As sanity returns, I open my eyes and gaze up into the face of the man I love. Christian’s expression is soft, tender. He strokes his nose against mine, bearing his weight on his elbows, his hands holding mine by the side of my head. Sadly, I suspect that’s so I don’t touch him. He plants a gentle kiss on my lips as he eases himself out of me.
“I’ve missed this,” he breathes.
“Me too,” I whisper.
He takes hold of my chin and kisses me hard. A passionate, beseeching kiss, asking for what? I don’t know. It leaves me breathless.
“Don’t leave me again,” he implores, looking deep into my eyes, his face serious.
“Okay,” I whisper and smile at him. His answering smile is dazzling; relief, elation, and boyish delight combined into one enchanting look that would melt the coldest of hearts.
“Thank you for the iPad.”
“You are most welcome, Anastasia.”
“What’s your favorite song on there?”
“Now that would be telling.” He grins. “Come cook me some food, wench. I’m famished,” he adds, sitting up suddenly and dragging me with him.
“Wench?” I giggle.
“Wench. Food, now, please.”
“Since you ask so nicely, sire, I’ll get right on to it.” As I scramble out of bed, I dislodge my pillow, revealing the deflated helicopter balloon underneath. Christian reaches for it and gazes up at me, puzzled.
“That’s my balloon,” I say, feeling proprietary as I reach for my robe and wrap it round myself. Oh jeez . . . why did he have to find that?
“In your bed?” he murmurs.
“Yes,” I flush. “It’s been keeping me company.”
“Lucky Charlie Tango,” he says, in surprise.
Yes, I’m sentimental, Grey, because I love you.
“My balloon,” I say again and turn on my heel and head out to the kitchen, leaving him grinning from ear to ear.
Christian and I sit on Kate’s persian rug, eating stir-fry chicken and noodles from white china bowls with chopsticks and sipping chilled white Pinot Grigio. Christian leans against the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He’s wearing his jeans and his shirt with his just-fucked hair, and that’s all. The Buena Vista Social Club croons softly in the background from Christian’s iPod.
“This is good,” he says appreciatively as he digs into his food.
I sit cross-legged beside him, eating greedily, beyond hungry, and admire his naked feet.”I usually do all the cooking. Kate isn’t a great cook.”
“Did you your mother teach you?”
“Not really,” I scoff. “By the time I was interested in learning, my mom was living with Husband Number Three in Mansfield, Texas. And Ray, well, he would’ve lived on toast and takeout if it wasn’t for me.”
Christian gazes down at me. “You didn’t stay in Texas with your mom?”
“No. Steve, her husband and I, we didn’t get along. And I missed Ray. Her marriage to Steve didn’t last long. She came to her senses, I think. She never talks about him,” I add quietly. I think that’s a dark part of her life, which we’ve never discussed.
“So you came back to Washington to live with your stepfather.”
“Sounds like you looked after him,” he says softly.
“I suppose.” I shrug.
“You’re used to taking care of people.”
The edge in his voice attracts my attention, and I glance up at him.
“What is it?” I ask, startled by his wary expression.
“I want to take care of you.” His luminous eyes glow with some unnamed emotion.
My heart rate spikes.
“I’ve noticed,” I whisper. “You just go about it in a strange way.” His brow creases. “It’s the only way I know how,” he says quietly.
“I’m still mad at you for buying SIP.”
He smiles. “I know but you being mad, baby, wouldn’t stop me.”
“What am I going to say to my work colleagues, to Jack?” He narrows his eyes. “That fucker better watch himself.”
“Christian!” I admonish. “He’s my boss.”
Christian’s mouth presses into a hard line. He looks like a recalcitrant schoolboy.
“Don’t tell them,” he says.
“Don’t tell them what?”
“That I own it. The heads of agreement was signed yesterday. The news is embargoed for four weeks while the management at SIP makes some changes.”
“Oh . . . will I be out of a job?” I ask, alarmed.
“I sincerely doubt it,” Christian says wryly, trying to stifle his smile.
I scowl. “If I leave and find another job, will you buy that company, too?”
“You’re not thinking of leaving, are you?” His expression alters, wary once more.
“Possibly. I’m not sure you’ve given me a great deal of choice.”
“Yes, I will buy that company, too.” He is adamant.
I scowl at him again. I am in a no-win situation here.
“Don’t you think you’re being a tad overprotective?”
“Yes. I am fully aware of how this looks.”
“Paging Dr. Flynn,” I murmur.
He puts down his empty bowl and gazes at me impassively. I sigh. I don’t want to fight.
Standing up, I reach for his bowl.
“Would you like dessert?”
“Now you’re talking!” he says, giving me a lascivious grin.
“Not me.” Why not me? My inner goddess wakes from her doze and sits upright, all ears. “We have ice cream. Vanilla.” I snicker.
“Really?” Christian’s grin gets bigger. “I think we could do something with that.” What? I stare at him dumbfounded as he gracefully gets to his feet.
“Can I stay?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“I assumed that you were.” I flush.
“Good. Where’s the ice cream?”
“In the oven.” I smile sweetly at him.
He cocks his head to one side, sighs, and shakes his head at me. “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, Miss Steele.” His eyes glitter.
Oh shit. What’s he planning?
“I could still take you across my knee.”
I place the bowls in the sink. “Do you have those silver ball things?” He pats his hands down his chest, belly, and the pockets of his jeans. “Funnily enough, I don’t carry a spare set around with me. Not much call for them in the office.”