I'm so sorry for this long delay in updating! I'm not going to make any excuses: life, life, life. And I know how difficult and annoying is to follow a story with such long intervals of updating, so thank you all for your fidelity, and thanks to the new readers.

This chapter is not beta-edited; it probably will be in the future, but not now, so I apologize in advance for any mistake I may commit.

The only song of this chapter is Love is all around. I prefer Wet Wet Wet's version, and it is the one I was thinking about when writing, but the original one is from The Troggs.

I hope you like it!


CHAPTER 17

"I didn't know you were such a dancer, you know?" Ros said with a smirk on her face. She was leaning on the frame of Christian's office door.

"This is unreal… Who the fuck matters on those things?" Christian was looking with wide eyes at the bunch of papers and magazines that were spread on his desk, pulling at his hair with both hands. Pictures of both Ana and him dancing in that gas station on Sunday covered the table. He grabbed one of the publications and inspected it. There they were, the two of them; carefree, young, radiating happiness. Was this man really him? His smile was so wide his cheeks might be hurting at that moment, but he only remembered being extremely happy and in love. In love. The way she made him feel scared him and thrilled him all at the same time. His need for her was so deep within him he could feel some kind of emptiness, like a physical hole in the middle of his chest, when they were apart. She was so fucking beautiful, funny, intelligent, so perfect. She was so sexy, so alluring… and she was all his. And inexplicably, she loved him. The realization sank in him and drew a smile on his face, almost making him forget that flagrant invasion of their privacy. Almost.

"Christian, please… what world do you live in?" Ros said rolling her eyes. "Oh, yes, of course I'm wondering who in the world could be interested in the most eligible bachelor's personal life? A person who, by the way, was very private and very secluded until some weeks ago. Who?" She asked mockingly, waving her hands in the air.

"Well, you have made your point here." Christian conceded smiling.

"What's more," Ros continued leaning with one of her hands on his desk and placing the other one on her hip, "I think you are almost pleased with these photos." Her smirk grew wider as she pointed at them.

Christian leaned on the back of his armchair with both his hands behind his head with a smile that showcased his extreme satisfaction.

"Ana is… Ana."

"I never expected the day I would see the tough Christian Grey transformed into a smitten teddy bear." Ros said hugging herself and making a face. She burst into a hoarse smoker laugh and went out of the room with a flourish.

"Deal with all of these fucking paparazzi stuff, Ros. I meant it; I don't want any more invasions of my privacy. Thank God they still haven't found out who she is!" He said with authority, trying to change into his CEO mode.

Ros wave him good bye with a military salute.

_§ § 0 § §_

"Hi, Kate! I thought you would be still sleeping! How was Barbados? And the return trip? You have to explain me everything!" Ana told Kate through the phone.

"Hi, honey! I should be sleeping by now, but I have some kind of jet lack or something… I will take a nap later. So, I decided to call my dearest friend to catch up with her! I've missed you, Ana! You would have enjoyed so much here!" Kate answered.

"I missed you too, Kate! I think you were very well accompanied, though." Ana told.

"Oh, Ana, Elliot is something else! I'm so smitten I even embarrass myself!" Kate chuckled.

"Don't be silly, Kate! You two are so cute together! And Elliot is a real angel. I'm really happy for you."

"Elliot is perfect, almost unreal. But talking about being perfect and smitten… What about you and Mr. Moneybags?"

"Christian is… something else too, for lack of words." Ana said sighing. "I mean, I always knew there was something strong between us; I always felt it, but, you know, I was in hopes, but I suppose I never expected it to become true… It's difficult to put into words what I mean."

"I see. Well, I realize we both need a girls talk. I will spend the night with Elliot today, but we can catch up tomorrow at home. And we will meet at the Grey's for dinner tonight as well, won't we?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so." Ana said hesitantly. In that moment, the elevator doors opened and Hyde entered the room. Ana looked at her watch; it was almost ten in the morning. He darted a mean glare directly at her and began walking towards her desk. "Kate, I have to hang up. My boss is coming with a really unfriendly face."

"Ok, Ana. I hope it's over quickly. See you later." Kate said amused.

Ana hung off the phone and looked at Hyde, politely smiling.

"Good morning, Jack. Do you need some coffee or something?"

"The coffee must be already on my desk, Anastasia." Jack sputtered the words.

"Oh, but it would be cold by now, Jack." She answered nonchalantly. Jack's nostrils dilated in anger and his mouth turned into a thin line.

"Black coffee, no sugar, now, on my desk. And I have to talk to you about some field job you will be doing this week." He said, dismissing her while walking to his office.

"Sure, Jack."

Ana made her way to the coffee-maker and realized the pot was already empty. She charged the machine to make some fresh coffee and waited. As she observed the steamy and fragrant liquid pouring into the pitcher, Kate's words came to her mind: 'tomorrow at home'. These days with Christian had been the best in her life. She loved their witty conversations during dinner. She loved his intelligent remarks and his sometimes biased, but in some kind of way amusing, points of view. She craved for their shared moments at the piano. She longed for those more profound conversations while in bed, late at night, after sex, when they got to know each other every day a little more. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The sex. The way he made her feel… The way he showed her his so well hidden vulnerability, showcased in that incredibly sexy pure masculinity, bringing her to places she never expected to reach. His touch, his words, the way they lost their selves into the other one… was much more than sex. She loved him in a way she couldn't describe; it was almost painful. And he loved her. Despite all her fears and lack of self-esteem, she could feel it, without needing him to express it into words. But he had told her. Not straightway, without thinking it twice, but with a lot of more pause and meaning. And it made her feel ecstatic. She sighed again. Now, none of them had talked about it, but she was supposed to come back to her apartment now that Katherine was back, wasn't she? It was the rational thing to do. They were together only for two weeks now; they had to crawl before walking. But she couldn't help to feel that pang of sadness and be a little bit reluctant to leave.

She entered Jack's office before knocking on the door and put on the table the steamy mug. He opened the top drawer of the desk and took out an unlabelled small bottle plenty of an amber liquid, pouring half the bottle into the coffee. Ana scrunched her nose.

"Have you had a nice weekend, Ana?" He asked while stirring the alcoholic mix.

"Very nice, thank you. I spent the weekend with my dad. And you?" She asked politely.

"Oh, mine was full of new interesting projects. Some that I wanted to start anytime soon." He answered with a strange look in his eyes. "So, you were at your dad's. Nothing else? Maybe some dancing?" He laughed at the frown between Ana's brows. "Forget it. Anyway, I wanted to tell you about something you might be interested." He took a long gulp of his alcoholic coffee.

"Ok, tell me." Ana tried to focus on work and fight the feeling of rebuff Jack caused on her.

"Someone has requested your services for a charity party." He said cryptically.

"My services?" Ana asked in disbelief.

"Yes. It seems that job at the Grey's attracted a lot of attention towards you. But you are very aware of that, aren't you?" He said with a devilish smirk.

"And who is this someone?" Ana said dismissing his insinuation.

"Someone with a lot of influence and money, who is not available directly; you will have to negotiate the terms and conditions through his or her assistant." He said matter-of-factly.

Ana remained silent for a while, trying to analyze all that strange information.

"But… this is weird. Who wants or needs to remain hidden?" She asked frowning.

"That is not my business! Maybe is something about not wanting publicity, maybe this person is shy, I don't know and I don't give a shit!"He said with roughness. "This is the assistant's card. You have to call him."

Ana looked at the business card Jack had given her and brushed it against her fingertips. The cardboard was thick but smooth, with a slightly nacreous surface, and the ink of the perfectly shaped letters a dark grey. It was an expensive one, similar to Christian's. She sighed and shoved it into her pocket.

"Do you need anything else from me, Jack?" Ana asked him getting up from her chair.

"Yes. I need those two articles pending edited and I need you to schedule a meeting for an interview for this week with a new singer-songwriter. Here you have his manager's contact details. I want the interview written by the beginning of the next week."

She grabbed the information and went out of the room. When she was about to shut the door Jack called for her.

"Ana, I'm sure you're a fantastic dancer, with that body of yours…" He said before sipping his coffee, that devilish spark in his eyes peeping over his mug.

"Errr… thank you Jack. I will be at my desk." She muttered.

_§ § 0 § §_

Christian was lost in the figures of some possible new purchases when Andrea's voice came from the intercom on his desk.

"Mr. Grey, Mr. Carrick Grey is here to see you." She announced with her signature professionalism.

Christian looked at his watch. He had spent two hours figuring those possible acquisitions out. He pressed both his eyes with the balls of his hands and exhaled, remembering the last time he saw his father a week ago. He had insinuated Ana was no more than a gold-digger. And Ana, his Ana, had played it cool and nonchalantly. He smiled only that smile Ana could bring to his lips and exhaled again.

"Yes, Andrea. Please, let him come in." He said through the receptor.

Carrick entered Christian's office before knocking timidly on the door.

"Hello, son. How are you doing?" He said walking towards Christian's desk and placing his briefcase on the white coach along the way.

His face showed a guarded expression. He also was very aware of his own behaviour that night, and, although he was feeling a little ashamed, he acted that way because he didn't want his son to get hurt. His younger son, that brilliant but troubled man who had transformed in a few days from a celibate, probably homosexual, unsociable, elusive creature, to a happy, carefree and sexually active young man who had a brand new girlfriend out of nowhere and, what's more, he had chosen to hide from his family his well-hidden previous relationships by his own initiative. And although it was such a big change, after giving it a thought or two, he had tried to trust in his well known son's great intelligence and give that Anastasia a chance. Telling his beloved wife was happy was an understatement; she was ecstatic with their child's brand new state of happiness. Truth to be told, Christian's demeanour had changed dramatically for the better, so maybe it was not that bad. His wife, son and daughter's harsh reprimand had nothing to do with his decision.

"Hi, dad. Do you need something?" Christian asked reclining on his seat placing his hands on the desk.

"Oh, nothing, nothing at all." Carrick stammered. "I was around the corner, and I thought about paying a visit to son." He sat on the chair across Christian's desk.

"I'm fine, dad. Figuring out some possible deals that don't seem to fit perfectly, but it's just the usual stuff." He explained while standing up and walking to the floor to ceiling window, just to turn around and reach for the desk again. "Do you want a coffee or something?"

"A coffee will be fine, son."

Christian asked Andrea for two black coffees through the intercom and she brought them immediately along with some scones.

Carrick looked Christian in the eye and sipped at his coffee, the two of them finally sitting on the couch.

"Your mother and I wanted to invite Ana and you for a family dinner tonight, as your brother and Kate are back from Barbados." He watched with wary eyes his son's expression.

Christian took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, not breaking eye contact with his father.

"I don't know, dad." He said lowering his gaze and rubbing his temples with his thumb and middle finger. "I don't want that uncomfortable situation again. Ana doesn't deserve it and I won't tolerate it." Although his loyalty to Ana was absolute and was above everything else, he couldn't hold his stare at his father while confronting him.

Carrick straightened on the white couch, leaving his coffee on the crystal side table.

"I understand, Christian. And I promise you it won't happen again; I give you my word." Christian looked at his father's eyes once again, watching as the man brushed his hand over his slightly greyish hair and noticing the implicit familiar gesture. "I'm sorry for the way I treated Anastasia the other night. I don't have excuses, but I only am worried about you."

"I'm a grown-up man, dad." Christian said gulping the lump that was beginning to form in his throat and frowned at the realization of his own feelings. He was not accustomed to all those emotions peppering him; he had always been a cold, controlled self, but now Anastasia was slowly dismantling all those well-built walls around him, turning them into pieces. Making him feel vulnerable, but more alive than ever.

"I know, Christian. But you are my son, you will always be, and I will be always concerned about your well-being, no matter how grown-up you are." Carrick said with his hands on his lap, palms up in surrender.

Christian gulped again. Carrick noticed his pained expression, with that usually focused steel stare now changed into a shade of pale grey.

"I love you son. You know I do, right?" Carrick whispered.

"Dad…" Christian tried to focus on talking, dismissing the pounding rush of blood that echoed in his ears and the lightness in his head. "I know I've tried to push you all out of my life all this time. It was fine for me…" He shrugged and looked at his father with guilty eyes. "I thought it was the best for all of us."

"But son…" Carrick began talking, but Christian interrupted him.

"Dad, let me, please." His pleading look pierced into Carrick's chest. "Now I know it was not the right thing, and I'm trying to change it; I don't want to be alone anymore. Ana has made me see this." His voice and eyes softened with just the mention of her name. "She makes me want more; feel more, be more than the empty shell I was." His breath was a little bit elaborated. "She has brought me hope, and love, and light. I'm struggling with it; I'm trying to accept it as a gift," Christian looked his father directly in the eye once again, "as well as yours."

Carrick, speechless, kept Christian's stare through his glassy eyes. Almost twenty-four years had passed since the first time he entered his life; twenty-four years waiting for his son to open up with him like this. He gulped heavily, passed a shaky hand through his hair and smiled.

"I'm so happy for you, Christian. Thank you, son."

"For what?" Christian said as waves of nervousness and relief washed over him at the same time.

"For letting me enter in your life." Carrick answered grabbing one of Christian's hands and his contra lateral fore-arm, in some sort of hug.

Christian stared at his father's hands, intertwined with his in that sort of heartfelt handshake, a physical connection he could bear, and the words flew from his mouth without noticing.

"I love you dad."

_§ § 0 § §_

"Hi, love!" Ana whispered in a muffled voice through her phone.

"Are you ok, Ana?" Christian asked her, feeling all the muscles in his body tense in an immediate reaction to her apparent distress.

He needed to talk to her, to hear her sweet, soothing, sexy voice after the unexpected turn of events with his father. He was feeling well, but odd, and nervous; kind of hyper aware of everything.

"I'm all right. Give me a minute." He heard the deaf sound of the microphone being covered and waited. "Hi. I was on my way to the photocopier room. For privacy." Ana explained leaning on the frame of the only small window of the room.

"Gossiping job mates?" Christian asked amused. Just hearing her voice was enough to settle down.

"No, not at all. My mates are simply great. It's just my boss. Today he's all over me in a barky mood, especially demanding. But you just call me in the perfect timing to make me feel better." Ana said smiling.

"Oh, baby. You just seem to know the best way to comfort me at anytime." Christian exhaled. She had just said he made her feel better. Yes, he liked that.

"Are you ok, Christian? You seem… exhausted." Ana asked him concerned.

"My father came." He sighed before resuming his words. Ana almost could feel his hot sweet breath in her ear, pregnant with some heavy emotion. "We talked. I just needed to hear your voice."

Ana remained silent for a while, leaving him the space to explain further if he needed, but no words came from him.

"Are you upset, baby?" She asked in the sweetest tone, making an almost imperceptible moan escape from Christian's lips. He was leaning in his armchair, with his eyes closed and his free hand over his chest.

"No, I feel strangely good. Shocked." He whispered. "He said he loved me. And I said I loved him too."

Ana gasped slightly, a hand reaching to her mouth automatically and a warm sensation spreading over her chest.

"That is just… great, Christian." That small act was so meaningful, so damn important, she couldn't put into words all she wanted to say. "Are you happy?"

"Yes." Christian said without thinking it twice. "I need to kiss you, and touch you. Can we have lunch together?" He needed to reassure himself with her.

"Oh, baby, I just would want to hold you and kiss you. But I can't… like I said, my boss is really pissed today. I have a ton of work that I have to get ready before leaving… I was going to grab some sub from de deli across the street and work during lunch. I'm really, really sorry, baby." She said in a pleading tone.

"Is he pissed at you?" Christian asked with disbelief. "How could he be?"

"I don't know." She said shrugging. "I suppose he is pissed in general. I think he is an alcoholic; he drank his own version of Irish coffee today." She chuckled. "I swear to you sometimes he gives me the creeps."

Christian felt his blood pressure rise high, leaving a pounding pain stuck in his temples. 'He is all over me. He is an alcoholic. He gives me the creeps.' Her innocent words rebounded in his head like an air hammer.

"Is he taking advantage of you?" He asked her in the calmest voice possible.

"Well, taking into account I think he is taking advantage of everyone who works for him… I'm sure he sings a lot of work as his own, when it is not. I don't have any proof, though. I'm very disappointed, really. I think he is just ruder with me because I'm not sucking his ass." She said nonchalantly.

Christian chuckled at her defiant explanation. He could imagine the picture; his Anastasia, that cute little thing, facing up the ogre of his boss with that sexy as hell smirk on her plump lips. It made him proud as fuck and horny as hell.

"Ok, baby. I will be waiting for you downstairs when you finish today. We will go home first and then we'll go to my parents to have dinner; they have invited us to celebrate Elliot and Kate's return."

"Oh, yes. Kate told me earlier this morning. See you then, baby. It will be wonderful to see you after a shitty day." She said smiling.

"Don't worry, baby. I promise will make you feel better. And watch out with this boss of yours." Christian sighed in resignation at the prospect of being away from her a few hours more. "By the way, baby… have you read any paper, any social chronicle or something like that?"

"No, I haven't had the time… Well, you know I'm not keen on the social chronicle section anyway…" She answered surprised by his question.

"Ok, then." He said exhaling. "I only want you to know someone somehow took a shot of we both dancing in that gas station…"

"Oh, my God!" She interrupted him.

"I'm sorry, baby. I suppose it's the price for me to be who I am, and for you to be with… me." His voice sounded as guilty.

"I assure you it's worth that little price." She reassured him, sensing his self-loathing again. "But now I understand something that Jack kept repeating me this morning…"

"Are you sure he is not bothering you, Ana?" Christian asked feeling his scalp itch with an odd sensation. That guy was really pissing him off.

"I'm fine, Christian. Don't worry. See you at five?"

"Ok, baby. See you then. I love you, Ana." And I mean it.

"Love you, Christian."

As soon as he hung off the phone he asked Taylor to come in immediately.

"I want a fucking background check for Jack fucking Hyde as soon as possible, Taylor. He's Ana's boss." He said leaving no space for any argument.

"It's almost done, Mr. Grey; it will be on your desk first thing in the morning." Taylor said matter-of-factly.

"Did you already run a background check on him?" Christian asked raising one of his brows.

"I let myself the liberty of doing it, sir; the other day it felt as if Ms. Steele was not comfortable around him." The ghost of a satisfied smirk played on Taylor's lips, clear enough for Christian to notice.

_§ § 0 § §_

Christian was leaning in the Audi SUV in front of Everybody's possession headquarters waiting for Ana to come. He smiled rereading on his phone for the umpteenth time the words in the e-mail she had sent him straight away after their conversation:

'You are full of love, and surrounded by it. Keep spreading it, sharing it, and it will grow and grow and grow. I love you, Christian, and I can't get enough of you.'

He yet couldn't manage to understand how she could see him the way she did, but damn it if he was not grateful for it. Apart from those fucking amazing, considerate and full of love words, in the e-mail there was also a link to a shared song from iTunes. He had being listening to it over and over again all day long. Putting it into three astounding words: She loved him.

When she walked out the door his face split in two with a beaming smile. She was gorgeous, she was an angel come to earth to save him from himself. Thank God.

At the end of the work day, Ana left her desk with all the shit ton of work done, for Hyde's astonishment. She was dying to be with Christian. He made her feel safe and protective, all at the same time. Just seeing his gorgeous smile lightening his handsome face was enough to transport her to heaven.

"Hi." She whispered against his lips when she reached to him.

"Hi." He said, licking his lips just before doing the same with hers.

She entangled her fingers in his hair, tugging slightly when he poked his tongue into her mouth and covered her lips with his own, and let herself melt between his strong and gentle arms.

"Sing it for me." He whispered in her ear, brushing her earlobe with his lips.

Ana looked at him, slightly taken aback, maybe due to the amazing capability he had to disconnect her from the outside world with just his mere presence, until she realized he was referring to the song she had sent him in the morning. She couldn't help a giggle escaping from her mouth.

"Don't laugh at me, and sing it for me, please!" He said smiling against her skin, hiding his head in the crook of her neck and hugging her tightly with both his arms around her.

She smiled at him, released her arms from his grip and, putting them around his neck, began humming the song in his ear while brushing her hands over his hair again.

You know I love you, I always will

My mind's made up by the way that I feel

There's no beginning, there'll be no end

'Cause on my love you can depend

"Oh God, Ana. You disarm me." He breathed out. Her words both soothed him and excited him at the same time. "I love you, baby."

She didn't respond, but continued singing those love words while they rocked each other. Taylor made his way discreetly to the driver's seat, letting a huge grin appear on his lips.

"Dance while you can." Hyde muttered after a long gulp of whiskey, watching them behind the stained glass of the floor to ceiling window of his office; his eyes glassy from the alcohol and the rage and his mouth twisted in a sour sneer.

_§ § 0 § §_

They didn't have the time to go to Escala to change clothes, freshen up or 'make Ana feel better', as Christian had promised her in the morning, before going to the Grey's. Ana kept asking him all the way to his parents' if her clothes were appropriate or if her hair was fine, but what was really bothering her was the imminent encounter with Carrick. At first, Christian kept reassuring her she would be stunning even in a sack while brushing rhythmically his thumb over her knuckles, which, otherwise, had an amazing calming effect on her, such one she didn't manage to truly understand. Finally, over the ninth time she asked, he finally realized what was the real matter.

"My father promised me fair play tonight, Ana. He's a man of word, he will behave." He told her caressing her face the minute he understood her nervousness.

"Thank you, Christian." She grabbed his hand and kissed it, determined not to ask him again.

Christian exhaled in relief when his father greeted Ana with a warm kiss on both cheeks and her face lightened up a little. His mother gave him the sweetest of kisses on his forehead while cupping his face between her hands, and then hugged Ana in a motherly way, engaging her in an easy conversation while motioning to the main room. There, there were Kate, Elliot and Mia, who greeted them cheerfully. Kate and Ana melted in a tight hug while squealing. Christian's lips drew a smile that didn't reach his eyes; although he was aware of the big friendship between them and how important Kate was for his girl, he secretly was dreading the day of her return, because it meant Ana was back to her apartment, and, although he understood she needed her liberty and it was all too new for them… he just wanted her with him.

They had a very nice dinner. Elliot and Kate explained the good time they had spent in Barbados with Kate's family. Mia told them her plans to enter in the restaurant business, and Grace and Carrick gave them a hint of how were things both in the hospital and in the office. Christian told them about his new acquisitions and Ana shyly talked about her firsts days in Everybody's Possession and the interviews she had to do, rapidly diverting the attention to Kate asking her about her new job in Kavanagh Media.

The desserts were about to be served when the bell of the main door rang. Grace stood up to see who was coming, glancing with a questioning look to Carrick, who answered her by shrugging nonchalantly. A minute later, Christian identified the voice talking to his mother, making a nauseous feeling crawl over his chest and get installed on his throat. He closed his eyes briefly and squeezed Ana's hand under the table. She immediately felt the tension radiating from him.

"Oh, dear, I'm sorry for showing without warning. I assumed you both might be alone." The cold and always perfectly controlled voice said to Grace.

"Don't mind, really. You are like one more of the family."

That was like a punch in the gut for Christian. Family. She was not a member of his family, not anymore. In fact, she never had been; her relationship very far removed from what family or friendship was, but he hadn't minded until now; until Ana had entered in his life and had him realize of what he had always tried to elude. The fact of mixing that twisted, sick person with his family was sickening to him. The fact of mixing her with Ana was absolutely abhorrent.

"Carrick, guys, our friend Elena has come to see us." Grace announced at the end of the table.

Those words fell upon Ana like a heavy burden, understanding the sudden change in Christian's demeanour and feeling a boiling rage burning inside her.

"You must be Anastasia." Elena's stare pierced into her mind like the stinger of a bee. "Grace has told me about you. Not Christian, though."

"Yes, I am. And you are…" Ana turned her stone face into a fake polite smile.

"Elena Lincoln, a family friend. And Christian's, of course. We also are business partners." She answered with a smirk while stretching her hand.

"Oh, an old family friend, I suppose." Ana said nonchalantly as they shook hands. If looks could kill, she would be dead.

"Ana is Christian's girlfriend. They met at the Coping Together gala… Ana was the singer, do you remember her?" Grace explained as they took a seat.

"Oh, yes, I remember. It was quite good, but perhaps a bit unprofessional for my liking, if you ask me." She said with a smirk.

"Nobody has asked you, Elena." Christian said curtly. Ana put her hand on his thigh, trying to calm him.

"Errr… and this is Katherine, Elena. Elliot's girlfriend." Grace interceded, feeling the increasing tension in the air.

"Nice to meet you, Elena." Kate said, too aware of the odd animosity between her friend and that woman.

"Likewise, Katherine." She answered politely. "So, you have to be really special to have caught that sneaky specimen of a man." Elena said pointing at Elliot and winking at Grace. Elliot put his hand on the back of his neck, slightly embarrassed at her comment.

"Well, I'm a very lucky girl." She said looking at Elliot with a warm smile and slightly annoyed by her comment.

"Of course you are, darling. What do you do for a living?" She asked feigning real interest.

"I've just graduated from WSU in Journalism and I will start working for Kavanagh Media in a few days, with my father. I want to become a political journalist." She said proudly.

"I bet you will, dear." Elena said. "And Anastasia, what do you do? Do you work at some pub, or bar?" She asked directing her stare first to Christian and then to Ana.

"I'm currently working in a music publication as an editor. I graduated in English Literature at WSU some weeks ago." She said curtly.

"Oh, don't tell me you two know each other…" Elena asked pointing Kate and Ana one at each time.

"Ana is my best friend. We were roommates." Kate elaborated.

"Oh, how convenient!" Elena said clapping her hands.

Gretchen, one of the Grey's staff members, brought coffee and some liquors to the table and they stood in silence for a while.

"And how about you, Elena? How is your business going?" Carrick asked, trying to change the topic.

"Oh, really well, Carrick. Thanks for asking. The new salon in the Bravern Center is going really well." She directed her gaze to Ana once again. "I run a chain of beauty salons, Esclava. Christian is my silent and trustful partner." She reached for her purse and took out a card. "Here you are a card. You can make a reservation for whatever you want, in any one of the salons. Just to enhance your image, to... refine it. Free of charge, of course." She shot a fake smile to her and then looked at Christian. "I know Christian likes our stylists' work."

Christian took a deep breath. His usual cool façade was now completely missing and his face was red of rage. He was about to spit out some awful words when Ana, who had not removed her hand from his thigh, squeezed it and began talking.

"Thank you Elena, I will take it into consideration."

While she grabbed the card, Elena's sharp, blood red fingernails managed to scratch the tender skin of the back of her hand, leaving a burning sensation on it. Ana stuffed the card into her pocket and turned her attention to Christian, brushing her lips against his before kissing him, in the boldest movement she could manage in that moment. He smiled against her mouth, and, receiving the baton, he took the hand that still was on his thigh, pressed a kiss on her palm and pulled it against his chest without breaking eye contact with Ana. His mother and sister gasped with emotion and his father widened his eyes after blinking twice. No words were needed; it was a solid statement of their connection, and Elena was very aware of it.

There were no more interactions between the two of them, and some kind of rare normality invaded again the conversations on the table. Just before going home, Elliot asked his father and brother's advice for a new business, and Grace, Mia, Kate, Ana and Elena moved to the kitchen bar, where Grace offered them some biscuits and scones. Christian wasn't sure about leaving Ana by her own, but she assured him she would be fine, although she was just expecting a new blow from Elena.

"Well, Ana, how did you meet with Christian?" Elena asked nonchalantly while seating in one of the barstools. "He has always been so… focused in his job, we all thought he would be always that lonely. He had never dated a woman before, at least not that we knew, of course, we all also know how private our Christian could be!" she laughed falsely in a high pitched tone, which made Ana shiver "but I suppose you already knew that fact." Elena looked at Ana in the eye with a satisfied smirk, but just before she began speaking, she interrupted her again. "Maybe you could light us, Kate? After all, you both are best friends."

Kate hesitated for a second, not understanding at all what was going on with that woman.

"Well, I can only explain part of the story." Kate looked at Ana with a warm smile. "But it's a really good one." She winked to her friend.

"Oh, yes, yes, please! Tell us! Christian is so dull with this kind of things!" Mia pleaded bouncing on her stool.

Ana looked at Grace, who kept in silence but had a hopeful look in her eyes, and sighed. Elena had a defiant face.

"Christian and I met at Mr. Harris' piano shop six years ago. He went to buy his Music Grand and I was there… taking my piano lessons."

"Mr. Harris was a good man…" Grace said fondly. "I used to bring my children there." Her eyes went to some undetermined spot in the far end of the kitchen, as if she were looking back to a happy time. "Oh, please, continue Ana." She apologized slightly embarrassed for her reverie.

"Don't mind, Grace. Yes, he was really a good man." Ana said. Kate nodded absentmindedly, as she was very aware of what that man had done for her friend. "Well, we chat for a few minutes… about music. We not even said our names, but I think we connected in some way."

"Oh, Ana, how romantic!" Mia squealed with a giggle.

"It didn't work, did it? Maybe Christian was looking for something… different?" Elena asked with a knowing look in her eyes.

"Oh no, that's not the case, Elena. I moved to Montesano with my stepfather and we didn't have the opportunity to meet again. Anyway, I think you have missed an important thing; I was only fifteen, only a child." Ana kept her stare to Elena. "It have would been… immoral and illegal, don't you think so?"

Elena's pupils dilated slightly, clearly showing her realization; she knew that Ana knew. This Ana was not kept in the dark like the others. He trusted her. And that diminished her power over him.

"And how did you two meet again?" Grace asked her kindly before grabbing a scone. "I'm sure it was around Christmas time." She said smiling.

"Well, yes it was around Christmas." Ana answered her.

"I knew something was going on, because he seemed… different. Happier." Grace shrugged her shoulders happily. Elena narrowed her eyes, too aware of the fact that Christian ended Susannah's contract by that date. Ana was also aware of that.

"We began knowing each other, but without knowing we already had met before…" Ana resumed her talking.

"Oh, my God, Ana! Give them all the facts, please. If not, it is really difficult to understand!" Kate said exasperated. "Don't tell me you are still embarrassed of your radio adventure?" Ana rolled her eyes at Kate's outburst and smiled tiredly.

"I'll explain you." Kate said placing both her hands on the bar. "Ana began conducting a music program at WSU radio our last year in college. She transformed it into a big success, and in a few months a lot of people listened to her, even outside college. But, as shy as she is… she didn't use her real name, and made us promise we would never reveal her identity to anyone." She smiled glancing sideways to Ana, who was blushing. "Around Christmas, she began receiving e-mails of an admirer," she said air quoting, "who also was using a pen name."

"Oh, my God! It was Christian, wasn't he? And didn't he tell you who he was?" Mia asked ecstatic, holding her mother's hand.

"No, he didn't." Ana answered. "He communicated with me via e-mail, and I answered him through the radio. We… connected again, and we built kind of a friendship. In the end, we decided we wanted to meet." Ana took a deep breath. "Christian thought it would be a good idea to meet after the graduation ceremony, but, as you know, I couldn't do it."

"Her father was involved in a car accident. He went to surgery." Kate told to Elena before she could ask her why.

"And then you found each other at the Coping Together gala, by chance?" Grace asked.

" Yes, I guess we were lucky." Ana said shyly.

"Well, now I understand everything. Thank you, Ana." Grace said squeezing Ana's hand.

"For what?" Ana asked frowning.

"For making Christian happy." Ana blushed and lowered her gaze, out of words. Elena shifted uncomfortable in her seat.

After a while, Ana excused herself to go to the bathroom. When she finished and opened the door, Elena was leaning on the opposite wall, waiting for her.

"Who do you think you are?" Elena said, her voice not loud enough to yell but full of venom.

Ana felt her rage boiling. "Well, I'm not a manipulative person and sure as hell I'm not a paedophile." Ana looked her in the eye, prepared for her following blow.

"Did Christian tell you this?" Her words were almost a whisper, as if she were hurting. "I taught him everything. He's become the man he is because of me." She stepped forward with a defiant face.

"Don't you dare saying all his success is because of you. Christian is a brilliant man, intelligent, focused, hard-working and generous. And all those qualities are not because of you. You took advantage of a troubled child and used him for your own benefit. And later, over the years, you isolated a good man from his family, making him believe he was not worth of any kind of love because of a dark secret… You are disgusting."

Elena stared at her with an astounded face, at a loss of words, but rapidly recovered her cold self-composure.

"He will get bored of you sooner or later, and you know it. You can't fulfill his needs." She finally said, reaching to Ana's most deep-seated fear.

But instead of letting her defeat her, she used Elena's weakest point.

"Well, maybe." She said shrugging while looking nonchalantly at her fingernails. "But in the meanwhile, we have fun." She looked Elena in the eye, without blinking. "I'm sure you can remember so well how good he is." Elena swallowed hard. "With his hands, his mouth,… that sinful tongue he has! And that enormous cock." Ana bit her lip theatrically. "His body is perfection; every toned muscle, every fiber of it. And he knows how to move it." In a bold movement, Ana took a step closer to Elena. "And he lets me touch every inch of that perfect, smooth skin. Every. Inch. Of. It." Ana was headed to the kitchen, leaving Elena petrified in the middle of the corridor, but turned around one last time. Perhaps for Elena it was not important, but for her, her following words were the most valuable gift he could give to her.

"I care for him, and he cares for me. I love him with all my being, and he loves me with such passion it frightens. He is passionate; he pours himself completely in everything he does, even in love. And you, although trying, you have not annihilated that. Love. He is worthy of it, and very capable of giving it. I can assure you."

With that, she left to the kitchen.

When she came back, Christian was already there, his mere presence in the same room filling her body and mind with a warm soothing peace.

"Ana, dear, do you know where Elena is?" Grace asked her.

"She is in the bathroom, Grace." Christian's eyes flashed towards her full of apprehension, fear and regret, but she rewarded him with a reassuring smile and the silent promise to speak later.

_§ § 0 § §_

The moment they entered in the car, Christian lifted up the privacy screen of the SUV and looked Ana directly in the eye, trying to steady his breathing.

"Ana… what has she said to you? Has she done something to you? Has she hurt you? I will crush her if she…" The feigned calm he was trying to maintain was shattering into tiny pieces around him, his hands all over his hair, messing it up a little bit more than usual.

"Christian, calm down, please." She whispered softly, trying to soothe him, but he was so overwhelmed by the idea of Elena's wicked ways over Ana he couldn't pay attention to her words. Instead, he began touching her arms, her face, her chest, looking for any harm while scanning her body with his unfocused eyes.

Aware of his weak state in that moment, Ana cupped his face with both her hands and pressed her lips onto his, in hopes he came back again with that physical connection. Slowly, he stilled with his limbs hanging by his sides.

"Christian, love. I'm fine. Everything's fine. I love you baby. I love you." She whispered against his lips.

He exhaled heavily with his eyes closed, and then snaked his arms around her in a tight embrace, crushing his mouth with hers, that time in a passionate kiss.

"God, I love you Ana. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." His arms slowly set her free and his hands glided from her shoulders to her hands, clutching them. "I didn't expect her to come. I'm… I'm ashamed, and angry. So very angry…" He released her hands too and pressed against his eyelids with his thumb and index finger. "Those feelings overpower me, and I think I don't have the right tools to manage them."

"You got me." She simply stated. "And you don't have to be ashamed. She has to."

Christian kept staring at her, a sad smile and a hint of apprehension still in his face, and shook his head slightly, as if to get rid of it.

"Well, what happened in there?" He finally asked.

Ana cleared her throat, realizing in that precise moment of the things she said to that evil woman and feeling a bit embarrassed.

"Well, she asked me how the two of us had met each other…" And she proceeded to explain him the conversation over the kitchen bar. "…then, she was waiting for me outside the bathroom. She… she tried to take over me with her words, and…" She lowered her gaze to her lap, feeling the blush creeping over her neck until reaching her cheeks. Christian put a finger under her chin to make her look at him and find her teeth biting that luscious bottom lip, that sexy blush on her face and those big blue pools open wide with contriteness.

"What? What happened?" He didn't know how to interpret that look of hers. It made him feel really nervous as much as it turned him on.

"Well, I had to do it. I don't know what took over me…" She said looking anywhere but him.

"God, Ana. What did you do, for heavens sake?" He asked her again.

"I told her how good you are in sex, just to make her mad!" She said in a rush with her eyes shut. "She was being really mean with me!"

Christian stared incredulously at her and a lopsided smile crept slowly in the corners of his mouth. "You did?" He asked amused.

She opened her eyes and saw her Christian back again. "Yes. I told her too how much I love you. And that you love me too."

"I adore you, baby." He said earnestly.

"She tried to tell me she had somehow helped you to become the man you are, and I shut her mouth telling her she has nothing to do with it." Ana cupped his face again. "You are unique, you are special and incredibly brilliant and it is not because of her, it is more in spite of her."

"Thank you." He said kissing her again. "For being here, for being strong, patient, loving."

"I'm here with you for whatever it takes." She assured him.

"And… what did you tell her exactly about how good I am?" He asked her again, making that sexy blush start all over again.

"Well, I told her how beautiful your body is. And how I can touch you everywhere." She told him, melting with the way he was looking at her with those smoldering eyes.

"Hell yes, you can touch wherever and whenever you want baby." He said huskily.

"And I told her how expertise you are with your mouth and your tongue…" She said smiling mischievously. He passed the tip of his tongue through his upper teeth. "With your fingers…" She continued.

"With these?" He teased her brushing his fingertips along her collarbone. She shivered with the touch.

"And what an enormous cock you have."

"Enormous?" He chuckled. "Did you just say enormous?"

"Well… I have very little to compare, but I think it's huge, isn't it?" She said matter-of-factly.

"Really, Ana. You don't cease to amaze me." He said amused. Then, he effortlessly unstrapped her from her seat belt and sat her in his lap, pressing her butt on his groin. "Can you feel my enormous cock growing for you?" He whispered in her ear, pressing her harder onto his erection, making her groan.

He ran his nose along her neck. "God, Ana, you smell so good." He followed the same path with his tongue and she gasped when he kissed that spot behind her ear, stifling a moan when he sucked in it while caressing her throat with his palm wide open and her thigh up to her sex under her skirt.

"Sweet lord, Ana, you're so wet." He said when his fingertips reached her soaked panties.

A soft nock on the privacy screen made them realize the car had stopped and they had reached Escala. In a rapid, well choreographed movement, Christian got both of them out of the car and whisked Ana into the elevator without waiting for Taylor.

Ana was pinned to the wall before the doors were closed, her legs far apart by one of Christian's and her mouth searching for his while one of his hands skimmed over her inner thigh, up to her heated and soaked core. When he reached his goal, he pushed aside her panties and dipped two fingers inside her with a grunt.

He pressed his body harder onto hers, his hard rock erection digging into her lower belly and his fingers plunging relentlessly inside and out. She somehow had managed to remove his shirt from his slacks and was digging her fingernails into the soft skin of his toned pectorals.

"I need you. Can't wait." He managed to say between kisses.

With a punch of his fist, he pressed the stop button, removing his hand between her legs. Panting, Ana unfastened his belt and unzipped his trousers, pulling them down above his knees along with his boxer briefs. He pulled up her skirt and ripped off her panties. Moaning at the feeling of his hands over her naked flesh, she wrapped her legs on his waist, letting him fill her hard and deep. His fingers dug in the flesh of her butt while he thrust into her, leaving white patterns underneath them. He went deeper, harder, closer with each thrust, leaving her breathless. The only sounds in the elevator were their harsh breathing, their moans and the sound of the wet flesh hitting. When that delightful ache began spreading from her sex and her belly to the rest of her body she arched her back with a stifled moan, gripping tightly Christian's hair with one of her hands. The feeling of her core tightening around him, milking him, and the harsh grip of her fist, led him to his own release, electrical jolts all over his body. They remained there, catching their breaths, until he released her numb legs, leading them onto the floor.

"That was intense." He said breathlessly.

Ana chuckled, leaning her head on his chest. "Sorry for your shirt." She said pointing at some missing buttons, which were surely scattered on the floor.

"Sorry for your panties." He said with a smirk. He removed them from the floor and placed them into his pocket, patting it. "Here they are secure." He teased her. "Let's head to the penthouse. Taylor will be wondering what took us so long…"

At this, Ana's hand flew to her mouth, eyes wide open as she interiorized the fact of leaving Taylor behind in their lustful rush. Christian laughed as he hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

_§ § 0 § §_

Although they tried to tidy a little their clothes and hairs, it was pretty obvious what just had happened in the elevator. Taylor though, very aware of the reality, had wisely used the staff elevator and committed himself in the staff quarters just to avoid the awkward situation. Relieved, they went directly to the shower, tossing their wrinkled clothes on the floor of the bedroom.

"You are returning to your apartment with Kate tomorrow, aren't you?" Christian asked her while massaging her scalp with his fingertips, the foam created by the shampoo cascading in rivulets down her back.

"Yes. Kate just asked me for an urgent girls night talk this morning." She said nonchalantly, trying to hide her anxiousness. Maybe he asked her to stay?

"Oh, fine. I think I'm not the appropriate person for that task." He joked. He was in hopes she changed her mind about moving there again.

She turned around to face him, a modest smile the only clue to show her resignation. She drank in the sight of him; blazing grey eyes trying to pierce into her mind. She glided her hands over his shoulders and chest and he changed the position of his arms and began massaging the back of her neck, which sent shivers down her spine.

"No, definitely you're not a girl." She said closing her eyes the same time she shuddered.

"You're done. Let's rinse." He said playfully with a slap on her butt. Pouting, she turned around again and let him rinse her hair and body. When he was finished, he left aside her wet hair, exposing the right side of her neck and trailed soft kisses from the base to her ear.

"Well, maybe it would be a good idea to return to our normal lives and catch up with our routines again, don't you think so?" He hoped to sound convincing and that his voice didn't crack with that ridiculously heavy lie. She nodded in silence, her hopes of him asking her to stay dissipating around them. "But I can't deny I will miss sleeping with you and waking up with you." He embraced her from behind wrapping his arms around her. She sighed at the comfortable feeling of his heat surrounding her. "I am not going to waste any more time, Ana. I'm going to make love to you all night long, relentlessly. I'm going to explore every inch of your body, just to fix it in my mind, to fix your scent in my nostrils, to fix your touch in my hands." He flipped her around to face him. "You better change tomorrow morning that weak tea of yours for a cup of strong coffee, Ana, because we both are going to have a very busy night." He beamed at her and she answered the same way, incapable of articulating one coherent word. She closed her eyes in ecstasy when he fell on his knees on the shower floor and, raising her left leg above his shoulder, buried his face between her legs with a grunt.