Hi there! Long time to type. Yes, I'm updating S&S and not Fast and Furious right now. But S&S is where my mind was so this is what I wrote. I'd love more time to write but my boys are on a snowboard racing team and holy Lord does that eat up every second of days off. Not to mention running a business and everything else that life throws at you but I won't complain. I'd rather be busy than bored! Did I mention that it's tax season and I'm in finance?

In the meantime, one of FF's long time readers wrote a book called 'The Book on Love' (S K Avery). I'm looking forward to some down time so that I can read it but since she took the ballsy plunge and self published a book, I wanted to let you all know about it. Because how awesome is that?


"This is exactly what I imagined Christmas would be like here." I sigh with utter contentment as my husband rubs my feet in the glass domed library I'd set my butt in over four hours ago. "I must have had three of these hot chocolates and I'm almost afraid to ask how many of the scones I've eaten in the last few hours but my God they are so freaking good."

Christian chuckles and digs his thumb into the arch of my left foot, eliciting a groan that under normal circumstances would turn him on but after last night's impromptu session and this morning's continuation in the shower, even the Great Christian Grey is sexed out. Temporarily at least. Not that I'm complaining though, my lady bits are begging for a break after the last few weeks.

"What book has kept you holed up in here all day anyway?"

"'A House in the Sky'. Not exactly easy reading but since you keep reminding me of the fact that I am now the keeper of all this money, I felt I should educate myself to some other plights so that we can make informed decisions as to where this cash is going." Holding the book up I point to it and cock my head to the side. "Somalia should be on our food distribution."

"Saving the world, Mrs. Grey?" he goads, his hand sliding over the fitted yoga pants to rest on my knee which he tickles with light circles.

"Taught by the best," I answer quickly, his immediate grin and light blush exactly the response I knew I'd get.

In just under two weeks he's already put into motion the purchase of his old apartment building along with three adjacent lots that he plans to also do something with. Kristin Howard, his CFO for 'Feed the Nations' has been called in to help formulate the hiring of someone who can take the reins of what is quickly becoming a much bigger project than either one of us had initially thought.

Not that I'm surprised. This is the way Christian works. Status quo is never good enough. I'm quickly learning that 'Build a center to help people in the area' translates into 'Build, restore, correct, clean up and change the world'.

Much as I'd love to hear all of his plans and ideas, I'm not foolish enough to think that he wants to talk about Detroit or anything remotely close to his childhood right now so instead I lay back and stretch with my eyes closed, relishing in the fact that for the next day he is mine and mine alone.

"I'm glad you took the time to come out here early. This is nice, Christian. Just me and you."

Sighing he sits back, stretches his arms above his head and rests his eyes. "It is nice isn't it? I'm just sorry I have to work while we're here."

"Ros said the deal should be finished by year end though right?"

He nods, pinches the bridge of his nose and lifts his feet to the coffee table, kicking off his slippers so that he can feel the heat from the fireplace as it blazes across from us.

"Not should be, will be finished. If it's not someone is going to get their ass handed to them. I swear to Christ if I have to leave you here to finish this out, even for half a day, my acquisitions team is going to start their new year on the unemployment line."

For a few minutes we sit in utter silence, the crackle of the fire the only sound. My book is heavy in my hands but I'm determined to finish it until I hear a soft snore coming from my husband. I smile, rest my head on the back of the couch and just stare at him.

A half a year ago I barely knew this man but now, he is literally everything to me. Everything. My chest hurts with affection and love and joy and something that is so indescribable it almost frightens me.

His muscles, strong and well defined even under a long sleeve t-shirt shift when he crosses his arms over his chest. With a small exhale he turns his face towards me, eyes still closed. With a careful flick I toss the rest of the blanket over both of us and click off the lamp behind me. Daylight still streams through the glass on every side of us but the coziness of this moment is no competition for the perfect relaxation happening now.

Christian needs this. He needs to sit and just do nothing for more than a few hours at a time. Kidnapping him and flying him out to Aspen two days before Christmas was an easy decision to make especially when Andrea was able to reschedule all of his meetings. Tomorrow his sibling arrive and Christmas morning the rest of our families will descend on this tranquil house but for now it's just me and my snoring husband alone in this perfect room. And as much as I'd like to study the sharp lines of his jaw and the way his lashes brush over his cheekbones I can't keep my eyes open. Contentment and peace coupled with a fireplace and the person you love will do that to a you.

"Oh my God, Ana you think it's big enough?" Kate gasps, squealing when Elliot lands a hard smack on her butt.

"That's what she said," he teases, biting the back of her neck and lifting her around the waist.

"It always comes back to sex with you. God, you're so predictable." Kate rolls her eyes and playfully pushes him away. "How big is this anyway?"

"16 feet," Christian answers brightly, handing Elliot a bottle of beer before bending down to kiss the top of my head. "I wanted a 20 footer but we got here too late. All the big ones were gone."

Ethan laughs and lifts his bottle to his mouth. "I'm surprised you didn't send someone out to find you one. This is Aspen, I'm sure they've got a few 60 footers out there."

Even Christian laughs at that but when Ethan pats his back to ensure he knew that the joke was in good fun I can't help but notice the way Christian tenses up. I had almost forgotten how sensitive to touch he still is since everyone in his family and even Ray can touch him freely now. If Ethan notices he doesn't say anything but I can feel the subtle shift in my husband and quickly clap my hands together to signal that dinner is ready.

"Come on, come on. If we're late Carmella is going to be pissed and if she's pissed she's not going to make me the chocolate scones I'm obsessed with for breakfast."

Over a Christmas Eve dinner of pork tenderloin and delicate haricot verts, the three Grey children and their significant others act as normally as one can imagine. Lots of teasing, joking, and over the top exaggeration as Elliot recounts childhood memories has us all laughing until our sides hurt. Christian can barely speak as he tries to tell about the time he and Elliot got up super early after a snowstorm and instead of snowmen, built a thirty snow penis's all over the front yard.

"I thought Dad was going to die he was laughing so hard," Mia squeaks out on a giggle. "And all mom cared about was that you got them anatomically correct!"

"And then all the kids from the neighborhood came over and the older boys started making snow vaginas?" Christian is wheezing, his face flush with color due to his laughter and the many beers he's had tonight with the guys.

"That, dad had an issue with. Especially because you," Elliot turns to point at Mia, "kept asking why Michael Fairchild kept burying his face in them and licking the snow."

"Hey! I was twelve and it was a fair question!"

"Oh my God I'd forgotten about that." Christian wipes a hand over his face and flicks off the top of a new beer. "He made us give her the talk that night at dinner."

"Wait," Kate interrupts as Mia groans and covers her face. "You guys gave your sister the talk?"

"In front of our parents," Christian snorts, shaking his head at the memory.

"This I gotta hear," Ethan spurts out, drunk in his own right.

"OK, to be fair, Mia already knew the scientifical stuff, mom being a doctor made sure of that. Christ the woman had us using terms like scrotum and seminal fluid instead of balls and jizz. 'It's just a body and they're all the same', she'd say." Standing to mix himself a Moscow Mule Christian laughs. "Which was so fucked up because it was a stark reminder that the things I was obsessed with; boobs, asses, legs, pussies…my fucking father was too. That was the night I realized mom and dad did it just like everyone else. If you know what I mean." He winks at Mia who is all but gagging.

"Oh my God stop!" Mia yells, stumbling to the couch in the living room where we were migrating. "Please for the love of God and all things holy stop. Mom and dad do not have sex which is why we are all adopted. Theirs is a marriage of convenience."

"Then explain the time Christian walked in on them in the galley of the Grace when dad took us up to the Bering Straight that summer. Because unless mom was sitting on that counter with a leg on each wall there…"

"Stop!" we all scream, Christian leading the charge as he shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut. "That's my second worst memory of them."

"There's a worse one?" I laugh, sitting with an umph as Christian pulls me onto his lap.

"Oh there's a worse one but I've never told anyone because I'm afraid I'll throw up if I have to repeat what it was I saw."

Elliot levels his stare and gets suddenly serious. "If it's that bad, bro. Keep that shit locked tight. I swear to God I don't need to visualize anything to believe that I don't want to know it." Grabbing Kate by the ass he pulls her onto his lap and bites her shoulder. "And just in case you think you're going to be funny and spill the beans, let me remind you that they'll be here in less than twelve hours. Which means, according to dad, that they'll be…ugh…doing it here."

Mia's head whips around to each of her brothers. "You mean they do it here? At Christian's house?"

Elliot presses the cold copper cup to his brow and slowly shakes his head. "According to dad they do it everywhere and anywhere. So long as it's once a day."

"What the fuck is wrong with you, E?" Christian yells jovially.

"Hey, I don't think it's fair that I have to live with that knowledge."

Christian moves around to make room for me in the chair and settles back, pulling me flush against him. "Well then I've got a story for you."

"No!" We all yell again.

"What?" he mocks. "It's not fair that I have to live with this memory and you all don't. Fairs fair and all that bull shit, E."

"Open your mouth and I swear I'll punch you square in the throat. How's that for fair little brother?"

"You're drunk."

Across from me Christian has stripped naked and is waiting for me to do the same. "Sure am," he says softly, his head nodding for me to continue undressing. "Not drunk enough for whiskey dick though so hurry up. I've got big plans for my mouth, your mouth and that sweet ass of yours."

"Christian," I protest, shimmying out of the jeans and socks I had changed into for dinner. "You're drunk."

"And so fucking horny I can't see straight. You know what it's like watching you walk around all day in those slinky yoga pants? Did you know they outline the lips of your pussy? Swear to God, Ana if I hadn't fallen asleep in the library this afternoon I was going to rip them in half and fuck you right there."

Pouting I step towards him and away from the fireplace at the foot of our bed, the heat no different in either place. He's just that hot.

"I'm sore," I say softly, one fingertip tracing down the divide of his chest muscles. Sometimes, when I'm reminded that he's never allowed anyone to touch him like this, I do it for no other reason than to validate my position in his life. Tonight is one of those nights. This man, bathed in fire light and nothing else is all mine.

Christian holds up a single finger. "The opening to your vagina is sore. I can do many things without touching you there."

I stifle a laugh and wind up snorting instead. "That's very clinical, baby."

He just grins, pinches my nipples between his thumb and pointer fingers and pulls me forward. "You know what happens when I get drunk, Anastasia?"

"You want to fuck."

He huffs out a laugh and turns me around, his fingers immediately going right back to my breasts. "I want to fuck. But I always want to fuck, Ana." He pulls harder and twists, the heat from the fire no match for the wave of lust that sweeps over me. "I want to fuck without a filter."

Turning my head I give him a quizzical look, his mouth descending to mine. He tastes like beer and whiskey and Christian and holy shit if he keeps playing with my nipples like that I'm going to come before he's even done anything.

"Sometimes I hold myself back from saying what I really want. How I really feel about your body and the things it does to me." He nips at my lips when I go to say something, effectively quieting me. "Not because I'm embarrassed or ashamed but because you're new to this and if I told you that I wanted to bend you over and fuck your ass until you fainted it may frighten you." He pulls, I pant and I swear to God I'm thisclose to coming when he pulls back, smacks my ass with both hands and pushes me so that my palms are on the floor in front of me. "But tonight I'm drunk so I'm not going to filter myself and I'm just going to say it. I want to fuck your ass until you faint." Behind me he moans his approval as his finger brushes over my crack. "You ok with that, baby?"

"Yes." And I am because it's been awhile and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I really do like anal sex. I shouldn't be, but I am.

Somehow, I have no idea how, I wind up on the bed as he stands beside it. From his night table he procures a bottle of oil and a blindfold. Against my leg his cock is hard and hot but when I try to grasp it he steps back, tucks my hands beneath my butt and clicks his tongue.

"You are not to move. You may breathe fast and hard, you may bite that fucking lip that I love so much and you may come when you're ready but you may not speak and you may not move."

Deftly he ties the blindfold around my eyes and then trails a thin stream of the oil along the center of my body. I feel his hands along the length of my legs until he circles them around my ankles, arranging them so that the soles of my feet are pressed together and I'm wide open to him.

"God I love when you're freshly waxed like this." I inhale when his nose runs along the top of my mound and find myself wanting to whine when he pulls back. "So smooth and accessible. Nothing hidden from me. This is how I like you, Anastasia. Willing and ready and accessible to whatever it is that will bring us pleasure."

The oil heats as he spreads it over my torso, the slipperiness of his hands slightly frustrating when he grazes over my nipples. They want his attention. Badly.

He chuckles and passes over them again but this time he stops and so lightly I almost die he lets his palms run over just the tips of them. "I'm going to be selfish tonight baby and do exactly what I want no matter how much you beg me for more. And you will beg."

With oiled hands he palms between my legs and pulses there, the rhythmic tempo causing my mind to spin. The blindfold does wonders for my imagination, especially when his fingers separate my lips. I imagine that he's staring at me, his eyes trained on the very place I'm wide open to him and even though he's seen me a thousand times like this I feel more exposed than ever since I can't see what he's doing. But I feel it. Damn do I feel it.

"Such a beautiful shade of pink, Anastasia. So feminine and delicate and alluring. I want to fucking devour you right now but I'm not going to. Instead," he pauses, swipes one finger gently over my clit and groans. "Instead I'm going to make you crazy so that you will do whatever it is I want."

I huff and smile. I'd do whatever he wanted right now anyway. He knows that, I know that. But if he wants to play this game, I'm good with that too.

"Do you think about my dick as much as I think about your clit, Ana?" I'm not sure if I'm supposed to actually answer but I forget the question the second he takes his thumb and swipes it, so very lightly, over the top of my slit. "So tiny and hidden from the rest of the world. For my eyes and our pleasure only." Another slow swipe and I begin to understand what he meant by making me beg. One hand rests on my mound, pressing down so that I'm totally open while Christian's other hand hovers over my sex, the tips of each finger working in tandem over the very top of my clit. And only my clit. And that, is what's making me crazy with want.

Want to move, want to moan, want to touch, want to grind, want to feel. More. I want more pressure, more firmness, more talking. More Christian. Quickly his fingers run over me until I'm all but bowing off of the bed. My hands are gripping the blanket, my toes are digging into each other but he does nothing to give me more. Instead he slows down and makes the lightest circles around me, each nerve ending coming more alive under the new sensation.

"I love watching you like this, baby. Your body gets this light dusting of blush, your nipples pull tight and hard." Without stopping his assault his other hand reaches down and brushes against them and this time, I can't help it. I cry out and twist my body but it's fruitless because he grabs one of my breasts and holds me still even as I tremble and my legs kick out and then spread wide.

"Please," I beg, the blindfold making all of my inhibitions fall away. "Please I want you inside me, Christian. Please," I plead, my voice actually cracking when he begins to use every finger again. One after the other, just the lightest of touches. God it's excruciating and frustrating and so fucking good I can't stand it.

"You're sore, Ana. You said so no less than five times today. I don't want to participate in exasperating your soreness." Cocky son of a bitch.

I whimper and roll to my side but he stops me and growls, slapping my thighs open. "Do not move!" he demands. And I try, I really do try but I need exactly what he's not giving me and just as I'm about to fling the blindfold off and tell him to fuck off he uses just the slightest bit more pressure and eases his hold on my breast. "Tell me what you want, Ana."

"I want you inside me." And damn him I know what he wants me to say but it's still so new and yes, slightly embarrassing that I can't do it.

"Where? Where do you want me to fuck you, Ana?"

"Christian!" I'm shrieking but I'm so damn close I feel like I'm going to lose my mind.

"I already know, baby. So just say it. Tell me what you want. There is nothing in this world I won't give to you. Nothing in this universe that should embarrass you or separate you from me so just say what you want." With that he presses his middle finger flat over me and holds it there, the pressure just right except now he's not moving.

"Please." I hate that I'm whimpering but he loves it and I'm not going to pretend that I don't get off on this dominant yet loving side of him.

His fingers pluck at my nipples again, his left hand still unmoving over the seam of my sex.

"Fuck my ass, Christian! God damn it that's what I want! Are you fucking happy now? You got your way you pri…FUCK!" I don't finish because just then he gives me exactly what I was waiting for and without using anything more than the very tips of his fingers he makes me come so hard I feel dizzy and light headed yet heavier than I've ever felt before because of the tension building low in my belly.


God damn this woman does it for me. FUCK! I want her again even when I'm in the middle of having her. It's a struggle to keep her hips still but this kind of concentrated orgasm only works when I can focus on one very specific part of her body. My hand is drenched and shit if that doesn't make my dick as hard as it can be. I need to get inside of her and I need to do it now. But first…

She comes. Loudly and spectacularly and even though her legs clamp closed around my hand I'm not nearly finished with her pleasure. So while she trembles and comes down I grab the clamps I hid in my night table earlier and with no more than a shush I carefully put them onto her nipples. She cries out and instinctively reaches for them but I'm already ahead of her and grab her hands, lead them to my cock and happily watch those dainty fingers wrap around me.


While she strokes I pump but this is definitely not what I want and I am definitely too close to be dicking around. Since she weighs next to nothing it takes no effort to place her on her feet and even less effort to push her forward so that she's bent over the bed. Smoothing more oil down her back I take extra time to cover her ass and ensure that she's well lubricated because once I get started, the last thing I'm going to want to do is stop.

She whimpers when the clamps drag along the blanket so I lift her by her hair, roughly, and pull her back. "These are meant to enhance the experience. Let the weight of them pull on those sweet tits as I fuck you but don't let them hit anything else." She nods and presses her ass against me so that my dick rests in that perfect cleft. Yeah. I need to fuck her. Now.

I want it a bit rough, a bit nasty and a bit different than what we've done before but I don't want to hurt her. Never do I want to hurt her so instead of ramming myself in and shoving her down like my body wants to I push her forward, kick her ankles apart further and slap that tight hole with my dick until she's whimpering those little pleases that turn me on so much.

"Ready, baby?" One nod is all I get but it's enough. "Hold on then because this is going to be fast and hard and so fucking good you won't be able to walk in the morning." My hand cracks down hard on one cheek at the exact second I breach her. Another satisfying crack has me halfway in but when she tosses her hair back I grab a handful and yank hard, impaling her balls deep onto my dick and holy fuck this is exactly what I have wanted all day.

I push all the bull shit out of my mind. The deal that's not going through, the fact that I'll need to lay off two hundred employees in order to close another deal, the impending sense of dread that has begun to build knowing that Elena's trial is coming up. All of it fades into the blackness because of the pleasure and intimacy Ana's body brings until all that's left is the overwhelming love I have for this woman.

"Your balls…" she gasps and I almost laugh when she trips up on the word balls. My cock is buried in her ass and she's covered in oil with nipple clamps on her tits but the word balls has her pausing. Like I said, I fucking love this girl.

"You feel them on your pussy? Hmmm?" She nods but I've still got her hair and damn if that doesn't turn me on even more. "Here," I offer, lifting her hips up. "Tilt your ass high in the air more." She moans when the full impact of my body hits her clit and I make the devastating mistake of looking down to see my dick disappearing inside her.

Because…shit that turns me on. Too much.

So I close my eyes and grip each flare of her hip in my hand, determined to keep the steady rhythm that I know will put her right over the edge. Only then will I let myself go.

"Christian," she whimpers, her legs sliding open a bit wider, her ass tilting even higher up. I love when she does this, when she forgets about me and moves her body in the way she needs. When she takes from me without reservation because she can't help herself.

"You close, baby?" I ask because I know I am. If she's not, I'm going to need to pull out and try a new tactic because this is way too good right now. Instead of answering though she moans low and lifts herself on her forearms. "Take off the clamps," I demand and she does, immediately and happily. "Now bend low, stretch your arms out straight and let your tits drag on the bed."

Her nipples are so sensitive right now that I know this will only make things more intense for her and I was right because within seconds she's grinding back on me until her knees give out and buckle. Silently she comes, her tiny fist punching the bed beneath her as the last wave rides through that sweet little body and then, only then do I really let myself go and take what I've been holding back.

She gasps when I slam into her and pushes up onto her hands, turning to look at me with glazed eyes filled with sated lust. "Feel good, baby?" she asks as she thrusts back. "Does my ass feel good, Christian?" Holy. Mother. Of. Fuck.

"Christ, Ana you keep that up and this is over in three more seconds." I mean it. The way she looks, the way she feels, the sultry tenor of her sex induced voice. Perfection. Her lips curl up and I know I'm in for an auditory treat.

"Fuck me, baby. Fuck me the way you want to. Make me your own personal porn star." And shit, I've never been big on porn but holy shit the image does the trick because my balls pull up tight and my hips slam over and over until I swell so big I'm afraid I'll hurt her but she doesn't cry out or wince. Instead she licks her lips, reaches back and pinches my nipple with a final, "Fuck my ass, Christian."

And I'm done. Nothing in the world could stop me from coming right now because right here in front of me is the woman that I adore and love and can't get enough of and she's willing to let me have it as dirty as I want it. Tingles shoot from every extremity until my eyes roll back in bliss and my dick finds relief. I slam twice more and stand still until the twitching stops and then fall forward, sweaty and oil slicked and so damn satisfied and happy I can barely breathe.

"You…are…incredible," I pant, smiling when she huffs out and slumps flat on the bed with me still inside of her. "I needed that and damn did you deliver."

She pulls forward, grabs a tissue and rolls onto her back. "You needed it as opposed to wanted it. Why?"

I smile and run a finger along her cheek. "I hate how observant you are sometimes."

"I hate how you don't tell me when things are bothering you until you've had sex." Shifting beneath me I mentally note that the comforter will need to be stripped and washed and help her to her feet. When she stumbles, which I knew she would, I lift her beneath her knees and carry her bridal style into the bathroom where I start a bath. "You're ignoring me."

"I'm not ignoring you." It's true. I'm not. I'm sated and exhausted and still a bit drunk but the way she's swirling in the bath gel is hypnotizing. "I'm not ignoring you," I repeat.

"Then what's bothering you?"

I do not want to talk about this right now, especially in the afterglow of some of the most amazing sex we've ever had but I also can't not talk to her about it because then she'll get really pissed at me. And I don't blame her. Keeping her in the dark has been more of an issue between us than my sordid history ever was.

Like I knew she would she gives me the time to get into the tub and settles herself back so that she's flush against me and this, more than anything, is what I want. Closeness and intimacy and the knowledge that she and I share so much more than just our bodies. When the water hits her shoulders I sigh and lean back, the relief of an amazing orgasm and the comfort of her warm body more than I can fight. So I don't fight. I talk just like she wants and fill her in on the last two days.

"It's not the sex that gets me talking," I say honestly. "It's the intimacy of it afterwards. I've never experienced it in the way that you and I have it and it's not that I don't want to or won't talk if we don't have sex, it's just that I feel more...open afterwards." I grunt and roll my eyes. "I sound like I'm on Oprah."

She gives me a soft laugh and reaches back to cup my face. "I understand. Now tell me what's bothering you."

"Well, the deal in Miami is about to close as you know but I'm going to need to go there before it does. I know I said I wouldn't have to leave but if I don't, the plant is going to lay off almost two hundred people. I think I can barter a deal that will give them at least another six months of employment but I need to be there in order to throw my weight around. Maybe two days after Christmas but I'll be back in the same day," I rush to add when her shoulders tense beneath my fingers. "It's unexpected but it's part of my life and while leaving you for the day is less than desirable I know that in a few weeks we'll be in Belgium alone for an entire week and I promise to leave business behind in its totality."

"You can't do that and you know it," she counters without anger.

"Despite the nature of my business the first two weeks of the year are always slow at GEH. Purposefully I may add so that my employees can rest up for the first quarter mayhem I insist on."

"Yes, I've heard all about your slave driving tendencies from Roz." Leaning forward she grabs a washcloth and slides it up my arm. "But work isn't what's got you distracted and so drained you're falling asleep in the library at two in the afternoon."

"Hey. That was an ideal nap situation," I joke, kissing her shoulder just because I can. "But you're right, work isn't really a problem." I'm not quite sure how to broach the two topics festering at the edges of our perfect life together but after tossing them around in my head for a minute I realize there's really no easy way to do this.

"There's two things that have me…preoccupied." I lift her fingers out of the water and kiss the ring I put there. It's not big enough in my opinion but anything larger and Ana would have found it austentacious. She'd have been right of course but still, she married a multi-billionaire. "The first one is out of my control for the most part and a complete wild card as far as to how it plays out and maybe that's the reason for my angst." I shrug, she leans her head back and strokes her fingers lovingly over my hands where they rest on her stomach.

"Elena's trial was moved up to March. Early March at that. I'm not entirely sure why but it appears as if the DA's office has more than enough evidence to convict her on fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and a host of other federal crimes. Whatever they brought to her attorney's two weeks ago was so powerful that they've asked for a deal." Ana stiffens in my arms and I squeeze her tight. "I doubt she'll get one since the case is so well documented. I mean, the woman wasn't exactly a Brainiac when it came to hiding her cash."

"What about the other stuff?"

I take a deep breath and reach for the light switch on the wall. The darkness helps somehow but between the moonlight and the light from our bedroom it's not dark enough to hide everything.

"That's still a work in progress from what I understand. It's more intricate and delicate and since there seems to be an international component it's going to take a hell of a lot more time. Which is why Detective Cantino asked me directly a few days ago if I'd consider testifying against her."

Ana turns as the water splashes over the sides of the tub and looks at me with wide eyes. "Is that why he came over so late?"

"Yes. He didn't want to ask, I could tell but he did anyway."

"Will you? Consider it?"

"No. I can't and won't open myself, my family and my future children up to the things that she and I did together. I don't ever want to remember a second of my time with her and I certainly don't need it documented for the rest of the world to read about. A few years ago, maybe. But even then I imagine I'd have said a quick hell no but now, now that we're talking about having kids…it's a non-option. I will never, ever let my children know how fucked up their father was. I want them to sit in a living room with their siblings as adults and cringe at the thought of their boring vanilla parents doing it just like we did tonight. I don't ever want them to know, in detail, the things their father was a part of."

She breathes out a long sigh, of relief I would imagine, and allows me to turn her back around so that I can hold her again. "If you wanted to, I'd support you, Christian. If it would help you or ensure that she'll be locked up for life I'd support you one hundred percent."

"Oh she'll go away for so long she'll be nothing but a shriveled old woman when she gets out. I'll make sure of that. The financial charges alone should put her away for twenty to twenty five years. Not to mention the whole prostitution spin on it with the bankers she used to hide her cash."

"I'm surprised Anthony asked you to do it. I mean, he's been pretty hands off about the whole case and his involvement and he's been around often enough without mentioning it."

"I was surprised at first as well but the reality is, he has a job to do. And even though I wanted to punch him in the face when he asked me, I do understand that the things he saw upset him and he wants justice for me and for those boys."

"So no testifying."

"No testifying. But I will have to give a written statement and swear under oath that GEH severed ties with her due to our belief that she was involved in illegal and illicit dealings. That alone will have the press hounding us for weeks." Another deep breath, Grey. You're almost finished. "So I'm going to put Prescott back on you with Sawyer and I'm going to station someone outside Ray's house again. I don't think he's in danger but anytime the press gets wind of a sex scandal anyone and everyone involved is a target. We have done all we can to protect our interests and our involvement but the true nature of my relationship with her is only as hidden as she made it. If she was sloppy, someone's going to find out about it."

She nods, leans up and kisses my chin and begins to stand. "Then we'll deal with that if it happens. But in the meantime, I'm starting to wrinkle in here." When I make no move to get up she sits back down and faces me almost as if she knows what's coming. "There's something else."

I nod, rest my hands on my bent knees and hope for the best.

"Your mother has been calling. Relentlessly." I watch as Ana's eyes grow wide and her mouth opens but she shuts it just as quickly and mindlessly runs a hand over the bubbles on the waters surface. "She wants to see you." A full minute ticks by before she responds.

"Has she been keeping her end of the bargain?"

"Yes. Daily counselling, no alcohol for nine weeks, church every Sunday and Wednesday night, daily gym visits and no contact with Morton. She's been a fucking saint."

"That's funny," Ana concedes as a stream of bubbles slides down her slick hair. "You called her a saint and she's been going to church twice a week."

I have to laugh because why in the world we threw in going to church as a stipulation for Carla to make her way back into Ana's life I don't know but it seemed fitting at the moment and I'll be damned, it's working. "She even volunteers at their soup kitchen on Friday nights and two Monday's ago she helped decorate the building for the holidays."

"Hmm." Ana looks out towards the mountains and tucks her knees under her chin. "She never decorated our house for Christmas when I was living at home. Said it just brought clutter and dust and one more thing she had to clean up."

"Is that why you went crazy here?" I joke, pointing to the Christmas hand towels and soaps littering the counter top.

"Yes!" she laughs, splashing some suds my way. "I've only ever had a fake tree so this was like a match made in heaven. A husband who thinks bigger is better and doesn't believe in budgets and a wife who is compensating for 23 years of a dull Christmas!"

"Compensate away, sweetheart." It thrills me that she's finally using our joint AMEX card on frivolous crap. Did we need a wreath for all 32 driveway facing windows? No. But it made Ana happy and that's the only thing I cared about.

She says nothing more about it, just stands, rinses herself and then me off and lets me wrap her in a heated towel. I'm so sated that watching her rub lotion on her slick skin only relaxes me. Not a dick tingle, not even a lingering glance. She strips the comforter off the bed while I head down the hall into the linen closet for another. By the time I return she's under the flannel sheets, her head on the pillow facing my side.

"Come here," I say softly once the lights are off. Outside the snow is falling lightly, the perfect end to the best Christmas Eve I've ever experienced. Ana scoots over and then rolls to her back, inhaling deeply.

"I don't know what I want," she starts, her fingers tapping on my forearm where it lies across her stomach. "What do you think?"


"I think your mom has a mental problem if you want me to be blunt about it. But I also think she's made more of an effort to change in the last few months than even I gave her credit for." I can't deny that either.

"Has she…has she asked you for money? When you've talked to her, has she asked you for anything?"

"No. She hasn't. Other than wanting to see you and talk to you and spend time with you she hasn't asked me for a thing." I pull her closer and kiss her cheek. "When she's asked to come here, she's offered to pay her own way and offered to get a hotel room in the city."

"She has?"

I'm relieved when I see her smile at that bit of news. "She still calls at least once a week too."

"And you talk to her every time?"

"No. Only recently, once she'd established a pattern that seemed reliable did I have Andrea put her through."

"Should I talk to her?"

"Ana, I'm your husband. It's my job to protect you and to support you and to do what's best for you and us and our future family. Your mother is…selfish, manipulative and narcissistic. But I concede that on some level, in some way she loves you. I can't say I'm comfortable with you opening yourself up to more hurt from her but I'm beginning to wonder if not having a relationship with her is causing you just as much pain."

She turns, settles her body against mine and pulls my arm tighter around her. "I admit that I want what I can't have. I'm not sure if I should take what I can or just give up all together but I know I can't do this limbo thing anymore."

I can't believe I'm even suggesting this but this entire issue has become a festering sore for too long. Do I want Carla around? Hell no. But do I want to watch Ana's face fall every time we see a commercial with a mother and a daughter? No again. "Maybe we fly her out here after Belgium when we've got a few down days. That will give us time to prepare some boundaries and to figure out exactly what you do want."

"What we want, Christian." She yawns, completely unaware of how happy it makes me to be included in this decision with her. "It's snowing."

I look up, see the light falling of flakes and chance a glance at the clock. Almost midnight. Almost midnight and I am lying in bed with my wife on Christmas Eve while my siblings sleep down the hall after a night of laughter and reminiscing. It's almost more than I can think about and definitely more than I can take in right now.

But even if I wanted to reflect and review the last few months there is no way I could. I'm just too damn tired right now. Pressing my palm flat between Ana's breasts I feel her heartbeat like I do every night, the constant strong beat lulling me into another night of peaceful sleep.

"Merry Christmas." A hand brushes along the length of my back and squeezes by butt but I only grunt. "Merry Christmas, Christian," Ana sing-songs into my ear. I smile, roll over and pull her into a hug that pushes all of the air out of her lungs.

"Merry Christmas, wife." God I love saying that. Wife. "Let's start the day off right," I half tease, grinding my morning wood into her belly which elicits the giggles that I love so much.

"Mia has banged on our door twice now and has called our phones no less than four times. I'm afraid she's going to literally kick the door down if we don't get out there in the next two minutes."

"Perfect," I growl, tossing her underneath me. "That's about all the time I need."

Twelve minutes later, no sex despite my best attempts at manipulation, we are downstairs sitting on the floor just like Mia has demanded. Well, everyone else is on the floor, I'm in the oversized leather club chair by the fire. Carmella made cinnamon rolls and an egg casserole last night before she left which Mia has already started cooking but all I care about is the coffee Ana just handed me. I'm so fucking tired lately I can hardly wait to go back to bed.

"OK, ok. I know we said just small gifts this year but I see some boxes under that tree with my name on them. Oh!" Mia squeals and hands Ethan a box. "Ana and Christian got you something too."

Ethan nods once at me and gives Ana a side grin. I was not a fan of the whole no-spend Christmas that Ana proposed but she wasn't having any part of my typical Give-Andrea-a-list-and-let-her-buy-anything either so we compromised on small gifts. Small to Ana is a pair of earrings. Small to me is a twin engine prop plane.

"Woah, man, thank you," Ethan says, impressed with his Sennheiser Headphones. Ana looks pleased, slightly uncomfortable with their $1500 price tag but she's the one who ultimately picked them out. Her plan had been to buy for everyone but after our immediate families and core staff were taken care of she happily handed the list off to Andrea after seeing how many people were left to buy for.

I don't know why Mia acts surprised when she gets the keys and photo of her new Mercedes C-Class. I've been updating her car every single Christmas since she was 16. I'll do small but I'm not going to part with the few traditions I have.

Elliot cracks up when he opens the informational package for the first class fishing trip I, well, Ana, arranged for us in Wisconsin. He's been blabbering about musky fishing for as long as I can remember but taking four days out of my life to do nothing but fish in the middle of nowhere was never an option until this year. I figure if I'm going to be in that area anyway, I'll make a trip out of it and hit Detroit to ensure that the Legacy House Project is moving along at a pace I'm happy with.

"Open yours, bro," he laughs, tossing a shirt box at me wrapped in the most obnoxious Santa paper I've ever seen. Typical Elliot.

But he does generate a laugh from me when I see the informational booking for a salmon fishing trip to the Kenai Peninsula.

"Great minds and all that jazz," he jokes before thumbing over to Ethan. "Got this fucker one too. And dad so consider it a Grey man weekend. And before you get all emotional about leaving the women for a few days, there's a five star lodge we're booked in with a full spa and a shit ton of day activities that will keep them occupied."

Kate snorts and gives him a look. "Gee, thanks for taking care of the day activities for us feeble minded women."

"Well I've got the night activities all taken care of too, baby. Don't you worry." He rolls up, slaps her ass and hands her a small long box. "And this sweet cheeks is because I know you're more than the spa and sex."

And damn this better be a good gift because Kate looks about ready to rip him apart. Elliot's funny and sarcastic but there are times when it gets old. This is not one of those times because Kate purses her lips and smiles shyly his way, her shoulders dropping with gratitude.

"Elliot Grey you may make me cry."

He shrugs, sidles over to her and puts an arm around her before picking up a pen. I'm confused until he pulls out a stylus in platinum that matches the pen. "I had them both engraved."

"Mrs. Elliot Grey," Kate reads and I prepare myself for a lecture from her about how she's not Mrs. Elliot Grey but Mrs. Katherine Grey but instead she just kisses him and thanks him quietly before handing him a small box, the contents of which remain private between them but it must have been romantic because Elliot gets all mushy and uncharacteristically quiet. Their wedding is going to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster for him.

The rest of us distract ourselves with more gift exchanges, trinkets in comparison to what I usually give but I'll admit that there was far more thought put into each thing handed out. Ana insisted on it and two months ago over a tray of cheese and olives and two bottles of Malbec we went through every person and came up with something personal for them. Personal. I scoff internally. I'm now someone who does personal.

"So this is just a preview of your gift since it's a bit cumbersome to wrap and bring here," Ana starts, handing me a rectangular heavy box. I wasn't expecting anything more than the few small gifts she'd already given me especially since I happened to find the lingerie she'll be wearing for me later. I'll have to act surprised but damn if I'm not ready for that present already.

"You already gave me stuff," I say good naturedly.

"Well this is more stuff." Her smile is radiant and I don't feel bad for a second as I take the time to properly kiss her.

The paper reveals a black leather case of some sort but when I open it I get a little rush of excitement. Inside are poker chips. Casino grade poker chips with the word Grey in gold on every one of them. There are a few decks of cards and a magazine photo of a leather and felt poker table.

"For the new house. You talked about starting up a poker night with your friends and then nothing ever came of it so I talked to Elliot and he said we could take that storage room near the media room and make it a game room."

"This is perfect, Ana."

"You like it?" I finger a $100 chip and swipe my thumb over the gold letters with a smile. I have everything material I could ever want so I know this isn't about the gift itself. This is about her encouraging me in a way that isn't threatening or obvious, to continue moving forward in this new life we're creating. Poker night with the guys was an abstract idea that is now a tangible reality.

"I love it. I'll love it even more when I'm taking all of Elliot's money."

"Your ass," Elliot responds.

"Your turn," I quip, completely over sharing my wife with four other people on our first Christmas together. I should have flown them out later today with our parents. I've already given her the set of diamond earrings that mimic her wedding ring and a new set of skis and ski boots but this is the gift I know she'll like the most.

I grin while I watch her unwrap the flat box, her shiny red nails as festive as her pajamas and the house around her. I may have found the one area Anastasia Grey goes overboard in. Christmas decorating. My fingers glide along the silk fabric covering her ass as she sits on my lap and pause when she takes out the paper, eyebrows raising as she reads it.

"Is this for real, Christian because this would be a literal dream come true." Ana doesn't look away from the paper, I know she's doing all she can to tamper down her excitement but I also know the minute she realizes it's for real, she's going to go apeshit.

"It's real, baby. Two full days." My smile hurts my cheeks but when she starts bouncing that smile turns to a laugh.

"You swear?"

"I swear. We'll fly out there in two weeks before we leave for Belgium and you'll spend the first day in the kitchen with her getting used to the recipes and figuring out how you best work together on camera and the second day you'll shoot the episode."

"Oh my God," she pants, her eyes still glued to the paper. Around us Ethan, Elliot, Kate and Mia are waiting impatiently dying to know what Ana's so excited about. "Oh my God," she repeats, those beautiful green eyes filling with the tears I knew would show up eventually. These tears I'm ok with though.

"Not God, your husband," I joke, pulling her face towards mine. "But we've been mistaken for each other before."

"Christian," she breathes out, her peppermint flavored lips closing as they connect with my mouth. "I can't believe this. I won't believe it until I'm there. I can't, it's too…too…amazing! I can't believe this is my life!"

"Believe it because she needs your favorite recipe by next Friday so that the producers can procure the ingredients. You'll shop for them on camera of course so they can use it in the show but they need to get the stores prepared. And I of course need to get security set up."

"What the fuck is it?" Kate finally yells, standing to read the paper over Ana's shoulder.

Ana stands, holds the paper out and screams, "The Barefoot Contessa, my culinary hero, Ina Garten herself has invited me, by handwritten invitation, to not only cook with her but to do it on her show. I'm going to be on TV with Ina freaking Garten!"

"Ohhh, she lives in the Hamptons. My parents have a place out there you can stay at," Kate says in awe, reading the invitation out loud to everyone. "Holy shit this is legit. You're actually spending the entire weekend with her."

"Will you be there too, Christian?" Ana asks, eyes alight with joy. God she's beautiful.

"I'll be there." Because there is no way I'm not going to be there to see this.

"You're going to be on TV with me!" Ana jumps up but I stand and catch her, laughing as I shake my head.

"Hell no. I'll be off camera but I'll be there." For a few minutes everyone talks about how unfriendly I am on camera and how nobody would watch if I were on but Ethan interrupts and reminds them that the viewership for Barefoot Contessa is primarily women and gay men. So, of course people would watch if I were on.

"OK, no more," I interrupt, Mia pouting that she didn't get her turn at making fun of me. Instead I shush them all by handing Elliot and Mia envelopes with a big green bow on them. I was excited to give Ana her big gift but these…these mean everything and only the three of us can understand the magnitude of them. "Open them together," I say quietly, the gravity of the moment not lost on anyone. "Mom and Dad will be here any minute and I'd rather not do this with them here."

Ana sits next to me, pensive and silent. I know she's told Kate what's in the envelopes because Kate looks about ready to cry and is rocking back and forth on her heels next to Elliot who is just staring at me.

"Are you guys pregnant? Because if you're telling us you are I need you to know that I will start crying." Elliot is not bull shitting me either. I know my brother well.

"No, I wish but no."

He takes a deep breath, hits his envelope to Mia's and tears it open, his eyes scanning the pages quickly and quietly. Mia does the same except her hand covers her mouth on a gasp.

"I'm half Middle-Eastern," she finally whispers before dropping the papers to her lap.

"Wow," is all Elliot says, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I was not expecting this this morning."

Ana takes my hand and squeezes it while Ethan and Kate read over the results of my siblings ancestry. "Pretty hard core," I finally offer, knowing all too well how this moment feels.

"I feel like…I feel like I'm meeting someone from my birth family." Elliot stands, walks to the couch and sits down on it with a huff. "Let me see that, Katie." He reads it again and wipes a hand over his face. "Man this is amazing to finally know. I used to hate when people in school would talk about where they were from. Fucking hated it. Talk about being reminded that you're a reject." He's not kidding either. It's a terrible feeling to know nothing about your heritage when Americans put such an emphasis on it. After a beat he folds the papers up and stands. "Are French men known to have big dicks? Because that would explain a lot."

And we all laugh. Hard. Because only Elliot can take a moment so poignant and so heavy and reduce it to talk about dicks.


"Delicious, Anastasia. I can't believe you did this all by yourself!" Grace dishes out seconds to herself and Carrick and offers Ray another manicotti but he refuses and instead serves himself more salad. I'm thinking he's watching his figure because he's definitely lost some weight and I'm almost positive he mentioned running to Christian when they were in the living room.

Around me is a constant stream of chatter and laughter. Me and Christian, Elliot and Kate, Ethan and Mia. Grace and Carrick, Ray and Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. My little insular family. I can't help but feel a twist in my gut when I catch Mr. Kavanaugh glancing my way with a sad expression. I know he's not exactly pleased with the information Christian provided Elliot on his extra-curricular activities but I don't know what he was expecting. The guy has had more affairs than all the Kennedy's combined but apparently nobody's supposed to hold him accountable to them.

Ethan still hasn't really said much to him and I know Elliot feels guilty about the rift between father and son but again, it's not anyone's problem other than Mr. K's. And plus, Ethan had all but demanded to know as much as Christian and Elliot did and after much hemming and hawing, and a few rounds of Glenlivit, they all came to the conclusion that if they were going to be 'brothers' one day, they should be on an even playing field.

Carrick laughs at something my dad says about his new gift and then reaches for the wine, pouring himself and anyone within reach a full glass. "You'll have to teach me to ride, Raymond. This way we can hit the open road together."

"Anytime, Grey. I'm always looking for ride buddies." Ray almost died when Christian and I presented him with a brand new customized Harley-Davidson fat boy. I expected him to refuse the gift and get all embarrassed but he shocked us all by jumping on it and trying it out that same minute. I would have gone with him but I wanted to be here when Elliot and Mia showed their parents the results of their DNA screens.

Kate mixed up some cranberry martinis and passed them around before ushering her parents upstairs to get them settled into their room. I stayed with Christian in the living room and watched as Grace and Carrick read the paperwork. As sensitive as Elliot and Mia been I could still feel the hesitation from Grace until Mia promised her that neither of them had any interest in following up and finding their actual birth parents. Grace had told them she supported them either way and had then indulged in two more martinis before I felt she was truly ok with the entire thing.

Me? I'm just sitting here at this elaborate table decorated in gold and silver and crystal going over every recipe I know. How in the world does Christian expect me to come up with something worthy of sharing with Ina Garten? Half the stuff I cook is from her already! But damn am I looking forward to the trip and to the experience.

Ray laughs, the sound joyful and unfamiliar to me somehow. Have I ever seen him so light? I don't think I have and if I had to guess, it has everything to do with the fact that he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt that his daughter is well loved and will forever be taken care of.

My phone is upstairs, my annual holiday calls to Jose, Devin and the rest of the gang completed hours before. I know that my mother has called Christian twice but I just can't seem to muster up the courage to call her back. I need to though. I know that if I don't the guilt will be crushing tomorrow and the fact that she's alone today is just making it worse but as Kate reminded me an hour ago, Carla brought that upon herself.

Christian takes my hand in his under the table. If he knows that I'm sad in this moment he doesn't let on and instead continues to make plans with all the guys to go skiing first thing in the morning tomorrow. I've offered to stay here with Grace and as far as Christian has come, even going so far as to buy me ski equipment, I know me staying home and safe is much more appealing to him.

Everyone but Carrick and Mr. Kavanaugh help with the dishes but Mia insists on getting the desserts and coffees out by herself. I suspect she wants some attention since she made and brought it all but I'm fine with that and so long as she made her triple chocolate buttermilk poundcake I don't care.

"Do it now," Christian prompts, nudging me with his shoulder as his eyes shoot towards the stairs. "I know you're thinking about it nonstop so do it now and get it over with."

All I can do is sigh and lean my head on his arm. What am I supposed to say? Merry Christmas, sorry you and I haven't spoken in months and I didn't invite you to my wedding and by the way I'm glad you found Jesus?

"Use my phone so she doesn't have your number. I'll come with you," he prods, pulling me to the archway between the dining room and living room where he grins up towards the mistletoe. "After I kiss you of course."

"Of course," I laugh, a bit of lightness returning to my mood. Mia turns up Bing Crosby and dances with Ethan by the fireplace, both Grace and Mrs. Kavanaugh smiling with sincere joy at the sight of their children being happy. I may never have that kind of ease with my mom but I can have something. Maybe. Hopefully. "I'm going to go upstairs for a few minutes and call her."

Christian's brows pop up to ask of I want him to come along but I shake my head and kiss his chin, turning and making the trek as if I were marching to my death before dropping onto the bed, phone in hand. It all runs through my mind. Her willful ignorance to the abuse I suffered at her husbands hand, the flighty never fulfilled promises she made my entire life, her constant need to be the center of attention and the final betrayal of her theft.

But in the middle of all that is the mother daughter bond that just won't die. The peace of knowing that she's alive, the need to be connected, the desire to have her love. I hate it and I don't understand it but it is what it is and I have come to realize that unless someone has struggled with a parent like this, they absolutely do not understand the push and pull. Christian gets it. Devin gets it. Even Kate on some level gets it but everyone else, they just tell me to cut her off and move on.

Wish it were that easy but it's not.

My eyes close with the burn of tears, memories of the good times making the hurt somehow even more poignant. Maybe this is why I can't just close her off. There were good times. Times when it was just she and I and we just were. No drama, no unease, no underlying crap. I won't pretend it was perfect but it wasn't all terrible.

Before I can stop myself I call her, bracing myself for her voice and still getting caught off guard when she answers with a cheerful, "Merry Christmas, Christian! How is Ana?"

"I'm good, mom," I start, my voice breaking at the very last syllable. "Sorry," I sniffle.

She cries on the other end and I can see her just how I know she is. She's probably biting her nails, her hair down and straight to the middle of her back, a black coffee in front of her. Without a doubt she's eating those chocolate covered cherries she hoarded this time of year.

"Oh sweetie I prayed and prayed that I'd get to talk to you today. I miss you so much, Ana. I've been a shit mother and all I want is to make it better."

"I don't want to talk about all that now, mom. I just wanted to say Merry Christmas and tell you that…" Get it together. "I wanted to tell you that I wish it were different and I wish we could watch 'Christmas Vacation' together like we always did."

She hiccups and chokes on a laugh that makes me feel connected to her in a way I haven't for a long time. A shared memory that has nothing but good emotions attached to it will do that.

"You always did love that part with the squirrel."

I laugh, she sighs and we sit in silence for a beat before she starts again. "I got you something. Nothing big but something that made me think of you when I saw it. It should be waiting for you at home when you get there. At least, that's what Christian's assistant told me." She huffs and I imagine her waving her hand around to dispel the embarrassment. "I talk to her more than him at this point but she's nice enough I guess."


"Yes, Andrea. Sometimes Jacqueline will take my calls but she said she's going to be out because she's having a baby later this month."

"She is. A boy. We had her shower a few weeks ago and I got tasked with making a diaper cake which was the most time consuming nuisance ever. Christian took one look at it, called Andrea and ordered ten boxes of diapers to make a tower with instead."

"Speaking of babies," she starts, her voice catching on a sob.

"No, mom. No plans just yet."

"Ana. I can't not know my grandchildren. I can't not see you as a mother. I know you don't want to talk about anything right now but I don't know when I'll talk to you again and I need you to know that I will do anything, anything I need to do to make it right with you."

The decision is made for me in that moment. I have no idea if she's truly contrite, only time will tell that but for now, I can't live with this constant hole in my life.

"Christian and I are going away in a few weeks. We thought maybe when we got back that you could come out here and spend a few days."

"Yes! Absolutely sweetie. Tell me when and I'll be there. I've got money saved for a hotel and stuff already."

I close my eyes and cover my mouth because I was absolutely expecting her to try to get us to pay for her but her willingness to do it herself speaks volumes to me.

"I'll look at our calendar and get back to you before we leave ok?"

"Yes, baby girl. Yes. I will be there and Ana? This is the best present I could have asked for."

"Merry Christmas, mom." She responds tearily and I rush off the phone to avoid any more crying from either of us. Less than two minutes and I'm exhausted.

"Hey," Christian whispers, taking my hand and settling in next to me on the bed. I don't want to cry but it's hard not to. "You did well. It sounded like things went as good as can be expected."

I nod and swallow, the lump in my throat easing up a bit when he brings my hand to his mouth and kisses it over and over. For a few minutes we just lie there and stare out the window as the sun sets, the clouds and snow bringing darkness quickly.

"I invited her to come later this month. I hope you're not mad."

His hand squeezes mine as he inhales. I imagine it's tough for him to understand and even tougher for him to navigate. To his credit, he doesn't even try to figure it out for me tonight.

"OK then. I'll have Andrea and Eliza figure out a good time and we'll go from there. But first," he sits up, groaning and stretching his neck from side to side. "First I need to tell you that Mia has made your desired dessert and has saved you a piece. I also need to tell you that Elliot is currently searching for said piece."

I smile and stand between his legs, one palm grazing over his jaw. "Last year it was just me and Ray and the old man that lives next door. We had dinner and watched a movie and I was so sad and lonely that I cried when I went to bed." He opens his mouth to say something but I stop him with a finger to his lips. "Remembering that only makes me appreciate you and your family more. I know you wanted quiet and I know you didn't want everyone here but you did it for me and, Christian," I sniffle again because I can't help myself. "I want you to know that I haven't felt lonely since the minute you walked into my apartment back in Seattle. You could buy me the world and it wouldn't compare to just having you in my life."

He lowers his eyes and presses his forehead to my chest, drawing a deep breath in as his hands circle my waist.

"Ana," he whispers but I silence him again because sometimes I just want to tell him how I feel without anything in return. His face leans into my palm as it cups his cheek, his eyes closing when I run my thumb over his lips.

"You look tired, Christian."

"I am and if I'm honest, as much as I love my family and having everyone here, I want to be alone with you. I'm done sharing. So let's eat, put in our due diligence with the family and then come up here for some merriment of our own."