All the color drains from my face as my blood turns to ice and fear lances through my body.
Instinctively I step between her and Christian.
“What is it?” Christian murmurs, his tone wary.
I ignore him. I cannot believe Kate is doing this.
“Kate! This is nothing to do with you.” I glare venomously at her, anger replacing my fear. How dare she do this? Not now, not today. Not on Christian’s birthday. Surprised by my response, she blinks at me, green eyes wide.
“Ana, what is it?” Christian says again, his tone more menacing.
“Christian, would you just go, please?” I ask him.
“No. Show me.” He holds out his hand, and I know he’s not to be argued with—his voice is cold and hard. Reluctantly I give him the e-mail.
“What’s he done to you?” Kate asks, ignoring Christian. She looks so apprehensive. I flush as a myriad of erotic images flit quickly across my mind.
“That’s none of your business, Kate.” I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice.
“Where did you get this?” Christian asks, his head cocked to one side, his face expressionless, but his voice . . . so menacingly soft. Kate flushes.
“That’s irrelevant.” At his stony glare, she hastily continues. “It was in the pocket of a jacket—which I assume is yours—that I found on the back of Ana’s bedroom door.” Faced with Christian’s burning gray gaze, Kate’s steeliness slips a little, but she seems to recover and scowls at him.
She’s a beacon of hostility in a slinky, bright red dress. She looks magnificent. But what the hell is she going through my clothes for? It’s usually the other way round.
“Have you told anyone?” Christian’s voice is like a silk glove.
“No! Of course not,” Kate snaps, affronted. Christian nods and appears to relax. He turns and heads toward the fireplace. Wordlessly Kate and I watch as he picks up a lighter from the mantelpiece, sets fire to the e-mail, and releases it, letting it float afire slowly into the grate until it is no more. The silence in the room is oppressive.
“Not even Elliot?” I ask, turning my attention back to Kate.
“No one,” Kate says emphatically, and for the first time she looks puzzled and hurt. “I just want to know you’re okay, Ana,” she whispers.
“I’m fine, Kate. More than fine. Please, Christian and I are good, really good—this is old news. Please ignore it.”
“Ignore it?” she says. “How can I ignore that? What’s he done to you?” And her green eyes are so full of heartfelt concern.
“He hasn’t done anything to me, Kate. Honestly—I’m good.” She blinks at me.
“Really?” she asks.
Christian wraps an arm around me and draws me close, not taking his eyes off Kate.
“Ana has consented to be my wife, Katherine,” he says quietly.
“Wife!” Kate squeaks, her eyes widening in disbelief.
“We’re getting married. We’re going to announce our engagement this evening,” he says.”Oh!” Kate gapes at me. She’s stunned. “I leave you alone for sixteen days, and this happens? It’s very sudden. So yesterday, when I said—” She gazes at me, lost. “Where does that e-mail fit into all this?”
“It doesn’t, Kate. Forget it—please. I love him and he loves me. Don’t do this. Don’t ruin his party and our night,” I whisper. She blinks and unexpectedly her eyes are shining with tears.
“No. Of course I won’t. You’re okay?” She wants reassurance.
“I’ve never been happier,” I whisper. She reaches forward and grabs my hand regardless of Christian’s arm wrapped around me.
“You really are okay?” she asks hopefully.
“Yes.” I grin at her, my joy returning. She’s back onside. She smiles at me, my happi-ness reflecting back on her. I step out of Christian’s hold, and she hugs me suddenly.
“Oh, Ana—I was so worried when I read this. I didn’t know what to think. Will you explain it to me?” she whispers.
“One day, not now.”
“Good. I won’t tell anyone. I love you so much, Ana, like my own sister. I just thought . . . I didn’t know what to think. I’m sorry. If you’re happy, then I’m happy.” She looks directly at Christian and repeats her apology. He nods at her, his eyes glacial, and his expression does not change. Oh shit, he’s still mad.
“I really am sorry. You’re right, it’s none of my business,” she whispers to me.
There’s a knock on the door that startles Kate and I apart. Grace pokes her head around.
“Everything okay, darling?” she asks Christian.
“Everything’s fine, Mrs. Grey,” Kate says immediately.
“Fine, Mom,” Christian says.
“Good.” Grace enters. “Then you won’t mind if I give my son a birthday hug.” She beams at both of us. He hugs her tightly and thaws immediately.
“Happy birthday, darling,” she says softly, closing her eyes in his embrace. “I’m so glad you’re still with us.”
“Mom, I’m fine.” Christian smiles down at her. She pulls back, looks at him closely, and grins.
“I’m so happy for you,” she says and caresses his face.
He grins at her—his thousand megawatt smile.
She knows! When did he tell her?
“Well, kids, if you’ve all finished your tête-à-tête, there’s a throng of people here to check that you really are in one piece, Christian, and to wish you a happy birthday.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Grace glances anxiously at Kate and me and seems reassured by our smiles. She winks at me as she holds the door open for us. Christian holds out his hand to me and I take it.
“Christian, I really do apologize,” Kate says humbly. Humble Kate is something to behold. Christian nods at her, and we follow her out.
In the hallway, I gaze anxiously up at Christian. “Does your mother know about us?”
“Oh.” And to think our evening could have been derailed by the tenacious Miss Kavanagh. I shudder at the thought—the ramifications of Christian’s lifestyle revealed to all.