"Virtue has a veil, vice a mask."- Victor Hugo
Several voices failed to get his attention. He gave the flicker of a candle flame more notice than the guests at his table. This wedding shit pissed him off. He despised weddings, never understood them. One person for the rest of your life...And he had yet to meet anyone that fulfilled any vision of a wife for him. Well, he had yet to meet anyone who he could label good company for more than ten minutes. His mother was tolerable, his siblings less, and he hated his father. And always, there existed people who felt entitled to his time like the people surrounding him now. Like running a company wasn't time consuming enough, he had to manipulate a wedding already contracted to divorce in five years. If the bride wasn't a goddamn Australian beauty, he might feel bad for his cousin he paid to marry her. She was the daughter of the Australian Prime Minister and hopefully the key to granting his company the ability to drill down there.
He felt a strange feeling, like he was being watched but that wasn't rare. Everyone watched him. They waited like an army of ants for any order, any look from him deciding their fates. His father maintained the same presence...one of being feared because of the sheer power one yields. This feeling though was stronger, and he finally moved his gaze from the candle not for anyone from his table but for the woman that sat at the table opposite of his. Chestnut strands framed blue doe eyes and in a normal situation he expected her to drop her gaze, be embarrassed that he just caught her staring, but she just smiled. Her eyes crinkled at the corners and she bared all of her teeth. There was unnerving warmth that radiated from her smile. She looked so damn happy and usually he found the emotion nauseating, but with her she made it seem effortless, desirable. He sat straighter as he realized she wore barely any makeup, not that she needed much, and she felt no insecurity about it. God, she was stunning. She was young, he guessed early twenties but she had this innate wisdom, a grace with the way she moved and spoke. It was her eyes, they seemed much older than her appearance but so warm and inviting.
She was interrupted by the blonde teenager sitting next to her as he held out his hand to dance. The inadequate looking male held her close as he led her out to the dance floor. Their intimacy disturbed him. She rested her chin on his shoulder, and they danced as if they were the only couple on the dance floor. Like they would last, they both were still so young, he thought with a shrug and another swig of his drink.
"Christian." His nerves grated as his father occupied the chair next to him.
"Dad." The smell of scotch was strong, enough to permeate the entire tablecloth.
"Creative fix, son."
"I was taught well." It was as close to a compliment that his father could muster.
"How about you get a wife now too? You're 32 Christian and a wife is an asset." He'd feel bad that his father used his mother for many business transactions if she didn't enjoy it. His family was so fucked that the mere labeling of a wife as an asset didn't faze him.
"I've done quite well without a wife, better than you even." Carrick Grey didn't react often or allow his anger to show but that clenched fist made Christian smirk.
"Who will you leave your empire to?" Oh fuck, kids. The idea made his skin itch, and his head hurt. Children were also an asset, he couldn't remember how many times his father asked him to seduce the wives of men that had acted too confident. The son of a bitch was ruthless like that, not that he complained. Those pent-up housewives had fantasies upon fantasies to relieve.
"What? It's all on your brother to produce a family heir, someone to continue the Grey name? We all know how responsible he is." His brother Elliot was either passed out already or banging the bride in the boathouse. To be honest, being the middle child, no one expected any different.
"He's probably producing one right now for you, and if you look hard enough I'm sure he has a blonde hair blue-eyed kid running around somewhere." His father clenched his glass of scotch tighter before wearing a smile and waving to a guest across the way. He was about to leave when he watched the young woman he caught staring at him earlier leaving the tent. Standing without acknowledging his exit, he followed her out, his curiosity getting the better of him. He found her date, socializing eagerly with some of the other guests, not even caring for where she might be going. He watched her stop in the grass, remove her shoes, and then continue with a beer in hand and her shoes in the other. She damn near pranced towards his mother's rose garden, looking like a dancing sun in her bright yellow sundress, and his feet moved before he could convince himself otherwise.
She stood at one of the rose bushes, and her fingers glided over the petals as she moved down the row. The rose bushes formed a square with a large hedge frame where you entered to be surrounded by the most beautiful flowers in Winnetka. His mother hired gardeners to tend to them now, but he could remember the days she spent camped out here. It was the only thing his father allowed her complete control over.
"Maybe I should be upset that you're staring at me strangely, but I did stare first." Her voice was stronger than he imagined but still maintained a soft quality. She turned and smiled. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stare earlier." He finally moved into the garden and outside of the framing hedge. He wasn't quite dressed for it, but he could definitely fuck her in the grass and then he remembered the concrete bench. Perfect.
"Do you always smile like that?" He asked bordering annoyance and some weird level of adoration. Instinctively, she smiled and he reciprocated. She was infectious with her happiness, he hoped it was temporary. He quite enjoyed being unhappy and wallowing in his wealth.
"My husband says I have no in-between smile. Go big or go home I guess."
"You're married? That was your husband?" He failed to hide the shock but it had no effect on her anyway.
"Yeah, Adam. We've been married for almost six years."
"How old are you?"
"You got married at 18?" Who the hell gets married at 18 anymore besides knocked up teenagers? .
"Yep." There was a very minute smile she reserved for her husband when she spoke of him. One that none of the housewives he had ever seduced wore. It was the first indication of how challenging she would be.
"Jesus Christ." He breathed and she laughed, it was melodic.
"He had something to do with it." Great, the challenge just skyrocketed in difficulty.
"May I ask what you were thinking about back at the table?" She asked as he moved closer towards her, but she continued to look at the rose bushes as if she knew that he might talk easier if she weren't watching him.
"How much I hate weddings." She laughed again.
"You're not that cold. I can see it." Somehow he believed her. He'd never believe it from anyone else, but she looked at him with eyes clear of deceit.
"Oh geeze, I've been rude. I'm Anastasia Steele." She stood confused for a moment before extending her hand as if the formality made her uncomfortable. He shook it with a smirk.
"Christian Grey. May I ask what you're doing out here?"
"I noticed the garden when we first arrived. I have one of my own but not anything like this. It's beautiful...absolutely beautiful." A strange pride for his mother surged through him but he swallowed it. The garden was now the product of paid hands.
"It's my mothers."
"Well, she's a genius. These roses are simply gorgeous. Roses are my favorite. They symbolize life to me."
"I think we are all on a journey of being enlightened and awakened, each experience provides us a petal until we look like this..." She cupped the rose with her delicate hands as if it was more fragile than her but it wasn't possible. "Full bloom."
"I'm a few petals short." He replied.
Where the hell did that come from?
She forced something from him, forced him to feel something. Relaxed? That was even more ridiculous, but the more he watched her, the more her warmth penetrated him. She turned around and smiled like she were the sun that fed the garden nurturing its beauty. He was losing it. All rationale was gone; leaving nothing but a hunger for her, her spirit.
"Don't worry me too. Sometimes I even think I lose some." Finally he saw how far back from the tent they had ventured. "You are too trusting Anastasia. You shouldn't be back here this far with a stranger." She pursed her lips and cocked her head in a manner that challenged his new found protectiveness.
"I know your name." She quipped back. "And you sound like my grandmother."
"How is that?" He questioned.
"My grandmother had this story she would share with me all the time." Slowly she sat in the grass and curled her legs under her. Against the backdrop of the rose bush, she looked like a sunflower. He sat on the concrete bench, the feet bound with vines, and he listened in anticipation of watching her soft full lips tell her story.
"She said that when I was five and we were outside playing in her garden that a bee had stung me, and I cried. She kept telling me that it was a honeybee and that it died after it stung me. She was trying desperately to make me feel better, but I just cried even harder."
"Because the bee died?" He asked completely engrossed in her tale.
"Yeah." She shrugged her shoulders.
"Because the bee died. After I cried, she said I calmly explained that bees did good. They helped the flowers and that helped people because flowers made people happy. She said that was the day she realized I would see the good in everything and everyone."
"She also said I'd trust too easily." She added throwing a playful glare at him.
"You don't see the bad?" That wasn't possible. People's cruel intentions and manipulations were always the first thing he perceived and anticipated. But that could be because he was one of them.
"I always seem to be blinded by the good." He had never felt so comfortable talking to someone before. Never. Not his mother, not siblings and definitely not his father...if only he could decipher the difference, decipher her. What made her so comforting? She was organically beautiful, mind and soul. There were no signs of hidden intentions or lies, just a very simple untainted self-confidence.
"I should get back to my husband. It was nice to meet you." She stood and brushed the back of her dress before walking towards the hedge archway when she turned.
"Hey, will you promise me something?" She asked, her face hiding nothing, not with make up or fake expressions. She stood genuinely curious before him.
"Depends on what it is." He replied like the cynical man he was.
"Promise me you'll smile more. You wear it so well." Her doe eyes turned wide with an expression that made it damn near impossible for him to refuse.
"Deal." He memorized her last content smile before she turned and walked away. It wouldn't be for long. His father had spoken words he had lived and succeeded by.
"You are a Grey, Christian. You don't lose and you always get what you want. I don't care who you have to kill or manipulate to get it."
He'd have her.