A/N: Thank you all so much for the wonderful reviews and the heartfelt 'welcome back.' You have no idea how much I truly appreciate each and every one of you!
Chapter 19: Here Comes The Groom
"Report." My voice is gruff and slightly demanding, as usual. But also as usual, I don't give a shit. I make no apologies for my curt attitude; I don't have time to waste on inane niceties. I can't worry about hurting someone's feelings. Especially not today. Today, my focus is on only two things – making Anastasia my wife, and keeping her safe in the process.
"Operation's as tight as it's going to get, sir," Taylor replies, getting right to the point. That's what I love about Taylor. He never dicks around, he tells me what I want to know, when I want to know it. "The extra men Welch sent over have all been briefed and the perimeter around the estate is secure. Guests are being checked as they drive in; no one's getting onto the property without an invitation."
"Good. It was a smart move, keeping the wedding date under wraps. Not having to contend with the media is half our battle already won," I reply.
"It also helps that you and Miss Steele decided to keep the guest list relatively small," Taylor adds.
"Well, the future Mrs. Grey is nothing if not practical," I smirk. "What about the other matter?"
"Everything has all been taken care of, sir. Welch has made arrangements for additional security in both England and France. Once we hit France, the team he provides will be with us in Paris and on the boat."
"Excellent." The extra security is a relief for me. One less thing to worry about.
"If I could make a suggestion, sir?"
"Why don't you let me worry about the security for the rest of the day. You have more important things to concentrate on today, sir," Taylor says, looking me in the eye. And I think I actually see a small smile cross his face.
"I second that notion," Carrick speaks up from behind me.
"Thank you, Taylor," I say, returning his smile.
He retreats from the room to get back to his post, and I continue getting dressed, looking myself over in the full-length mirror as I pull on my silver waistcoat. In less than an hour, Anastasia will be my wife. She will finally be truly mine. Legally mine. And I can't wait. I have never wanted anything so much in my life.
"Uh, Christian," Carrick says a bit nervously. "Now that we have a few minutes alone, I wanted to..."
"Man, this place is crawling with security, bro!" Elliot sounds disapproving as he walks into the room, late as always, carrying his tux as he interrupts Dad's thoughts. "They look like some sort of creepy Secret Service men, standing around, watching everybody suspiciously. What? Do you think you're the freaking President or something?"
I roll my eyes at his words. "Elliot, you are nearly twenty minutes late. Don't worry about the fucking security and just get dressed, all right!"
"Sorry, bro. I had to inspect the Maid of Honor's dress, if you know what I mean," he says with a lewd grin, lifting his eyebrows at me suggestively as Carrick shakes his head at him.
"Yes, I think we're all aware of what you mean, Elliot. And I'm sure Roz would be more than happy to step in as my Best Person if I asked her to."
"All right, all right. Don't get your knickers in a knot! I'm going," he says as he saunters into the bathroom to put on his tux, leaving me alone with our dad once more.
I smile in spite of myself as I watch him go. He is such fucking happy person. Used to drive me up a wall when we were kids. I just could never understand how someone could be in such a good mood all the freaking time. It's just not natural! But that was Elliot. Still is. Even after all these years, it is rare that I see him get truly upset at anything or anyone. I turn back to my reflection and start to work on my tie.
"Listen, son," Carrick says, clearing his throat anxiously, "I'm glad we have a few moments alone."
At his words, I inwardly groan, and try not to roll my eyes at him. Great. This is all I need. Another heart-to-heart with Carrick about moving too fast and being reckless with my fortune. One final, last-ditch effort to save me – and my money – from myself, I suppose. Well if that's what's on his mind, I don't want to fucking hear it.
"Dad, if this is about Anastasia and that fucking prenuptial agreement shit, you can save it!"
"That's not what this is about, son," he says, raising both his hands as if to say 'I surrender,' as he looks me in the eye. "Well … ok, it is but, not in the way you mean."
I stare at him suspiciously. What is he getting at? He clears his throat once more before he continues.
"I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about all of that. I know that I apologized once before but … I feel like I need to do it again because I want you to understand. My intentions were good. I know you may have trouble believing this but, I really was coming from a place of love and concern. But the honest truth is that, I was thinking like a lawyer and not as the father of the groom. And I'm very sorry for that. Because … as the father of the groom … I want you to know that I am so happy for you, Christian."
He smiles sincerely at me, and I notice that his voice has grown somewhat emotional. It takes me by surprise. I'm used to the occasional angry outburst from my dad. Especially when it came during one of his lectures whenever I did something he and Mom didn't approve of. But this? This surprises me, and I stare at him in stunned silence as he continues.
"I think your Anastasia is a beautiful, wonderful girl. More importantly, I happen to believe that she is the best thing that could have ever happened to you. Seeing the two of you together, so obviously in love and happy, has been like a breath of fresh air to this family. And I am so overjoyed for you, son!"
He finishes tearfully and I am shocked at the ardency in his voice. His emotional display makes me uncomfortable, and I'm not sure what to say.
"Dad, I..." How that hell am I supposed respond to this? "I..."
"Now, it's all right to be a little nervous about taking the plunge," he continues, purposely changing the subject. And I think he's trying to put me out of my misery, knowing how awkward this kind of thing makes me. "But don't worry. If the two of you love each other even half as much as your mother and I do … well, then I have no doubt that you will be just fine."
He smiles and pats me affectionately on the arm, careful to stay away from the 'no touch' zone, and I frown slightly. Everyone in my family is well aware of my issues and where they can, and can't, touch me. And, with the exception of Mia, they have always tried to honor my wishes on the matter. I haven't allowed any of them to freely touch me in years. Not until the whole Charlie Tango mess. I will never forget the way Grace threw herself into my arms and clung to me when I finally walked through the door that night. I had never seen her so upset with me before. Actually, when I think about it, I don't think I've ever seen any of them more relieved to see me than they were that night, and they all showed it, grabbing me and pulling me into hug after hug. It was excruciating and annoying as hell! And nice somehow.
"Dad..." I swallow nervously and take a breath. "Thank you. For apologizing and … for the marriage advice. It means a lot. You and Mom … your relationship is … something to aspire to," I tell him a little nervously. Then I awkwardly move toward him, and I see his face brighten just before he envelops me into a big, bear hug. He holds me for a brief moment and gingerly slaps my back a couple of times. And he's still quite emotional when we pull away.
"Damn, I make this thing look good," Elliot exclaims as he exits the bathroom in his black tuxedo and pale pink waistcoat. "If I'm not careful, I just might upstage the groom!"
"In your dreams, construction boy," I joke with him, grateful for the distraction and the comic relief he provides from the tense emotional moment with Dad.
"Now, don't go getting upset, man. I'm sure Ana will still want to marry you even though you don't look quite as good in your tux as I do in mine. And hey, no worries about the wedding night either, little bro. I've got you covered," he says, lowering his voice and shooting me a conspiratorial wink. "After the ceremony, I'll give you a few pointers on how to satisfy a woman so that you're not embarrassed later."
"Elliot, you couldn't satisfy a woman if your dick was made of chocolate and diamonds," I fire back at him and he doubles over in laughter. And I even hear Dad chuckle a little, which makes me smile.
"That was a pretty good one little brother! I'm gonna have to borrow that line sometime," he says, still laughing.
We are still trading barbs when there's a soft knock on the door and Grace sticks her head in. "Everyone dressed and decent in here?" she asks with a smile.
"Well, we are all dressed, my dear. But I'm afraid I'm the only decent one of the bunch," Carrick smiles at her.
As she steps inside, she gasps softly and clutches her chest. "Oh my goodness. You all look so handsome! My three boys," she whispers softly, looking us over with big, sad eyes.
I smile at her with a small roll my eyes, shaking my head slightly, because I know that the tears can't be far behind. I just went through all this emotional shit with Dad. Now I've got to do it all over again with Mom too. And this time will be worse because Mom cries. A lot.
"Oh, Cary," she says as Dad walks over to her and wraps an arm around her waist. "Our sweet little boys are men. When did that happen?" He hands her his handkerchief as the tears start to fall, and I sigh.
"Our little boys haven't been boys for quite some time now, Grace. I think you know that," he says softly, kissing her temple.
She smiles sheepishly at him and nods her head. "Yes, I suppose you're right." Then she steps toward me as I slip into the jacket of my tuxedo. With her hands, she reaches for my tie and I flinch involuntarily, and freeze, staring at her wide-eyed as she stands just as frozen as me. Her hands still raised in mid-air. Shit. I didn't mean to. And I can see the small flash of hurt in her eyes, but she covers quickly.
"I … I'm sorry, I don't know what..."
I reach out and take her hands in mine, holding them for a moment before I slowly bring them to my tie, my eyes never leaving hers. You can do this, Grey. She just wants to straighten her son's tie on his wedding day. You can give her that. Just breathe.
With slightly shallowed breath, I lift my chin a little to indicate that it's all right for her to adjust my tie. Then I slowly let go of her hands. And I am aware of the fact that we could probably hear the sound of a pin dropping in this room right now, as both Dad and Elliot seem to be holding their breath, each of them completely fixated on the scene as Mom slowly and carefully adjusts my tie. As she works, her fingers lightly graze my chest a couple of times and I stiffen. But I allow her to continue without saying a word. When she's finally finished, she takes a step back and looks me over. All eyes are on me, but no one says a word.
"Better?" I ask her, taking a deep, steadying breath as I nervously smooth my hand over my tie. My voice is low and guarded.
"Yes," she whispers with a tearful smile. "It's perfect now."
I nod and turn toward the mirror to have a look. And when I do, I catch a glimpse of the astonished smiles exchanged by Grace and Carrick.
There is another soft knock at the door and the wedding planner informs us that it's time. Dad heads out as Mom turns toward me. She looks at me for a long moment before finally saying, "I am so proud of you, Christian." She kisses my swiftly on the cheek and then heads out of the room, leaving Elliot and I alone.
"Man, you just made her entire year. You know that, right?" Elliot asks me with a small smile. I smirk at him but say nothing. "Well, let's go get you hitched, little bro!"
We leave the room and venture out to the backyard and take our places at the archway. It's decorated to perfection with a tasteful mixture of pale pink roses and various meadow flowers in soft, muted hues. Just the way Ana wanted it. And I look around and note with satisfaction that all the decorations have been seen to exactly as Ana wanted. This pleases me. I want today to be absolutely perfect for her. This is her day and I want her to feel like a princess, today and always. I want this to be her dream wedding. I want to make all of Ana's dreams come true and give her the world. And I intend to start today, right now.
The music begins and my gaze turns toward the end of the isle where Kate is beginning her journey. And maybe it's just the fact that I'm love-sick and anxious to see my bride but, she actually looks … pretty. Most of the time, I wonder what Elliot sees in her but, today I guess I can sort of see the appeal. She looks lovely in her pale pink Maid of Honor dress. And that thought makes me think of Elliot's earlier antics and I have to stifle a laugh as I glance over at him. He shoots me that same lewd grin and I chuckle, shaking my head as Kate takes her place at the arch with us.
Suddenly, the music changes and everyone stands, and all the air leaves my lungs as I catch my first glimpse of my Ana. She takes my breath away; she is so unbelievably beautiful! Her hair is pinned up in a soft, romantic style and her figure-hugging dress is adorned with lace that hangs seductively off her shoulders. She is exquisite. And she seems to float down the isle toward me as her eyes lock onto mine. I smile shyly at her, mesmerized by her beauty, and it is all I can do not to rush toward her and take her into my arms.
She comes to a stop in front of me and Ray gently places her hand in mine. Mine! Anastasia Steel is finally going to become mine!
A/N: Just a quick note to let you all know that my original story, Pierced By Danger, will be available for free from Feb. 20 – Feb. 24 on Amazon. If you enjoy my writing, please check it out and leave a review.