Shakily I get to my feet, kick off my shoes, walk over to his desk, and examine the pin board above it. And there in the corner is the small black and white photo—his mother, the crack whore. I switch on the desk lamp and focus the light on her picture. She looks so much like him but younger and sadder and all I feel, looking at her sorrowful face, is compassion. I try to see the similarities between her face and mine. I squint at the picture, getting really, really close, and see none.
Except maybe our hair, but I think hers is lighter than mine. My subconscious tuts at me, arms crossed, glaring over her half-moon glasses. Why are you torturing yourself?
True of False: Ana and Christian were interrupted by his mother
I purse my lips at her. Yes I have, gladly so.
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I want to lie in that bed with Christian for the rest of my life. My inner goddess, sitting in the lotus position, smiles serenely. I must find him—Christian will be worried. I roll my eyes as I contemplate his overreaction. I hope that he and Grace have finished. I shudder to think what else she might have said to him.
I meet Christian as he climbs the stairs to the second floor, looking for me. His face is strained and weary—not the carefree Fifty I arrived with. As I stand on the landing, he stops on the top stair so that we are eye to eye. I just had to get away, you know.
To think. He closes his eyes and leans his face into my hand. He smells of fresh laundry, body wash, and Christian—the most calming and arousing scent on the planet. He inhales with his nose in my hair. Why was she here? Otherwise I might be breathing my last. He hugs me tightly and he seems uncertain, processing his thoughts. Finally he answers. He sighs. I owe her that much. I might even get drunk.
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The Heathman. Back in the hallway, he pauses to caress my face, his fingers skimming my jaw. He leans down and kisses me softly, and I melt everywhere, all the tension of the last hour or so seeping languidly from my body. Taking my hand, he leads me toward the kitchen where the party is in full swing.
You two will be just fine. Flynn smiles kindly at us, standing arm in arm in the hallway as he and Rhian take their leave. He gazes down at me, his eyes suddenly bright with excitement. I think my mother has had too much to drink. Kate and Mia are giving her a run for her money. I succeed. He shakes his head. Come—I want to show you something. Christian ignores him. Carrick frowns at Elliot, shaking his head in a silent rebuke.
As we make our way up the steps to the lawn, I take off my shoes. The half-moon shines brightly over the bay. The lights of the boathouse are on, a soft glowing beacon in the cool cast of the moon. Then something occurs to me. I thought you liked it. When did you buy it?
It just needs some tender loving care.
He knows a good architect; she did some work on my place is Aspen. He can do the remodeling. I grin. In fact. He slides me down his body back to the ground and takes my head in his hands. My anxious man, not a white knight or a dark knight, but a man—a beautiful, not-quite-so-fucked-up man—whom I love. I reach up and caress his face, running my fingers through his sideburns and along his jaw to his chin, then let my index finger touch his lips.
He relaxes. The harsh light of the fluorescents illuminates the impressive motor launch in the dock, bobbing gently on the dark water. Opening the door at the top, he steps aside to let me in. My mouth drops to the floor. The attic is unrecognizable. The room is filled with flowers.
Someone has created a magical bower of beautiful wild meadow flowers mixed with glowing fairy lights and miniature lanterns that glow soft and pale round the room. He shrugs.
My heart is in my mouth as tears prick my eyes. Holy hell. I did not expect this! I stop breathing. From his inside jacket pocket he produces a ring and gazes up at me, his eyes bright gray and raw, full of emotion. I love you. I want to love, cherish, and protect you for the rest of my life. Be mine. Share my life with me. Marry me. My Fifty, my man. Big, but oh-so-simple and stunning in its simplicity. Kiss this beautiful man, who loves me as I love him; and as he wraps his arms around me, his hands moving to my hair, his mouth on mine. I know deep down I will always be his, and he will always be mine.
We are meant to be. The cigarette end glows brightly in the darkness as he takes a deep pull. He blows the smoke out in a long exhale, finishing with two smoke rings that dissolve in front of him, pale and ghostly in the moonlight. He shifts in his seat, bored, and takes a quick shot of cheap bourbon from a bottle wrapped in shabby brown paper before resting it back between his thighs. His mouth twists in a sardonic sneer. The helicopter had been a rash and bold move.
But to no avail. He rolls his eyes ironically. Who would have thought the son-of-a-bitch could actually fly the fucker? He snorts. They have underestimated him. It had been the same all his life. People constantly underestimating him—just a man who reads books. Fuck that! A man with a photographic memory who reads books. He snorts again—Yeah, about you, Grey. The things I know about you. Not bad for a kid from the gutter end of Detroit.
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