"Are you sure?" I mouth, stunned.
"Yes, before I change my mind."
I don't think I have ever grinned so hard. He rolls his eyes and opens the driver's door so that I can climb in. I start the engine before he's even reached the passenger side, and he jumps in quickly.
"Eager, Mrs. Grey?" he asks with a wry smile.
Slowly, I ease the car backward and turn it in the driveway. I manage not to stall it, surprising myself. Boy, is the clutch sensitive. Carefully navigating the driveway, I glance in my rearview mirror to see Sawyer and Ryan - our security for the day - climb into the Audi SUV. I had no idea that they'd followed us here. I pause before I set out onto the main road.
"You're sure about this?"
"Yes," Christian says tightly, telling me he's not sure about this at all. Oh, my poor, poor Fifty. I want to laugh, at both him and myself, because I'm nervous and excited. A small part of me wants to lose Sawyer and Ryan, just for the kicks. I check for traffic then inch the R8
out onto the road. Christian curls up with tension and I can't resist. The road is clear. I put my foot down on the gas and we shoot forward.
"Whoa! Ana!" Christian shouts. "Slow down - you'll kill us both."
I immediately ease off the gas. Wow, can this car move!
"Sorry," I mutter, trying to sound contrite and failing miserably. Christian smirks at me, to hide his relief, I think.
"Well, that counts as misbehaving," he says casually and I slow right down.
I glance in the rearview mirror. No sign of the Audi, just a solitary dark car with tinted windows behind us. I imagine Sawyer and Ryan flustered, frantic to catch up, and for some reason this gives me a thrill. But not wanting to give my dear husband a coronary, I decide to behave and drive steadily, with growing confidence, toward the 520
Suddenly, Christian swears and struggles to pull his BlackBerry from the pocket of his jeans.
"What?" he snaps angrily at whoever it is on the other end of the line. "No." he says and glances behind us. "Yes. She is."
What? Briefly checking the rearview mirror, I can't see anything odd - there are just a few cars behind us. The SUV is about four cars back and we're all cruising at an even pace.
"I see." Christian sighs long and hard and rubs his forehead with his fingers, tension radiates off him. Something's wrong.
"Yes . . . I don't know." He glances at me and lowers the phone from his ear. "We're fine. Keep going," he says calmly, smiling at me, but the smile doesn't touch his eyes. Shit! Adrenaline spikes through my system. He picks the phone up again.
"Okay on the 520. As soon as we hit it . . . Yes . . . I will."
He slots the phone into the speaker cradle, putting it on hands-free.
"What's wrong, Christian?"
"Just look where you're going, baby," he says softly. I'm heading for the on-ramp of the 520 in the direction of Seattle. When I glance at Christian, he's staring straight ahead.
"I don't want you to panic," he says calmly. "But as soon as we're on the 520 proper, I want you to step on the gas. We're being followed."
Followed! Holy shit. My heart lurches into my mouth, pounding, my scalp prickles and my throat constricts with panic. Followed by whom? My eyes dart to the rearview mirror and, sure enough, the dark car I saw earlier is still behind us . Fuck! Is that it? I squint through the tinted windshield to see who's driving, but I see nothing.
"Keep your eyes on the road, baby," Christian says gently, not in the truculent tone he normally uses where my driving is concerned. Get a grip! I mentally slap myself to subdue the dread that's threatening to swamp me. Suppose whoever's following us is armed?
Armed and after Christian! Shit! I'm hit by a wave of nausea.
"How do we know we're being followed?" My voice is a breathy, squeaky, whisper.
"The Dodge behind us has false license plates."
How does he know that?
I signal as we approach the 520 from the on-ramp. It's late afternoon, and although the rain has stopped, the roadway is wet. Fortunately, the traffic is reasonably light.
Ray's voice echoes in my head from one of his many self-defense lectures. "It's the panic that's gonna kill you or get you seriously hurt, Annie." I take a deep breath, trying to bring my breathing under control. Whoever is following us is after Christian. As I take another deep steadying breath, my mind begins to clear and my stomach settles. I have to keep Christian safe. I wanted to drive this car, and I wanted to drive it fast. Well, here's my chance. I grip the steering wheel and take a final glance in my rearview mirror. The Dodge is closing on us. I slow right down, ignoring Christian's sudden panicked glance at me, and time my entrance on to the 520 so that the Dodge has to slow and stop to wait for a gap in the traffic. I drop a gear and floor it. The R8 shoots forward, slamming us both into the backs of our seats. The speedometer whips up to seventy-five miles per hour.
"Steady, baby," Christian says calmly, though I'm sure he's anything but calm.
I weave between the two lines of traffic like a black counter in a game of checkers, effectively jumping the cars and trucks. We're so close to the lake on this bridge, it's as if we're driving on the water. I studiously ignore the angry, disapproving looks from other drivers. Christian clutches his hands together in his lap, keeping as still as possible, and in spite of my fevered thoughts, I wonder vaguely if he's doing it so he doesn't distract me.
"Good girl," he breathes in encouragement. He glances behind him.
"I can't see the Dodge."
"We're right behind the unsub, Mr. Grey." Sawyer's voice comes through the hands-free. "He's trying to catch up with you, sir. We're going to try and come alongside, put ourselves between your car and the Dodge."
Unsub? What does that mean?
"Good. Mrs. Grey is doing well. At this rate, provided the traffic remains light - and from what I can see it is - we'll be off the bridge in a few minutes."
We flash past the bridge control tower, and I know we're half way across Lake Washington. When I check my speed, I'm still doing seventy-five.
"You're doing really well, Ana," Christian murmurs again as he gazes out the back of the R8. For a fleeting moment, his tone reminds me of our first encounter in his playroom when he patiently encouraged me through our first scene. The thought is distracting, and I dismiss it immediately.
"Where am I headed?" I ask, moderately calmer. I have the feel of the car now. It's a joy to drive, so quiet and easy to handle it's hard to believe how fast we are going. Driving at this speed in this car is easy.
"Mrs. Grey, head for I-5 and then south. We want to see if the Dodge follows you all the way," Sawyer says over the hands-free. The traffic lights on the bridge are green - thank heavens - and I race onward.
I glance nervously at Christian, and he smiles reassuringly. Then his face falls.
"Shit!" he swears softly.
There is a line of traffic ahead as we come off the bridge and I have to slow. Glancing anxiously in the mirror once more, I think I spot the Dodge.
"Ten or so cars back?"
"Yeah, I see it," Christian says, peering through the narrow rear window. "I wonder who the f**k it is?"
"Me too. Do we know if it's a man driving?" I blurt out toward the cradled BlackBerry.
"No, Mrs. Grey. Could be a man or woman. The tint is too dark."
"A woman?" Christian says.
I shrug. "Your Mrs. Robinson?" I suggest, not taking my eyes off the road.
Christian stiffens and lifts the BlackBerry out of its cradle. "She's not my Mrs. Robinson," he growls. "I haven't spoken to her since my birthday. And Elena wouldn't do this. It's not her style."
"She's in Connecticut with her parents. I told you."
"Are you sure?"
He pauses. "No. But if she'd absconded, I'm sure her folks would have let Flynn know. Let's discuss this when we're home. Concentrate on what you're doing."
"But it might just be some random car."
"I'm not taking any risks. Not where you're concerned," he snaps. He replaces the BlackBerry in its cradle so we're back in contact with our security team .
Oh shit. I don't want to rattle Christian right now . . . later maybe. I hold my tongue. Fortunately, the traffic is thinning a little. I am able to speed over the Mountlake intersection toward the I-5, weaving through the cars again.
"What if we get stopped by the cops?" I ask.
"That would be a good thing."
"Not for my license."
"Don't worry about that," he says. Unexpectedly, I hear humor in his voice.
I put my foot down again, and hit seventy-five. Boy, this car can move. I love it - she's so easy. I touch eighty-five. I don't think I have ever driven this fast. I was lucky if my Beetle ever hit fifty miles an hour.
"He's cleared the traffic and picked up speed." Sawyer's disembodied voice is calm and informative. "He's doing ninety."
Shit! Faster! I press down on the gas and the car purrs to ninety-five miles per hour as we approach the I-5 intersection.
"Keep it up, Ana," Christian murmurs.
I slow momentarily as we glide onto the I-5. The interstate is fairly quiet, and I'm able to cross straight over to the fast lane in a split second. As I put my foot down, the glorious R8 zooms forward, and we tear down the left lane, lesser mortals pulling over to let us pass. If I wasn't so frightened, I might really enjoy this.
"He's hit one hundred miles per hour, sir."
"Stay with him, Luke," Christian barks at Sawyer.
A truck lurches into the fast lane - Shit! - and I have to slam on the brakes.
"Fucking idiot!" Christian curses the driver as we lurch forward in our seats. I am grateful for our seatbelts.
"Go around him, baby," Christian says through clenched teeth. I check my mirrors and cut right across three lanes. We speed past the slower vehicles and then cut back to the fast lane.
"Nice move, Mrs. Grey," Christian murmurs appreciatively. "Where are the cops when you need them?"
"I don't want a ticket, Christian," I mutter, concentrating on the highway ahead. "Have you had a speeding ticket driving this?"
"No," he says, but glancing quickly at him, I can see his smirk.
"Have you been stopped?"
"Charm, Mrs. Grey. It all comes down to charm. Now concentrate. Where's the Dodge, Sawyer?"
"He's just hit one hundred and ten, sir." Sawyer says. Holy f**k! My heart leaps once more into my mouth. Can I drive any faster? I push my foot down once more and streak past the traffic.
"Flash the headlights," Christian orders when a Ford Mustang won't move.
"But that would make me an ass**le."
"So be an ass**le!" he snaps.
Jeez. Okay! "Um, where are the headlights?"
"The indicator. Pull it toward you."
I do it, and the Mustang moves aside though not before the driver waves his finger at me in a none-too-complimentary manner. I zoom past him.
"He's the ass**le," Christian says under his breath, then barks at me, "get off on Stewart."
"We're taking the Stewart St. exit," Christian says to Sawyer.
"Head straight to Escala, sir."
I slow, check my mirrors, signal, then move with surprising ease across four lanes of the highway and down the off-ramp. Merging onto Stewart Street, we head south. The street is quiet, with few vehicles. Where is everyone?