Fifty Shades Darker(102)

By: E L James

She cranes her slim neck to look, curious as ever. “I’ve never been,” she says.

“I’ll take you. We can eat there.”

“Christian, we broke up,” she exclaims, dismay in her voice.

That is not what I want to hear, but I try not to overreact. “I know. I can still take you there. And feed you.” I give her a pointed look and she blushes a lovely pale rose.

“It’s very beautiful up here. Thank you,” she says, and I note that she’s changed the subject.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” I never get tired of this view.

“Impressive that you can do this.” Her compliment surprises me.

“Flattery from you, Miss Steele? But I’m a man of many talents,” I tease.

“I’m fully aware of that, Mr. Grey,” she says tartly, and I can imagine what she’s referring to. I suppress a smirk. This is what I’ve missed: her impertinence, disarming me at every turn.

Keep her talking, Grey.

“How’s the new job?”

“Good, thank you. Interesting.”

“What’s your boss like?”

“Oh. He’s okay.” She sounds less than enthusiastic about Jack Hyde, and a frisson of apprehension runs through me. Has he tried anything with her?

“What’s wrong?” I ask. I want to know—has that prick done anything inappropriate? I will fire his ass if he has.

“Aside from the obvious, nothing.”

“The obvious?”

“Oh, Christian, you really are obtuse sometimes.” She eyes me with amused disdain.

“Obtuse? Me? I’m not sure I appreciate your tone, Miss Steele.”

“Well, don’t, then,” she quips, pleased with herself, making me grin. I like that she mocks and teases me. She can make me feel two feet tall or ten feet tall with just a look or a smile—it’s refreshing, and unlike anything I’ve known before.

“I’ve missed your smart mouth, Anastasia.” An image of her on her knees in front of me pops into my mind and I shift in my seat.

Shit. Concentrate, Grey, for heaven’s sake. She looks away, concealing her smile, and stares down at the passing suburbs while I check the heading—all is well. We’re on track for Portland.

She’s quiet, and I steal the occasional glance at her. Her face is alight with curiosity and wonder as she gazes out at the passing landscape and the opal sky. Her cheeks are soft and glowing in the evening light. And in spite of her pallor and the dark circles beneath her eyes—evidence of the suffering I’ve caused her—she’s stunning. How could I have let her walk out of my life? What was I thinking?

While we race above the clouds in our bubble, high in the sky, my optimism grows and the turmoil of the last week recedes. Slowly, I begin to relax, enjoying a serenity I’ve not felt since she left, now that she’s here with me.

But as we near our destination my confidence falters. I hope to God that my plan works. I need to take her somewhere private. To dinner, maybe. Damn it. I should have booked somewhere.

She needs feeding. If I get her to dinner, then all I’ll need to do is find the right words. These last few days have shown me that I need someone—I need her. I want her, but will she have me? Can I convince her to give me a second chance?

Time will tell, Grey—just take it easy. Don’t frighten her off again.

WE LAND ON PORTLAND’S only helipad fifteen minutes later. As I bring Charlie Tango’s engines to idle and switch off the transponder, fuel, and radios, the uncertainty I’ve felt since I resolved to win her back resurfaces. I need to tell her how I feel, and that’s going to be hard—because I don’t understand my feelings toward her. I know that I’ve missed her, that I’ve been miserable without her and that I’m willing to try a relationship her way. But will it be enough for her? Will it be enough for me?

Time will tell, Grey.

Once I’ve unbuckled my harness I lean across to undo hers and catch a trace of her sweet fragrance. She smells good. She always smells good. Her eyes catch mine in a brief, furtive glance, as if she’s having some inappropriate thought, and as usual I would love to know what she’s thinking.

“Good trip, Miss Steele?” I ask, ignoring her look.

“Yes, thank you, Mr. Grey.”

“Well, let’s go and see the boy’s photos.” I open the door, jump down, and hold my hand out for her.

Joe, the manager of the helipad, is waiting to greet us. He’s an antique: a veteran of the Korean War, but still as spry and acute as a man in his fifties. His bright eyes miss nothing. They light up as he gives me a craggy smile.

“Joe, keep her safe for Stephan. He’ll be along around eight or nine.”

“Will do, Mr. Grey. Ma’am. Your car’s waiting downstairs, sir. Oh, and the elevator’s out of order. You’ll need to use the stairs.”

“Thank you, Joe.”

As we head for the emergency stairwell, I eye Anastasia’s high heels and remember her less than dignified fall into my office.

“Good thing for you this is only three floors—in those heels.” I hide my smile.

“Don’t you like the boots?” she asks, looking down at her feet. A pleasing vision of them hooked over my shoulders springs to mind.

“I like them very much, Anastasia,” I mutter, hoping my expression doesn’t betray my lascivious thoughts. “Come. We’ll take it slow. I don’t want you falling and breaking your neck.”

Snaking my arm around her waist, I’m thankful that the elevator is out of order—it gives me a plausible excuse to hold her. I pull her to my side and we descend the stairs.

In the car on the way to the gallery my anxiety doubles; we’re about to attend the show of her so-called friend. The man who, last time I saw him, was trying to push his tongue into her mouth. Perhaps over the last few days they’ve talked; perhaps this is a long-anticipated rendezvous between them.

Fuck, I hadn’t considered that before. I sure as hell hope it’s not.

“José is just a friend,” Ana says softly.

What? She knows what I’m thinking? Am I that obvious? Since when?

Since she stripped me of all my armor. Since I discovered that I needed her.

She stares at me and my stomach tightens. “Those beautiful eyes look too large in your face, Anastasia. Please tell me you’ll eat.”

“Yes, Christian, I’ll eat,” she replies, her voice laced with frustration.

“I mean it.”

“Do you, now?” Her tone is sarcastic, and I almost have to sit on my hands. It’s time to declare myself.

“I don’t want to fight with you, Anastasia. I want you back, and I want you healthy.” I’m honored with her shocked, wide-eyed look.

“But nothing’s changed,” she says, her expression turning to a frown.

Oh, Ana, it has—there’s been a seismic shift in me. We pull up at the gallery and I have no time to explain before the show.

“Let’s talk on the way back. We’re here.”

Before she can say she’s not interested, I exit the car, walk around to her side, and open the door. She looks mad as she exits.

“Why do you do that?” she exclaims, exasperated.

“Do what?” Fuck—what’s this?

“Say something like that and then just stop.”

That’s it—that’s why you’re mad?

“Anastasia, we’re here. Where you want to be. Let’s do this and then talk. I don’t particularly want a scene in the street.”

She presses her lips together in a petulant pout, then gives me a begrudging “Okay.”

Taking her hand, I move swiftly into the gallery, and she scrambles behind me.