“Greta, who is Mr. Grey talking to?” My scalp is trying to leave the building. It’s prickling with apprehension, and my subconscious is screaming at me to follow it. But I sound nonchalant enough.
“Oh, that’s Mrs. Lincoln. She owns the place with Mr. Grey.” Greta seems more than happy to share.
“Mrs. Lincoln?” I thought Mrs. Robinson was divorced. Perhaps she’s remarried to some poor sap.
“Yes. She’s not usually here, but one of our technicians is sick today so she’s filling in.”
“Do you know Mrs. Lincoln’s first name?”
Greta looks up at me, frowning, and purses her bright pink lips, questioning my curiosity. Shit, perhaps this is a step too far.
“Elena,” she says, almost reluctantly.
I’m swamped by a strange sense of relief that my spidey sense has not let me down.
Spidey sense? My subconscious snorts, Paedo sense.
They are still deep in discussion. Christian is talking rapidly to Elena, and she looks worried, nodding, grimacing, and shaking her head. Reaching out, she rubs his arm soothingly while biting her lip. Another nod, and she glances at me and offers me a small reassuring smile.
I can only stare at her stony-faced. I think I’m in shock. How could he bring me here?
She murmurs something to Christian, and he looks my way briefly then turns back to her and replies. She nods, and I think she’s wishing him luck, but my lip-reading skills aren’t highly developed.
Fifty strides back to me, anxiety etched on his face. Damn right. Mrs. Robinson returns to the back room, closing the door behind her.
Christian frowns. “Are you okay?” he asks, but his voice is strained, cautious.
“Not really. You didn’t want to introduce me?” My voice sounds cold, hard.
His mouth drops open, he looks as if I’ve pulled the rug from under his feet.
“But I thought—”
“For a bright man, sometimes . . .” Words fail me. “I’d like to go, please.”
“You know why.” I roll my eyes.
He gazes down at me, his eyes burning.
“I’m sorry, Ana. I didn’t know she’d be here. She’s never here. She’s opened a new branch at the Bravern Center, and that’s where she’s normally based. Someone was sick today.”
I turn on my heel and head for the door.
“We won’t need Franco, Greta,” Christian snaps as we head out of the door. I have to suppress the impulse to run. I want to run fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry. I just need to get away from all this fuckedupness.
Christian walks wordlessly beside me as I try to mull all this over in my head. Wrapping my arms protectively around myself, I keep my head down, avoiding the trees on Second Avenue. Wisely, he makes no move to touch me. My mind is boiling with unanswered questions. Will Mr. Evasive fess up?
“You used to take your subs there?” I snap.
“Some of them, yes,” he says quietly, his tone clipped.
“The place looks very new.”
“It’s been refurbished recently.”
“I see. So Mrs. Robinson met all your subs.”
“Did they know about her?”
“No. None of them did. Only you.”
“But I’m not your sub.”
“No, you most definitely are not.”
I stop and face him. His eyes are wide, fearful. His lips are pressed into a hard, uncompromising line.
“Can you see how fucked-up this is?” I glare up at him, my voice low.
“Yes. I’m sorry.” And he has the grace to look contrite.
“I want to get my hair cut, preferably somewhere where you haven’t fucked either the staff or the clientele.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“You’re not running. Are you?” he asks.
“No, I just want a damn haircut. Somewhere I can close my eyes, have someone wash my hair, and forget about all this baggage that accompanies you.” He runs his hand through his hair. “I can have Franco come to the apartment, or your place,” he says quietly.
“She’s very attractive.”
He blinks. “Yes, she is.”
“Is she still married?”
“No. She divorced about five years ago.”
“Why aren’t you with her?”
“Because that’s over between us. I’ve told you this.” His brow creases suddenly. Holding his finger up, he fishes his Blackberry out of his jacket pocket. It must be vibrating because I don’t hear it ring.
“Welch,” he snaps, then listens. We are standing on Second Avenue, and I gaze in the direction of the larch sapling in front of me, its leaves the newest green.
People bustle past us, lost in their Saturday morning chores. No doubt contemplating their own personal dramas. I wonder if they include stalker ex-submissives, stunning ex-Dommes, and a man who has no concept of privacy under United States law.
“Killed in a car crash? When?” Christian interrupts my reverie.
Oh no. Who? I listen more closely.
“That’s twice that bastard’s not been forthcoming. He must know. Does he have no feelings for her whatsoever?” Christian shakes his head in disgust. “This is beginning to make sense . . . no . . . explains why, but not where.” Christian glances around us as if searching for something, and I find myself mirroring his actions. Nothing catches my eye.
There are just the shoppers, the traffic, and the trees.
“She’s here,” Christian continues. “She’s watching us . . . Yes . . . No. Two or four, twenty-four seven . . . I haven’t broached that yet.” Christian looks at me directly.
Broached what? I frown, at him and he regards me warily.
“What . . . ,” he whispers and pales, his eyes widening. “I see. When? . . . That recently? But how? . . . No background checks? . . . I see. E-mail the name, address, and photos if you have them . . . twenty-four seven, from this afternoon. Liaise with Taylor.” Christian hangs up.
“Well?” I ask, exasperated. Is he going to tell me?