Fifty Shades Darker(4)By: E L James
“Good evening and welcome to José Rodriguez’s show.” A young woman dressed in black with very short brown hair, bright red lipstick, and large hooped earrings greets us. She glances briefly at me, then much longer than is strictly necessary at Christian, then turns back to me, blinking as she blushes.
My brow creases. He’s mine—or was. I try hard not to scowl at her. As her eyes regain their focus, she blinks again.
“Oh, it’s you, Ana. We’ll want your take on all this, too.” Grinning, she hands me a brochure and directs me to a table laden with drinks and snacks.
“You know her?” Christian frowns.
I shake my head, equally puzzled.
He shrugs, distracted. “What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of white wine, thank you.”
His brow furrows, but he holds his tongue and heads for the open bar.
José comes barreling through a throng of people.
Holy cow! He’s wearing a suit. He looks good and he’s beaming at me. He enfolds me in his arms, hugging me hard. And it’s all I can do not to burst into tears. My friend, he’s my only friend while Kate is away. Tears pool in my eyes.
“Ana, I’m so glad you made it,” he whispers in my ear. Abruptly he holds me at arm’s length, examining me.
“Hey are you okay? You look, well, odd. Dios mío, have you lost weight?”
I blink back my tears—not him too. “José, I’m fine. I’m just so happy for you. Congratulations on the show.” My voice wavers as I see the concern etched on his oh-so-familiar face, but I have to hold myself together.
“How did you get here?” he asks.
“Christian brought me,” I say, suddenly apprehensive.
“Oh.” José’s face falls and he releases me. “Where is he?” His expression darkens.
“Over there, fetching drinks.” I nod in Christian’s direction and notice that he’s exchanging pleasantries with someone waiting in line. Christian glances up and our eyes lock. And in that brief moment, I’m paralyzed, staring at the impossibly handsome man who gazes at me with some unfathomable emotion. His gaze hot, burning into me, and we’re lost for a moment staring at each other.
Holy cow … This beautiful man wants me back, and deep down inside me sweet joy slowly unfurls like a morning glory in the early dawn.
“Ana!” José distracts me, and I’m dragged back to the here and now. “I am so glad you came—listen, I should warn you—”
Suddenly, Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick cuts him off. “José, the journalist from the Portland Printz is here to see you. Come on.” She gives me a polite smile.
“How cool is this? The fame.” He grins, and I can’t help but grin back—he’s so happy. “Catch you later, Ana.” He kisses my cheek, and I watch him stroll over to a young woman standing by a tall, lanky photographer.
José’s photographs are everywhere, and in some cases, blown up onto huge canvases. There are both monochromes and colors. There’s an ethereal beauty to many of the landscapes. In one taken near the lake at Vancouver, it’s early evening and pink clouds are reflected in the stillness of the water. Briefly, I’m transported by the tranquility and the peace. It’s stunning.
Christian joins me, and hands me my glass of white wine.
“Does it come up to scratch?” My voice sounds more normal.
He looks quizzically at me.
“No. Rarely does at these kinds of events. The boy’s quite talented, isn’t he?” Christian is admiring the lake photo.
“Why else do you think I asked him to take your portrait?” The pride is obvious in my voice. His eyes glide impassively from the photograph to me.
“Christian Grey?” The photographer from the Portland Printz approaches Christian. “Can I have a picture, sir?”
“Sure.” Christian hides his scowl. I step back, but he grabs my hand and pulls me to his side. The photographer looks at both of us and can’t hide his surprise.
“Mr. Grey, thank you.” He snaps a couple of photos. “Miss …?” he asks.
“Ana Steele,” I reply.
“Thank you, Miss Steele.” He scurries off.
“I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren’t any. That’s why Kate thought you were gay.”
Christian’s mouth twitches into a smile. “That explains your inappropriate question. No, I don’t do dates, Anastasia—only with you. But you know that.” His voice is quiet with sincerity.
“So you never took your”—I glance around nervously to check no one can overhear us—“subs out?”
“Sometimes. Not on dates. Shopping, you know.” He shrugs, his eyes not leaving mine.
Oh, so just in the playroom—his Red Room of Pain and his apartment. I don’t know what to feel about that.
“Just you, Anastasia,” he whispers.
I blush and stare down at my fingers. In his own way, he does care about me.
“Your friend here seems more of a landscape man, not portraits. Let’s look around.” I take his outstretched hand.
We wander past a few more prints, and I notice a couple nodding at me, smiling broadly as if they know me. It must be because I’m with Christian, but one young man is blatantly staring. Odd.
We turn the corner, and I see why I’ve been getting strange looks. Hanging on the far wall are seven huge portraits—of me.
I stare blankly at them, stupefied, the blood draining from my face. Me: pouting, laughing, scowling, serious, amused. All in super close up, all in black and white.
Holy shit! I remember José messing with the camera on a couple of occasions when he was visiting and when I’d been out with him as driver and photographer’s assistant. He took snapshots, or so I thought. Not these invasive candid shots.
Christian is staring, transfixed, at each of the pictures in turn.
“Seems I’m not the only one,” he mutters cryptically, his mouth settling into a hard line.
I think he’s angry.
“Excuse me,” he says, pinning me with his bright gaze for a moment. He heads to the reception desk.
What’s his problem now? I watch mesmerized as he talks animatedly with Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick. He fishes out his wallet and produces his credit card.
Shit. He must have bought one of them.
“Hey. You’re the muse. These photographs are terrific.” A young man with a shock of bright blond hair startles me. I feel a hand at my elbow and Christian is back.
“You’re a lucky guy.” Blond Shock says to Christian, who gives him a cold stare.
“That I am,” he mutters darkly, as he pulls me over to one side.
“Did you just buy one of these?”
“One of these?” he snorts, not taking his eyes off them.
“You bought more than one?”
He rolls his eyes. “I bought them all, Anastasia. I don’t want some stranger ogling you in the privacy of their home.”
My first inclination is to laugh. “You’d rather it was you?” I scoff.
He glares down at me, caught off guard by my audacity, I think, but he’s trying to hide his amusement.
“Pervert,” I mouth at him and bite my lower lip to prevent my smile.
His mouth drops open, and now his amusement is obvious. He strokes his chin thoughtfully.
“Can’t argue with that assessment, Anastasia.” He shakes his head, and his eyes soften with humor.
“I’d discuss it further with you, but I’ve signed an NDA.”
He sighs, gazing at me, and his eyes darken. “What I’d like to do to your smart mouth,” he murmurs.
I gasp, knowing full well what he means. “You’re very rude.” I try to sound shocked and succeed. Has he no boundaries?
He smirks, amused then frowns.
“You look very relaxed in these photographs, Anastasia. I don’t see you like that very often.”
What? Whoa! Change of subject—talk about non sequitur—from playful to serious.
I flush and glance down at my fingers. He tilts my head back, and I inhale sharply at the contact with his fingers.
“I want you that relaxed with me,” he whispers. All trace of humor has gone.
Deep inside me that joy stirs again. But how can this be? We have issues.
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” I snap.
“You have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel,” he snaps back, eyes blazing.
I take a deep breath. “Christian, you wanted me as a submissive. That’s where the problem lies. It’s in the definition of a submissive—you e-mailed it to me once.” I pause, trying to recall the wording. “I think the synonyms were, and I quote, ‘compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, tractable, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.’ I wasn’t supposed to look at you. Not talk to you unless you gave me permission to do so. What do you expect?” I hiss at him.
His frown deepens as I continue.
“It’s very confusing being with you. You don’t want me to defy you, but then you like my ‘smart mouth.’ You want obedience, except when you don’t, so you can punish me. I just don’t know which way is up when I’m with you.”