“I neither need nor want your congratulations, Elena. I’m surprised and disappointed to see you here.”
She arches an eyebrow. I think she’s impressed.
“I wouldn’t have thought of you as a worthy adversary, Anastasia. But you surprise me at every turn.”
“I haven’t thought of you at all,” I lie, coolly. Christian would be proud. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have much better things to do than waste my time with you.”
“Not so fast, missy,” she hisses, leaning against the door, effectively blocking it. “What on earth do you think you’re doing, consenting to marry Christian? If you think for one minute you can make him happy, you’re very much mistaken.”
“What I’m consenting to do with Christian is none of your concern.” I smile with sar-castic sweetness. She ignores me.
“He has needs—needs you cannot possibly begin to satisfy,” she gloats.
“What do you know of his needs?” I snarl. My sense of indignation flares brightly, burning inside me as adrenaline surges through my body. How dare this fucking bitch preach to me? “You’re nothing but a sick child molester, and if it was up to me, I’d toss you into the seventh circle of hell and walk away smiling. Now get out of my way—or do I have to make you?”
“You’re making a big mistake here, lady.” She shakes a long, skinny, finely manicured finger at me. “How dare you judge our lifestyle? You know nothing, and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. And if you think he’s going to be happy with a mousy little gold-digger like you . . .”
That’s it! I throw the rest of my lemon martini in her face, drenching her.
“Don’t you dare tell me what I’m getting myself into!” I shout at her. “When will you learn? It’s none of your goddamned business!”
She gapes at me, horror struck, wiping the sticky drink off her face. I think she’s about to lunge at me, but she’s suddenly shunted forward as the door opens.
Christian is standing in the doorway. It takes him a nanosecond to assess the situation—me ashen and shaking, her soaked and livid. His lovely face darkens and contorts with anger as he comes to stand between us.
“What the fuck are you doing, Elena?” he says, his voice glacial and laced with menace.She blinks up at him. “She’s not right for you, Christian,” she whispers.
“What?” he shouts, startling both of us. I can’t see his face but his whole body has tensed, and he radiates animosity.
“How the fuck do you know what’s right for me?”
“You have needs, Christian,” she says her voice softer.
“I’ve told you before—this is none of your fucking business,” he roars. Oh crap—Very Angry Christian has reared his not-so-ugly head. People are going to hear.
“What is this?” He pauses, glaring at her. “Do you think it’s you? You? You think you’re right for me?” His voice is softer but drips contempt, and suddenly I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to witness this intimate encounter. I’m intruding. But I’m stuck—my limbs unwilling to move.
Elena swallows and seems to draw herself upright. Her stance changes subtly, becomes more commanding, and she steps toward him.
“I was the best thing that ever happened to you,” she hisses arrogantly at him. “Look at you now. One of the richest, most successful, entrepreneurs in the US—controlled, driven—you need nothing. You are master of your universe.” He steps back as if he’s been struck and gapes at her in outraged disbelief.
“You loved it, Christian, don’t try and kid yourself. You were on the road to self-de-struction, and I saved you from that, saved you from a life behind bars. Believe me, baby, that’s where you would have ended up. I taught you everything you know, everything you need.”
Christian blanches, staring at her in horror. When he speaks, his voice is low and incredulous.
“You taught me how to fuck, Elena. But it’s empty, like you. No wonder Linc left.” Bile rises in my mouth. I should not be here. But I’m frozen to the spot, morbidly fascinated as they eviscerate each other.
“You never once held me,” Christian whispers. “You never once said you loved me.” She narrows her eyes. “Love is for fools, Christian.”
“Get out of my house.” Grace’s implacable, furious voice startles us. Three heads swing rapidly to where Grace stands on the threshold of the room. She is glaring at Elena, who pales beneath her St. Tropez tan.
Time seems suspended as we collectively take a deep gasping breath, and Grace stalks deliberately into the room. Her eyes blaze with fury, never once leaving Elena, until she stands before her. Elena’s eyes widen in alarm, and Grace slaps her hard across the face, the sound of the impact resounding off the walls of the dining room.
“Take your filthy paws off my son, you whore, and get out of my house—now!” she hisses through gritted teeth.
Elena clutches her reddening cheek and stares in horror for a moment, shocked and blinking at Grace. Then she hurries from the room, not bothering to close the door behind her. Grace turns slowly to face Christian and a tense silence settles like a thick blanket over us as Christian and Grace stare at each other. After a beat, Grace speaks.
“Ana, before I hand him over to you, would you mind giving me a minute or two alone with my son?” Her voice is quiet, husky, but oh-so-strong.
“Of course,” I whisper, and exit as quickly as I can, glancing anxiously over my shoulder. But neither of them look at me as I leave. They continue to stare at each other, their unspoken communication blaringly loud.
In the hallway, I am momentarily lost. My heart pounds and my blood races through my veins . . . I feel panicked and out of my depth. Holy fuck, that was heavy and now Grace knows. Crap. I can’t think what she’s going to say to Christian, and I know it’s wrong, I know, but I lean against the door trying to listen.