“Well, that was an interesting start to the evening.” I smile sweetly at him. He glances down at me—and it’s back, his amused look. Thank heavens.
“As ever, Miss Steele, you have a gift for understatement.” He raises my hand to his lips and kisses my knuckles as we walk into the living room to a sudden, spontaneous, and deafening round of applause.
Crap. How many people are here?
I scan the room quickly: all the Greys, Ethan with Mia, Dr. Flynn and his wife, I assume. There’s Mac from the boat, a tall, handsome African American—I remember seeing him in Christian’s office the first time I met Christian—Mia’s bitchy friend Lily, two women I don’t recognize at all, and . . . Oh no. My heart sinks. That woman . . . Mrs. Robinson.
Gretchen materializes with a tray of champagne. She’s in a low-cut black dress, no pigtails but an updo, flushing and fluttering her eyelashes at Christian. The applause dies down, and Christian squeezes my hand as all eyes turn to him expectantly.
“Thank you, everyone. Looks like I’ll need one of these.” He grabs two drinks off Gretchen’s tray and gives her a brief smile. I think Gretchen’s going to expire or swoon.
He hands a glass to me.
Christian raises his glass to the rest of the room, and immediately everyone surges forward. Leading the charge is the evil woman in black. Does she ever wear any other color?
“Christian, I was so worried.” Elena gives him a brief hug and kisses both his cheeks.
He doesn’t let me go despite the fact I try to free my hand.
“I’m good, Elena,” Christian mutters coolly.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Her plea is desperate, her eyes searching his.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Didn’t you get my messages?”
Christian shifts uncomfortably and pulls me closer, putting his arm around me. His face remains impassive as he regards Elena. She can no longer ignore me, so she nods politely in my direction.
“Ana,” she purrs. “You look lovely, dear.”
“Elena,” I purr back. “Thank you.”
I catch Grace’s eye. She frowns, watching the three of us.
“Elena, I need to make an announcement,” Christian says, eyeing her dispassionately.
Her clear blue eyes cloud. “Of course.” She fakes a smile and steps back.
“Everyone,” Christian calls. He waits for a moment until the buzz in the room dies down and all eyes are once more on him.
“Thank you for coming today. I have to say I was expecting a quiet family dinner, so this is a pleasant surprise.” He stares pointedly at Mia, who grins and gives him a little wave. Christian shakes his head in exasperation and continues.
“Ros and I”—he acknowledges the red-haired woman standing nearby with a small bubbly blonde—”we had a close call yesterday.”
Oh, that’s the Ros that works with him. She grins and raises her glass to him. He nods back at her.
“So I’m especially glad to be here today to share with all of you my very good news.
This beautiful woman”—he glances down at me—”Miss Anastasia Rose Steele, has consented to be my wife, and I’d like you to be the first to know.” There are general gasps of astonishment, the odd cheer, and then a round of applause!
Jeez—this is really happening. I think I am the color of Kate’s dress. Christian grasps my chin, lifts my lips to his, and kisses me quickly.
“You’ll soon be mine.”
“I am already,” I whisper.
“Legally,” he mouths at me and gives me a wicked grin.
Lily, who is standing beside Mia, looks crestfallen; Gretchen looks like she’s eaten something nasty and bitter. As I glance anxiously around at the assembled crowd, I catch sight of Elena. Her mouth is open. She’s stunned—horrified even, and I can’t help a small but intense feeling of satisfaction to see her dumbstruck. What the hell is she doing here, anyway?
Carrick and Grace interrupt my uncharitable thoughts, and soon I am being hugged and kissed and passed around by all the Greys.
“Oh, Ana—I am so delighted you’re going to be family,” Grace gushes. “The change in Christian . . . He’s . . . happy. I am so thankful to you.” I blush, embarrassed by her exuber-ance but secretly delighted, too.
“Where is the ring?” exclaims Mia as she embraces me.
“Um . . .” A ring! Jeez. I hadn’t even thought about a ring. I glance anxiously up at Christian.
“We’re going to choose one together.” Christian glowers at her.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Grey!” she scolds him, then wraps her arms around him. “I’m so thrilled for you, Christian,” she says. She’s the only person I know who is not intimidated by the Grey glower. It has me quailing . . . Well, it certainly used to.
“When will you get married? Have you set a date?” She beams up at Christian.
He shakes his head, his exasperation palpable. “No idea, and no we haven’t. Ana and I need to discuss all that,” he says irritably.
“I hope you have a big wedding—here,” she beams enthusiastically, ignoring his caus-tic tone.
“We’ll probably fly to Vegas tomorrow,” he growls at her, and he’s rewarded with a full-on Mia Grey pouty grimace. Rolling his eyes, he turns to Elliot, who gives him his second bear hug in as many days.
“Way to go, bro.” He claps Christian’s back.
The response from the room is overwhelming, and it’s a few minutes before I find myself back beside Christian with Dr. Flynn. Elena seems to have disappeared, and Gretchen is sullenly refilling champagne glasses.
Beside Dr. Flynn is a striking young woman with long, dark, almost black hair, cleavage, and lovely hazel eyes.
“Christian,” says Flynn, holding out his hand. Christian shakes it gladly.
“John. Rhian.” He kisses the dark-haired woman on her cheek. She’s petite and pretty.
“Glad you’re still with us, Christian. My life would be most dull—and penurious—without you.”