Authors: E L James
Back to Ana.
The door opens and Flynn enters. “I thought you’d have left by now,” he says.
“I need to know she’s okay.”
“She’s a sick young woman, but she’s calm and cooperative. She wants help, and that’s always a good sign. Please sit. I need a few details from you.”
I sit down on the chair and he takes a seat on one of the couches.
“What happened today?”
I explain all that took place in Ana’s apartment prior to his arrival.
“You gave her a bath?” he says, surprised.
“She was filthy. The stench was…” I stop and shudder.
“Okay. We can talk about that at another time.”
“Is she going to be okay?”
“I think so, though you can’t medicate against grief. It’s a natural process. But I’ll dig a little deeper and find out what we’re dealing with here.”
“Anything she needs,” I state.
“That’s very generous of you, considering she’s not really your problem.”
“She came to me.”
“She did,” he acknowledges.
“I feel responsible.”
“You shouldn’t. I’ll update you when I know more.”
“Great. And thanks again.”
“I’m just doing my job, Christian.”
TAYLOR IS BROODING ON
the way home. I know he’s mad that Leila slipped through the cracks once more, in spite of the measures we have in place; Ana’s apartment was swept by security this morning. I say nothing. I’m tired and anxious to get back to Escala. Ana’s purse and cell phone are still in the car, and Taylor has informed me that she went home with Ethan. The thought is displeasing. So I picture her snuggled in the armchair in the library, asleep, a book in her lap. Alone.
I’m impatient. I want to get home to my girl.
AS WE PULL INTO
the garage, Taylor reminds me, “We should review our security requirements now that Miss Williams has been found.”
“Yes. I don’t think we’ll be needing the guys.”
“I’ll talk to Welch.”
“Thanks.” He parks and I’m out of the car in an instant, headed right to the elevator. I don’t wait for him.
As soon as I step into my apartment, I sense Ana’s not home. My place has a ringing emptiness about it.
Where the hell is she?
Ryan is monitoring the CCTV. He looks up when I enter Taylor’s office.
“Did Miss Steele come home?”
“Fuck.” I thought she might have been and gone. I turn and head for my study. She doesn’t have her purse or her phone? Why hasn’t she come home? Part of me wants to send the entire team combing the city looking for her. But where do I start?
I could call Kavanagh. Taylor says she left with him.
Ethan and Ana.
The idea does not sit well with me.
I don’t have his number. I contemplate calling Elliot to have him ask Kate for her brother’s number, but it’s after midnight in Barbados. With a frustrated sigh, I stare out at the city skyline. The sun is sinking into the sea off the Olympic Peninsula, reflecting the last of the light into my apartment. It’s ironic that all this week I’ve been looking at this view and wondering where Leila might be. Now I’m wondering about Ana. It’s getting dark. Where is she?
She’s left you, Grey.
No. I’m not willing to believe that.
Mrs. Jones knocks on the door.
“You found her.”
I frown. Ana?
“Miss Williams,” she clarifies.
“In a sense. She’s in the hospital, where she needs to be.”
“Good. Would you like something to eat?”
“No. Thanks. I’ll wait for Ana.”
She studies me for a moment. “I’ve made some mac and cheese. I’ll leave it in the fridge.”
Mac and cheese. My favorite.
“I’m going to retire to my room now.”
“Good night, Gail.”
She gives me a sympathetic smile and leaves.
I check the time: 9:15.
Damn it. Ana. Come home.
Where is she?
I dismiss the thought and sit down at my desk and activate my computer. I have a few e-mails, but try as I might, I cannot concentrate. My concern for Ana is growing. Where is she?
She’ll be back soon.
She has to come back.
I call Welch and leave a message that Leila has been found and is now getting the help she needs. I end the call and get up, unable to stay seated. It’s been one hell of an evening.
Perhaps I should read.
In my bedroom, I pick up the book I’ve been reading and take it back into the living room. And wait. And wait.
Ten minutes later, I throw the book onto the sofa beside me.
I’m restless and the uncertainty about Ana’s whereabouts is becoming unbearable.
I head into Taylor’s office. He’s there with Ryan.
“Can you send one of the guys to Ana’s place? I want to check if she’s returned to her apartment.”
I head back to the sofa and pick up my book again. I keep glancing at the elevator. But it remains quiet.
Empty except for my growing unease.
She’s left you.
Leila frightened her off.
No. I can’t believe that. It’s not her style.
It’s me. She’s had enough.
Having said she’d move in, she’s now reneged.
I get up and begin pacing. My phone buzzes. It’s Taylor. Not Ana. I quash my disappointment and take the call. “Taylor.”
“The apartment’s empty, sir. No one here.”
There’s a ping. The elevator. I turn and Ana walks a little unsteadily into the living room.
“She’s here,” I snap at Taylor and hang up. Relief. Anger. Hurt. All combine in a rush of emotions that threaten to overwhelm me. “Where the fuck have you been?” I bark at her. She blinks and steps back. She’s flushed.
“Have you been drinking?” I ask.
“I told you to come back here. It’s now fifteen after ten. I’ve been worried about you.”
“I went for a drink or three with Ethan while you attended to your ex.” She spits out the last word like venom.
She continues. “I didn’t know how long you were going to be with her.” She lifts up her chin with a look of righteous indignation.
“Why do you say it like that?” I ask, confused by her response. Did she think I
to be with Leila?
Ana looks down and stares at the floor, avoiding eye contact.
She hasn’t come completely into the room.
What’s going on?
My anger subsides as anxiety ripples through my chest.
“Ana, what’s wrong?”
“Where’s Leila?” She looks around the room, her expression chilly.
“In a psychiatric hospital in Fremont.” Where the hell does she
Leila to be? “Ana, what is it?” I take a couple of cautious steps toward her, but she stands her ground, distant and aloof, and doesn’t reach for me.
“What’s wrong?” I press her.
She shakes her head. “I’m no good for you,” she says.
My scalp tingles, pricked by fear. “What? Why do you think that? How can you possibly think that?”
“I can’t be everything you need.”
“You are everything I need.”
“Just seeing you with her—”
“Why do you do this to me? This is not about you, Ana. It’s about her. Right now, she’s a very sick girl.”
“But I felt it. What you had together.”
“What? No.” I reach for her and she steps back, away from me, her cool eyes on mine, assessing me, and I don’t think she likes what she sees…
My anxiety rises, tightening my throat.
She looks away and her brow furrows, but she says nothing.
“You can’t,” I whisper.
“Christian, I—” She stops and I think she’s struggling to say her good-byes. She’s going. I knew it would happen. But so soon?
“No. No!” I’m on the edge of the abyss once more.
I can’t breathe.
This is it, what I’d predicted from the beginning.
“I…” Ana mutters.
How do I stop her? I look around the room, for help. What can I do?
“You can’t go. Ana, I love you!” It’s my last-minute pitch to save this deal, to save us.
“I love you, too, Christian, it’s just—”
The vortex is sucking me under.
She’s had enough.
I’ve driven her away.
I feel dizzy. I put my hands on my head, trying to contain the pain that slices through me. My despair is carving a hole in my chest that gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s going to take me down. “No. No.”
Find your happy place.
My happy place.
When was it easier?
Easier to wear my pain on the outside.
Elena is standing over me. In her hands, she holds a thin cane. The welts on my back burn. Each throbbing with pain as my blood thrums through my body.
I’m on my knees. At her feet.
Quiet the monster.
Find your happy place, Grey.
Make your peace.
A tidal wave rises inside my body, crashing and breaking within me, but as it recedes it sucks the fear away.
You can do this.
I drop to my knees.
I take a deep breath and place my hands on my thighs.
I’m in a landscape of calm.
I give myself to you. All of me. I’m yours to do with as you wish.
What will she do?
I look straight ahead, and I’m aware that she’s watching me. In the far distance, I hear her voice.
“Christian, what are you doing?”
I inhale slowly, filling my lungs. Fall is in the air.
“Christian! What are you doing?” The voice is closer, louder, more high-pitched.
“Christian, look at me!”
I look up. And wait.
She’s beautiful. Pale. Worried.
“Christian, please, don’t do this. I don’t want this.”
You must tell me what you want.
“Why are you doing this? Talk to me,” she pleads.
“What would you like me to say?”
She gasps. It’s a soft sound and it stirs memories of happier times with her. I shut those down. There is only now. Her cheeks are wet. Tears. She wrings her hands.
And suddenly she’s on her knees, facing me.
Her eyes are on mine. The outer rings of her irises are indigo. They lighten toward the middle to the color of a cloudless summer sky. But her pupils are expanding, a deep black darkening each center.
“Christian, you don’t have to do this. I’m not going to run. I’ve told you and told you and told you, I won’t run. All that’s happened. It’s overwhelming. I just need some time to think. Some time to myself. Why do you always assume the worst?”
Because the worst happens.
“I was going to suggest going back to my apartment this evening. You never give me any time—time to just think things through.”
She wants to be on her own.
Away from me.
“Just time to think,” she continues. “We barely know each other, and all this baggage that comes with you. I need. I need time to think it through. And now that Leila is…well, whatever she is…she’s off the streets and not a threat. I thought. I thought—”
What did you think, Ana?
“Seeing you with Leila…” She closes her eyes as if in pain. “It was such a shock. I had a glimpse into how your life has been…and…” She rips her gaze from mine and looks down at her knees. “This is about me not being good enough for you. It was an insight into your life, and I am so scared you’ll get bored with me, and then you’ll go, and I’ll end up like Leila, a shadow. Because I love you, Christian, and if you leave me, it will be like a world without light. I’ll be in darkness. I don’t want to run. I’m just so frightened you’ll leave me.”
She’s scared of the darkness, too.
She’s not going to run.
She loves me.
“I don’t understand why you find me attractive,” Ana whispers. “You’re, well, you’re you and I’m—” She looks at me, troubled. “I just don’t see it. You’re beautiful and sexy and successful and good and kind and caring—all those things—and I’m not. And I can’t do the things you like to do. I can’t give you what you need. How could you be happy with me? How can I possibly hold you? I have never understood what you see in me. And seeing you with her, it brought all that home.”
She raises her hand and wipes her nose that’s blotchy and pink from crying.
“Are you going to kneel here all night? Because I’ll do it, too!”
She’s mad at me.
She’s always mad at me.
“Christian, please, please. Talk to me.”
Her lips would be soft. They are always soft after she’s been crying. Her hair frames her face and my heart expands.
Could I love her any more?
She has all the qualities she says she doesn’t. But it’s her compassion I love most.
Her compassion for me.
“Please,” she says.
“I was so scared,” I whisper.
I’m scared now.
“When I saw Ethan arrive outside, I knew someone had let you into your apartment. Both Taylor and I leapt out of the car. We knew, and to see her there like that with you—and armed. I think I died a thousand deaths, Ana. Someone threatening you. All my worst fears realized. I was so angry, with her, with you, with Taylor, with myself.” I’m haunted by the vision of Leila and her gun. “I didn’t know how volatile she would be. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how she’d react.” I stop, remembering Leila’s surrender. “And then she gave me a clue; she looked so contrite. And I just knew what I had to do.”
“Go on,” Ana prompts.
“Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown—”