Read Darker Online

Authors: E L James

Darker (48 page)

“What you folks doing down here?” the guy asks, as Ros settles on the comfortable-looking couch at the back of the cabin. It looks brand-new.

I glance at Ros, who gives me a small shake of her head.

“We’re lost. You know.” I keep my answer vague.

“Okay,” he says, and I know he doesn’t believe us, but he puts the beast into gear and we rumble off in the direction of Seattle.

“Name’s Seb,” he says.

“Ros.”

“Christian.”

He leans over and shakes our hands in turn. “You guys thirsty?” he asks.

“Yes,” we both say at once.

“Back of the cabin there’s a small fridge. Should find some San Pellegrino in there.”

San Pellegrino?

Ros retrieves two bottles and we drink gratefully. I never knew sparkling water could taste so good.

I notice a microphone hanging from above.

“CB radio?” I ask.

“Yep. But it’s not working. It’s new. Damn thing.” He gives it a frustrated knock with his knuckles. “Whole rig is new. This is her maiden voyage.”

That’s why he’s driving so slowly.

I check the time. It’s 7:35. My phone is dead. As is Ros’s.
Damn.

“Do you have a mobile?” I ask Seb.

“No way. I want my ex-wife to leave me alone. When I’m out in the cab it’s just me and the road.”

I nod.

Fuck.
Ana might be worried. But I’ll worry her more if I tell her what’s happened before she sees me. And she’s probably at the bar. With José Rodriguez. I hope Elliot and Katherine will keep an eye on him.

Feeling glum and a little helpless, I stare out at the scenery. We’ll shortly be on I-5, and on our way home.

“You guys hungry? I have some kale and quinoa wraps in the fridge left over from my lunch.”

“That’s mighty hospitable. Thank you, Seb.”

“You folks mind a little music while we drive?” he asks when we’ve finished his lunch.

Oh, hell.

“Sure,” says Ros, but I hear her uncertainty.

Seb has Sirius on his radio and he turns it to a jazz station. The mellow notes of Charlie Parker’s saxophone playing “All the Things You Are” fill the cab.

“All The Things You Are.”

Ana.
Is she missing me?

I’m on the road with a kale-and-quinoa-eating trucker who listens to cool jazz. This is not how I expected my day to go. I give Ros a brief look. She’s sunk onto the couch and is fast asleep. I breathe a sigh of relief and close my eyes.

If I hadn’t been able to land.

Jesus.
Ros’s family would have been devastated.

Both engines?

What is the likelihood?

And
Charlie Tango
had just had all her routine checks.

Something doesn’t add up.

The rumble of the truck goes on and on and on. Billie Holiday is singing. Her voice is soothing, like a lullaby. “You’re My Thrill.”

Charlie Tango
is hurtling to the ground.

I’m pulling back on the collective.

No. No. No.

There’s a woman screaming.

Screaming.

Ana. Screaming.

No.

There’s smoke. Choking smoke.

And we’re hurtling down.

I can’t stop this.

Ana is screaming.

No. No. No.

And
Charlie Tango
hits the ground.

Nothing.

Black.

Silence.

Nothing.

I wake suddenly, gasping. It’s dark, except for the occasional light on the freeway. I’m in the cab.

“Hey.” It’s Seb.

“Sorry, I must have fallen asleep.”

“No problem. You two must be bushed. Your friend is still asleep.” Ros is out on the couch behind us.

“Where are we?”

“Allentown.”

“What? Great.” I peer out and we’re still on I-5, but the lights of Seattle are in the distance. Cars whiz past us. This has to be the slowest piece of transport I have ever traveled in. “Where are you heading in Seattle?”

“The docks. Pier 46.”

“Right. Could you drop us in town? We can pick up a cab.”

“No problem.”

“So have you always done this?”

“No. I’ve done a little of everything. But this truck. This one is mine and I’m working for myself.”

“Ah. An entrepreneur.”

“Exactly.”

“I do a little of that myself.”

“One day I’d like to own a fleet of these.” He slaps his hands on the wheel.

“I hope you do.”

SEB DROPS US AT
Union Station.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says Ros as we climb out of his truck.

I hand him four hundred dollars.

“I can’t take your money, Christian,” Seb says, holding up his hand and refusing the cash.

“In that case, here’s my card.” From my wallet, I give him my card. “Call me. And we can talk about the fleet you want to own.”

“Sure thing,” says Seb, without looking at my card. “Nice meeting you folks.”

“Thanks. You’re a lifesaver.” And with that, I shut the door and we wave him away.

“Can you believe that guy?” Ros asks.

“Thank God he turned up. Let’s get a cab.”

IT TAKES US TWENTY
minutes to get to Ros’s place, which, fortunately, is near Escala.

“Next time we go to Portland, can we take the train?”

“Sure thing.”

“You did good, Christian.”

“So did you.”

“I’ll call Andrea and let her know we’re safe.”

“Andrea?”

“She can call your family. I’m sure they’re worried. I’ll see you tomorrow at your birthday party.”

My family? They don’t worry about me. “See you then.”

She leans across and kisses my cheek. “Good night.” I’m touched. It’s the first time she’s ever done that.

I watch her walk through the courtyard of her apartment building.

“Ros!” I hear Gwen’s screech as she comes barreling out of the double doors of the entryway and scoops Ros up in her embrace.

I wave and order the cab to take me around the corner.

THERE ARE PHOTOGRAPHERS OUTSIDE
of my apartment building. Something must be going on. I pay the driver, get out of the cab, and keep my head down as I walk through the front door.

“There he is!”

“Christian Grey.”

“He’s here!”

The flashes dazzle me, but I manage to get inside relatively unscathed. Surely they’re not here for me? Maybe they are, or is it someone else who’s in the building tonight that’s worthy of this kind of attention? Fortunately, the elevator is free. Once inside, I take off my shoes and socks. My feet are sore, and it’s a relief to be barefoot. I look at my shoes. I probably won’t wear them again.

Poor Ros. She’s going to have some blisters tomorrow.

I don’t imagine Ana will be home. She’s probably still at the bar. I’ll go find her once I’ve swapped the battery on my phone, changed my shirt, and maybe had a shower. I take off my jacket as the doors to the elevator open and step into the foyer.

The television is blaring from the TV room.

Odd.

I wander into the living room.

My family are all gathered here.

“Christian!” Grace shrieks, and she races toward me like a tropical storm, so I’m forced to drop my jacket and shoes in time to catch her. She wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me vigorously on my cheek, and hugs me. Hard.

What the hell?

“Mom?”

“I thought I’d never see you again,” Grace rasps.

“Mom, I’m here,” I reassure her, bemused. Can’t she see I’m fine?

“I died a thousand deaths today.” Her voice cracks on the last word and she begins to sob. I hold her tighter in my arms. I’ve never seen her like this. My mom. Holding me. It feels good. “Oh, Christian,” she sobs, and she hugs me like she’ll never let me go as she weeps into my neck. Closing my eyes, I rock her gently.

“He’s alive! Shit, you’re here!” My dad comes out of Taylor’s office, followed by Taylor. Carrick barrels toward Mom and me and embraces us both.

“Dad?”

Then Mia joins us. Hugging us all.

Jesus!

A family huddle.

When did this ever happen?

Never!

Carrick pulls away first, and he’s wiping his eyes.

He’s crying?

Mia and Grace step back. “Sorry,” Grace says.

“Hey, Mom, it’s okay,” I say, uncomfortable with all this unwarranted attention.

“Where were you? What happened?” she cries, and puts her head in her hands, still weeping.

“Mom.” I pull her into my arms and kiss her head and hold her once more. “I’m here. I’m good. It’s just taken me a hell of a long time to get back from Portland. What’s with the welcoming committee?” I look up, and there she is. Wide-eyed and beautiful. Tears streaming down her face. My Ana.

“Mom, I’m good,” I tell Grace. “What’s wrong?”

She holds my face and addresses me as if I’m still a child. “Christian, you’ve been missing. Your flight plan—you never made it to Seattle. Why didn’t you contact us?”

“I didn’t think it would take this long.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“No power in my cell.”

“You didn’t stop. Call collect?”

“Mom, it’s a long story.”

“Oh, Christian! Don’t you ever do that to me again! Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mom.” I wipe her tears with my thumbs and give her another hug. It feels good to hold the woman who saved me.

She steps back and Mia hugs me. Hard. And then she slaps me hard on my chest.

Ow.

“You had us so worried!” she shouts through her tears. I comfort her and calm her with the fact that I’m here now.

Elliot, looking nauseatingly tanned and healthy from his holiday, hugs me.

Christ.
Et tu, brute? He slaps me hard on my back.

“Great to see you,” he says, loud and gruff. His voice full of emotion.

A lump forms in my throat.

This is my family.

They care. They fucking care.

They were all worried about me.

Family first.

I step back and look at Ana. Katherine stands behind her, stroking her hair. I can’t hear what she says. “I’m going to say hi to my girl now,” I tell my parents, before I lose it. My mother gives me a teary smile, and she and Carrick step aside. I walk toward Ana and she uncurls herself from her seat on the sofa. She’s a little unsteady when she stands. I think she’s making sure that I’m real. She’s still crying, but suddenly she bolts toward me and into my arms.

“Christian!” she sobs.

“Hush,” I whisper, and, holding her close, I’m relieved to feel her small, delicate frame pressed against me. I’m grateful for everything that she is to me.

Ana. My love.

I bury my face in her hair and inhale her sweet, sweet scent. She raises her beautiful, tearstained face to me and I plant a quick kiss on her soft lips. “Hi,” I whisper.

“Hi,” she says, hoarse and husky.

“Miss me?”

“A bit.” She sniffles.

“I can tell.” I wipe her tears away with my fingers.

“I thought. I thought—” She sobs.

“I can see. Hush. I’m here. I’m here.” I hold her close and kiss her again. Her lips are always so tender when she’s been crying.

“Are you okay?” she asks, and her hands are on me. Everywhere, it feels. But I don’t mind; I welcome her touch. The darkness is long gone.

“I’m okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Oh, thank God.” She wraps her arms around my waist and holds me.

Damn.
I need a shower. But she doesn’t seem to care.

“Are you hungry? Do you need something to drink?” she asks.

“Yes.”

She tries to step back, but I’m not ready to release her. I hold her and extend a hand to the photographer, who’s hovering.

“Mr. Grey,” says José.

“Christian, please.”

“Christian, welcome back. Glad you’re okay, and, um—thanks for letting me stay.”

“No problem.” Just keep your hands off my girl.

Gail interrupts us. She looks a mess. She’s been crying, too.

Shit. Mrs. Jones?
It rocks me to my soul.

“Can I get you something, Mr. Grey?” She’s dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

“A beer, please, Gail. Budvar, and a bite to eat.”

“I’ll get it,” Ana says.

“No. Don’t go.” I tighten my arm around her.

The Kavanagh kids are next: Ethan and Katherine. I shake his hand and give Katherine a peck on the cheek. She looks well. Barbados and Elliot obviously agree with her. Mrs. Jones returns and hands me a beer. I refuse the glass and take a long draft of Budvar.

It tastes so good.

All these people are here for me. I feel like the long-lost prodigal son.

Perhaps I am…

“Surprised you don’t want something stronger,” says Elliot. “So, what the fuck happened to you? First I knew was when Dad called me to say the chopper was missing.”

“Elliot!” Grace admonishes him.

“Helicopter!” For fuck’s sake, Elliot. I hate the word “chopper.” He knows that. He grins, and I find myself grinning back at him.

“Let’s sit and I’ll tell you.” I sit down with Ana beside me and the clan joins us. I take a long draft of my beer and spot Taylor in the background. I give him a nod and he nods back.

Thank God he’s not crying. I don’t think I could cope with that.

“Your daughter?” I ask him.

“She’s fine now. False alarm, sir.”

“Good.”

“Glad you’re back, sir. Will that be all?”

“We have a helicopter to pick up.”

“Now? Or will the morning do?”

“Morning, I think, Taylor.”

“Very good, Mr. Grey. Anything else, sir?”

I shake my head and raise my bottle to him. I can brief him in the morning. He gives me a warm smile and leaves us.

“Christian, what happened?” Carrick asks.

Sitting on the sofa I begin to regale them with the executive summary of my crash landing.

“A fire? Both engines?” Carrick is shocked.

“Yep.”

“Shit! But I thought—” Dad continues.

“I know,” I interrupt him. “It was sheer luck I was flying so low.”

Ana shudders beside me and I put my arm around her. “Cold?” I ask her, and she squeezes my hand and shakes her head.

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