Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)(12)

by E.L. James

"Don't cry," he murmurs, his thumb catching and dispatching a stray tear.

"Why won't you talk to me? Please, Christian."

He closes his eyes as if in pain.

"I vowed I would bring you solace in times of need. Please don't make me break my vows."

He sighs and opens his eyes, his expression bleak. "It's arson," he says simply, and he looks suddenly so young and vulnerable. Oh f**k.

"And my biggest worry is that they are after me. And if they are after me - " He stops, unable to continue.

". . . They might get me," I whisper. He blanches and I know that I have finally uncovered the root of his anxiety. Reaching up, I caress his face.

"Thank you," I murmur.

He frowns. "What for?"

"For telling me."

He shakes his head and a ghost of a smile touches his lips. "You can be very persuasive, Mrs. Grey."

"And you can brood and internalize all your feelings and worry yourself to death. You'll probably die of a heart attack before you're forty, and I want you around far longer than that."

"Mrs. Grey, you'll be the death of me. The sight of you on the Jet Ski - I nearly had a coronary." He flops back on the bed and puts his hand over his eyes, and I feel him shudder.

"Christian, it's a Jet Ski. Even kids ride Jet Skis. Can you imagine what you'll be like when we visit your place in Aspen and I go skiing for the first time?"

He gasps and turns to face me, and I want to laugh at the horror on his face.

"Our place," he says eventually.

I ignore him. "I'm a grown-up, Christian, and much tougher than I look. When are you going to learn this?"

He shrugs and his mouth thins. I decide to change the subject.

"So, the fire. Do the police know about the arson?"

"Yes." His expression is serious.

"Good."

"Security is going to get tighter," he says matter-of-factly.

"I understand." I glance down his body. He's still wearing his shorts and his shirt, and I still have my T-shirt on. Jeez - talk about wham, bam, thank you ma'am. The thought makes me giggle.

"What?" Christian asks, bemused.

"You."

"Me?"

"Yes. You. Still dressed."

"Oh." He glances down at himself, then back at me, and his face erupts into an enormous smile.

"Well, you know how hard it is for me to keep my hands off you, Mrs. Grey - especially when you're giggling like a schoolgirl."

Oh yes - the tickling. Gah! The tickling. I move quickly so that I'm straddling him, but immediately understanding my evil intent, he grabs both of my wrists.

"No," he says and he means it.

I pout at him but decide that he's not ready for this.

"Please don't," he whispers. "I couldn't bear it. I was never tickled as a child." He pauses and I relax my hands so he doesn't have to restrain me.

"I used to watch Carrick with Elliot and Mia, tickling them, and it looked like such fun, but I . . . I . . ."

I place my index finger on his lips.

"Hush, I know," I murmur and plant a soft kiss on his lips where my finger has just been, then curl up on his chest. The familiar painful ache swells inside me, and the profound sadness that I hold in my heart for Christian as a little boy seizes me once more. I know I would do anything for this man because I love him so.

He puts his arms around me and presses his nose into my hair, inhaling deeply as he gently strokes my back. I don't know how long we lie there, but eventually I break the comfortable silence between us.

"What is the longest you've gone without seeing Dr. Flynn?"

"Two weeks. Why? Do you have an incorrigible urge to tickle me?"

"No." I chuckle. "I think he helps you."

Christian snorts. "He should; I pay him enough." He pulls my hair gently, turning my face to look up at him. I lift my head and he gazes at me.

"Are you concerned for my well-being, Mrs. Grey?" he asks softly.

"Every good wife is concerned for her beloved husband's wellbeing, Mr. Grey," I admonish him teasingly.

"Beloved?" he whispers, and it's a poignant question hanging between us.

"Very much beloved." I scoot up to kiss him, and he smiles his shy smile.

"Do you want to go ashore to eat, Mrs. Grey?"

"I want to eat wherever you're happiest."

"Good." He grins. "Aboard it is where I can keep you safe. Thank you for my present." He reaches over and grabs the camera, and holding it at arm's length, he snaps the two of us in our post tickling, postcoital, post confessional embrace.

"The pleasure is all mine," I smile and his eyes light up.

We wander through the opulent, gilt splendor of the eighteenth century Palace of Versailles. Once a humble hunting lodge, it was transformed by the Roi Soleil into a magnificent, lavish seat of power, but even before the eighteenth century ended it saw the last of those absolute monarchs.

The most stunning room by far is the Hall of Mirrors. The early afternoon light floods through windows to the west, lighting up the mirrors that line the east wall and illuminating the gold leaf decor and the enormous crystal chandeliers. It's breathtaking.

"Interesting to see what becomes of a despotic megalomaniac who isolates himself in such splendor," I murmur to Christian as he stands at my side. He gazes down and cocks his head to one side, regarding me with humor.

"Your point, Mrs. Grey?"

"Oh, merely an observation, Mr. Grey." I wave my hand airily at the surroundings. Smirking, he follows me to the center of the room where I stand and gawk at the view - the spectacular gardens reflected in the looking glass and the spectacular Christian Grey, my husband, reflected back at me, his gaze bright and bold.

"I would build this for you," he whispers. "Just to see the way the light burnishes your hair, right here, right now." He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. "You look like an angel." He kisses me just below my earlobe, takes my hand in his, and murmurs, "We despots do that for the women we love."

I flush at his compliment, smiling shyly, and follow him through the vast room.

"What are you thinking about?" Christian asks softly, taking a sip of his after-dinner coffee.

"Versailles."

"Ostentatious, wasn't it?" He grins. I glance around the more understated grandeur of the Fair Lady's dining room and purse my lips.

"This is hardly ostentatious," Christian says, a tad defensively.

"I know. It's lovely. The best honeymoon a girl could want."

"Really?" he says, genuinely surprised. And he smiles his shy smile.

"Of course it is."

"We've only got two more days. Is there anything you'd like to see?

Anything you'd like to do?"

"Just be with you," I murmur. Rising from the table, he comes around and kisses me on the forehead.

"Well, can you do without me for about an hour? I need to check my e-mails, find out what's happening at home."

"Sure," I say brightly, trying to hide my disappointment that I'll be without him for an hour. Is it freaky that I want to be with him all the time? My subconscious presses her lips into a narrow, unattractive line and nods vigorously.

"Thank you for the camera," he murmurs and heads for the study.

Back in our cabin I decide to catch up on my correspondence and open my laptop. There are e-mails from my mom and from Kate, giving me the latest gossip from home and asking how the honeymoon is going. Well, great, until someone decided to burn down GEH Inc. . . . As I finish my response to my mom, an e-mail from Kate hits my inbox.

From: Katherine L. Kavanagh

Date: August 17, 2011 11:45 PST

To: Anastasia Grey

Subject: OMG!!!!

Ana, just heard about the fire at Christian's office. Do you think it's arson?

K xox

Rose is online! I jump on to my newfound toy - Skype messaging -

and see that she's available. I quickly type a message.

Ana: Hey are you there?

Kate: YES, Ana! How are you? How's the honeymoon? Did you see my e-mail? Does Christian know about the fire?

Ana: I'm good. Honeymoon's great. Yes, I saw your e-mail. Yes, Christian knows.

Kate: I thought he would. News is sketchy on what happened. And Elliot won't tell me anything. 

Ana: Are you fishing for a story?

Kate: You know me too well.

Ana: Christian hasn't told me much.

Kate: Elliot heard from Grace!

Oh no - I'm sure Christian doesn't want this broadcast all over Seattle. I try my patented distract-tenacious-Kavanagh technique. Ana: How are Elliot and Ethan?

Kate: Ethan has been accepted into the psych course at Seattle for his master's degree. Elliot is adorable. Ana: Way to go, Ethan.

Kate: How's our favorite ex-dom?

Ana: Kate!

Kate: What?

Ana: YOU KNOW WHAT!

Kate: K. Sorry

Ana: He's fine. More than fine. 

Kate: Well, as long as you're happy, I'm happy.

Ana: I'm blissfully happy.

Kate:  I have to run. Can we talk later?

Ana: Not sure. See if I am online. Time zones suck!

Kate: They do. Love you, Ana.

Ana: Love you, too. Laters. x

Kate: Laters. <3

Trust Kate to be on the trail of this story. I roll my eyes and shut Skype down before Christian sees the chat. He wouldn't appreciate the ex-Dom comment - and I'm not sure he's entirely ex . . . I sigh loudly. Kate knows everything, since our tipsy evening three weeks before the wedding when I finally succumbed to the Kavanagh inquisition. It was a relief to finally talk to someone. I glance at my watch. It's been about an hour since dinner, and I am missing my husband. I head back on deck to see if he's finished his work.

I am in the Hall of Mirrors and Christian is standing beside me, smiling down at me with love and affection. You look like an angel. I beam back at him, but when I glance into the looking glass I'm standing on my own and the room is gray and drab. No! My head whips back to his face, to find his smile is sad and wistful. Reaching up, he tucks my hair behind my ear. Then he turns wordlessly and walks away slowly, the sound of his footsteps echoing off the mirrors as he paces the enormous room to the ornate double doors at the end . . . a man on his own, a man with no reflection . . . and I wake, gasping for air, as panic seizes me.

"Hey," he whispers from beside me in the darkness, his voice filled with concern.

Oh, he's here. He's safe. Relief courses through me.

"Oh, Christian," I mumble, trying to bring my pounding heartbeat under control. He wraps me in his arms, and it's only then that I realize I have tears streaming down my face.

"Ana, what is it?" He strokes my cheek, wiping away my tears, and I can hear his anguish.

"Nothing. A silly nightmare."

He kisses my forehead and my tearstained cheeks, comforting me.

"Just a bad dream, baby," he murmurs. "I've got you. I'll keep you safe."

Drinking in his scent, I curl around him, trying to ignore the loss and devastation I felt in my dream, and in that moment, I know that my deepest, darkest fear would be losing him.

Chapter Five

I stir, instinctively reaching over to Christian's side of the bed only to feel his absence. Shit! I wake instantly and look anxiously around the cabin. Christian is watching me from the small, upholstered armchair by the bed. Stooping down, he places something on the floor, then moves and stretches out on the bed beside me. He's dressed in his cutoffs and a gray T-shirt.

"Hey, don't panic. Everything's fine," he says, his voice gentle and soothing - like he's talking to a cornered wild animal. Tenderly, he smooths the hair back from my face and I calm immediately. I see him trying and failing to hide his own concern.