Fifty Shades Darker(6)

By: E L James


“Nothing’s changed. I can’t be what you want me to be.” I squeeze the words out past the lump in my throat.

“You are what I want you to be,” he says, his voice emphatic.

“No, Christian, I’m not.”

“You’re upset because of what happened last time. I behaved stupidly, and you … So did you. Why didn’t you safeword, Anastasia?” His tone changes, becomes accusatory.

What? Whoa—change of direction.

“Answer me.”

“I don’t know. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to be what you wanted me to be, trying to deal with the pain, and it went out of my mind. You know … I forgot,” I whisper, ashamed, and I shrug apologetically.

Perhaps we could have avoided all this heartache.

“You forgot!” he gasps with horror, grabbing the sides of the table and glaring. I wither under his stare.

Shit! He’s furious again. My inner goddess glares at me, too. See, you brought all this on yourself!

“How can I trust you?” His voice is low. “Ever?”

The waiter arrives with our wine as we sit staring at each other, blue eyes to gray. Both of us filled with unspoken recriminations, while the waiter removes the cork with an unnecessary flourish and pours a little wine into Christian’s glass. Automatically Christian reaches out and takes a sip.

“That’s fine.” His voice is curt.

Gingerly the waiter fills our glasses, placing the bottle on the table before beating a hasty retreat. Christian has not taken his eyes off me the whole time. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact, picking up my glass and taking a large gulp. I barely taste it.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, suddenly feeling stupid. I left because I thought we were incompatible, but he’s saying I could have stopped him?

“Sorry for what?” he says alarmed.

“Not using the safeword.”

He closes his eyes, as if in relief.

“We might have avoided all this suffering,” he mutters.

“You look fine.” More than fine. You look like you.

“Appearances can be deceptive,” he says quietly. “I’m anything but fine. I feel like the sun has set and not risen for five days, Ana. I’m in perpetual night here.”

I’m winded by his admission. Oh my, like me.

“You said you’d never leave, yet the going gets tough and you’re out the door.”

“When did I say I’d never leave?”

“In your sleep. It was the most comforting thing I’d heard in so long, Anastasia. It made me relax.”

My heart constricts and I reach for my wine.

“You said you loved me,” he whispers. “Is that now in the past tense?” His voice is low, laced with anxiety.

“No, Christian, it’s not.”

He looks so vulnerable as he exhales. “Good,” he murmurs.

I’m shocked by his admission. He’s had a change of heart. When I told him I loved him before, he was horrified. The waiter is back. Briskly he places our plates in front of us and scuttles away.

Holy hell. Food.

“Eat,” Christian commands.

Deep down I know I’m hungry, but right now, my stomach is in knots. Sitting across from the only man I have ever loved and debating our uncertain future does not promote a healthy appetite. I look dubiously at my food.

“So help me God, Anastasia, if you don’t eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant, and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification. Eat!”

Keep your hair on, Grey. My subconscious stares at me over her half-moon specs. She is wholeheartedly in agreement with Fifty Shades.

“Okay, I’ll eat. Stow your twitching palm, please.”

He doesn’t smile but continues to glare at me. Reluctantly I lift my knife and fork and slice into my steak. Oh, it’s mouthwateringly good. I am hungry, really hungry. I chew and he visibly relaxes.

We eat our supper in silence. The music’s changed. A soft-voiced woman sings in the background, her words echoing my thoughts. I’ll never be the same since he came into my life.

I glance at Fifty. He’s eating and watching me. Hunger, longing, anxiety combined in one hot look.

“Do you know who’s singing?” I try for some normal conversation.

Christian pauses and listens. “No … but she’s good, whoever she is.”

“I like her, too.”

Finally he smiles his private enigmatic smile. What’s he planning?

“What?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Eat up,” he says mildly.

I have eaten half the food on my plate. I cannot eat any more. How can I negotiate this?

“I can’t manage any more. Have I eaten enough for Sir?”

He stares at me impassively, not answering, then glances at his watch.

“I’m really full,” I add, taking a sip of the delicious wine.

“We have to go shortly. Taylor’s here, and you have to be up for work in the morning.”

“So do you.”

“I function on a lot less sleep than you do, Anastasia. At least you’ve eaten something.”

“Aren’t we going back via Charlie Tango?”

“No, I thought I might have a drink. Taylor will pick us up. Besides, this way I have you in the car all to myself for a few hours, at least. What can we do but talk?”

Oh, that’s his plan.

Christian summons the waiter to ask for the check, then picks up his BlackBerry and makes a call.

“We’re at Le Picotin, Southwest Third Avenue.” He hangs up.

He’s still curt over the phone.

“You’re very brusque with Taylor, in fact, with most people.”

“I just get to the point quickly, Anastasia.”

“You haven’t gotten to the point this evening. Nothing’s changed, Christian.”

“I have a proposition for you.”

“This started with a proposition.”

“A different proposition.”

The waiter returns, and Christian hands over his credit card without checking the bill. He gazes at me speculatively while the waiter swipes his card. Christian’s phone buzzes once, and he peers at it.

He has a proposition? What now? A couple of scenarios run through my mind: kidnapping, working for him. No, nothing makes sense. Christian finishes paying.

“Come. Taylor’s outside.”

We stand and he takes my hand.

“I don’t want to lose you, Anastasia.” He kisses my knuckles tenderly, and the touch of his lips on my skin resonates through my body.

Outside the Audi is waiting. Christian opens my door. Climbing in, I sink into the plush leather. He heads to the driver’s side; Taylor steps out of the car and they talk briefly. This isn’t their usual protocol. I’m curious. What are they talking about? Moments later, they are both back in the car, and I glance at Christian, who’s wearing his impassive face as he stares ahead.

I allow myself a brief moment to examine his profile: straight nose, sculpted full lips, hair falling deliciously over his forehead. This divine man is surely not meant for me.

Soft music fills the rear of the car, a grand orchestral piece that I don’t know, and Taylor pulls into the light traffic, heading for I-5 and Seattle.

Christian shifts to face me. “As I was saying, Anastasia, I have a proposition for you.”

I glance nervously at Taylor.

“Taylor can’t hear you,” Christian reassures me.

“How?”

“Taylor,” Christian calls. Taylor doesn’t respond. He calls again, still no response. Christian leans over and taps his shoulder. Taylor removes an earbud I hadn’t noticed.

“Yes, sir?”

“Thank you, Taylor. It’s okay; resume your listening.”

“Sir.”

“Happy now? He’s listening to his iPod. Puccini. Forget he’s here. I do.”

“Did you deliberately ask him to do that?”

“Yes.”

Oh. “Okay, your proposition?”

Christian looks suddenly determined and businesslike. Holy shit. We’re negotiating a deal. I listen attentively.

“Let me ask you something first. Do you want a regular vanilla relationship with no kinky fuckery at all?”

My mouth drops open. “Kinky fuckery?” I squeak.

“Kinky fuckery.”

“I can’t believe you said that.”

“Well, I did. Answer me,” he says calmly.

I flush. My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication, begging me.

“I like your kinky fuckery,” I whisper.

“That’s what I thought. So what don’t you like?”

Not being able to touch you. Your enjoying my pain, the bite of the belt …

“The threat of cruel and unusual punishment.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you have all those canes and whips and stuff in your playroom, and they frighten the living daylights out of me. I don’t want you to use them on me.”

“Okay, so no whips or canes—or belts, for that matter,” he says sardonically.

I gaze at him puzzled. “Are you attempting to redefine the hard limits?”

“Not as such, I’m just trying to understand you, get a clearer picture of what you do and don’t like.”

“Fundamentally, Christian, it’s your joy in inflicting pain on me that’s difficult for me to handle. And the idea that you’ll do it because I have crossed some arbitrary line.”