Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James

Darker (36 page)


I hold up my hand, warning him to be still.

He’s agitated. Furious. I can feel it. But he doesn’t move.

My eyes never leave Leila.

She looks like a wraith; there are dark circles beneath her eyes, her skin is translucent like parchment, and her lips are chapped and flaking.

Christ, Leila, what have you done to yourself?

Time passes. Seconds. Minutes. And we stare at each other.

Slowly, the light in her eyes changes; the brightness increases, from dull brown to hazel. And I see a flash of the Leila I knew. There’s a spark of connection. A kindred spirit who enjoyed everything we shared. Our old bond, it’s there. I sense it between us.

She’s giving this to me.

Her breathing quickens and she licks her chapped lips, yet her tongue leaves no moisture.

But it’s enough.

Enough to tell me what she needs. What she wants.

She wants me.

Me at what I do best.

Her lips part, her chest rises and falls, and a trace of color appears in her cheeks.

Her eyes brighten, her pupils enlarging.

Yes. This is what she wants.

To cede control.

She wants a way out.

She’s had enough.

She’s weary. She’s mine.

“Kneel,” I whisper, for her ears only.

She drops to her knees like the natural submissive she is. Immediate. Unquestioning. Her head bowed. The gun falls from her hand and skids across the wooden floor with a clatter that breaks the silence around us.

Behind me I hear Taylor breathe a sigh of relief.

And it’s echoed in mine.

Oh, thank God.

Slowly I move toward her and pick up the gun, slipping it into my jacket pocket.

Now that she’s no longer an immediate threat, I need to get Ana out of the apartment and away from her. Deep down I know I will never forgive Leila for this. I know she’s unwell—broken, even. But to threaten Ana?


I stand over Leila, putting myself between her and Ana. Still not taking my eyes off Leila as she kneels with quiet grace on the floor.

“Anastasia, go with Taylor,” I say.

“Ethan?” she whispers, and there’s a tremor in her voice.

“Downstairs,” I inform her.

Taylor is waiting for Ana, who doesn’t move.

Please, Ana. Go.

“Anastasia,” I prompt.


She remains rooted to the floor.

I step beside Leila—and still Ana won’t move. “For the love of God, Anastasia, will you do as you’re told for once in your life and go!” Our eyes lock and I implore her to leave. I can’t do this with her here. I don’t know how stable Leila is; she needs help, and she might hurt Ana.

I try to convey this to Ana with my beseeching look.

But she’s ashen. She’s in shock.

Shit. She’s had a fright, Grey. She can’t move.

“Taylor. Take Miss Steele downstairs. Now.”

Taylor nods and makes a move to Ana.

“Why?” Ana whispers.

“Go. Back to the apartment. I need to be alone with Leila.”

Please. I need you out of harm’s way.

She looks from me to Leila.

Ana. Go. Please. I need to take care of this problem.

“Miss Steele. Ana.” Taylor holds his hand out to Anastasia.

“Taylor,” I urge. Without hesitation, he scoops Ana into his arms and leaves the apartment.

Thank fuck.

I let out a deep breath and caress Leila’s filthy, matted hair as the door to the apartment closes.

We are on our own.

I step back. “Get up.”

Awkwardly, Leila rises to her feet, but her eyes remain on the floor.

“Look at me,” I whisper.

Slowly, she lifts her head, and her pain is visible on her face. Tears spring to her eyes and start to trickle down her cheeks.

“Oh, Leila,” I whisper, and I embrace her.


The smell.

She stinks of poverty and neglect and homelessness.

And I’m back in a small, badly lit apartment above a cheap liquor store in Detroit.

She smells of him.

His boots.

His unwashed body.

His squalor.

Saliva pools in my mouth and I gag. Once. It’s hard to bear.


But she doesn’t notice. I hold her as she weeps and weeps and weeps, snot-sobbing all over my jacket.

I hold her.

Trying not to retch.

Trying to banish the stench.

A stench so achingly familiar. And so unwelcome.

“Hush,” I whisper. “Hush.”

When she’s gasping for air and her body is racked with dry sobs, I release her. “You need a bath.”

Taking her hand, I lead her to Kate’s bedroom and the ensuite. It’s roomy like Ana said. There’s a shower, a bath, and a selection of expensive toiletries on display. I shut the door and I’m tempted to lock it; I don’t want her to run. But she stands, meek and quiet, as she shudders with each dry sob. “It’s okay,” I murmur. “I’m here.”

I turn on the faucet and hot water buckets into the spacious bath. I squirt some bath oil into the cascade, and soon the stifling fragrance of lilies is overcoming Leila’s stench.

She begins to shiver.

“Do you want a bath?” I ask.

She looks down at the foaming suds and then at me. She nods.

“Can I take off your coat?”

She nods once more. And, using only the tips of my fingers, I peel it from her body. It’s beyond salvation. It’ll need burning.

Beneath, her clothes hang off her. She’s wearing a grubby pink blouse and a pair of grungy slacks of an indeterminate color. They’re also beyond rescue. Around her wrist is a tattered, soiled bandage.

“These clothes, they need to come off. Okay?”

She nods.

“Arms up.”

Dutifully she complies, and I pull off her blouse and try not to register my shock at her appearance. She’s emaciated, all jutting bones and pointed angles, a sharp contrast to the Leila of old. It’s sickening.

This is my fault; I should have found her earlier.

I tug down her slacks.

“Step out.” I hold her hand.

She does, and I add her slacks to the pile of rags.

She’s shaking.

“Hey. It’s okay. We’re going to get you some help. Okay?”

She nods but remains impassive.

I take her hand and undo the bandage. I think it should have been changed; the smell is putrid. I retch but don’t vomit. The scar on her wrist is livid but miraculously looks clean. I discard the bandage and dressing.

“You’ll need to take those off.” I’m referring to her grubby underwear. She looks at me. “No. You do it,” I say and turn around to give her a modicum of privacy. I hear her move, a scraping of her flats on the bathroom floor, and when she stops I turn around and she’s naked.

Gone are her lush curves.

She must not have eaten for weeks.

It’s galling.

“Here.” I give her my hand, which she takes, and with the other I test the temperature of the water. It’s hot but not too hot.

“Get in.”

She steps into the bath and slowly sinks into the foaming, fragrant water. I strip off my jacket and roll up the sleeves of my shirt and sit down on the floor beside the bath. She turns her small, sad face toward me but remains mute.

I reach across for the body wash and a nylon scrubber that Kavanagh must use. Well, she won’t miss it—I spy another on the shelf.

“Hand,” I say. Leila gives me her hand, and methodically and gently I start to wash her.

She’s grimy. She hasn’t washed for weeks, it seems. There’s grime. Everywhere.

How does someone get this dirty?

“Lift your chin up.”

I scrub under her neck and down her other arm, leaving her skin clean and a little pinker. I wash her torso and her back.

“Lie down.”

She lies down in the bath and I wash her feet and her legs in turn.

“Do you want me to wash your hair?”

She nods. And I reach for the shampoo.

I’ve bathed her before. Several times. Usually as a reward for her behavior in the playroom. It was always a pleasure.

This, not so much.

I make brisk work of her hair and use the handheld shower to rinse out the suds.

By the time I’m finished, she looks a little better.

I sit back on my heels.

“Long time since you did this,” she says. Her voice low and bleak, devoid of all emotion.

“I know.” I reach over and pull the plug to empty the murky water. Standing, I reach for a large towel. “Up you go.”

Leila stands, and I offer her my hand so that she can step out of the bath. I fold the towel around her and reach for a smaller one and towel-dry her hair.

She smells better, although, in spite of the scented bath oil, the foul odor of her clothes still pervades the bathroom.

“Come.” I take her out and leave her on the sofa in the sitting area. “Stay there.”

Back in the bathroom, I grab my jacket, and from the pocket extract my phone. I call Flynn’s cell number. He answers immediately.


“I have Leila Williams.”

“With you?”

“Yes. She’s in a bad way.”

“You’re in Seattle?”

“Yes. In Ana’s apartment.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I give him Ana’s address and hang up. I collect her clothes and head back to the living room. Leila is sitting where I left her, staring at the wall.

I go through the kitchen drawers and find a trash bag. Checking the pockets of Leila’s coat and the slacks, I find nothing but used tissues. I dump her clothes in the trash bag, knot it, and leave it by the front door.

“I’ll find you some clean clothes.”

“Her clothes?” Leila says.

“Clean clothes.”

In Ana’s room, I find some sweatpants and a plain T-shirt. I hope Ana doesn’t mind, but I think Leila’s need is greater.

She’s still on the sofa when I return.

“Here. Put these on.” I place the clothes beside her and move to the sink at the kitchen counter. I fill a glass with water and, once she’s dressed, offer it to her.

She shakes her head.

“Leila, drink this.”

She takes the glass and has a sip.

“And another. Just sips,” I say.

She takes another sip.

“He’s gone,” she says, and her face contorts with pain and grief.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“He was like you.”

“Was he?”


“I see.”

Well, that explains why she sought me out.

“Why didn’t you call me?” I sit down beside her.

She shakes her head and tears well in her eyes once more, but she doesn’t answer my question.

“I’ve called a friend. He can help you. He’s a doctor.”

She’s exhausted and remains impassive, but her tears trickle down her face, and I feel at a loss.

“I’ve been looking for you,” I tell her.

She says nothing but starts shaking, violently.


There’s a throw on the armchair. I drape it over her shoulders.


She nods. “So cold.” She snuggles into the blanket and I head back into Ana’s room to find her hair dryer.

I plug it into the socket beside the sofa and sit down. I take a cushion and place it on the floor between my feet.

“Sit. Here.”

Leila gets up slowly, pulls the blanket around her, and sinks onto the cushion between my legs, facing away from me.

The high-pitched whir of the hair dryer disrupts the silence between us as I gently dry her hair.

She sits quietly. Not touching me.

She knows she can’t. She knows she’s not allowed.

How many times have I dried her hair? Ten? Twelve times?

I can’t remember the exact number so I concentrate on my task.

Once her hair is dry, I stop. And it’s quiet in Ana’s apartment again. Leila leans her head against my thigh, and I don’t stop her.

“Do your folks know you’re here?” I ask.

She shakes her head.

“Have you been in touch with them?”

“No,” she whispers.

She was always close to her parents.

“They’ll be worried about you.”

She shrugs. “They’re not speaking.”

“To you? Why not?”

She doesn’t answer.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out with your husband.”

She says nothing, but there’s a knock on the door.

“That’ll be the doctor.” I stand and go to open the door. Flynn enters, followed by a woman in scrubs.

“John, thanks for coming.” I’m relieved to see him.

Laura Flanagan, Christian Grey. Laura is our head nurse.”

When I turn, Leila is now sitting on the sofa, still wrapped in the throw.

“This is Leila Williams,” I say.

Flynn crouches down beside Leila. She gazes at him, her expression blank.

“Hello, Leila,” he says. “I’m here to help you.”

The nurse hovers in the background.

“Those are her clothes.” I point to the trash bag by the front door. “They need burning.”

The nurse nods and picks up the trash bag.

“Would you like to come with me to a place where we can help you?” Flynn asks Leila. She says nothing, but her subdued brown eyes seek mine.

“I think you should go with the doctor. I’ll come with you.”

Flynn frowns but keeps his counsel.

Leila looks from me to him and nods.


“I’ll take her,” I tell Flynn, and reach down and lift her into my arms. She weighs nothing. She closes her eyes and rests her head against my shoulder as I carry her down the stairs. Taylor is waiting for us.

“Mr. Grey, Ana’s gone home—” he says.

“Let’s talk about it later. I’ve left my jacket upstairs.”

“I’ll bring it.”

“Can you lock up? The keys are in my jacket.”

“Yes, sir.”

Outside in the street I put Leila into Flynn’s car and climb in beside her. I fasten her seatbelt as Flynn and his colleague sit up front. Flynn starts the car and pulls out into the rush-hour traffic.

As I stare out of the window, I hope that Ana is back at Escala. Mrs. Jones will feed her, and when I get home she’ll be there waiting for me. The thought is comforting.

private psychiatric clinic on the outskirts of Fremont is spartan compared to his office downtown: two sofas, one armchair. No fireplace. That’s it. I pace the length of the small room, waiting for him. I’m itching to get back to Ana. She must have been terrified. My phone has died, so I haven’t been able to call her or Mrs. Jones to check on Ana’s well-being. My watch says it’s nearly eight. I glance out of the window. Taylor is parked and waiting in the SUV. I just want to go home.

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