8

8

Okay, I'll try it. Since I wrote a book two years ago and then a few months ago read 50 Shades and found so many identical things in her books that appear in mine, I figure the EL James and I have a lot in common—too much, in fact.

One thing that continually bothered me about 50 Shades was how naïve and gullible Anastasia was. Being only 21 and a virgin doesn't necessarily equate with total ignorance (I mean, even virgins know when they are physically attracted to someone, right?) So I personally would rewrite her part. I think Christian is perfect as he is. I just wish he hadn't lost all his teeth (I of course speak figuratively) by the end. I liked Dominant Christian, damn it.

I'm only rewriting those scenes that annoyed me. Here goes and please let me know what you think. The first one is not very different from the original but I wanted to give Anastasia a bit more dignity and grace. I mean, falling into a room? Really? I know Bella was stupidly clumsy and that's why James wrote Ana like that but no one is that clumsy.

Damn Kate, I think, as I speed down the interstate. She recruited me to do her interview at the eleventh hour—okay, so she had a good excuse being horribly ill and all—and now I'm going half-assed to interview this paragon of industry, Christian Grey, and I don't know a thing about the man. Is he young or old? Was he born wealthy or is he self-made? What is his background? Ethnicity? Race? I know nothing.

At least Kate loaned me her Mercedes, I console myself, as I accelerate in my high-heeled boots. In my crappy little VW, I have to take off my shoes to drive. Through the windshield, I scan the sky over Seattle. The clear weather is holding out but if the forecast can be believed, it will be pouring by the time I finish the interview. I better conduct it tout de suite and get my little butt home in time for work, I think. I park the car in the underground garage at Grey Enterprises and briskly head to the elevator and lobby floor.

The first thing I notice is how impeccably all the Grey personnel are dressed. I send a quick thank-you to the sartorial gods for making sure I borrowed one of Kate's suits at the last minute. I almost wore my hideous brown Wal-Mart skirt because it's the only business-like attire I own. Kate's sharp little navy blue suit fits me perfectly. Then again, everyone looks good in Prada. The skirt is short and pleated, making my legs look even longer, and the jacket is cut short and tailored. Under it I'm wearing her white cashmere sweater. My black high-heeled Ken Cole ankle boots are a little edgy for the outfit but I don't like to borrow shoes—too personal—and the boots are the only heels I own.

Though I know I look good today—Kate always insists I'm a babe and today she even whistled when I asked for her opinion—I still feel scruffy compared to the blonde goddess behind the reception desk. If she has a single hair out of place, I'll eat Kate's Hermes scarf. She looks at me politely as I saunter up to her, feeling like Medusa with my wild, disobedient hair. It's pulled back but so many tendrils have escaped the tie I must look half-crazed by now.

"Anastasia Steele for Katherine Kavanaugh to meet with Mr. Grey?"

The blonde smiles and picks up the phone. "Andrea, I have a Ms. Anastasia Steele for Ms. Kavanaugh. She has an appointment with Mr. Grey. Yes, fine." She looks at me. "You can go up, Ms. Steele. Fifth floor."

"Thank you," I say, wondering how she could afford such nice clothes on a receptionist's salary. I need someone to teach me how to score upscale clothes on a shoestring budget. The elevator silently whisks me to the fifth floor and as the doors slide open, more perfect blond women greet me.

First, a nervous young blonde asks me to take a seat. I do, and a few minutes later, another really gorgeous tall blonde comes over to me. What the hell is it about Grey and blondes? Is it even legal to hire only people with blond hair?

"Ms. Steele? Hello, I'm Andrea Stewart, Mr. Grey's assistant. Mr. Grey will be with you momentarily I apologize for the delay." She pauses. "Did Olivia offer you any refreshment?"

"No," I say and she frowns. I hope I don't get Blonde No. 1 one in trouble. Blonde No. 2 looks annoyed and asks, "What may I offer you?"

"A glass of water would be welcome," I say, sitting back and placing my satchel down. Andrea disappears into another room, returning with my water. I have time to take a single sip before the double doors open and a really good-looking African-American man strolls out smiling. Right before the doors close, he adds, "Golf next week, Grey. See you then." He smiles at me as we lock eyes. Nodding, he says goodbye to the two blondes as he rings for the elevator.

"You can go in now, Ms. Steele. Right through the double doors—no need to knock."

"Thank you." I pick up my satchel and head for the doors. Pushing them open with force and finding they open easily, I almost lose my balance. Thankfully, I catch myself in time to enter the room with a shred of dignity though I do sort of plunge in head first. And then I gasp . . . possibly audibly.

He's sitting behind an enormous desk . . . and he's young and utterly gorgeous. This is Christian Grey? Never would have guessed. Judging from the sleek surroundings of his company and the women who work for him, I pegged him at about forty years old, blond, and heavily tanned. This man has got to be under thirty, with luscious dark hair, light eyes, and perfect angular features. He stands as I walk to the desk, cursing my now-shaking legs. Wow, he's tall, too.

"Ms. Kavanaugh? It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Christian Grey."

"Oh, um, actually my name is Anastasia Steele. I apologize for Ms. Kavanaugh. She was unable to conduct the interview due to illness. I will be filling in for her. I hope it's acceptable to you, sir?"

He focuses a penetrating gaze on me and then smiles slightly, as if he is privy to a joke I'm not in on. He walks around his desk and extends his hand to shake mine. As soon as our hands touch, I feel a bolt of energy rocket up my arm. What the hell? He gestures for me to step over to the huge white couches on the other side of the cavernous room. I do so, and as I walk, I look around. On the far wall is a series of small paintings, all grouped together, each one a different vegetable painted with great attention to detail and lush color. They're brilliant and he sees me gazing at them.

"A local artist. Trouton."

"Just beautiful—raising the ordinary to extraordinary."

"My sentiment exactly." He cocks his head and looks at me strangely even as he agrees with my appraisal. "Please have a seat, Ms. Steele."

"Thank you." I perch gingerly on the edge of the couch and remove the small recorder from my bag. My hands are shaking and I'm breaking out in a cold sweat. Christian Grey is seriously unsettling me.

"May I tape the interview, Mr. Grey?"

"Certainly. Are you a colleague of Ms. Kavanaugh's?"

"Not quite. Actually we are roommates at WSU . . . um, friends, actually." I'm normally quite articulate but for some reason I'm nervous and shaky in this man's presence. Probably because he's rich and powerful and gorgeous? Yes, that's probably why. I pull out Kate's questions after I set up the recorder.

I ask the first question and if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Grey looks disappointed. He begins to answer. I cross my legs and that seems to distract him and he pauses. I prompt, "You were saying, Mr. Grey?"

He continues, giving me a long-winded response about how he feels he's earned the right to so much power. His business ethic may be solid but the man has a titanic ego. Still, I guess someone who looks like he does and is fabulously wealthy to boot is entitled to one.

Dutifully following Kate's questions down the list, I barely register exactly what I'm asking him. As I blurt out the next one, it's only afterward I realize what I've asked him.

"Are you gay, Mr. Grey?"

The look I get in response is smoldering anger yet he quickly retrieves his composure. Mine, however, goes sailing out the big picture window. I stutter, "I apologize, sir . . . um, I just read the question here on the list . . ."

"Those aren't your questions?"

"No, they're Kate's, I mean Katherine's, Ms. Kavanaugh's," I stumble.

"No, Anastasia, I am not gay," he finally answers, fire blazing in his eyes. Shit, I know he's pissed. Quickly, I move on to the next question, anxious to be through with this interview.

Finally, it's done. I'm packing away my things as his assistant Andrea comes in. "Mr. Grey, sorry to intrude but your next appointment is in two minutes."

"We're not done here, Andrea. Please reschedule my next appointment."

The woman's mouth drops open and she just gapes at him. He raises his brows, looking at her, and she immediately flushes and stammers, "Of course, Mr. Grey," and then retreats.

Good, so it's not just me, then. I clear my throat. "I'm actually done, Mr. Grey. Please don't rearrange your schedule on my account."

"I just answered your questions," he replied. "I think it's only fair you answer mine."

I lean back into the couch, appraising him. I feel a little more comfortable now—my legs are under me again, and I can afford to allow myself the luxury of ogling this spectacularly gorgeous man. After all, I'll never see him again after today.

He is sitting, his expression impassive, with his fingers steepled under his chin. "I'm interested in you, Ms. Steele. What are you studying, if not journalism?"

"Trust me, Mr. Grey, there's nothing of interest in my story. I study literature, British specifically."

"What do you plan to do when you graduate . . . I'm assuming you're graduating with Ms. Kavanaugh in two weeks?"

"Yes. I don't have plans beyond next week's exams, frankly," I reply. Should I mention we're moving to Seattle? Nah, why bother? He wouldn't possibly be interested in me. But I'm interested in him, or more specifically, my body is interested in his. It's been going haywire since the moment I stumbled through the doors.

"You can apply for an internship here. We run quite a good program."

I almost laugh, thinking how out of place I would be. "I don't think I'd fit in here, honestly."
"Why not?"

"Isn't it obvious?"

"Not to me."

He actually looks offended. I have to say something so I try for humor. "Well, for one thing, I'm not blond."

He doesn't smile; instead he focuses his penetrating gaze on me and I feel as if he can see right through me. I've got to go.

"I really need to be going, Mr. Grey. I have a long drive ahead of me."

He glances out the window. "You're not driving back to Vancouver today?"

"Yes, sir. I am." I stand, extending my hand. "Thank you for being so gracious and accommodating with the last-minute change. Ms. Kavanaugh will be so pleased." I turn toward the door and feel him walking just behind me. As we near the double doors, he reaches his hand over to open them.

"Just ensuring you make it safely through the doors," he says, his eyes twinkling.

"That's very kind of you," I snap, my cheeks growing hot.

Smiling at my discomfort, he escorts me to the elevators and I see the two blondes look up startled as we emerge. Grey rings for the elevator. When the doors slide open, I rush through them, grateful to be leaving the intensity of this man's presence. I turn around to face him one last time. God, but he is just utterly breathtaking.

"Anastasia." He makes my name sound sexual the way it drips out of his mouth.

"Christian," I reply, though he never gave me permission to use his given name. Well, he used mine and I never gave him permission, either. And then the doors slide closed and I'm on my way out of the glass and steel monolith that is Grey Enterprises.

I can finally breathe again.