, woke the moment she left the bed and fell back to sleep the second she returned. Tokyo had been rough, dealing with those arseholes on no sleep.

He put on pajama pants and a t-shirt and went into the kitchen. Gail was brewing beans and making French toast for her husband. Taylor was half-asleep, slumped in a chair at the dining table instead of sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar, his usual spot. Gail smiled brightly at Grey as he walked in and pointed at Taylor with a questioning glance.

"He didn't sleep well. You disturbed his routine. He just has to get used to the new one is all, then he'll be fine. At least, I hope this is the new routine because I like it."

"What 'new routine' are you talking about, Gail?"

"Why, you," she smiled affectionately, "sleeping through the night. No nightmares. No piano playing 'til dawn. You know that Jason is having to make adjustments to the new you."

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Taylor finally lifted his head, looking beat but trying to exhibit his usual rigid posture. Grey had long ago given up telling his security head to relax.

"Good morning, sir. Did you sleep well?" Taylor ask, his tired eyes blinking.

Grey had to hold back a laugh. "Yes and no. Sorry about the lack of screaming nightmares and tinkling the ivories 'til dawn."

"Tinkling the ivories? More like pounding out requiems. I kept waking up to nothing. It was disturbing, you know. When I was a kid, we had a clock in the hall that stuck every hour. I got so used to the gong that when the clock died, it took me quite a while to adjust."

"Well, there won't be any piano playing at 3 am anymore, Jason. I have to be with Ana when she has nightmares."

"Sir?" Taylor looked concerned.

"Yeah, bad ones. Maybe we can give her a safe, loving life…enough to stop the dreams."

"Well, certainly with Mrs. Lincoln gone, she'll be safer. I'm afraid, however, that she'll soon find that your wealth and status could endanger her. But don't worry, Mr. Grey, I've already found a new CPO for Ms. Steele and her car is fully equipped with all safety and tracking devices."

"A new what and what car!?" the voice was not sweet but the steel was there. Damn, thought Grey. More of the crap reality of being Christian Grey's girlfriend.

"Good morning, beautiful," he beamed as he rose to sweep Ana into his arms. "Gail's making French toast! Or would you rather have her buttermilk pancakes?"

"Nice try, Grey," Ana snarled. Taylor picked up his plate and tried to rise from his seat to move to the breakfast bar and out of the line of fire. "Sit, Jason Andrew Taylor," Ana commanded. Taylor glared at the traitor, Gail, snickering in the kitchen. She was the only one who knew what his mother called him when he was in trouble. Ana didn't ask twice. She just stared at Christian. It was almost as if she was doming him.

"Well, dear, Taylor is my CPO and now you'll have one of your own. Cool, huh? Like when you have packages, your CPO will carry them for you." Oh, lord, thought Grey, this is going to be a battle. "And, of course, you need a car."

"Really, carry my 'packages'? What am I? Mia? And my feet still worked last time I looked and Seattle has public transportation that has always served me well."

And, Taylor, your boss is not mine. Without a word to me, you went out and got me some bodyguard? Let me guess, he's big, really big. Like, I'm going to be followed around by the Hulk, right?"

Jason Andrew Taylor took a deep breath and tried to look Ana in the eye. "Well, ma'am, he is, of course, the best of the best…per Mr. Grey's orders. Mr. Grey gave Jason a dirty look for trying to shift Ana's fury back to him. "Taylor," he smirked, "why don't you tell Ana all about the CPO you choose for her…and I bet she'd like to hear about the car, too."

Chapter 114

The next couple of hours were tense and loud as Christian followed Ana all around the apartment as they ate breakfast, got dressed, and paced in and out of the living room, the kitchen, the study, the library and the tv room and back again, arguing about close protection, gifting of cars, drivers!, and OMG! the wardrobe from Neiman Marcus that, inconveniently for Grey, arrived as he and Ana were debating her ability to take care of herself and his need to take care of her.

Taylor and Gail got comfortable behind the breakfast bar. They moved a couple of stools around to the kitchen side and settled in. Whenever Grey and Steele came back around their way, Gail and her husband pretended to be engaged in necessary work. Then they sat down again to listen. Later, in their own quarters, they, too, would debate. Taylor thought the CPO 'discussion' was the most interesting while Gail couldn't understand how he didn't collapse with laughter when the wardrobe arrived. That poor man delivering the goods and caught in the middle!

In the end, the door slammed behind Ana as she settled herself in the library and Grey slunk into his study and pretended to be very busy with very important CEO work. Taylor took a nap.

Elliot walked off the elevator a couple of hours later to a very quiet penthouse. A sort of deadly quiet, actually. There was an air of doom about the place. Elliot wondered if he should look for a body. Well, he thought, let's start with the study, his little bro's man cave.

As he approached, Elliot could hear a consistent squeaking. As he pushed open the study door, he found Christian leaning back in his chair as he went round in circles, staring at the ceiling.

"You know, you could put a picture of Ana on the ceiling and then you'd have something to look at. Are you mulling over a major acquisition?"

"Yeah, my major acquisition is in the library, sulking."

"Oh," Elliot worried for his brother. "Dude, are you okay?"

"Yeah, Ana doesn't lie and she promised me a while back that she'd never leave me. Of course, I forgot to make her promise me that she'd never stop having sex with me so I could be in for a dry spell."

"Can I ask?"

"CPOs, cars, drivers, wardrobes, independence, my overprotectiveness, control issues, blah, blah, blah. This morning, even before breakfast, our first day in our home, the reality of me came crashing in on her. This girl raised herself, she's never had anybody and her first break out of the gate? She gets me. Not a nice, normal boyfriend….me. She couldn't give a rodent's rear, to quote my love, about the money or the status, everything every other women wanted. She just wants me. No fancy dinners out. No mixing with the elite of Seattle. No staff to do the laundry and cooking. If I sold the company, gave the money away, moved us into a little house somewhere and walked the dog every night after dinner, I'd have a happy woman."

"Yeah," grinned Elliot, "she's pretty cool, all right. Kind of surprised the fam that you'd have such good taste."

Chapter 115

"Umm…as she seen the room?" Elliot asked in a quiet voice.

"What?" Christian stared.

"Yeah, I know about Lincoln and the life and the room. About a year now. I crashed here one Friday night in the guest room across from the red room, got a glimpse when the door opened.

The next day I was sitting at the breakfast bar trying to eat eggs and nursing a hangover when a gorgeous woman came down the stairs, smiled at me and entered the elevator. I left before you came out. You probably didn't even know I was there. Dude, I was, like completely, thrown. I went home, got out my Mac and started googling until some words started coming together and I stumbled on BDSM. And, man, suddenly everything started to make sense. Why you never dated, for one.

Christian looked stunned. He couldn't speak. His brother had known all this time and had never treated him any differently…had never said anything or exposed him or called him a freak.

"Why didn't you tell me that you knew, El?"

"Not my business, little bro. I read everything I could find. It was an alternative sex life. It was consensual and agreeable for both parties. Some Doms were arseholes and some weren't. I knew from the smile on that woman's face that you were one of the good ones. Yeah, I wanted to know how you got into all that and I had my suspicions about Lincoln but I figured someday maybe I'd figure out a way to start the conversation. Guess today I did." Elliot looked uncertain, tho'.

"Geez, El. I'm sorry that you had to see that. It must have been a shock. It's only lately that I've realized how strange it all is. I mean, I don't condemn it. It's fine for a lot of people but it is strange. I want you to know that I've quit it. I kept the room as is just to show Ana because I wanted to be completely honest with her about who I was but Taylor has a crew coming in tomorrow to dismantle it. It's going into auction. Yeah, Doms have auctions for stuff like that.

Then I'll turn it into another bedroom, I guess, unless Ana wants a room for something."

"How'd she take it when she saw it?" asked Elliot.

"Basically fainted."

"Whoa."

"Yeah, she may have had a nightmare about it. I don't know. We haven't talked yet. I was going to sit down with her and talk this morning but then she walked in as Taylor was telling me that her new CPO and car were ready. The following explosion lasted a couple of hours and now the dust is settling in different rooms."

"Who won?"

"It isn't a war, El," said Christian in disgust. "but I'm going to win it."

"Well, maybe if I tell her about my covert and how I adjusted, it would help." Elliot offered.

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"What?" Christian eyes bugged out.

"You didn't think I knew? Geez, Chris, think I'm idiot? You've had coverts on all of us for years. We all know. Mia abuses hers all the time with pranks. Mom and Dad just say good morning to the bushes. It was pretty funny tho' the day that Mia's was sick and Ana gave him aspirin and then kept Mia too busy to leave the house. Dad laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. Wish I'd been there to watch."

"Amusing. I'll have to speak to Taylor about the quality of our security."

"Oh, leave him alone. Lincoln never figured it out. Guess we're just smarter than the average dominatrix."

"Hi, Elliot," came a soft voice from behind him. "Did you come by to talk about the construction?"

"Yeah, sweetie," Elliot replied, "giving her a little kiss on the cheek. I'll be in the kitchen. Oh, I'll tell you all about my CPO," he smiled down at her.

Ana nodded and then looked at Christian. She was pouting but her eyes were reddened from crying and Christian's heart broke a little. He went to her and pulled into his arms.

"I love you, Ana."

"I love you, Christian."

For a few minutes, they were silent. Then Christian closed the door and sat on the couch, pulling Ana onto his lap and nuzzling into the crook of her neck.

"Elliot has a CPO?" puzzled Ana.

"Everyone in the family has covert protection except Mia who has a CPO as well. She spends her weekends clubbing wearing bits of cloth she calls dresses. If she didn't have a CPO, she'd get roofied regularly. She's too much for just her covert to handle."

"But Elliot is so big. He's like the size of a shed." Ana laughed.

"Yes, but he's also just a happy lug who trusts everybody and he has no training in self-defense. He needs someone to be always looking around him, keeping an eye out for the bad guys. A couple of years ago there was a kidnap attempt. His covert shot out all four tires of the van and then put a bullet between the eyes of the driver. Within minutes, he had four more of the security team surrounding the van. Elliot woke up in the hospital with just a minor concussion, thank god. He loves to tell that story so pretend you haven't heard it, okay?" Christian grinned.

"Okay. You must all have been terrified."

"Yeah. I overreacted, of course," admitted Christian, "…tried to put a bigger team on him. Ana, you are my world now. You are everything. Nothing means anything without you. Do you understand that?"

"You need to keep me safe. And, apparently, clothed. 'Cause Walmart is dangerous."

Chapter 117

"Target is no better. Those places are really crowded," grimaced Christian.

"Okay," nodded Ana as she kissed his eyelids and then his lips.

"Wait. Did I just win this one?" Christian asked with disbelief.

"Don't get cocky, Mr. Super CEO," warned Ana. "You're likely to lose many others."

All he could do was grin like a loon and squeeze her until she squealed.

Christian was right. Elliot loved telling Ana the story of his kidnapping, although he told it a bit differently. In his version, he was the hero. She listened, rapt, and clapped at the ending which had Elliot refusing medical attention which was ultimately forced upon him. He only spent the night in the hospital to calm his mother and because she'd have made him go back to Grey Manor and Mia would have driven him insane with fretting and fussing.

Then Ana made a little show of 'seeing the light' and agreeing to having a CPO after all. She wasn't letting Christian off scott free.

"Well, if Elliot thinks it's a good idea, then I guess I'll agree to having a CPO," she winked at Christian. Christian held his tongue even when Elliot grinned in victory.

While Ana was dressing for their trip to The Rose, Taylor introduced the new guy to Christian. His name was Sawyer and, yes, he was the Hulk. Christian gave the side eye to Taylor. He was pleased that Taylor was being so protective of Ana. He knew he'd never have to warn Taylor to take better care of her. He wondered, in fact, how many coverts Taylor had littered around the vicinity of Ana. He decided to take the afternoon off to go to The Rose with Ana and Elliot. Years of having security had taught him to recognize all the hidden hired guns and he had a feeling that today's excursion was going to cost him the price of a third company jet.

When little Anastasia Rose Steele glided out from around the staircase, wearing tight black jeans, a t-shirt reading 'Grey's Girl' and sneakers, the Hulk looked down. His face was lacking in expression, as was the professional way, but Grey could see a light in his eyes. Sawyer couldn't disguise his feelings completely. He was, after all, human and male. He was charmed and amazed and delighted and, above all and most important, in full-on protection mode. This tiny thing would never be endangered in any way under his watch.

"Ana, this is Sawyer, your close protection officer. Taylor, please explain how Ana is to behave with her CPO," instructed Christian, very aware of the evil eye she had just aimed at him.

"Yes, sir. Ms. Steele, Sawyer is not your friend. Please do not try to establish such a relationship with him. He is a highly trained professional who will need all his wits about him to protect you…."

"Yeah, yeah, bad guys, no distractions, got it," Ana interrupted, "Hi, Sawyer, wow, you are big. Do you work out, like every day? I need to get stronger. Christian hauls me around like a 5 lb. sack of flour. I'll bet you could get me into shape. Let's hit the gym soon, okay?"

Chapter 118

"Ah, yes, ma'am." Sawyer agreed, looking uncertainly at Taylor and Christian. Both men shrugged. Sawyer had already been thoroughly briefed by his bosses so Taylor continuing his instructions to Ana wasn't really necessary. Sawyer was a pro; he knew the drill. He'd CPO'd sheiks and diplomats and, ugh, actors. He'd been in the seals and the secret service. Only the excessive amount of money he'd been offered to protect the lady friend of some spoiled boy billionaire had gotten him to agree to this job. He'd retired but was bored. This job would be easy and probably short-term. Rich guys moved on to new arm candy pretty quickly. Then Sawyer could head back to his farm and feed his chickens. Taylor had told him that this would be a permanent gig but Sawyer just laughed. He knew of Taylor's reputation but guessed that it must have been exaggerated.

Well, Taylor smiled to himself as he watched Christian watch Ana….I tried to tell you.

The Rose was packed at the lunch hour so the staff was too busy to do more than bid Ana, et al, hello. Besides, they were getting kind of used to Winnie and Joanie being there and Ana not.

Ana took Elliot through her apartment, feeling nostalgic again. Christian was just her boyfriend and couples broke up all the time but somehow Ana knew that she'd never be coming back to her first home that was all hers. Christian noted the sadness in her eyes and pulled her into his embrace.

"Thank you." he whispered. She understood what he was trying to say and she hugged him tightly to let him know that he was worth the trade off.

Winnie, normally assertive and sure of herself, seemed suddenly quite shy with Elliot. He asked her what she'd like in way of a new kitchen and bath. She looked to Ana. "Really, Ana, it's your property. Perhaps you should make those decisions," Winnie suggested.

"No, Winnie, you're going to be living here…you and Daria. I do hope, Elliot, that you can squeeze in an island in the kitchen and a small bathroom just for Daria. You know, she's going to be a teenager in a couple of years. She'll need her own space. Make it big enough for a couple of girls to sit around and giggle and share hair ideas."

"You got it. Winnie, how about I come back later when Daria is here and you have a lull out front and we can go over a few ideas I have?" Winnie nodded and smiled while studying the floor.

Elliot was grinning at her. Christian and Ana shared a look.

Christian took Elliot aside. "Do not start something you're going to be done with in a week, El.

This is a nice girl who's been raising her daughter alone since she was 17. Got me? Ana will kill you if you hurt Winnie," he warned.

"Geez, Christian. I'm just having a conference with a couple of clients. Relax. 17, eh? All on her own? Okay, I'll be on my best behavior. All business. Scout's honor."

"You were never a boy scout, El," growled Christian.

Chapter 119

Ana was quiet in the car, staring out the window as Taylor drove them back to Escala.

"Christian?"

"Yeah, baby, you seem to have something on your mind. I'm always ready to listen, you know?"

"When is Elena's funeral?"

Well, that was unexpected. "I don't know. Her body was released to her ex-husband. She didn't have anyone else. Why do you ask?" he said, already knowing the answer.

"I'd like to go. She should have someone there for her. Even someone who, you know, threatened her life. I feel guilt."

"You didn't kill her, Ana, and she had every intention of killing you."

Ana was quiet for several minutes. Then she leaned toward Taylor and asked him to drive them to the nearest park near the water.

"Let's walk, Christian. I have to tell you some things about me."

"First," she began, with a slight tremble in her voice, "I think that it was very brave of you to show me your playroom. I know you could have demolished it and lied to me. Some men might have."

"You knew about it," Christian said in amazement. "How did you know that I was into BDSM?"

Ana took a ragged breath. "I saw your Dom persona emerge couple of times." Then she chuckled lightly. "I'm surprised you didn't take me over your knee in the courtroom. You were severely dommed out. I was impressed with your control, actually."

Christian stopped in his tracks and turned Ana to face him. He was both stunned and saddened to realize that Ana had somehow had experience with BDSM, the very lifestyle from which he sought to protect her. He searched her face for fear or embarrassment but found neither.

"Ana….how…." he couldn't find a way to ask. He knew whatever he heard was going to break his heart.

"When I was ten, my father took me to clubs. I just watched. I was always mature for my age. I agreed to go because otherwise my father would drink and then drive home drunk. My mother, as I told you, was addicted to coke and also helped support us with prostitution. She was also a submissive. Mom liked to sub. Dad liked to watch. And I liked to keep them both sober. I also wanted to protect my mother. Some of the Doms could be quite brutal. I learned that the only way to keep them from being too harsh with my mother and to listen when she used safe words was to be like them. I studied their posture, their language and the air about them. I tried to imitate them so that I could approach them, if necessary, and have them listen when I pointed out that they were breaking the rules. I was too small to physically assault them so I had to try to impress them. At first, they just thought that I was cute but after a couple of years I began to notice a certain look in their eyes. They recognized the dom aspect and respected it. They lightened up, got themselves under control and respected my mother. The club owner suggested that I find a sub and practice. Apparently, I'd gone about the whole thing backwards."

Chapter 120

Christian fell onto the nearest bench. "My girlfriend is a Dominant," he mumbled, astounded.

"Well, not really." Ana explained. "I only know how to summon the persona if I need it. However, a real Dom practices, uses his…hum…skills on subs. The night of the accident that killed my parents I was suffering from a really bad case of flu. I was sitting in the club, holding a wastebasket, vomiting continually. I wasn't able to pay close attention to my parents' activities. Usually, if they started drinking, I'd stop them before they got too drunk to drive. That night I was off my game. I've gone over and over it in my mind over the years, trying to think what I could have done differently but I was so sick that I passed out before the crash. Later I was told that my lying limp on the back floor probably saved my life. The cab was crushed but I was kind of cocooned in a space with enough room to breathe."

"When I woke up, months later, John was there. Thank god for him. He took my case pro bono. He became my doctor and then my friend. I kind of went out of my mind for a while. I was in a lot of pain and I didn't know how to cope with my new world. All I'd ever known was taking care of my parents and now I had nothing to live for. It was John who talked me through it all."

Ana stopped talking and looked over at Christian who held his head in his hands. "I don't know what to do, Ana," he gasped out as if he'd been holding his breath for 20 minutes.

"What do you mean?" asked Ana, worried at his anguished expression. "…do about what?"

Christian just kept shaking his head, looking down and then Ana realized that he was crying.

She threw her arm around his shoulders and clasped him to her. "Baby, what's wrong," she asked with fear in her voice. "Tell me what to do, please."

Then it came to her. This was too much. He didn't want, couldn't have someone like her in his life. He had thought that she was a sweet waif, an orphan whom he could protect from the big, bad world and now he knew that she was tainted, so so tainted by the ugliness of a world that he'd rejected, a world that the ugliness of Elena had dragged him into.

She kissed his head sweetly and then released him. "It's all right, Christian. I understand. I'm sorry. I know that hearing all this is too much, too awful. Don't worry. I know what I need to do.

Let's go back to Escala, okay?"

She pulled him to his feet and took him back to the car.

"Taylor, we'll be returning to Escala now," she instructed him.

"Everything okay, ma'am?" asked Sawyer from the passenger seat.

"Yes, Sawyer. Nothing to worry about," smiled Ana.

"Mr. Grey just needs to rest now."

Chapter 121

Christian was hiding in the cupboard. He could hear the heavy boots of his mother's pimp as he stomped through the tiny apartment, looking for his favorite ashtray. The boots stopped in front of the cabinet door and Christian heard the pimp's low, growly laugh.

"Hello, little maggot. Are you trying to hide from me? Your mommy is passed out and that means I don't get no money tonight. But I still get to have a little fun. How's about I give you something to show mommy when she wakes up. Then, maybe next time, she'll remember to stay awake when I need her to work.

The door jerked open and the pimp reached inside and grabbed the little boy out into the open. He held him down with one hand and with his other he put out his cigarette on the boy's tiny chest. The screams seemed to please him and urge him on. When the cigarette was finally out, he kicked the boy to the side and stomped out the door.

Christian woke up screaming in pain and fear, he and the sheets around him soaked with sweat. He immediately looked around for his savior. Where was Ana? He leapt out of the bed and ran into the bathroom. Then he ran to the library, the kitchen, the living room. He yelled for her.

"ANA, ANA!"

Taylor appeared and tried to calm his boss. He steered him to the couch and forced him to sit while Gail brought him a drink. "Where is ANA!"

"She's gone. Don't you remember? She brought you home and asked me to help you to bed.

She sat with you for a long time and then she packed the little she'd brought with her and left. Just in case, I've got Sawyer following her. She checked into a hotel a couple of miles from here. She's okay, sir. She's safe."

"Gone?" Christian looked bewildered. Why was she gone?

"You were practically catatonic when we brought you home. You had been crying, sir," Taylor said in astonishment. He'd rarely seen any emotion in his boss except for rage. The condition in which Ana had returned him left Taylor almost frozen. He obeyed Ana's orders to put Christian to bed. Whatever had happened between them had left Christian depleted of all energy. He immediately collapsed. He'd been asleep for almost ten hours.

Ana had told Taylor that she'd given Christian some very bad news. "Ugly truth" she'd called it. It was too much, she said, and it was all her fault. She asked Gail and Taylor to take care of him and to perhaps call his mother in the morning. He needed to be looked after, Ana said.

She said that she'd really loved meeting everyone in Christian's life and she hoped that he could forgive her. Then she threw her bag over her shoulder, handed her 'Grey's Girl' t-shirt to Gail, smiled and entered the elevator. "It's really been lovely," she smiled with tears brimming.

Chapter 122

Shortly after she'd checked into the hotel, Ana had slipped out the back way and hailed a taxi. She knew that Taylor would have Sawyer following her. She knew that Christian would feel an obligation toward her. He'd told her that he loved her and he wouldn't want to go back on his word so he'd try. She knew that he would try to still love her even tho' he was repulsed by her and all she'd told him. It really was a disgusting story. She hadn't even realized until she saw his tears how revolting her past had been. She'd never allowed herself to feel pain or sadness or self-pity. She'd beaten down all those emotions because they were useless. They'd just get in the way of all she needed to do. Sometimes, when she was cleaning up her parent's vomit at 2 in the morning she'd feel overwhelmed and she'd sit back on her knees and cry. After a bit, she'd realize that crying wasn't getting the vomit cleaned up or the laundry done or the house cleaned and she'd stop and get back to work. Her world was filled with chaos and if she didn't keep her head clear and stay strong, it would all come crashing down on all of them.

She hated going to the clubs. She hated watching all those women, esp. her own mother, being beaten and fucked. She hated her father for just watching but at least he didn't let anyone touch his daughter. It was the only time he was ever protective of her. He kept saying that "she was still too young." When, she wondered, would he think her to be old enough. The afternoon that she turned 14, he said that she was getting to be a woman now and he looked at her in a certain way that made her uncomfortable. She was almost glad that she was vomiting too much to be appealing and that she had learned too much about being a dom to ever be a sub.

She directed the driver to stop at an atm where she obtained cash and then had him drop her off at a cheap midtown hotel. She didn't think that Christian would look for her but she didn't want him to feel obligated to find her. He might go to the first hotel but when she wasn't there, he would be able to tell himself that she didn't want to be found and he could go home and forget he'd ever gotten involved with someone like her. In a week or so she'd stop by The Rose and get back to work, tho' she'd have to find somewhere else to live.

She didn't feel well. Probably still suffering the aftereffects of her injury. She decided to sleep. She hoped the nightmares wouldn't be too bad. She wanted to stay asleep for a long, long time. She lay down and then, despite her inner strength, the tears came. They weren't tears of pity or fear.

They were tears of loss. She'd spent 22 years alone, uncared for. She missed Brenda who would seem to sense when Ana was on the edge of exhaustion and would wrap her arms around her, briefly, still long enough for Ana to feel comfort. She missed Grace who mothered her and Carrick and Elliot and Mia. For a short time they'd been like a family. It would have been lovely to have been able to keep them but, now, when they learned the truth of her, they'd be so relieved to have her gone.

Mostly, of course, she missed Christian. How would she ever be able to stop loving him?

Because she did love him. She'd never before had anyone to love so she didn't know how to stop.

Chapter 123

"John, I was horrified. I was in shock and I was so ashamed that I couldn't even look at her. You know her better than anyone. You know what she's been through. I need your help now. I need to know how to get her back."

"First, Christian, you have to calm down. She's a strong woman and she can take care of herself."

"John, she's still suffering the aftershocks of her brain injury. She seems fine and then…. She hasn't been to The Rose since she left. And it's clear that she wants nothing to do with me. She tried to dodge Sawyer but he found her. The clerk at the hotel says that she hasn't ordered room service or had any food delivered in 2 days. Even the maids haven't seen her."

"Okay, try to breathe, Christian. What's the name of the hotel?"

"The Seattle Carlton. She's in room 405. Get right back to me, please?"

Christian had been going crazy since that day in the park. His brain had started buzzing at her first words…"I was 10." She was a little girl and her parents took her to BDSM clubs and made her watch…made her watch as her mother had all manner of things done to her, made her watch as her mother had things done to her that Christian did to his subs. He wanted to throw up.

Ana was so matter-of-fact about describing how she had to protect her mother and keep her father sober enough to drive them safely home where she could feed them dinner and put them to bed and do the laundry and…he couldn't understand how she could be so calm, almost nonchalant about this terrible existence in which she was trapped. He thought of Mia at ten, wearing pink princess dresses and walking around tapping everyone with her wand. Elliot and his dad had built her a tower in the back yard from which she could survey her kingdom. While Mia was a princess, his beloved Ana was watching her mother being sodomized and beaten. While Mia was running about ordering her subjects to bow, Ana was learning to be a Dom.

The buzzing in his brain got louder and louder and as Ana described her 14th birthday and her father's plans to make her a woman even as she vomited in a bucket. His head seemed to explode and he couldn't hear anymore. He didn't remember the drive home or being put to bed. He did remember that Ana was nearby as he fell asleep and his nightmare and confusion when he woke up. He didn't have nightmares anymore, not with Ana next to him. But Ana was gone now. He blamed himself even tho' Taylor and Gail said that Ana blamed herself. They must have misunderstood, he thought. Ana did nothing wrong. He did. He made her think that he was repulsed by her. And, he thought, she left because he was a reminder of the hell she'd been through.

He had to get her back. He felt lost. And she was still ill. She shouldn't be out there on her own. John, he thought, could maybe persuade her to come back at least until she was completely well. If she would agree to return, he would leave her be. He wouldn't bother her. He just wanted her to be safe.

Chapter 124

Every morning as Winnie opened the front door of The Rose, she found Elliot and his crew waiting. Daria took quite a shine to the big blonde man who asked her opinion on every project he undertook upstairs. She loved to tell him all the details of her new bedroom and bathroom. She wanted pink roses everywhere while he convinced her to have wainscoting on the bottom half of the walls and rose wallpaper on the top. Then she wanted her bathroom entirely tiled in pink roses as well. Winnie laughed and told Elliot that he was lucky. A few months earlier Daria was obsessed with dragons.

Elliot keep finding reasons to pop down to the café. He needed coffee. He needed a donut. He needed Winnie's opinion on a color or a material or a kitchen fixture. He could have finished the entire place in a week but he kept finding reasons to return. He knew when Winnie would be sitting in the back, going over the books and that's when he seemed to need a moment to relax with a latte.

Elliot, the manwhore of Seattle, was terrified of Winnie and terrified that she'd say no if he asked her for a date. She was just a woman, like the hundreds he known over the years. Most held his interest for less than a week but he found himself enchanted by a the way she wore a pencil in the blonde bun on the back of her head and the way she knelt down to her daughter's height to ask her about her day at school and laughed at Daria's silly jokes.

But, inevitably, the project was completed. Winnie was enchanted and she cried when she saw how happy Daria was. They'd never lived in such a beautiful place and Daria could walk to school from The Rose. Elliot had taken it upon himself to furnish the place as well, claiming that that was part of the renovation project plan from the beginning. Winnie just kept walking around and touching things, her eyes growing wider with wonder. When she broke down and sobbed, Elliot enveloped her in his arms without even thinking about it. She put her arms around his neck and thanked him and her face was so close and he kissed her. When they parted, she stared at him. She must have seen something besides the light-hearted, good-time-charlie that everyone else saw because she slowly touched his face and then kissed him again. They stared at each other for a long time until Daria ran up to insist that her mother look at something in her bathroom.

That Sunday brunch at the Grey's included a young woman with blonde hair and her blonde 11 year old daughter. This time, as Grace watched her eldest son, she knew that this woman was going to be returning unlike all the others whom she saw once and never again. She was surprised that Elliot, who always avoided children and women over 22 was so taken with a woman of 28 and a little girl but it was obvious that he was. He was so at ease with Daria. He listened to her chatter away, something he'd always found annoying in kids, and he was firm with her when she didn't want to eat her broccoli. Later, Grace and Carrick watched in amazement when the three, hand in hand, walked down to the water. Winnie was sweet and a bit reserved but the way she looked at Elliot…well, none of the other women had ever looked at him that way.

Maybe, Grace thought, one of her sons was going to be happy.

Chapter 125

John knocked on the door of 405 at the Seattle Carlton. The hotel was okay, if a bit rundown. He hadn't seen Ana in a while and he thought he'd left her in good hands and happy circumstances. She had come through so much and now she was alone again and she didn't even have her cozy space above the shop. He hadn't let on to Christian how worried he actually was because Christian seemed a bit of a wreck already.

He knocked a second time, louder now. He called out to Ana, announcing himself but there was no answer. Perhaps she had gone out. He turned from the door and told himself that he'd come back later. Still, something stopped him. He needed to know that she was all right.

He went down to the front desk and insisted that they open her door. He said that he was her doctor and showed his credentials. If they refused, he'd call the police. They preferred a lack of fuss and followed him back to her room.

Christian sat his piano but he couldn't bring himself to play. Taylor and Gail watched from a distance. It seemed that everything had gone to hell in a hatbox over the last few weeks. Up and down. Happy and sick at heart. Then one day, after much ado, Ana had seemed to accept her new life and she and Christian had entered the elevator smiling and hand in hand. A few hours later Ana and Taylor had returned with a dazed Christian and then Ana was gone again. While Taylor tried to maintain his professional distance, Gail fretted and fussed, trying to get her boss to eat. He worked a bit in his study but he wouldn't go to the office. Ros could hear the despair in his voice and didn't have the heart to bitch at him about all the work that needed doing. He was useless right now and didn't care about his company. Without Ana it meant nothing.

Now he was just waiting on Dr. Flynn. He just needed to know that Ana was okay.

She wasn't. One look at her as she lay on the hotel bed and John reached for his phone. First, he called an ambulance and then he called Grace Grey. Then he tried to get Ana to drink some water but she seemed too far away to understand. John knew what this was. Ana's mind had withdrawn to some safe place to protect her from loss. He'd had to work hard to bring her back to the now after she woke from her coma at the age of 14 to realize that her parents were gone. She'd been so strong for so many years since, too strong really, that he'd hope that she was truly healthy. Now he knew that he was wrong. For eight years she'd just not allowed herself to feel, to attach to anyone and, thus, she was protected from feeling loss.

He was angry with himself. He should have known that her new attachment to the Grey's and particularly Christian would put her in a fragile state. He should have insisted that she and Grey come to therapy together. Ironically, they were alike in many ways. Both so damaged.

They shielded themselves from attachment and then could not deal with its loss.

Chapter 126

When the elevator pinged, Christian ran from his study, hoping. Grace was alarmed at his appearance. He was still wearing the t-shirt and pajama bottoms he'd been in since Ana left, he hadn't shaved, he was pale and wild-eyed. When he saw that it was his mother, he halted and tried to smile.

"Hi, Mom. Sorry I missed brunch. Busy."

"Oh, Christian," groaned Grace, "you look terrible. Have you been eating?"

"Of course, Mom, you know how I am about food," he lied.

"Christian, I want you to shower and dress and I'll take you to see Ana."

"What? How do you know where she is? Is she all right?"

Grace took her son's hands in hers. "She's being taken care of. Dr. Flynn admitted her to Seattle Grace. She is dehydrated and dealing with some mental health issues but he thinks it would her a world of good if you came to see her. She is under the impression that you don't want to. Is that truly the case, son? Do you not want to see Ana?"

Christian was already running to his bedroom. He showered but didn't want to take the time to shave. He quickly dressed in jeans and a white shirt. He didn't even bother with socks, just slipped into loafers.

"Taylor! Now! Seattle Grace!"

He grabbed his mother's arm and the three of them hustled into the elevator.

"Is she okay, Mom? I mean, besides being dehydrated? Her head? Did she have another seizure?" Christian rambled all the way to the garage. In the car, he continued to pepper his mother with questions, wanting more details. He began to hyperventilate while Grace tried to calm him. She attempted to distract with the news of Elliot's new girlfriend.

"He'd better not be just fucking around with this one. Ana would kill him. I already warned him."

"Christian! Language!"

At the hospital entrance, Christian flew out of the car and was at the reception desk before Taylor had closed Mrs. Grey's door.

"Mom, I'm not a relative," Christian looked alarmed.

Grace nodded at the nurse and took Christian's arm as they walked to the elevator. "Try to breathe, to calm yourself, or they'll think that I'm admitting you," Grace smiled.

John had prepared Ana for Christian's arrival as best he could. It was hard to convince her that Grey truly wanted to see her, that she'd misunderstood his reaction. She was still scared, afraid that she'd see disgust in Christian's eyes.

And Grace had tried to convince her son that Ana left him because she also misunderstood and that Ana truly wanted to see him and both were terrified.

Chapter 127

Ana stood by the window, her hair shining in the sun. She seemed even smaller than he remembered. His voice almost choking, he took a chance and called her name. Big blue eyes, as mesmerizing as that first time, turned to look at him, except that these eyes shone with tears.

Ana crying hurt him so that he forgot all about his fear of her rejection. Christian reached her with a few quick strides and pulled her into his embrace. He called her baby and he kissed the tears that fell from her eyes and then he pressed his lips softly to hers. Finally, she reached her arms around him and buried herself in his strong chest. Her legs began to crumble beneath her so he picked her up and sank to the floor, holding her, rocking her. Come home, please, he begged. I can't sleep, he told her. I have the nightmares again. I can't eat. I can't work. I need you. I love you, I love you. Please, Ana, forgive me for whatever I did and come home. Come home, my beautiful Ana.

John put his arm around Grace who was shaking and sobbing. This Christian Grey, her son for 24 years, she had never met. Ana isn't out of the woods, John cautioned Grace. Christian, as well, needed help. However, their reunion was more than he'd hoped for and he was much reassured. He knew that he'd emotionally crossed a line with Ana, as he had 8 years ago, but he didn't care. Sometimes that happened and if he found that he couldn't help her properly then he would find someone who could. Whatever happened, he would always want to watch out for her. She was a special little girl who touched him like no other and she had somehow found someone who recognized that uniqueness.

EPILOGUE

One year later, on a day rare for Seattle, it was warm and the sun was shining down on the flower-filled backyard of Grey Manor. An arched bower entwined with roses and babys breath stood in front of a multitude of white chairs festooned with ribbons and filled with excited guests. The wedding of the year for the elite of Seattle and the not-so-elite of The Rose. Daria, now a beautiful girl of 12, walked up the aisle, scattering rose petals. She was followed by bridesmaids, Brenda, Naomi and Joanie who took their places across from Harry, Bill, Christian and Elliot.

Then Ana, a vision in a creamy dress with a pink sash at her waist, walked up the aisle, she and Christian never taking their eyes off each other. Finally the bride, a radiant in white Winnie on Carrick's arm. Christian heard his brother gasp and then stop breathing as his eyes filled with tears.

Yes, it was definitely the event of the year with face-breaking smiles all round. Mia had done an incredible job giving Elliot and Winnie the simple yet elegant wedding they wanted while disappointing every lavish wedding venue in Seattle who'd begged for the chance to host the Grey nuptials. All the food was provided by The Rose and Mia's Shoppe provided the cake.

The loveliness of the day and the happiness of the bride and groom helped with the sting of disappointment that Ana and Christian had chosen a simple, family wedding on his boat, The Grace. The family, The Rose crew, John and a few friends thought they were going for a sail to celebrate an engagement when they found themselves out in the middle of the Sound listening to Ana and Christian promise their love and their lives to each other.

The End