The attention of the entire restaurant is trained on Kate and Elliot, waiting with bated breath as one. The anticipation is unbearable. Silence stretches like a taut rubber band. The atmosphere is oppressive, apprehensive, and yet hopeful.
Kate stares blankly at Elliot as he gazes up at her, his eyes wide with longing—fear even. Holy crap, Kate! Put him out of his misery. Please. Jeez—he could have asked her privately.
A single tear trickles down her cheek though she remains expressionless.
Shit! Kate crying? Then she smiles, a slow disbelieving I’ve-found-Nirvana smile.
“Yes,” she whispers, a breathy, sweet acceptance—not Kate-like at all. For one nanosecond there’s a pause as the entire restaurant exhales a collective sigh of relief, and then the noise is deafening. Spontaneous applause, cheering, catcalls, whooping, and suddenly I have tears rolling down my face, smudging my Barbie-meets-Joan-Jett makeup.
Oblivious to the commotion around them, the two are locked in their own little world. From his pocket Elliot produces a small box, opens it, and presents it to Kate. A ring. And from what I can see, an exquisite ring, but I need a closer look. Is that what he was doing with Gia? Choosing a ring? Shit! Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t tell Kate.
Kate looks from the ring to Elliot then throws her arms around his neck. They kiss, remarkably chaste for them, and the crowd goes wild. Elliot stands and acknowledges the approbation with a surprisingly graceful bow then, wearing a huge self-satisfied grin, sits back down. I can’t take my eyes off them. Taking the ring out of its box, Elliot gently slides it onto Kate’s finger, and they kiss once more.
Christian squeezes my hand. I didn’t realize I’d been gripping his so tightly. I release him, a little embarrassed, and he shakes his hand, mouthing, “Ow.”
“Sorry. Did you know about this?” I whisper.
Christian smiles, and I know that he did. He summons the waiter. “Two bottles of the Cristal please. The 2002 if you have it.”
I smirk at him.
“What?” he asks.
“Because the 2002 is so much better than the 2003,” I tease.
He laughs. “To the discerning palate, Anastasia.”
“You have a very discerning palate, Mr. Grey, and singular tastes.” I smile.
“That I do, Mrs. Grey.” He leans in close. “You taste best,” he whispers, and he kisses a certain spot behind my ear, sending little shivers down my spine. I blush scarlet and fondly remember his earlier demonstration of the quite literal shortcomings of my dress.
Mia is the first up to hug Kate and Elliot, and we all take turns congratulating the happy couple. I clutch Kate in a fierce hug.
“See? He was just worried about his proposal,” I whisper.
“Oh, Ana.” She giggle-sobs.
“Kate, I am so happy for you. Congratulations.”
Christian is behind me. He shakes Elliot’s hand, then—surprising both Elliot and me—pulls him into a hug. I can only just catch what he says.
“Way to go, Lelliot,” he murmurs. Elliot says nothing, for once stunned into silence, then cautiously returns his brother’s hug.
“Thanks, Christian,” Elliot chokes out.
Christian gives Kate a brief, if awkward, almost arm’s-length hug. I know that Christian’s attitude to Kate is tolerant, at best, and ambivalent most of the time, so this is progress. Releasing her, he says so quietly only she and I can hear,
“I hope you are as happy in your marriage as I am in mine.”
“Thank you, Christian. I hope so, too,” she says graciously.
The waiter has returned with the champagne, which he proceeds to open with an understated flourish.
Christian holds his champagne flute aloft.
“To Kate and my dear brother, Elliot—congratulations.”
We all sip, well, I glug. Hmm, Cristal tastes so good, and I’m reminded of the first time I drank it at Christian’s club and later, our eventful elevator journey to the first floor.
Christian frowns at me. “What are you thinking about?” he whispers.
“The first time I drank this champagne.”
His frown becomes more quizzical.
“We were at your club.” I prompt.
He grins. “Oh yes. I remember.” He winks at me.
“Elliot, have you set a date?” Mia pipes up.
Elliot gives his sister an exasperated stare. “I’ve only just asked Kate, so we’ll get back to you on that, ‘kay?”
“Oh, make it a Christmas wedding. That would be so romantic, and you’d have no trouble remembering your anniversary.” Mia claps her hands.
“I’ll take that under advisement.” Elliot smirks at her.
“After the champagne, can we please go clubbing?” Mia turns and gives Christian her biggest, brown-eyed look.
“I think we should ask Elliot and Kate what they’d like to do.”
As one, we turn expectantly to them. Elliot shrugs and Kate turns puce. Her carnal intent toward her fiancé is so clear I nearly spit four-hundred-dollar champagne all over the table.
Zax is the most exclusive nightclub in Aspen—or so says Mia. Christian strolls to the front of the short line with his arm wrapped around my waist and is immediately granted access. I wonder briefly if he owns the place. I glance at my watch—eleven thirty in the evening, and I’m feeling fuzzy. The two glasses of champagne and several glasses of Pouilly-Fumé during our meal are starting to have an effect, and I’m grateful Christian has his arm around me.
“Mr. Grey, welcome back,” says a very attractive, leggy blonde in black satin, hot pants, matching sleeveless shirt, and a little red bowtie. She smiles broadly, revealing perfect all-American teeth between scarlet lips that match her bowtie.
“Max will take your coat.”
A young man dressed entirely in black, fortunately not satin, smiles as he offers to take my coat. His dark eyes are warm and inviting. I am the only one wearing a coat—Christian insisted I take Mia’s trench coat to cover my behind—so Max only has to deal with me.
“Nice coat,” he says, gazing at me intently.
Beside me Christian bristles and fixes Max with a back-off-now glare. He reddens and quickly hands Christian my coat check ticket.