Kate is ecstatic.
“But what was he doing at Clayton’s?” Her curiosity oozes through the phone. I’m in the depths of the stock room, trying to keep my voice casual.
“He was in the area.”
“I think that is one huge coincidence, Ana. You don’t think he was there to see you?” she speculates. My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. The dull, disap-pointing reality is that he was here on business.
“He was visiting the farming division of WSU. He’s funding some research,” I mutter. “Oh yes. He’s given the department a $2.5 million grant.”
“How do you know this?”
“Ana, I’m a journalist, and I’ve written a profile on the guy. It’s my job to know this.” “Okay, Carla Bernstein, keep your hair on. So do you want these photos?”
“Of course I do. The question is, who’s going to do them and where.” “We could ask him where. He says he’s staying in the area.”
“You can contact him?”
“I have his cell phone number.” Kate gasps.
“The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State, just gave you his cell phone number.”
“Ana! He likes you. No doubt about it.” Her tone is emphatic.
“Kate, he’s just trying to be nice.” But even as I say the words, I know they’re not true – Christian Grey doesn’t do nice. He does polite, maybe. And a small quiet voice whis-pers, perhaps Kate is right. My scalp prickles at the idea that maybe, just maybe, he might like me. After all, he did say he was glad Kate didn’t do the interview. I hug myself with quiet glee, rocking from side to side, entertaining the possibility that he might like me for one brief moment. Kate brings me back to the now.
“I don’t know who we’ll get to do the shoot. Levi, our regular photographer, can’t. He’s home in Idaho Falls for the weekend. He’ll be pissed that he blew an opportunity to photo one of America’s leading entrepreneurs.”
“Hmm… What about José?”
“Great idea! You ask him – he’ll do anything for you. Then call Grey and find out where he wants us.” Kate is irritatingly cavalier about José.
“I think you should call him.” “Who, José?” Kate scoffs. “No, Grey.”
“Ana, you’re the one with the relationship.”
“Relationship?” I squeak at her, my voice rising several octaves. “I barely know the guy.”
“At least you’ve met him,” she says bitterly. “And it looks like he wants to know you better. Ana, just call him,” she snaps and hangs up. She is so bossy sometimes. I frown at my cell, sticking my tongue out at it.
I’m just leaving a message for José when Paul enters the stock room looking for sand-paper.
“We’re kind of busy out there, Ana,” he says without acrimony. “Yeah, um, sorry,” I mutter, turning to leave.
“So, how come you know Christian Grey?” Paul’s voice is unconvincingly nonchalant. “I had to interview him for our student newspaper. Kate wasn’t well.” I shrug, trying
to sound casual and doing no better than him.
“Christian Grey in Clayton’s. Go figure,” Paul snorts, amazed. He shakes his head as if to clear it. “Anyway, want to grab a drink or something this evening?”
Whenever he’s home he asks me on a date, and I always say no. It’s a ritual. I’ve never considered it a good idea to date the boss’s brother, and besides, Paul is cute in a whole-some all-American boy-next-door kind of way, but he’s no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Grey? My subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised. I slap her down.
“Don’t you have a family dinner or something for your brother?” “That’s tomorrow.”
“Maybe some other time, Paul. I need to study tonight. I have my finals next week.” “Ana, one of these days, you’ll say yes,” he smiles as I escape out to the store floor.
“But I do places, Ana, not people,” José groans.
“José, please?” I beg. Clutching my cell, I pace the living area of our apartment, star-ing out of the window at the fading evening light.
“Give me that phone.” Kate grabs the handset from me, tossing her silken red-blonde hair over her shoulder.
“Listen here, José Rodriquez, if you want our newspaper to cover the opening of your show, you’ll do this shoot for us tomorrow, capiche?” Kate can be awesomely tough.
“Good. Ana will call back with the location and the call time. We’ll see you tomor-row.” She snaps my cell phone shut.
“Sorted. All we need to do now is decide where and when. Call him.” She holds the phone out to me. My stomach twists.
“Call Grey, now!”
I scowl at her and reach into my back pocket for his business card. I take a deep, steadying breath, and with shaking fingers, I dial the number.
He answers on the second ring. His tone is clipped, calm and cold. “Grey.”
“Err… Mr. Grey? It’s Anastasia Steele.” I don’t recognize my own voice, I’m so ner-vous. There’s a brief pause. Inside I’m quaking.
“Miss Steele. How nice to hear from you.” His voice has changed. He’s surprised, I think, and he sounds so… warm – seductive even. My breath hitches, and I flush. I’m sud-denly conscious that Katherine Kavanagh is staring at me, her mouth open, and I dart into the kitchen to avoid her unwanted scrutiny.
“Err – we’d like to go ahead with the photo-shoot for the article.” Breathe, Ana, breathe. My lungs drag in a hasty breath. “Tomorrow, if that’s okay. Where would be convenient for you, sir?”
I can almost hear his sphinx-like smile through the phone.
“I’m staying at the Heathman in Portland. Shall we say, nine thirty tomorrow morn-ing?”
“Okay, we’ll see you there.” I am all gushing and breathy – like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the State of Washington.
“I look forward to it, Miss Steele.” I visualize the wicked gleam in his gray eyes. How can he make seven little words hold so much tantalizing promise? I hang up. Kate is in the kitchen, and she’s staring at me with a look of complete and utter consternation on her face. “Anastasia Rose Steele. You like him! I’ve never seen or heard you so, so… affected
by anyone before. You’re actually blushing.”
“Oh Kate, you know I blush all the time. It’s an occupational hazard with me. Don’t be so ridiculous,” I snap. She blinks at me with surprise – I very rarely throw my toys out of the pram – and I briefly relent. “I just find him… intimidating, that’s all.”
“Heathman, that figures,” mutters Kate. “I’ll give the manager a call and negotiate a space for the shoot.”
“I’ll make supper. Then I need to study.” I cannot hide my irritation with her as I open one of cupboards to make supper.
I am restless that night, tossing and turning. Dreaming of smoky gray eyes, coveralls, long legs, long fingers, and dark, dark unexplored places. I wake twice in the night, my heart pounding. Oh, I’m going to look just great tomorrow with so little sleep, I scold myself. I punch my pillow and try to settle.
The Heathman is nestled in the downtown heart of Portland. Its impressive brown stone edifice was completed just in time for the crash of the late 1920s. José, Travis, and I are traveling in my Beetle, and Kate is in her CLK, since we can’t all fit in my car. Travis is José’s friend and gopher, here to help out with the lighting. Kate has managed to acquire the use of a room at the Heathman free of charge for the morning in exchange for a credit in the article. When she explains at reception that we’re here to photograph Christian Grey CEO, we are instantly upgraded to a suite. Just a regular-sized suite, however, as apparent-ly Mr. Grey is already occupying the largest one in the building. An over-keen marketing executive shows us up to the suite – he’s terribly young and very nervous for some reason. I suspect it’s Kate’s beauty and commanding manner that disarms him, because he’s putty in her hands. The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished.
It’s nine. We have half an hour to set up. Kate is in full flow.
“José, I think we’ll shoot against that wall, do you agree?” She doesn’t wait for his reply. “Travis, clear the chairs. Ana, could you ask housekeeping to bring up some refresh-ments? And let Grey know where we are.”
Yes, Mistress. She is so domineering. I roll my eyes, but do as I’m told. Half an hour later, Christian Grey walks into our suite.
Holy Crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and grey flannel pants that hang from his hips. His unruly hair is still damp from a shower. My mouth goes dry looking at him… he’s so freaking hot. Grey is followed into the suite by a man in his mid-thirties, all buzz-cut and stubble in a sharp dark suit and tie who stands silently in the corner. His hazel eyes watch us impassively.
“Miss Steele, we meet again.” Grey extends his hand, and I shake it, blinking rapidly. Oh my… he really is, quite… wow. As I touch his hand, I’m aware of that delicious cur-rent running right through me, lighting me up, making me blush, and I’m sure my erratic breathing must be audible.
“Mr. Grey, this is Katherine Kavanagh,” I mutter, waving a hand toward Kate who comes forward, looking him squarely in the eye.
“The tenacious Miss Kavanagh. How do you do?” He gives her a small smile, look-ing genuinely amused. “I trust you’re feeling better? Anastasia said you were unwell last week.”
“I’m fine, thank you, Mr. Grey.” She shakes his hand firmly without batting an eyelid. I remind myself that Kate has been to the best private schools in Washington. Her family has money, and she’s grown up confident and sure of her place in the world. She doesn’t take any crap. I am in awe of her.
“Thank you for taking the time to do this.” She gives him a polite, professional smile. “It’s a pleasure,” he answers, turning his gray gaze on me, and I flush, again. Damn it.
“This is José Rodriguez, our photographer,” I say, grinning at José who smiles with affection back at me. His eyes cool when he looks from me to Grey.
“Mr. Grey,” he nods.
“Mr. Rodriguez,” Grey’s expression changes too as he appraises José.
“Where would you like me?” Grey asks him. His tone sounds vaguely threatening. But Katherine is not about to let José run the show.
“Mr. Grey – if you could sit here, please? Be careful of the lighting cables. And then we’ll do a few standing, too.” She directs him to a chair set up against the wall.
Travis switches on the lights, momentarily blinding Grey, and mutters an apology. Then Travis and I stand back and watch as José proceeds to snap away. He takes several photographs hand-held, asking Grey to turn this way, then that, to move his arm, then put it down again. Moving to the tripod, José takes several more, while Grey sits and poses, patiently and naturally, for about twenty minutes. My wish has come true: I can stand and admire Grey from not-so-afar. Twice our eyes lock, and I have to tear myself away from his cloudy gaze.
“Enough sitting.” Katherine wades in again. “Standing, Mr. Grey?” she asks.
He stands, and Travis scurries in to remove the chair. The shutter on José’s Nikon starts clicking again.
“I think we have enough,” José announces five minutes later.
“Great,” says Kate. “Thank you again, Mr. Grey.” She shakes his hand, as does José. “I look forward to reading the article, Miss Kavanagh,” murmurs Grey, and turns to
me, standing by the door. “Will you walk with me, Miss Steele?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say, completely thrown. I glance anxiously at Kate, who shrugs at me. I notice José scowling behind her.
“Good day to you all,” says Grey as he opens the door, standing aside to allow me out first.
Holy hell… what’s this about? What does he want? I pause in the hotel corridor, fidg-eting nervously as Grey emerges from the room followed by Mr. Buzz-Cut in his sharp suit. “I’ll call you, Taylor,” he murmurs to Buzz-Cut. Taylor wanders back down the cor-ridor, and Grey turns his burning gray gaze to me. Crap… have I done something wrong?
“I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning.”
My heart slams into my mouth. Adate? Christian Grey is asking me on a date. He’s asking if you want a coffee. Maybe he thinks you haven’t woken up yet, my subconscious whines at me in a sneering mood again. I clear my throat trying to control my nerves.
“I have to drive everyone home,” I murmur apologetically, twisting my hands and fingers in front of me.
“TAYLOR,” he calls, making me jump. Taylor, who had been retreating down the cor-ridor, turns and heads back toward us.
“Are they based at the university?” Grey asks, his voice soft and inquiring. I nod, too stunned to speak.
“Taylor can take them. He’s my driver. We have a large 4×4 here, so he’ll be able to take the equipment too.”
“Mr. Grey?” Taylor asks when he reaches us, giving nothing away.
“Please, can you drive the photographer, his assistant, and Miss Kavanagh back home?”
“Certainly, sir,” Taylor replies.
“There. Now can you join me for coffee?” Grey smiles as if it’s a done deal. I frown at him.
“Um – Mr. Grey, err – this really… look, Taylor doesn’t have to drive them home.” I flash a brief look at Taylor, who remains stoically impassive. “I’ll swap vehicles with Kate, if you give me a moment.”
Grey smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile. Oh my… and he opens the door of the suite so I can re-enter. I scoot around him to enter the room, finding Katherine in deep discussion with José.
“Ana, I think he definitely likes you,” she says with no preamble whatsoever. José glares at me with disapproval. “But I don’t trust him,” she adds. I raise my hand up in the hope that she’ll stop talking. By some miracle, she does.
“Kate, if you take the Beetle, can I take your car?” “Why?”
“Christian Grey has asked me to go for coffee with him.”
Her mouth pops open. Speechless Kate! I savor the moment. She grabs me by my arm and drags me into the bedroom that’s off the living area of the suite.
“Ana, there’s something about him.” Her tone is full of warning. “He’s gorgeous, I agree, but I think he’s dangerous. Especially to someone like you.”
“What do you mean, someone like me?” I demand, affronted.
“An innocent like you, Ana. You know what I mean,” she says a little irritated. I flush. “Kate, it’s just coffee. I’m starting my exams this week, and I need to study, so I won’t
She purses her lips as if considering my request. Finally, she fishes her car keys out of her pocket and hands them to me. I hand her mine.
“I’ll see you later. Don’t be long, or I’ll send out search and rescue.” “Thanks.” I hug her.
I emerge from the suite to find Christian Grey waiting, leaning up against the wall, looking like a male model in a pose for some glossy high-end magazine.
“Okay, let’s do coffee,” I murmur, flushing a beet red. He grins.
“After you, Miss Steele.” He stands up straight, holding his hand out for me to go first. I make my way down the corridor, my knees shaky, my stomach full of butterflies, and my heart in my mouth thumping a dramatic uneven beat. I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey… and I hate coffee.
We walk together down the wide hotel corridor to the elevators. What should I say to him? My mind is suddenly paralyzed with apprehension. What are we going to talk about? What on Earth do I have in common with him? His soft, warm voice startles me from my reverie.
“How long have you known Katherine Kavanagh?” Oh, an easy questions for starters.
“Since our freshman year. She’s a good friend.” “Hmm,” he replies, non-committal. What is he thinking?
At the elevators, he presses the call button, and the bell rings almost immediately. The doors slide open revealing a young couple in a passionate clinch inside. Surprised and embarrassed, they jump apart, staring guiltily in every direction but ours. Grey and I step into the elevator.
I am struggling to maintain a straight face, so I gaze down at the floor, feeling my cheeks turning pink. When I peek up at Grey through my lashes, he has a hint of a smile on his lips, but it’s very hard to tell. The young couple says nothing, and we travel down to the first floor in embarrassed silence. We don’t even have trashy piped music to distract us. The doors open and, much to my surprise, Grey takes my hand, clasping it with his long cool fingers. I feel the current run through me, and my already rapid heartbeat accel-erates. As he leads me out of the elevator, we can hear the suppressed giggles of the couple
erupting behind us. Grey grins.
“What is it about elevators?” he mutters.
We cross the expansive, bustling lobby of the hotel toward the entrance but Grey avoids the revolving door, and I wonder if that’s because he’d have to let go of my hand.
Outside, it’s a mild May Sunday. The sun is shining and the traffic is light. Grey turns left and strolls to the corner, where we stop waiting for the lights of the pedestrian crossing to change. He’s still holding my hand. I’m in the street, and Christian Grey is holding my hand. No one has ever held my hand. I feel giddy, and I tingle all over. I attempt to smother the ridiculous grin that threatens to split my face in two. Try to be cool, Ana, my subconscious implores me. The green man appears, and we’re off again.
We walk four blocks before we reach the Portland Coffee House, where Grey releases me to hold the door open so I can step inside.
“Why don’t you choose a table, while I get the drinks. What would you like?” he asks, polite as ever.
“I’ll have… um – English Breakfast tea, bag out.” He raises his eyebrows.
“I’m not keen on coffee.” He smiles.
“Okay, bag out tea. Sugar?”
For a moment, I’m stunned, thinking it’s an endearment, but fortunately my subcon-scious kicks in with pursed lips. No, stupid – do you take sugar?
“No thanks.” I stare down at my knotted fingers. “Anything to eat?”
“No thank you.” I shake my head, and he heads to the counter.
I surreptitiously gaze at him from beneath my lashes as he stands in line waiting to be served. I could watch him all day… he’s tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and the way those pants hang from his hips… Oh my. Once or twice he runs his long, graceful fingers through his now dry but still disorderly hair. Hmm… I’d like to do that. The thought comes unbidden into my mind, and my face flames. I bite my lip and stare down at my hands again not liking where my wayward thoughts are headed.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Grey is back, startling me.
I go crimson. I was just thinking about running my fingers through your hair and wondering if it would feel soft to touch. I shake my head. He’s carrying a tray, which he sets down on the small, round, birch-veneer table. He hands me a cup and saucer, a small teapot, and a side plate bearing a lone teabag labeled ‘Twinings English Breakfast’ – my favorite. He has a coffee which bears a wonderful leaf-pattern imprinted in the milk. How do they do that? I wonder idly. He’s also bought himself a blueberry muffin. Putting the tray aside, he sits opposite me and crosses his long legs. He looks so comfortable, so at ease with his body, I envy him. Here’s me, all gawky and uncoordinated, barely able to get from A to B without falling flat on my face.
“Your thoughts?” he prompts me.
“This is my favorite tea.” My voice is quiet, breathy. I simply can’t believe I’m sitting opposite Christian Grey in a coffee shop in Portland. He frowns. He knows I’m hiding something. I pop the teabag into the teapot and almost immediately fish it out again with my teaspoon. As I place the used teabag back on the side plate, he cocks his head gazing quizzically at me.
“I like my tea black and weak,” I mutter as an explanation. “I see. Is he your boyfriend?”
Whoa… What? “Who?”
“The photographer. José Rodriguez.”
I laugh, nervous but curious. What gave him that impression?
“No. José’s a good friend of mine, that’s all. Why did you think he was my boyfriend?” “The way you smiled at him, and he at you.” His gray gaze holds mine. He’s so un-
nerving. I want to look away but I’m caught – spellbound. “He’s more like family,” I whisper.
Grey nods slightly, seemingly satisfied with my response, and glances down at his blueberry muffin. His long fingers deftly peel back the paper, and I watch, fascinated.
“Do you want some?” he asks, and that amused, secret smile is back. “No thanks.” I frown and stare down at my hands again.
“And the boy I met yesterday, at the store. He’s not your boyfriend?”
“No. Paul’s just a friend. I told you yesterday.” Oh, this is getting silly. “Why do you ask?”
“You seem nervous around men.”
Holy crap, that’s personal. I’m just nervous around you, Grey.
“I find you intimidating.” I flush scarlet, but mentally pat myself on the back for my candor, and gaze at my hands again. I hear his sharp intake of breath.
“You should find me intimidating,” he nods. “You’re very honest. Please don’t look down. I like to see your face.”
Oh. I glance at him, and he gives me an encouraging but wry smile.
“It gives me some sort of clue what you might be thinking,” he breathes. “You’re a mystery, Miss Steele.
“There’s nothing mysterious about me.”
“I think you’re very self-contained,” he murmurs.
Am I? Wow… how am I managing that? This is bewildering. Me, self-contained? No Way.
“Except when you blush, of course, which is often. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about.” He pops a small piece of muffin into his mouth and starts to chew it slowly, not taking his eyes off me. And as if on cue, I blush. Crap!
“Do you always make such personal observations?”
“I hadn’t realized I was. Have I offended you?” He sounds surprised. “No,” I answer truthfully.
“But you’re very high-handed,” I retaliate quietly.
He raises his eyebrows and, if I’m not mistaken, he flushes slightly too. “I’m used to getting my own way, Anastasia,” he murmurs. “In all things.”
“I don’t doubt it. Why haven’t you asked me to call you by your first name?” I’m sur-prised by my audacity. Why has this conversation become so serious? This isn’t going the way I thought it was going to go. I can’t believe I’m feeling so antagonistic towards him. It’s like he’s trying to warn me off.
“The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends. That’s the way I like it.”
Oh. He still hasn’t said, ‘Call me Christian.’ He is a control freak, there’s no other explanation, and part of me is thinking maybe it would have been better if Kate had in-terviewed him. Two control freaks together. Plus of course she’s almost blonde – well, strawberry blonde – like all the women in his office. And she’s beautiful, my subconscious reminds me. I don’t like the idea of Christian and Kate. I take a sip of my tea, and Grey eats another small piece of his muffin.
“Are you an only child?” he asks. Whoa… he keeps changing direction. “Yes.”
“Tell me about your parents.”
Why does he want to know this? It’s so dull.
“My mom lives in Georgia with her new husband Bob. My stepdad lives in Monte-sano.”
“My father died when I was a baby.”
“I’m sorry,” he mutters and a fleeting troubled look crosses his face. “I don’t remember him.”
“And your mother remarried?” I snort.
“You could say that.” He frowns at me.
“You’re not giving much away, are you?” he says dryly, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought.
“Neither are you.”
“You’ve interviewed me once already, and I can recollect some quite probing questions then.” He smirks at me.
Holy shit. He’s remembering the ‘gay’question. Once again, I’m mortified. In years to come, I know, I’ll need intensive therapy to not feel this embarrassed every time I recall the moment. I start babbling about my mother – anything to block that memory.
“My mom is wonderful. She’s an incurable romantic. She’s currently on her fourth husband.”
Christian raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“I miss her,” I continue. “She has Bob now. I just hope he can keep an eye on her and pick up the pieces when her harebrained schemes don’t go as planned.” I smile fondly. I haven’t seen my mom for so long. Christian is watching me intently, taking occasional sips of his coffee. I really shouldn’t look at his mouth. It’s unsettling. Those lips.
“Do you get along with your stepfather?”
“Of course. I grew up with him. He’s the only father I know.” “And what’s he like?”
“Ray? He’s… taciturn.”
“That’s it?” Grey asks, surprised.
I shrug. What does this man expect? My life story? “Taciturn like his stepdaughter,” Grey prompts.
I refrain from rolling my eyes at him.
“He likes soccer – European soccer especially – and bowling, and fly-fishing, and mak-ing furniture. He’s a carpenter. Ex-army.” I sigh.
“You lived with him?”
“Yes. My mom met Husband Number Three when I was fifteen. I stayed with Ray.” He frowns as if he doesn’t understand.
“You didn’t want to live with your mom?” he asks. I blush. This really is none of his business.
“Husband Number Three lived in Texas. My home was in Montesano. And… you know my mom was newly married.” I stop. My mom never talks about Husband Number Three. Where is Grey going with this? This is none of his business. Two can play at this game.
“Tell me about your parents,” I ask. He shrugs.
“My dad’s a lawyer, my mom is a pediatrician. They live in Seattle.”
Oh… he’s had an affluent upbringing. And I wonder about a successful couple who adopt three kids, and one of them turns into a beautiful man who takes on the business world and conquers it single-handed. What drove him to be that way? His folks must be proud.
“What do your siblings do?”
“Elliot’s in construction, and my little sister is in Paris, studying cookery under some renowned French chef.” His eyes cloud with irritation. He doesn’t want to talk about his family or himself.
“I hear Paris is lovely,” I murmur. Why doesn’t he want to talk about his family? Is it because he’s adopted?
“It’s beautiful. Have you been?” he asks, his irritation forgotten.
“I’ve never left mainland USA.” So now we’re back to banalities. What is he hiding?
“Would you like to go?”
“To Paris?” I squeak. This has thrown me – who wouldn’t want to go to Paris? “Of course,” I concede. “But it’s England that I’d really like to visit.”
He cocks his head to one side, running his index finger across his lower lip… oh my. “Because?”
I blink rapidly. Concentrate, Steele.
“It’s the home of Shakespeare, Austen, the Brontë sisters, Thomas Hardy. I’d like to see the places that inspired those people to write such wonderful books.”
All this talk of literary greats reminds me that I should be studying. I glance at my watch.
“I’d better go. I have to study.” “For your exams?”
“Yes. They start Tuesday.” “Where’s Miss Kavanagh’s car?” “In the hotel parking lot.”
“I’ll walk you back.”
“Thank you for the tea, Mr. Grey.”
He smiles his odd I’ve got a whopping big secret smile.
“You’re welcome, Anastasia. It’s my pleasure. Come,” he commands, and holds his hand out to me. I take it, bemused, and follow him out of the coffee shop.
We stroll back to the hotel, and I’d like to say it’s in companionable silence. He at least looks his usual calm, collected self. As for me, I’m desperately trying to gauge how our little coffee morning has gone. I feel like I’ve been interviewed for a position, but I’m not sure what it is.
“Do you always wear jeans?” he asks out of the blue. “Mostly.”
He nods. We’re back at the intersection, across the road from the hotel. My mind is reeling. What an odd question… And I’m aware that our time together is limited. This is it. This was it, and I’ve completely blown it, I know. Perhaps he has someone.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I blurt out. Holy crap – I just said that out loud? His lips quirk up in a half-smile, and he looks down at me.
“No, Anastasia. I don’t do the girlfriend thing,” he says softly.
Oh… what does that mean? He’s not gay? Oh, maybe he is – crap! He must have lied to me in his interview. And for a moment, I think he’s going to follow on with some explanation, some clue to this cryptic statement – but he doesn’t. I have to go. I have to try to reassemble my thoughts. I have to get away from him. I walk forward, and I trip, stumbling headlong onto the road.
“Shit, Ana!” Grey cries. He tugs the hand that he’s holding so hard that I fall back against him just as a cyclist whips past, narrowly missing me, heading the wrong way up this one-way street.
It all happens so fast – one minute I’m falling, the next I’m in his arms, and he’s hold-ing me tightly against his chest. .I inhale his clean, vital scent. He smells of fresh laundered linen and some expensive body-wash. Oh my, it’s intoxicating. I inhale deeply.
“Are you okay?” he whispers. He has one arm around me, clasping me to him, while the fingers of his other hand softly trace my face, gently probing, examining me. His thumb brushes my lower lip, and I hear his breath hitch. He’s staring into my eyes, and I hold his anxious, burning gaze for a moment or maybe it’s forever… but eventually, my at-tention is drawn to his beautiful mouth. Oh my. And for the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed. I want to feel his mouth on me.