Fifty Shades Darker – Chapter 22

He sighs.

“I feel liberated.” He shrugs, then beams—a glorious, carefree Christian smile, and the weariness and strain present moments ago have vanished.

“Really?” I beam back. Wow, I’d crawl over broken glass for that smile.

“Our business relationship is over. Done.”

I frown at him. “Will you liquidate the salon business?” He snorts. “I’m not that vindictive, Anastasia,” he admonishes me. “No. I’ll gift them to her. I’ll talk to my lawyer Monday. I owe her that much.” I arch an eyebrow at him. “No more Mrs. Robinson?” His mouth twists in amusement and he shakes his head.

“Gone.”

I grin.

“I’m sorry you lost a friend.”

He shrugs then smirks. “Are you?”

“No,” I confess, flushing.

“Come.” He stands and offers me his hand. “Let’s join the party in our honor. I might even get drunk.”

“Do you get drunk?” I ask as I take his hand.

“Not since I was a wild teenager.” We walk down the stairs.

“Have you eaten?” he asks.

Oh crap.

“No.”

“Well you should. From the look and smell of Elena, that was one of my father’s lethal cocktails you threw over her.” He gazes at me, trying and failing to keep the amusement off his face.

“Christian, I—”

He holds up his hand.

“No arguing, Anastasia. If you’re going to drink—and throw alcohol over my exes—

you need to eat. It’s rule number one. I believe we’ve already had that discussion after our first night together.”

Oh yes. The Heathman.

Back in the hallway, he pauses to caress my face, his fingers skimming my jaw.

“I lay awake for hours and watched you sleep,” he murmurs. “I might have loved you even then.”

Oh.

He leans down and kisses me softly, and I melt everywhere, all the tension of the last hour or so seeping languidly from my body.

“Eat,” he whispers.

“Okay,” I acquiesce because right now I’d probably do anything for him. Taking my hand, he leads me toward the kitchen where the party is in full swing.

“Goodnight, John, Rhian.”

“Congratulations again, Ana. You two will be just fine.” Dr. Flynn smiles kindly at us, standing arm in arm in the hallway as he and Rhian take their leave.

“Goodnight.”

Christian closes the door and shakes his head. He gazes down at me, his eyes suddenly bright with excitement.

What’s this?

“Just the family left. I think my mother has had too much to drink.” Grace is singing karaoke on some game console in the family room. Kate and Mia are giving her a run for her money.

“Do you blame her?” I smirk at him, trying to keep the atmosphere between us light.

I succeed.

“Are you smirking at me, Miss Steele?”

“I am.”

“It’s been quite a day.”

“Christian, recently, every day with you has been quite a day.” My voice is sardonic.

He shakes his head. “Fair point well made, Miss Steele. Come—I want to show you something.” Taking my hand, he leads me through the house to the kitchen where Carrick, Ethan, and Elliot are talking Mariners, drinking the last of the cocktails, and eating leftovers.

“Off for a stroll?” Elliot teases suggestively as we make our way through the French doors. Christian ignores him. Carrick frowns at Elliot, shaking his head in a silent rebuke.

As we make our way up the steps to the lawn, I take off my shoes. The half-moon shines brightly over the bay. It’s brilliant, casting everything in myriad of shades of gray as the lights of Seattle twinkle sweetly in the distance. The lights of the boathouse are on, a soft glowing beacon in the cool cast of the moon.

“Christian, I’d like to go to church tomorrow.”

“Oh?”

“I prayed you’d come back alive and you did. It’s the least I could do.”

“Okay.”

We wander hand in hand in a relaxed silence for a few moments. Then something occurs to me.

“Where are you going to put the photos José took of me?”

“I thought we might put them in the new house.”

“You bought it?”

He stops to stare at me, and his voice full of concern. “Yes. I thought you liked it.”

“I do. When did you buy it?”

“Yesterday morning. Now we need to decide what to do with it,” he murmurs, relieved.

“Don’t knock it down. Please. It’s such a lovely house. It just needs some tender loving care.”

Christian glances at me and smiles. “Okay. I’ll talk to Elliot. He knows a good architect; she did some work on my place is Aspen. He can do the remodeling.” I snort, suddenly remembering the last time we crossed the lawn under the moonlight to the boathouse. Oh, perhaps that’s what we’re going to do now. I grin.

“What?”

“I remember the last time you took me to the boathouse.” Christian chuckles quietly. “Oh, that was fun. In fact . . .” He suddenly stops and scoops me over his shoulder, and I squeal, though we don’t have far to go.

“You were really angry, if I remember correctly,” I gasp.

“Anastasia, I’m always really angry.”

“No you’re not.”

He swats my behind as he stops outside the wooden door. He slides me down his body back to the ground and takes my head in his hands.

“No, not anymore.” Leaning down, he kisses me, hard. When he pulls away, I’m breathless and desire is racing round my body.

He gazes down at me, and in the glow of the strip of light coming from inside the boathouse, I can see he’s anxious. My anxious man, not a white knight or a dark knight, but a man—a beautiful, not-quite-so-fucked-up man—whom I love. I reach up and caress his face, running my fingers through his sideburns and along his jaw to his chin, then let my index finger touch his lips. He relaxes.

“I’ve something to show you in here,” he murmurs and opens the door.

The harsh light of the fluorescents illuminates the impressive motor launch in the dock, bobbing gently on the dark water. There’s a row boat beside it.

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