Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2) by E.L. James

Chapter One

Mr. Jack Hyde... he smiles down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk."Excellent work, Ana. I think we're going to make a great team."

Somehow, I manage to curl my lips upward in a semblance of a smile.

"I'll be off, if that's okay with you," I murmur.

"Of course, it's five thirty. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Jack."

"Goodnight, Ana."

Collecting my bag, I shrug on my jacket and head for the door. Out in the early evening air of Seattle, I take a deep breath. It doesn't begin to fill the void in my chest, a void that's been present since Saturday morning, a painful hollow reminder of my loss. I walk toward the bus stop with my head down, staring at my feet and contemplating being without my beloved Wanda, my old Beetle... or the Audi.

I shut the door on that thought immediately. No. Don't think about him. Of course, I can afford a car - a nice, new car. I suspect he has been overgenerous in his payment, and the thought leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but I dismiss it and try to keep my mind as numb and as blank as possible. I can't think about him. I don't want to start crying again -

not out on the street.

The apartment is empty. I miss Kate, and I imagine her lying on a beach in Barbados sipping a cool cocktail. I turn on the flat-screen television so there's noise to fill the vacuum and provide some semblance of company, but I don't listen or watch. I sit and stare blankly at the brick wall. I am numb. I feel nothing but the pain. How long must I endure this?

The door buzzer startles me from my anguish, and my heart skips a beat. Who could that be? I press the intercom.

"Delivery for Ms. Steele." A bored, disembodied voice answers, and disappointment crashes through me. I listlessly make my way downstairs and find a young man noisily chewing gum, holding a large cardboard box, and leaning against the front door. I sign for the package and take it upstairs. The box is huge and surprisingly light. Inside are two dozen long-stemmed, white roses and a card.

Congratulations on your first day at work.

I hope it went well.

And thank you for the glider. That was very thoughtful.

It has pride of place on my desk.

Christian

I stare at the typed card, the hollow in my chest expanding. No doubt, his assistant sent this. Christian probably had very little to do with it. It's too painful to think about. I examine the roses - they are beautiful, and I can't bring myself to throw them in the trash.

Dutifully, I make my way into the kitchen to hunt down a vase.

And so a pattern develops: wake, work, cry, sleep. Well, try to sleep. I can't even escape him in my dreams. Gray burning eyes, his lost look, his hair burnished and bright all haunt me. And the music... so much music - I cannot bear to hear any music. I am careful to avoid it at all costs. Even the jingles in commercials make me shudder.

I have spoken to no one, not even my mother or Ray. I don't have the capacity for idle talk now. No, I want none of it. I have become my own island state. A ravaged, war-torn land where nothing grows and the horizons are bleak. Yes, that's me. I can interact impersonally at work, but that's it. If I talk to Mom, I know I will break even further - and I have nothing left to break.

I am finding it difficult to eat. By Wednesday lunchtime, I manage a cup of yogurt, and it's the first thing I've eaten since Friday. I am surviving on a newfound tolerance for lattes and Diet Coke. It's the caffeine that keeps me going, but it's making me anxious.

Jack has started to hover over me, irritating me, asking me personal questions. What does he want? I'm polite, but I need to keep him at arm's length.

I sit and begin trawling through a pile of correspondence addressed to him, and I'm pleased with the distraction of menial work. My e-mail pings, and I quickly check to see who it's from.

Holy shit. An e-mail from Christian. Oh no, not here... not at work.

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:05

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

Forgive this intrusion at work. I hope that it's going well. Did you get my flowers?

I note that tomorrow is the gallery opening for your friend's show, and I'm sure you've not had time to purchase a car, and it's a long drive. I would be more than happy to take you - should you wish.

Let me know.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

Tears swim in my eyes. I hastily leave my desk and bolt to the restroom to escape into one of the stalls. Jose's show. Crap. I'd forgotten all about it, and I promised him I'd go. Shit, Christian is right; how am I going to get there?

I clutch my forehead. Why hasn't Jose phoned? Come to think of it - why hasn't anyone phoned? I've been so absentminded, I haven't noticed that my cell phone has been silent.

Shit! I am such an idiot! I still have it on divert to the Blackberry. Holy hell. Christian's been getting my calls - unless he's just thrown the Blackberry away. How did he get my e-mail address?

He knows my shoe size, an e-mail address is hardly going to present him with many problems.

Can I see him again? Could I bear it? Do I want to see him? I close my eyes and tilt my head back as grief and longing lance through me. Of course I do.

Perhaps, perhaps I can tell him I've changed my mind... No, no, no. I cannot be with someone who takes pleasure in inflicting pain on me, someone who can't love me.

Torturous memories flash through my mind - the gliding, holding hands, kissing, the bathtub, his gentleness, his humor, and his dark, brooding, sexy stare. I miss him. It's been five days, five days of agony that has felt like an eternity.

I wrap my arms around my body, hugging myself tightly, holding myself together. I miss him. I really miss him... I love him. Simple.

I cry myself to sleep at night, wishing I hadn't walked out, wishing that he could be different, wishing that we were together. How long will this hideous overwhelming feeling last? I am in purgatory.

Anastasia Steele, you are at work! I must be strong, but I want to go to Jose's show, and deep down, the masochist in me wants to see Christian. Taking a deep breath, I head back to my desk.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:25

To: Christian Grey

Hi Christian

Thank you for the flowers; they are lovely.

Yes, I would appreciate a lift.

Thank you.

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

Checking my phone, I find that it is still switched to divert. Jack is in a meeting, so I quickly call Jose.

"Hi, Jose. It's Ana."

"Hello, stranger." His tone is so warm and welcoming it's almost enough to push me over the edge again.

"I can't talk long. What time should I be there tomorrow for your show?"

"You're still coming?" He sounds excited.

"Yes, of course." I smile my first genuine smile in five days as I picture his broad grin.

"Seven thirty."

"See you then. Good-bye, Jose."

"Bye, Ana."

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:27

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

What time shall I collect you?

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:32

To: Christian Grey

Jose's show starts at 7:30. What time would you suggest?

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

From: Christian Grey

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:34

To: Anastasia Steele

Dear Anastasia

Portland is some distance away. I shall collect you at 5:45.

I look forward to seeing you.

Christian Grey

CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.

From: Anastasia Steele

Subject: Tomorrow

Date: June 8, 2011 14:38

To: Christian Grey

See you then.

Anastasia Steele

Assistant to Jack Hyde, Commissioning Editor, SIP

Oh my. I'm going to see Christian, and for the first time in five days, my spirits lift a fraction and I allow myself to wonder how he's been.

Has he missed me? Probably not like I've missed him. Has he found a new submissive from wherever they come from? The thought is so painful that I dismiss it immediately. I look at the pile of correspondence I need to sort for Jack and tackle it as I try to push Christian out of my mind once more.

That night in bed, I toss and turn, trying to sleep. It is the first time in a while I haven't cried myself to sleep.

In my mind's eye, I visualize Christian's face the last time I saw him as I left his apartment. His tortured expression haunts me. I remember he didn't want me to go, which was odd. Why would I stay when things had reached such an impasse? We were each skirting around our own issues - my fear of punishment, his fear of... what? Love?

Turning on my side, I hug my pillow, filled with an overwhelming sadness. He thinks he doesn't deserve to be loved. Why does he feel that way? Is it something to do with his upbringing? His birth mom, the crack whore? My thoughts plague me into the early hours until eventually I fall into a fitful, exhausted sleep.

The day drags and drags and Jack is unusually attentive. I suspect it's Kate's plum dress and the black high-heeled boots I've stolen from her closet, but I don't dwell on the thought.

I resolve to go clothes shopping with my first paycheck. The dress is looser on me than it was, but I pretend not to notice.

Finally, it's five thirty, and I collect my jacket and purse, trying to quell my nerves. I'm going to see him!

"Do you have a date tonight?" Jack asks as he strolls past my desk on his way out.

"Yes. No. Not really."

He cocks an eyebrow at me, his interest clearly piqued. "Boyfriend?"

I flush. "No, a friend. An ex-boyfriend."

"Maybe tomorrow you'd like to come for a drink after work. You've had a stellar first week, Ana. We should celebrate." He smiles and some unknown emotion flits across his face, making me uneasy.

Putting his hands in his pockets, he saunters through the double doors. I frown at his retreating back. Drinks with the boss, is that a good idea?

I shake my head. I have an evening of Christian Grey to get through first. How am I going to do this? I hurry into the restroom to make last-minute adjustments.

In the large mirror on the wall, I take a long, hard look at my face. I am my usual pale self, dark circles round my too-large eyes. I look gaunt, haunted.

Jeez, I wish I knew how to use makeup. I apply some mascara and eyeliner and pinch my cheeks, hoping to bring some color their way. Tidying my hair so that it hangs artfully down my back, I take a deep breath. This will have to do.

Nervously I walk through the foyer with a smile and a wave to Claire at reception. I think she and I could become friends. Jack is talking to Elizabeth as I head for the doors.

Smiling broadly, he hurries over to open them for me.

"After you, Ana," he murmurs.

"Thank you." I smile, embarrassed.

Outside on the curb, Taylor is waiting. He opens the rear door of the car. I glance hesitantly at Jack who has followed me out. He's looking toward the Audi SUV in dismay.

I turn and climb into the back, and there he sits - Christian Grey - wearing his gray suit, no tie, his white shirt open at the collar. His gray eyes are glowing.

My mouth dries. He looks glorious except he's scowling at me. Oh no!

"When did you last eat?" he snaps as Taylor closes the door behind me.

Crap. "Hello, Christian. Yes, it's nice to see you, too."

"I don't want your smart mouth now. Answer me." His eyes blaze.

Holy shit. "Um... I had a yogurt at lunchtime. Oh - and a banana."

"When did you last have a proper meal?" he asks acidly.

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