The four months since our honeymoon had flown. With work, Boyce Fox' book launch and wildly successful sales campaign, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then New Years, everything had been just wonderful. There'd been nothing significant from the investigation into Elena's death or the arson at her home. Jack Hyde had disappeared off the face of the earth, and Leila had returned to live with her parents and by all accounts was doing well. All of Seattle knew I was expecting, and while the general sentiment was overwhelmingly supportive, I was getting over photographers leaping out in front of me at inopportune moments. I just wanted to hide!
At Escala, Christian helped me step into my high heels, gently massaging my very swollen belly. At thirty-seven weeks pregnant I was emotional, tired and needed to pee constantly. I was also well and truly ready to meet our boy!
Despite initially deciding to keep blip's sex a surprise, at our twenty-week scan with Dr. Greene we'd caved, and now Christian, and I knew that little Theodore Raymond Grey was onboard. Because of the intense media interest, and the fact that nothing we did these days was private, we'd decided to keep the gender and name to ourselves – despite Grace and Mia's very determined efforts to inveigle information from us once they appreciated we knew.
Tonight was my last public social outing before he arrived. I'd officially been on maternity leave for a week from SIP, and after this evening I was happy to sequester myself at home until Teddy, as we'd decided to call him, arrived. However, Grace being honored for twenty-five years of service at the annual Seattle Grace Hospital fundraiser was not an event I could miss, and so I'd allowed Caroline Acton to attempt the impossible; locating me an elegant maternity evening gown for my very heavily pregnant self.
"You look so beautiful," Christian assured me, understanding my self-confidence was capricious at best. "I wish you could see yourself the way I see you," he whispered, pulling me to him and then slow dancing at the end of our bed. "So beautiful. So desirable." Christian stopped to kiss me gently. "I think we should leave early tonight so I can make love to you before I have to go."
I nodded shyly, lowering my eyes so Christian couldn't see my distress. A situation had come up with a deal in Mexico, so tomorrow Christian was flying out to try and rectify it. He was only likely to be gone a few days but worried about me being alone while so heavily pregnant, he'd roped his mother into staying with me at Escala while he was away.
"I'm only three hours flight away, baby," Christian reassured me for at least the tenth time. "If anything happens, anything at all, I can be back here before you know it." I knew his assurances were for himself as much as me, so I nodded and smiled.
"If anything happens, I'll make sure you're called straight away," I promised. Dr. Greene had already told us she felt we were a few weeks away, yet, but the closer we came to the end of my pregnancy, the more I wanted Christian to be around.
My ever-handsome husband helped me down the stairs to the great room, careful to avoid rolling his eyes as I announced I needed to use the bathroom before we left. Again. In the elevator on the way downstairs, he cuddled me close, and then carefully helped me into the SUV.
"We don't have to stay long," Christian promised, caressing me as we neared the Arctic Club and the Northern Lights Ballroom. I hadn't been there since our first wedding dance in September. Now, mid-February, we were attending as Grace's guests as she was invested as a laureate of the Seattle Grace for twenty-five years of devoted work.
"We're here, baby," Christian said as we pulled up. Unsurprisingly, the paparazzi were out in full force. Great. Because every heavily pregnant woman wants her image splashed across the society page of a tabloid. Not!
Christian guided me from the car, across the carpet and over to the elevator. Most people were climbing the picturesque stairs and posing for photos, but in heels and unable to see my feet, frankly, that was a pipedream at this point.
We stepped out of the elevator and moved toward the ballroom. There was congestion at the entryway as each couple stopped to be photographed. It was part of the fundraising activities – the photos would be available for purchase later in the evening. We'd pulled up behind a couple when the man turned around, noticing Christian and me beside him.
"Christian," he greeted with a friendly smile. "Good to see you again."
"Liam," Christian said reciprocating his greeting, shaking the other man's hand. "Ana? This is Liam Preston. We met at Harvard. Liam – can I introduce my wife, Anastasia." But my eyes were trained on his companion. Susannah Millward.
"Susannah. Lovely to see you again," I initiated, leaning forward and giving her an air kiss. As strange as it might seem to some, I felt a particular affinity with Christian's last sub. While meeting Leila had been disturbing, I had no ill feelings regarding Susannah. Quite the opposite, really.
"Ms. Millward," Christian said politely, giving her a nod and a small smile but not approaching.
"Soon to be Mrs. Preston," Liam announced with a happy smile as Susannah gave him a lovestruck grin.
"That's wonderful news! I wish the two of you every happiness," Christian said, giving Liam a genuine smile. "If you're as happy in your marriage as I am in mine, then you are a lucky man indeed," he declared, slipping his arm around my non-existent waist, making me smile and blush.
Susannah's grin was contagious, and I admired her large diamond engagement ring, and we chatted about the imminent arrival of blip as the men spoke quietly, no doubt about Elena.
"It looks like it worked out for all of us," Susannah said quietly, referencing her hopes from our first meeting.
"It does," I said kindly. "I hope you're very happy together."
The line moved, and then it was their turn to be photographed.
"Have a good night," I said to the pair as they stepped forward to have their photo taken under the processional arch before disappearing into the packed ballroom.
"Are you ok?" Christian checked urgently, trying to get a read on my emotional state. Running into one of her husband's former lovers was enough to rock any woman, but especially one who was so heavily pregnant and feeling particularly emotional.
"I am," I said, actually meaning it. "They look very happy together."
Once inside, Christian led me to the family table. Everyone was there, including Ethan Kavanagh as Mia's plus one. I still didn't know what to make of that situation. Christian was of the opinion that Ethan would be just one more in a long string of men Mia dated for a few weeks before moving on. However, I suspected she'd been seeing Ethan for a lot longer than any of us appreciated. Christian being the archetype controlling big brother, though, I kept those suspicions to myself.
"How are you feeling?" Kate asked, plonking herself onto the vacant seat beside me.
"Like a beached whale decorated in crushed velvet and tulle," I groaned. "My feet are swollen, so it's probably a good thing I can't see them, and I can't get comfortable no matter how I sit. And let's not even talk about trying to sleep!"
"Not long now," Kate said sympathetically, running her hand gently over my bump.
"How's the wedding planning?" I asked, mostly to steer the conversation away from my irritable laments. For the next half an hour, I listened as Kate detailed the latest. She and Elliot were having a late June wedding. It was going to be huge, with the guest list topping two hundred. Kate had thrilled Mia by asking her to be a bridesmaid, while I was her Matron of Honor. Elliot had immediately asked Christian to be his best man, and after some pressure from Kate and Mia, had requested Ethan to serve as his other groomsman.
To say Kate was in her element was an understatement. She loved every moment of wedding planning, as did Grace and Mia. Christian had spent more than one evening locked in his study, the dining room at Escala commandeered by his wife, mother, sister and soon to be sister-in-law as Kate planned everything, down to the very last detail.
"Do we really have another four months until it's over?" Christian murmured softly in my ear as Kate moved around the table to check something with Mia.
"Be nice," I warned him. I didn't want to call Kate a Bridezilla, but if the veil fit… I was already tired – I couldn't cope with a Kate Kavanagh, soon to be Grey, meltdown tonight. And somehow, Christian's teasing managed to push Kate's every button!
"I think you made the right decision to have a small wedding," Elliot said approaching and rolling his eyes at his fiancées' antics. "Wow – look at you, Ana! You look…" Christian turned and glared at Elliot. "… absolutely magnificent."
"You were going to say huge!" I accused Elliot.
"I was not," he quickly retorted. "I might be male, but I'm not that stupid! You do look great!"
"Boys? Anastasia - you look lovely, darling," Grace said coming across to greet us. As always, Grace was the picture of elegance and subtle sophistication. All but gliding towards us, she hugged me sweetly, looking at me for permission before running her hand over my bump. Teddy responded with a kick, and Grace all but swooned.
"Is my little prince or princess awake?" she asked.
"Sure is. They've been bouncing on my bladder for the last two hours," I said with a smile that I suspect looked more like a grimace.
"Not long now," she replied sweetly. I swear – the next person who said that might be murdered!
The night itself was ok. I chatted a lot with Grandma Adele and danced with Christian, Elliot, Ethan, Grandpa Theo and finally Carrick.
"I was so wrong about you, Anastasia," my last dance partner confessed as he led me around the edge of the dancefloor. "You're the best thing that ever happened to Christian."
I knew Carrick was repentant for all he'd said to and about me, but it still smarted.
"Thank you, Carrick. I know it was coming from a place of love, but you hurt me."
"I know Anastasia…"
"You can make it up by being the best Grandfather you can be to this little one," I interrupted, my gaze dropping to the large baby bump between us, "and helping Christian. He's trying not to let on to me, but I know he's worried about becoming a father. He's going to need your support, and you need to ask him if he has concerns – he won't necessarily feel comfortable just outright asking."
"I can do that. Theo, Taylor and I were already planning to have a day with him before the baby arrives to talk to him about being a father."
"Thank you, Carrick. Your son means the world to me. And just so you know, we will be having a paternity test done after our baby is born." Carrick went to interject, but I continued.
"Christian and I want there never to be any doubt that our baby is biologically his and mine. If there is proof, then we can permanently set that idea to rest."
"I am already sure," Carrick tried to explain.
I shrugged. He'd accused me of faking a pregnancy or forcing another man's child onto Christian. Damn right I wanted proof!
"You look tired, baby," Christian said, swooping in at the end of the song before I had a chance to respond to Carrick.
"I am," I admitted. We'd stayed long enough to see Grace's investiture, and now we were on to the drinking and dancing part of the evening. "Take me home?"
"My pleasure," Christian said, his eyes meeting mine, loaded with sensual challenge.
"How did you sleep, darling?" Grace asked as I waddled out to breakfast on Monday morning. Gail had her usual delicious spread waiting, and as per our agreement when Christian and Taylor were away, she joined me at the dining table.
Grace, Gail and I chatted comfortably as I picked at my breakfast and drank a cup of tea. If I ate too quickly, I got indigestion, yet I was also constantly hungry. Consequently, every meal had turned into a long graze-fest.
Grace had taken eight weeks holiday as a prelude to cutting down her professional hours. She wanted to be available and present over the last few weeks before blip's arrival and when he first arrived. Long term, she planned to drop down to three days a week, eventually scaling back to two. She'd made no secret that with blip's arrival, she felt it was time to begin the next phase of her life.
"I feel ok. Sleeping without Christian next to me is hard. But then it's hard to sleep with him here, too!"
Grace and Gail laughed sympathetically. Neither had experienced pregnancy firsthand, but they were still wonderful support. My own mother was arriving in less than a week. As soon as the GEH jet brought Christian home, it would be tasked with flying to Savannah to collect Mom. She was calling every day and listened to my increasing tirade of complaints, and perhaps for the first time, I was looking forward to her presence.
"What would you like to do today?" Grace asked cautiously. With Christian's absence, my emotions were all over the shop, so she was particularly cautious. "There's been more presents dropped at SIP, GEH, and downstairs. Taylor's vetted it all, but perhaps we could sort through it?"
I nodded, feeling immensely guilty. Our unborn child, already so fortunate, had become the unwitting recipient of hundreds of gifts. Friends, acquaintances, businesses, business associates and even strangers had been dropping off presents at my workplace, Christian's and at Escala reception. We had more than enough for thirty children, so after an initial screen by Taylor, I had been sorting them.
Gifts from businesses and business associates GEH dealt with were sorted into one pile, each gift or outfit labeled by its giver. Mostly clothing, once Teddy arrived, I planned to either send a photo of him wearing it and a thank you, or arrange a meeting with Teddy wearing the gift in question. Andrea assured me if I sent her through the list, she'd sort it out from there, giving me the necessary heads up.
Presents from friends was a little easier. Most just needed a wash and to be put into Teddy's ever-expanding wardrobe.
Anonymous offerings from strangers were the most problematic. Taylor had already intercepted several teddy bears and similar with electronic transmitting devices embedded. It had caused a huge meltdown when he'd first explained the situation to me. The idea that some stranger might want to observe our baby via a loved soft toy was both terrifying and horrific. I was grateful Taylor, and his team had scanned every gift, known giver or not, so by the time it made it through to me I knew the presents were safe.
We'd been given so very much, that almost ninety percent of what we received Gail packed up to send to shelters, children's charities and other welfare outlets. It was obscene to accept gifts for blip when he already had so much – hence our decision to redistribute what we could.
"Oh! Look at this!" Grace exclaimed, sifting through the stack of children's books we'd been gifted. "This was Christian's favorite book when he came to us! I could read it over and over, and he'd never get enough of it," she explained.
She handed a picture book to me. Are You My Mother? My heart clenched as I looked at it. It made sense. No wonder that book had resonated with my poor, confused childhood fifty.
"This one has an inscription," I commented as I flicked through the pages.
Not long now, and then all the fun begins, baby bird!
"Oh, that's so sweet!" I said, passing it to Gail. "We don't have this one, yet. Put it in Blip's room."
Thanks for your support, reviews, messages, follows and faves for this, my first Fifty Shades of Grey story. It's been lovely being so warmly welcomed into a new fandom, so thank you so very much! And for those Vampire Academy readers who have followed me across here – welcome to the dark side ;)
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I'll be taking a short break before I start my next story, so am now looking forward to binge-reading and catching up with reading I've been neglecting :)