Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)(2)


by E.L. James

Taylor slips into the driver's seat, starts the car, and pulls out into the traffic.

I glance up and Jack is waving at me, though how he can see me through the dark glass, I don't know. I wave back.

"Who's that?" Christian snaps.

"My boss." I peek up at the beautiful man beside me, and his mouth is pressed into a hard line.

"Well? Your last meal?"

"Christian, that really is none of your concern," I murmur, feeling extraordinarily brave.

"Whatever you do concerns me. Tell me."

No, it doesn't. I groan in frustration, rolling my eyes heavenward, and Christian narrows his eyes. And for the first time in a long time, I want to laugh. I try hard to stifle the giggle that threatens to bubble up. Christian's face softens as I struggle to keep a straight face, and I see a trace of a smile kiss his beautifully sculptured lips.

"Well?" he asks, his voice softer.

"Pasta alla vongole, last Friday," I whisper.

He closes his eyes as fury and possibly regret, sweeps across his face. "I see," he says, his voice expressionless. "You look like you've lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia," he scolds.

I stare down at the knotted fingers in my lap. Why does he always make me feel like an errant child?

He shifts and turns toward me. "How are you?" he asks, his voice still soft.

Well, I'm shit really... I swallow. "If I told you I was fine, I'd be lying."

He inhales sharply. "Me, too," he murmurs and reaches over and clasps my hand. "I miss you," he adds.

Oh no. Skin against skin.

"Christian, I - "

"Ana, please. We need to talk."

I'm going to cry. No. "Christian, I... please... I've cried so much," I whisper, trying to keep my emotions in check

"Oh, baby, no." He tugs my hand, and before I know it I'm on his lap. He has his arms around me, and his nose is in my hair. "I've missed you so much, Anastasia," he breathes.

I want to struggle out of his hold, to maintain some distance, but his arms are wrapped around me. He's pressing me to his chest. I melt. Oh, this is where I want to be.

I rest my head against him, and he kisses my hair repeatedly. This is home. He smells of linen, fabric softener, body wash, and my favorite smell - Christian. For a moment, I allow myself the illusion that all will be well, and it soothes my ravaged soul.

A few minutes later Taylor pulls to a stop at the curb, even though we're still in the city.

"Come" - Christian shifts me off his lap - "we're here."

What?

"Helipad - on the top of this building." Christian glances toward the building by way of explanation.

Of course. Charlie Tango. Taylor opens the door and I slide out. He gives me a warm, avuncular smile that makes me feel safe. I smile back.

"I should give you back your handkerchief."

"Keep it, Miss Steele, with my best wishes."

I flush as Christian comes around the car and takes my hand. He looks quizzically at Taylor who stares impassively back at him, revealing nothing.

"Nine?" Christian says to him.

"Yes, sir."

Christian nods as he turns and leads me through the double doors into the grandiose foyer. I revel in the feel of his large hand and his long, skilled fingers curled around mine.

I feel the familiar pull - I am drawn, Icarus to his sun. I have been burned already, and yet here I am again.

Reaching the elevators, he presses the call button. I peek up at him, and he's wearing his enigmatic half smile. As the doors open, he releases my hand and ushers me in.

The doors close and I risk a second peek. He glances down at me, gray eyes alive, and it's there in the air between us, that electricity. It's palpable. I can almost taste it, pulsing between us, drawing us together.

"Oh my," I gasp as I bask briefly in the intensity of this visceral, primal attraction.

"I feel it, too," he says, his eyes clouded and intense.

Desire pools dark and deadly in my groin. He clasps my hand and grazes my knuckles with his thumb, and all my muscles clench tightly, deliciously, deep inside me.

Holy cow. How can he still do this to me?

"Please don't bite your lip, Anastasia," he whispers.

I gaze up at him, releasing my lip. I want him. Here, now, in the elevator. How could I not?

"You know what it does to me," he murmurs.

Oh, I still affect him. My inner goddess stirs from her five-day sulk.

Abruptly the doors open, breaking the spell, and we're on the roof. It's windy, and despite my black jacket, I'm cold. Christian puts his arm around me, pulling me into his side, and we hurry across to where Charlie Tango stands in the center of the helipad with its rotor blades slowly spinning.

A tall, blond, square-jawed man in a dark suit leaps out and, ducking low, runs toward us. Shaking hands with Christian, he shouts above the noise of the rotors.

"Ready to go, sir. She's all yours!"

"All checks done?"

"Yes, sir."

"You'll collect her around eight thirty?"

"Yes, sir."

"Taylor's waiting for you out front."

"Thank you, Mr. Grey. Safe flight to Portland. Ma'am." He salutes me. Without releasing me, Christian nods, ducks down, and leads me to the helicopter door.

Once inside he buckles me firmly into my harness, cinching the straps tight. He gives me a knowing look and his secret smile.

"This should keep you in your place," he murmurs. "I must say I do like this harness on you. Don't touch anything."

I flush a deep crimson, and he runs his index finger down my cheek before handing me the headphones. I'd like to touch you, too, but you won't let me. I scowl at him. Besides, he's pulled the straps so tight I can barely move.

He sits in his seat and buckles himself in, then starts running through all his preflight checks. He's just so competent. It's very alluring. He puts on his headphones and flips a switch and the rotors speed up, deafening me.

Turning, he gazes at me. "Ready, baby?" His voice echoes through the headphones.

"Yes."

He grins his boyish grin. Wow - I've not seen it for so long.

"Sea-Tac tower, this is Charlie Tango - Tango Echo Hotel, cleared for takeoff to Portland via PDX. Please confirm, over."

The disembodied voice of the air traffic controller answers, issuing instructions.

"Roger, tower, Charlie Tango set, over and out." Christian flips two switches, grasps the stick, and the helicopter rises slowly and smoothly into the evening sky.

Seattle and my stomach drop away from us, and there's so much to see.

"We've chased the dawn, Anastasia, now the dusk," his voice comes through on the headphones. I turn to gape at him in surprise.

What does this mean? How is it that he can say the most romantic things? He smiles, and I can't help but smile shyly back at him.

"As well as the evening sun, there's more to see this time," he says.

The last time we flew to Seattle it was dark, but this evening the view is spectacular, literally out of this world. We're up among the tallest buildings, going higher and higher.

"Escala's over there." He points toward the building. "Boeing there, and you can just see the Space Needle."

I crane my head. "I've never been."

"I'll take you - we can eat there."

What? "Christian, we broke up."

"I know. I can still take you there and feed you." He glares at me.

I shake my head and flush before taking a less confrontational approach. "It's very beautiful up here, thank you."

"Impressive, isn't it?"

"Impressive that you can do this."

"Flattery from you, Miss Steele? But I'm a man of many talents."

"I'm fully aware of that, Mr. Grey."

He turns and smirks at me, and for the first time in five days, I relax a little. Perhaps this won't be so bad.

"How's the new job?"

"Good, thank you. Interesting."

"What's your boss like?"

"Oh, he's okay." How can I tell Christian that Jack makes me uncomfortable? Christian turns and gazes at me.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"Aside from the obvious, nothing."

"The obvious?"

"Oh, Christian, you really are very obtuse sometimes."

"Obtuse? Me? I'm not sure I appreciate your tone, Miss Steele."

"Well, don't then."

His lips twitch into a smile. "I have missed your smart mouth."

I gasp and I want to shout, I've missed you - all of you - not just your mouth! But I keep quiet and gaze out the glass fishbowl that is Charlie Tango's windshield as we continue south. The dusk is to our right, the sun low on the horizon - large, blazing fiery orange -

and I am Icarus again, flying far too close.

The dusk has followed us from Seattle, and the sky is awash with opal, pinks, and aquamarines woven seamlessly together as only Mother Nature knows how. It's a clear, crisp evening, and the lights of Portland twinkle and wink, welcoming us as Christian sets the helicopter down on the helipad. We are on top of the strange brown brick building in Portland we left less than three weeks ago.

Jeez, it's been hardly any time at all. Yet I feel like I've known Christian for a lifetime.

He powers down Charlie Tango, flipping various switches so the rotors stop, and eventually all I hear is my own breathing through the headphones. Hmm. Briefly it reminds me of the Thomas Tallis experience. I blanch. I so don't want to go there right now.

Christian unbuckles his harness and leans across to undo mine.

"Good trip, Miss Steele?" he asks, his voice mild, his gray eyes glowing.

"Yes, thank you, Mr. Grey," I reply politely.

"Well, let's go see the boy's photos." He holds his hand out to me and taking it, I climb out of Charlie Tango.

A gray-haired man with a beard walks over to meet us, smiling broadly, and I recognize him as the old-timer from the last time we were here.

"Joe." Christian smiles and releases my hand to shake Joe's warmly.

"Keep her safe for Stephan. He'll be along around eight or nine."

"Will do, Mr. Grey. Ma'am," he says, nodding at me. "Your car's waiting downstairs, sir. Oh, and the elevator's out of order; you'll need to use the stairs."

"Thank you, Joe."

Christian takes my hand, and we head to the emergency stairs.

"Good thing for you this is only three floors, in those heels," he mutters to me in disapproval.

No kidding.

"Don't you like the boots?"

"I like them very much, Anastasia." His gaze darkens and I think he might say something else, but he stops. "Come. We'll take it slow. I don't want you falling and breaking your neck."

We sit in silence as our driver takes us to the gallery. My anxiety has returned full force, and I realize that our time in Charlie Tango has been the eye of the storm. Christian is quiet and brooding... apprehensive even; our lighter mood from earlier has dissipated. There's so much I want to say, but this journey is too short. Christian stares pensively out the window.

"Jose is just a friend," I murmur.

Christian turns and gazes at me, his eyes dark and guarded, giving nothing away. His mouth - oh, his mouth is distracting, and unbidden. I remember it on me - everywhere. My skin heats. He shifts in his seat and frowns.

"Those beautiful eyes look too large in your face, Anastasia. Please tell me you'll eat."

"Yes, Christian, I'll eat," I answer automatically, a platitude.

"I mean it."