Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)(14)

by E.L. James

I shift onto my side to gaze at him, appraising his beauty. I know he watches me sleep, but I rarely get the opportunity to repay the compliment. He looks so young and carefree in his sleep, his long lashes fanned against his cheek, a light smattering of stubble covering his jaw, and his sculptured lips slightly parted, relaxed as he breathes deeply. I want to kiss him, to push my tongue between his lips, run my fingers over his soft yet prickly stubble. I really have to fight the urge not to touch him, not to disturb him. Hmm . . . I could just tease his earlobe with my teeth and suck. My subconscious glares up at me over her half-moon spectacles, distracted from volume two of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, and mentally chastises me. Leave the poor man alone, Ana.

I am back to work on Monday. We have today to reacclimatize, then we're back into our routine. It will be odd not seeing Christian for a whole day after spending almost every minute together for the last three weeks. I lie back and stare at the ceiling. One would think that spending so much time together would be suffocating, but that's just not the case. I've loved each and every minute, even our fighting. Every minute . . . except the news of the fire at Grey House.

My blood chills. Who could want to harm Christian? My mind gnaws at this mystery again. Someone in his business? An ex? A disgruntled employee? I have no idea, and Christian remains tightlipped about it all, drip-feeding me the minimum information he can get away with in a bid to protect me. I sigh. My shining white-and-dark knight always trying to protect me. What am I going to do with him to make him open up more?

He stirs and I still, not wanting to wake him, but it has the opposite effect. Damn! Two bright eyes gaze at me, blinking.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Go back to sleep." I try my reassuring smile. He stretches, rubs his face, and then grins at me.

"Jet lag?" he asks.

"Is that what this is? I can't sleep."

"I have the universal panacea right here, just for you, baby." He grins like a schoolboy, making me roll my eyes and giggle at the same time. And just like that my dark thoughts are swept aside and my teeth find his earlobe.

Christian and I cruise north on the I-5 toward the 520 bridge in the Audi R8. We are going to have lunch at his parents', a welcome-home Sunday lunch. All the family will be there, plus Kate and Ethan. It will be strange to be in so much company when we've been on our own all this time. I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Christian most of the morning - he was holed up in his study while I unpacked. He said I didn't have to, that Mrs. Jones would do it. But that's something else I need to get used to - having domestic help. I run my fingers absentmindedly over the leather upholstery of the door to distract my wandering thoughts. I feel out of sorts. Is it the jet lag? The arson?

"Would you let me drive this?" I ask, surprised that I say the words out loud.

"Of course," Christian replies, smiling. "What's mine is yours. If you dent it, though, I will take you into the Red Room of Pain." He glances swiftly at me with a malicious grin.

Shit! I gape at him. Is this a joke?

"You're kidding. You'd punish me for denting your car? You love your car more than you love me?" I tease.

"It's close," he says and reaches across to squeeze my knee. "But she doesn't keep me warm at night."

"I'm sure it could be arranged. You could sleep in her," I snap. Christian laughs. "We haven't been home one day and you're kicking me out already?" He seems delighted. I gaze at him and he gives me a face-splitting grin, and although I want to be mad at him, it's impossible when he's in this kind of mood. Now that I think about it, he's been in a better frame of mind ever since he left his study this morning. And it dawns on me that I'm being petulant because we have to go back to reality, and I don't know if he's going to revert to the more closed pre-honeymoon Christian, or if I'll get to keep the new improved version.

"Why are you so pleased?" I ask.

He flashes yet another grin at me. "Because this conversation is so . . . normal."

"Normal!" I snort. "Not after three weeks of marriage! Surely."

His smile slips.

"I'm kidding, Christian," I mutter quickly, not wanting to kill his mood. It strikes me how unsure he is of himself sometimes. I suspect that he's always been like this, but has just hidden his uncertainty beneath an intimidating exterior. He's very easy to tease, probably because he's not used to it. It's a revelation, and I marvel again that we still have so much to learn about each other.

"Don't worry, I'll stick to the Saab," I mutter and turn to stare out of the window, trying to shake off my bad mood.

"Hey. What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"You're so frustrating sometimes, Ana. Tell me."

I turn and smirk at him. "Back at you, Grey."

He frowns. "I'm trying," he says softly.

"I know. Me too." I smile and my mood brightens a little.

Carrick looks ridiculous in his chef's hat and Licensed to Grill apron as he stands at the barbecue. Every time I look at him, it makes me smile. In fact, my spirits have lifted considerably. We are all sitting around the table on the terrace of the Grey family home, enjoying the late summer sun. Grace and Mia are setting various salads out on the table, while Elliot and Christian trade friendly insults and discuss plans for the new house, and Ethan and Kate grill me about our honeymoon. Christian keeps hold of my hand, his fingers toying with my wedding and engagement rings.

"So if you can get the plans finalized with Gia, I have a window September through to mid-November and can get the whole crew on it," Elliot says as he stretches and drops an arm around Kate's shoulder, making her smile.

"Gia is due to come over to discuss the plans tomorrow evening,"

replies Christian. "I hope we can finalize everything then." He turns and looks expectantly at me.

Oh . . . this is news.

"Sure." I smile at him, mostly for the benefit of his family, but my spirits take a nosedive again. Why does he make these decisions without telling me? Or is it the thought of Gia - all lush h*ps and full br**sts and expensive designer clothes and perfume - smiling too provocatively at my husband? My subconscious glares at me. He's given you no reason to be jealous. Shit, I am up and down today. What's wrong with me?

"Ana," Kate exclaims, snapping me out of my reverie. "You still in the South of France?"

"Yes," I reply with a smile.

"You look so well," she says, though she frowns as she says it.

"You both do." Grace beams while Elliot refills our glasses.

"To the happy couple." Carrick grins and raises his glass, and everyone around the table echoes the sentiment.

"And congratulations to Ethan for getting into the psych program at Seattle," chips in Mia proudly. She gives him an adoring smile and Ethan smirks at her. I wonder idly if she's made any headway with him. It's difficult to tell.

I listen to the banter around the table. Christian is running through our extensive itinerary over the last three weeks, embellishing here and there. He sounds relaxed and in control, the worry of the arsonist forgotten. I, on the other hand, don't seem to be able to shake my mood. I pick at my food. Christian said I was fat yesterday. He was joking! My subconscious glares at me again. Elliot accidentally knocks his glass onto the terrace, startling everyone, and there's a sudden flurry of activity to get it cleaned up.

"I am going to take you to the boathouse and finally spank you in there if you don't snap out of this mood," Christian whispers to me. I gasp with shock, turn, and gape at him. What? Is he teasing me?

"You wouldn't dare!" I growl at him and from deep inside I feel a familiar, welcome excitement. He cocks an eyebrow at me. Of course he would. I glance quickly at Kate across the table. She's watching us with interest. I turn back to Christian, narrowing my eyes at him.

"You'd have to catch me first - and I'm wearing flats," I hiss.

"I'd have fun trying," he whispers with a licentious grin, and I think he's joking.

I flush. Confusingly, I feel better.

As we finish our dessert of strawberries and cream, the heavens open and unexpectedly soak us. We all leap up to clear the plates and glasses from the table, depositing them in the kitchen.

"Good thing the weather held off till we finished," Grace says pleased, as we drift into the back room den. Christian sits down at the shining black upright piano, presses the quiet pedal, and starts to play a familiar tune that I can't immediately place.

Grace asks me for my impressions of Saint Paul de Vence. She and Carrick went years ago during their honeymoon, and it occurs to me that this is a good omen, seeing how happy they are together now. Kate and Elliot are cuddling on one of the large overstuffed couches, while Ethan, Mia, and Carrick are deep in a conversation about psychology, I think.

Suddenly, as one, all the Greys stop talking and gape at Christian. What?

Christian is singing softly to himself at the piano. Silence descends on us all as we strain to hear his soft, lyrical voice. I've heard him sing before, haven't they? He stops, suddenly conscious of the deathly hush that's fallen over the room. Kate glances questioningly at me and I shrug. Christian turns on the stool and frowns, embarrassed to realize he's become the center of attention.

"Go on," Grace urges softly. "I've never heard you sing, Christian. Ever." She stares at him in wonder. He sits on the piano stool blinking absently at her, and after a beat, he shrugs. His eyes flicker nervously to me, then over to the French windows. The rest of the room suddenly erupts in self-conscious chatter, and I'm left watching my dear husband.

Grace distracts me, grasping my hands then suddenly folding me in her arms.

"Oh, darling girl! Thank you, thank you," she whispers, so only I can hear. It brings a lump to my throat.

"Um . . ." I hug her back, not really sure why I am being thanked. Grace smiles, her eyes shining, and kisses my cheek. Oh my . . . What have I done?

"I am going to make some tea," she says, her voice hoarse with unshed tears.

I amble over to Christian who is now standing staring out through the French windows.

"Hi," I murmur.

"Hi." He puts his arm around my waist, pulling me to him, and I slip my hand into the back pocket of his jeans. We gaze out at the rain.

"Feeling better?"

I nod.

"Good."

"You certainly know how to silence a room."

"I do it all the time," he says and he grins at me.

"At work, yes, but not here."

"True, not here."

"No one's ever heard you sing? Ever?"

"It appears not," he says dryly. "Shall we go?"

I gaze up at him, trying to gauge his mood. His eyes are soft and warm and slightly bemused. I decide to change the subject.

"You going to spank me?" I whisper, and suddenly there are butterflies in my stomach. Perhaps this is what I need . . . this is what I have been missing.

He gazes down at me, his eyes darkening.

"I don't want to hurt you, but I'm more than happy to play."

"Oh." I glance nervously around the large room, but we are out of earshot.

"Only if you misbehave, Mrs. Grey." He bends and murmurs in my ear.

How can he put so much sensual promise into six words?

"I'll see what I can do." I grin.

Once we've said our goodbyes, we walk over to the car.

"Here." Christian throws me the keys to the R8. "Don't bend it" - he adds in all seriousness - "or I will be f**king pissed."

My mouth goes dry. He's letting me drive his car? My inner goddess whips on her leather driving gloves and flat shoes. Oh yes! she cries.