Monday, November 26, 2012

Fifty Shades Freed CHAPTER 17


CHAPTER 17

“Mr. Rodriguez, what’s happened?” My voice is hoarse and thick with unshed
tears. Ray. Sweet Ray. My dad.
“He’s been in a car accident.”
“Okay, I’ll come . . . I’ll come now.” Adrenaline has flooded my bloodstream,
leaving panic in its wake. I’m finding it difficult to breathe.
“They’ve transferred him to Portland.”
Portland? What the hell is he doing in Portland?
“They airlifted him, Ana. I’m heading there now. OHSU. Oh, Ana, I didn’t
see the car. I just didn’t see it . . .” His voice cracks.
Mr. Rodriguez—no!
“I’ll see you there.” Mr. Rodriguez chokes and the line goes dead.
A dark dread seizes me by the throat, overwhelming me. Ray. No. No. I take
a deep steadying breath, pick up the phone and call Roach. He answers on the
second ring.
“Ana?”
“Jerry. It’s my father.”
“Ana, what happened?”
I explain, barely pausing to breathe.
“Go. Of course, you must go. I hope your father’s okay.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep you informed.” Inadvertently I slam the phone down,
but right now couldn’t care less.
“Hannah!” I call, aware of the anxiety in my voice. Moments later she pokes
her head around the door to find me packing my purse and grabbing papers to
stuff into my briefcase.
“Yes, Ana?” She frowns.
“My father has been in an accident. I have to go.”
“Oh dear—”
“Cancel all my appointments today. And Monday. You’ll have to finish prepping
the e-book presentation—notes are in the shared file. Get Courtney to help if
you have to.”
“Yes,” Hannah whispers. “I hope he’s okay. Don’t worry about anything
here. We’ll muddle through.”
“I have my BlackBerry.”
The concern etched on her pinched, pale face is almost my undoing.
Daddy.
I grab my jacket, purse, and briefcase. “I’ll call you if I need anything.”
“Do, please. Good luck, Ana. Hope he’s okay.”
I give her a small tight smile, fighting to maintain my composure, and exit
my office. I try hard not to run all the way to reception. Sawyer leaps to his feet
when I arrive.
“Mrs. Grey?” he asks, confused by my sudden appearance.
“We’re going to Portland—now.”
“Okay, ma’am,” he says, frowning, but opens the door.
Moving is good.
“Mrs. Grey,” Sawyer asks as we race toward the parking lot. “Can I ask why
we’re making this unscheduled trip?”
“It’s my dad. He’s been in an accident.”
“I see. Does Mr. Grey know?”
“I’ll call him from the car.”
Sawyer nods and opens the rear door to the Audi SUV, and I climb in. With
shaking fingers, I reach for my BlackBerry, and I dial Christian’s cell.
“Mrs. Grey.” Andrea’s voice is crisp and businesslike.
“Is Christian there?” I breathe.
“Um . . . he’s somewhere in the building, ma’am. He’s left his BlackBerry
charging with me.”
I groan silently with frustration.
“Can you tell him I called, and that I need to speak with him? It’s urgent.”
“I could try and track him down. He does have a habit of wandering off
sometimes.”
“Just get him to call me, please,” I beg, fighting back tears.
“Certainly, Mrs. Grey.” She hesitates. “Is everything all right?”
“No,” I whisper, not trusting my voice. “Please, just get him to call me.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
I hang up. I cannot contain my anguish any longer. Pulling my knees up to
my chest, I curl up on the rear seat, and tears ooze, unwelcome, down my cheeks.
“Where in Portland, Mrs. Grey?” Sawyer asks gently.
“OHSU,” I choke out. “The big hospital.”
Sawyer pulls out into the street and heads for the I-5, while I keen softly in
the back of the car, muttering wordless prayers. Please let him be okay. Please let
him be okay.
My phone rings, “Your Love Is King” startling me from my mantra.
“Christian,” I gasp.
“Christ, Ana. What’s wrong?”
“It’s Ray—he’s been in an accident.”
“Shit!”
“Yes. I am on my way to Portland.”
“Portland? Please tell me Sawyer is with you.”
“Yes, he’s driving.”
“Where is Ray?”
“At OHSU.”
I hear a muffled voice in the background. “Yes, Ros,” Christian snaps angrily.
“I know! Sorry, baby—I can be there in about three hours. I have business I
need to finish here. I’ll fly down.”
Oh shit. Charlie Tango is back in commission and last time Christian flew
her . . .
“I have a meeting with some guys over from Taiwan. I can’t blow them off.
It’s a deal we’ve been hammering out for months.”
Why do I know nothing about this?
“I’ll leave as soon as I can.”
“Okay,” I whisper. And I want to say that it’s okay, stay in Seattle, and sort
out your business, but the truth is I want him with me.
“Oh, baby,” he whispers.
“I’ll be okay, Christian. Take your time. Don’t rush. I don’t want to worry
about you, too. Fly safely.”
“I will.”
“Love you.”
“I love you, too, baby. I’ll be with you as soon as I can. Keep Luke close.”
“Yes, I will.”
“I’ll see you later.”
“Bye.” After hanging up, I hug my knees once more. I know nothing about
Christian’s business. What the hell is he doing with the Taiwanese? I gaze out the
window as we pass Boeing Field-King County Airport. He must fly safely. My
stomach knots anew and nausea threatens. Ray and Christian. I don’t think my
heart could take that. Leaning back, I start my mantra again: Please let him be
okay. Please let him be okay.
“Mrs. Grey.” Sawyer’s voice rouses me. “We’re on the hospital grounds. I just
have to find the ER.”
“I know where it is.” My mind flits back to my last visit to OHSU when, on
my second day, I fell off a stepladder at Clayton’s, twisting my ankle. I recall Paul
Clayton hovering over me and shudder at the memory.
Sawyer pulls up to the drop-off point and leaps out to open my door.
“I’ll go park, ma’am, and come find you. Leave your briefcase, I’ll bring it.”
“Thank you, Luke.”
He nods, and I walk briskly into the buzzing ER reception area. The receptionist
at the desk gives me a polite smile, and within a few moments, she’s located
Ray and is sending me to the OR on the third floor.
OR? Fuck! “Thank you,” I mutter, trying to focus on her directions to the elevators.
My stomach lurches as I almost run toward them.
Let him be okay. Please let him be okay.
The elevator is agonizingly slow, stopping on each floor. Come on . . . Come
on! I will it to move faster, scowling at the people strolling in and out and preventing
me from getting to my dad.
Finally, the doors open on the third floor, and I rush to another reception
desk, this one staffed by nurses in navy uniforms.
“Can I help you?” asks one officious nurse with a myopic stare.
“My father, Raymond Steele. He’s just been admitted. He’s in OR-4, I think.”
Even as I say the words, I am willing them not to be true.
“Let me check, Miss Steele.”
I nod, not bothering to correct her as she gazes intently at her computer
screen.
“Yes. He’s been in for a couple of hours. If you’d like to wait, I’ll let them
know that you’re here. The waiting room’s there.” She points toward a large white
door helpfully labeled WAITING ROOM in bold blue lettering.
“Is he okay?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady.
“You’ll have to wait for one of the attending doctor to brief you, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” I mutter—but inside I am screaming, I want to know now!
I open the door to reveal a functional, austere waiting room where Mr.
Rodriguez and José are seated.
“Ana!” Mr. Rodriguez gasps. His arm is in a cast, and his cheek is bruised on
one side. He’s in a wheelchair with one of his legs in a cast too. I gingerly wrap
my arms around him.
“Oh, Mr. Rodriguez,” I sob.
“Ana, honey.” He pats my back with his uninjured arm. “I’m so sorry,” he
mumbles, his hoarse voice cracking.
Oh no.
“No, Papa,” José says softly in admonishment as he hovers behind me. When
I turn, he pulls me into his arms and holds me.
“José,” I mutter. And I’m lost—tears falling as all the tension, fear, and
heartache of the last three hours surface.
“Hey, Ana, don’t cry.” José gently strokes my hair. I wrap my arms around
his neck and softly weep. We stand like this for ages, and I’m so grateful that my
friend is here. We pull apart when Sawyer joins us in the waiting room. Mr.
Rodriguez hands me a tissue from a conveniently placed box, and I dry my tears.
“This is Mr. Sawyer. Security,” I murmur. Sawyer nods politely to José and
Mr. Rodriguez then moves to take a seat in the corner.
“Sit down, Ana.” José ushers me to one of the vinyl-covered armchairs.
“What happened? Do we know how he is? What are they doing?”
José holds up his hands to halt my barrage of questions and sits down beside
me. “We don’t have any news. Ray, Dad, and I were on a fishing trip to Astoria.
We were hit by some stupid fucking drunk—”
Mr. Rodriguez tries to interrupt, stammering an apology.
“Cálmate, Papa!” José snaps. “I don’t have a mark on me, just a couple of
bruised ribs and a knock on the head. Dad . . . well, Dad broke his wrist and ankle.
But the car hit the passenger side and Ray.”
Oh no, no . . . Panic swamps my limbic system again. No, no, no. My body
shudders and chills as I imagine what’s happening to Ray in the OR.
“He’s in surgery. We were taken to the community hospital in Astoria, but
they airlifted Ray here. We don’t know what they’re doing. We’re waiting for
news.”
I start to shake.
“Hey, Ana, you cold?”
I nod. I’m in my white sleeveless shirt and black summer jacket, and neither
provides warmth. Gingerly, José pulls off his leather jacket and wraps it around
my shoulders.
“Shall I get you some tea, ma’am?” Sawyer is by my side. I nod gratefully,
and he disappears from the room.
“Why were you fishing in Astoria?” I ask.
José shrugs. “The fishing’s supposed to be good there. We were having a
boys’ get-together. Some bonding time with my old man before academia heats
up for my final year.” José’s dark eyes are large and luminous with fear and
regret.
“You could have been hurt, too. And Mr. Rodriguez . . . worse.” I gulp at the
thought. My body temperature drops further, and I shiver once more. José takes
my hand.
“Hell, Ana, you’re freezing.”
Mr. Rodriguez inches forward and takes my other hand in his good one.
“Ana, I am so sorry.”
“Mr. Rodriguez, please. It was an accident . . .” My voice fades to a whisper.
“Call me José,” he corrects me. I give him a weak smile, because that’s all I
can manage. I shiver once more.
“The police took the asshole into custody. Seven in the morning and the guy
was out of his skull,” José hisses in disgust.
Sawyer reenters, bearing a paper cup of hot water and a separate teabag. He
knows how I take my tea! I’m surprised, and glad for the distraction. Mr. Rodriguez
and José release my hands as I gratefully take the cup from Sawyer.
“Do either of you want anything?” Sawyer asks Mr. Rodriguez and José.
They both shake their heads, and Sawyer resumes his seat in the corner. I dunk
my teabag in the water and, rising shakily, dispose of the used bag in a small
trashcan.
“What’s taking them so long?” I mutter to no one in particular as I take a sip.
Daddy . . . Please let him be okay. Please let him be okay.
“We’ll know soon enough, Ana,” José says gently. I nod and take another sip.
I take my seat again beside him. We wait . . . and wait. Mr. Rodriguez with his
eyes closed, praying I think, and José holding my hand and squeezing it every
now and then. I slowly sip my tea. It’s not Twinings, but some cheap nasty brand,
and it tastes disgusting.
I remember the last time I waited for news. The last time I thought all was
lost when Charlie Tango went missing. Closing my eyes, I offer up a silent prayer
for the safe passage of my husband. I glance at my watch: 2:15 p.m. He should be
here soon. My tea is cold . . . Ugh!
I stand up and pace then sit down again. Why haven’t the doctors been to see
me? I take José’s hand, and he gives mine another reassuring squeeze. Please let
him be okay. Please let him be okay.
Time crawls so slowly.
Suddenly the door opens, and we all glance up expectantly, my stomach
knotting. Is this it?
Christian strides in. His face darkens momentarily when he notices my hand
in José’s.
“Christian!” I gasp and leap up, thanking God he’s arrived safely. Then I’m
wrapped in his arms, his nose in my hair, and I’m inhaling his scent, his warmth,
his love. A small part of me feels calmer, stronger, and more resilient because
he’s here. Oh, the difference his presence makes to my peace of mind.
“Any news?”
I shake my head, unable to speak.
“José.” He nods a greeting.
“Christian, this is my father, José Senior.”
“Mr. Rodriguez—we met at the wedding. I take it you were in the accident,
too?”
José briefly retells the story.
“Are you both well enough to be here?” Christian asks.
“We don’t want to be anywhere else,” Mr. Rodriguez says, his voice quiet
and laced with pain. Christian nods. Taking my hand, he sits me down then takes
a seat beside me.
“Have you eaten?” he asks.
I shake my head.
“Are you hungry?”
I shake my head.
“But you’re cold?” he asks, eyeing José’s jacket.
I nod. He shifts in his chair, but wisely says nothing.
The door opens again, and a young doctor in bright blue scrubs enters. He
looks exhausted and harrowed.
All the blood disappears from my head as I stumble to my feet.
“Ray Steele,” I whisper as Christian stands beside me, putting his arm around
my waist.
“You’re his next of kin?” the doctor asks. His bright blue eyes almost match
his scrubs, and under any other circumstances I would have found him attractive.
“I’m his daughter, Ana.”
“Miss Steele—”
“Mrs. Grey,” Christian interrupts him.
“My apologies,” the doctor stammers, and for a moment I want to kick Christian.
“I’m Doctor Crowe. Your father is stable, but in a critical condition.”
What does that mean? My knees buckle beneath me, and only Christian’s
supporting arm prevents me from falling to the floor.
“He suffered severe internal injuries,” Dr. Crowe says, “principally to his diaphragm,
but we’ve managed to repair them, and we were able to save his spleen.
Unfortunately, he suffered a cardiac arrest during the operation because of blood
loss. We managed to get his heart going again, but this remains a concern.
However, our gravest concern is that he suffered severe contusions to the head,
and the MRI shows that he has swelling in his brain. We’ve induced a coma to
keep him quiet and still while we monitor the brain swelling.”
Brain damage? No.
“It’s standard procedure in these cases. For now, we just have to wait and
see.”
“And what’s the prognosis?” Christian asks coolly.
“Mr. Grey, it’s difficult to say at the moment. It’s possible he could make a
complete recovery, but that’s in God’s hands now.”
“How long will you keep him in a coma?”
“That depends on how his brain responds. Usually seventy-two to ninety-six
hours.”
Oh, so long! “Can I see him?” I whisper.
“Yes, you should be able to see him in about half an hour. He’s been taken to
the ICU on the sixth floor.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
Dr. Crowe nods, turns and leaves us.
“Well, he’s alive,” I whisper to Christian. And the tears start to roll down my
face once more.
“Sit down,” Christian orders gently.
“Papa, I think we should go. You need to rest. We won’t know anything for a
while,” José murmurs to Mr. Rodriguez who gazes blankly at his son. “We can
come back this evening, after you’ve rested. That’s okay, isn’t it, Ana?” José
turns, imploring me.
“Of course.”
“Are you staying in Portland?” Christian asks. José nods.
“Do you need a ride home?”
José frowns. “I was going to order a cab.”
“Luke can take you.”
Sawyer stands, and José looks confused.
“Luke Sawyer,” I murmur in clarification.
“Oh . . . Sure. Yeah, we’d appreciate it. Thanks, Christian.”
Standing, I hug Mr. Rodriguez and José in quick succession.
“Stay strong, Ana,” José whispers in my ear. “He’s a fit and healthy man.
The odds are in his favor.”
“I hope so.” I hug him hard. Then, releasing him, I shrug off his jacket hand
it back to him.
“Keep it, if you’re still cold.”
“No, I’m okay. Thanks.” Glancing nervously up at Christian, I see that he’s
regarding us impassively. Christian takes my hand.
“If there’s any change, I’ll let you know right away,” I say as José pushes his
father’s wheelchair toward the door Sawyer is holding open.
Mr. Rodriguez raises his hand, and they pause in the doorway. “He’ll be in
my prayers, Ana.” His voice wavers. “It’s been so good to reconnect with him
after all these years. He’s become a good friend.”
“I know.”
And with that they leave. Christian and I are alone. He caresses my cheek.
“You’re pale. Come here.” He sits down on the chair and pulls me on to his lap,
folding me into his arms again, and I go willingly. I snuggle up against him, feeling
oppressed by my stepfather’s misfortune, but grateful that my husband is here
to comfort me. He gently strokes my hair and holds my hand.
“How was Charlie Tango?” I ask.
He grins. “Oh, she was yar,” he says, quiet pride in his voice. It makes me
smile properly for the first time in several hours, and I glance at him, puzzled.
“Yar?”
“It’s a line from The Philadelphia Story. Grace’s favorite film.”
“I don’t know it.”
“I think I have it on Blu-Ray at home. We can watch it and make out.” He
kisses my hair and I smile once more.
“Can I persuade you to eat something?” he asks.
My smile disappears. “Not now. I want to see Ray first.”
His shoulders slump, but he doesn’t push me.
“How were the Taiwanese?”
“Amenable,” he says.
“Amenable how?”
“They let me buy their shipyard for less than the price I was willing to pay.”
He’s bought a shipyard? “That’s good?”
“Yes. That’s good.”
“But I thought you had a shipyard, over here.”
“I do. We’re going to use that to do the fitting-out. Build the hulls in the Far
East. It’s cheaper.”
Oh. “What about the workforce at the shipyard here?”
“We’ll redeploy. We should be able to keep redundancies to a minimum.” He
kisses my hair. “Shall we check on Ray?” he asks, his voice soft.
The ICU on the sixth floor is a stark, sterile, functional ward with whispered
voices and bleeping machinery. Four patients are each housed in their own
separate hi-tech area. Ray is at the far end.
Daddy.
He looks so small in his large bed, surrounded by all this technology. It’s a
shock. My dad has never been so diminished. There’s a tube in his mouth, and
various lines pass through drips into a needle in each arm. A small clamp is attached
to his finger. I wonder vaguely what that’s for. His leg is on top of the
sheets, encased in a blue cast. A monitor displays his heart rate: beep, beep, beep.
It’s beating strong and steady. This I know. I move slowly toward him. His chest
is covered in a large, pristine bandage that disappears beneath the thin sheet that
protects his modesty.
Daddy.
I realize that the tube pulling at the right corner of his mouth leads to a ventilator.
Its noise is weaving with the beep, beep, beep of his heart monitor into a percussive
rhythmic beat. Sucking, expelling, sucking, expelling, sucking, expelling
in time with the beeps. There are four lines on the screen of his heart monitor,
each moving steadily across, demonstrating clearly that Ray is still with us.
Oh, Daddy.
Even though his mouth is distorted by the ventilator tube, he looks peaceful,
lying there fast asleep.
A petite young nurse stands to one side, checking his monitors.
“Can I touch him?” I ask her, tentatively reaching for his hand.
“Yes.” She smiles kindly. Her badge says KELLIE RN, and she must be in her
twenties. She’s blonde with dark, dark eyes.
Christian stands at the end of the bed, watching me carefully as I clasp Ray’s
hand. It’s surprisingly warm, and that’s my undoing. I sink on to the chair by the
bed, place my head gently against Ray’s arm, and start to sob.
“Oh, Daddy. Please get better,” I whisper. “Please.”
Christian puts his hand on my shoulder and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
“All Mr. Steele’s vitals are good,” Nurse Kellie says quietly.
“Thank you,” Christian murmurs. I glance up in time to see her gape. She’s
finally gotten a good look at my husband. I don’t care. She can gape at Christian
all she likes as long as she makes my father well again.
“Can he hear me?” I ask.
“He’s in a deep sleep. But who knows?”
“Can I sit for a while?”
“Sure thing.” She smiles at me, her cheeks pink from a telltale blush. Incongruously,
I find myself thinking blond is not her true color.
Christian gazes down at me, ignoring her. “I need to make a call. I’ll be outside.
I’ll give you some alone time with your dad.”I nod. He kisses my hair and
walks out of the room. I hold Ray’s hand, marveling at the irony that it’s only
now when he’s unconscious and can’t hear me that I really want to tell him how
much I love him. This man has been my constant. My rock. And I’ve never
thought about it until now. I’m not flesh of his flesh, but he’s my dad, and I love
him so very much. My tears trail down my cheeks. Please, please get better.
Very quietly, so as not to disturb anyone, I tell him about our weekend in
Aspen and about last weekend when we were soaring and sailing aboard The
Grace. I tell him about our new house, our plans, about how we hope to make it
ecologically sustainable. I promise to take him with us to Aspen so he can go fishing
with Christian and assure him that Mr. Rodriguez and José will both be welcome,
too. Please be here to do that, Daddy. Please.
Ray remains immobile, the ventilator sucking and expelling and the monotonous
but reassuring beep, beep, beep of his heart monitor his only response.
When I look up, Christian is sitting quietly at the end of the bed. I don’t know
how long he’s been there.
“Hi,” he says, his eyes glowing with compassion and concern.
“Hi.”
“So, I’m going fishing with your dad, Mr. Rodriguez, and José?” he asks.
I nod.
“Okay. Let’s go eat. Let him sleep.”
I frown. I don’t want to leave him.
“Ana, he’s in a coma. I’ve given our cell numbers to the nurses here. If
there’s any change, they’ll call us. We’ll eat, check into a hotel, rest up, then
come back this evening.”
The suite at the Heathman looks just as I remember it. How often have I thought
about that first night and morning I spent with Christian Grey? I stand in the entrance
to the suite, paralyzed. Jeez, it all started here.
“Home away from home,” says Christian, his voice soft, putting my briefcase
down beside one of the overstuffed couches.
“Do you want a shower? A bath? What do you need, Ana?” Christian gazes
at me, and I know he’s rudderless—my lost boy dealing with events beyond his
control. He’s been withdrawn and contemplative all afternoon. This is a situation
he cannot manipulate and predict. This is real life in the raw, and he’s kept himself
from that for so long, he’s exposed and helpless now. My sweet, sheltered
Fifty Shades.
“A bath. I’d like a bath.” I murmur, aware that keeping him busy will make
him feel better, useful even. Oh, Christian—I’m numb and I’m cold and I’m
scared, but I’m so glad you’re here with me.
“Bath. Good. Yes.” He strides into the bedroom and out of sight into the palatial
bathroom. A few moments later, the roar of water gushing to fill the tub
echoes from the room.
Finally, I galvanize myself to follow him into the bedroom. I’m dismayed to
see several bags from Nordstrom on the bed. Christian reenters, sleeves rolled up,
tie and jacket discarded.
“I sent Taylor to get some things. Nightwear. You know,” he says, eyeing me
warily.
Of course he did. I nod my approval to make him feel better. Where is
Taylor?
“Oh, Ana,” Christian murmurs. “I’ve not seen you like this. You’re normally
so brave and strong.”
I don’t know what to say. I merely gaze wide-eyed at him. I have nothing to
give right now. I think I’m in shock. I wrap my arms around myself, trying to
keep the pervading cold at bay, even though I know it’s a fruitless task as this cold
comes from within. Christian pulls me into his arms.
“Baby, he’s alive. His vital signs are good. We just have to be patient,” he
murmurs. “Come.” He takes my hand and leads me into the bathroom. Gently, he
slips my jacket off my shoulders and places it on the bathroom chair, then turning
back, he undoes the buttons on my shirt.
The water is deliciously warm and fragrant, the smell of lotus blossom heavy in
the warm, sultry air of the bathroom. I lie between Christian’s legs, my back to his
front, my feet resting on top of his. We’re both quiet and introspective, and I’m finally
feeling warm. Intermittently Christian kisses my hair as I absentmindedly
pop the bubbles in the foam. His arm is wrapped around my shoulders.
“You didn’t get into the bath with Leila, did you? That time you bathed her?”
I ask.
He stiffens and snorts, his hand tightening on my shoulder where it rests.
“Um . . . no.” He sounds astounded.
“I thought so. Good.”
He tugs gently at my hair knotted in a crude bun, tilting my head around so
he can see my face. “Why do you ask?”
I shrug. “Morbid curiosity. I don’t know . . . seeing her this week.”
His face hardens. “I see. Less of the morbid.” His tone is reproachful.
“How long are you going to support her?
“Until she’s on her feet. I don’t know.” He shrugs. “Why?”
“Are there others?”
“Others?”
“Exes who you support.”
“There was one, yes. No longer though.”
“Oh?”
“She was studying to be a doctor. She’s qualified now and has someone
else.”
“Another Dominant?”
“Yes.”
“Leila says you have two of her paintings,” I whisper.
“I used to. I didn’t really care for them. They had technical merit, but they
were too colorful for me. I think Elliot has them. As we know, he has no taste.”
I giggle, and he wraps his other arm around me, sloshing water over the side
of the bath.
“That’s bettr,” he whispers and kisses my temple.
“He’s marrying my best friend.”
“Then I’d better shut my mouth,” he says.
I feel more relaxed after our bath. Wrapped in my soft Heathman robe, I gaze at
the various bags on the bed. Jeez, this must be more than nightwear. Tentatively, I
peek into one. A pair of jeans and a pale blue hooded sweatshirt, my size. Holy
cow . . . Taylor’s bought a whole weekend’s worth of clothes, and he knows what
I like. I smile, remembering this is not the first time he’s shopped for clothes for
me when I was at the Heathman.
“Apart from harassing me at Clayton’s, have you ever actually gone into a
store and just bought stuff?”
“Harassing you?”
“Yes. Harassing me.”
“You were flustered, if I recall. And that young boy was all over you. What
was his name?”
“Paul.”
“One of your many admirers.”
I roll my eyes, and he smiles a relieved, genuine smile and kisses me.
“There’s my girl,” he whispers. “Get dressed. I don’t want you getting cold
again.”
“Ready,” I murmur. Christian is working on the Mac in the study area of the suite.
He’s dressed in black jeans and a gray cable-knit sweater, and I’m wearing the
jeans, the hoodie, and a white T-shirt.
“You look so young,” Christian says softly, glancing up, his eyes glowing.
“And to think you’ll be a whole year older tomorrow.” His voice is wistful. I give
him a sad smile.
“I don’t feel much like celebrating. Can we go see Ray now?”
“Sure. I wish you’d eat something. You barely touched your food.”
“Christian, please. I’m just not hungry. Maybe after we’ve seen Ray. I want
to wish him goodnight.”
As we arrive at the ICU, we meet José leaving. He’s alone.
“Ana, Christian, hi.”
“Where’s your dad?”
“He was too tired to come back. He was in a car accident this morning,” José
grins ruefully. “And his painkillers have kicked in. He was out for the count. I had
to fight to get in to see Ray since I’m not next of kin.”
“And?” I ask anxiously.
“He’s good, Ana. Same . . . but all good.”
Relief floods my system. No news is good news.
“See you tomorrow, birthday girl?”
“Sure. We’ll be here.”
José eyes Christian quickly then pulls me into a brief hug. “Mañana.”
“Goodnight, José.”
“Good-bye, José,” Christian says. José nods and walks down the corridor.
“No he’s not. And even if he is . . .” I shrug because right now I just don’t
care.
Christian gives me a tight smile, and my heart melts.
“Well done,” I murmur.
He frowns.
“For not frothing at the mouth.”
He gapes at me, wounded—but amused, too. “I’ve never frothed. Let’s see
your dad. I have a surprise for you.”
“Surprise?” My eyes widen in alarm.
“Come.” Christian takes my hand, and we push open the double doors of the
ICU.
Standing at the end of Ray’s bed is Grace, deep in discussion with Crowe and
a second doctor, a woman I’ve not seen before. Seeing us, Grace grins.
Oh, thank heavens.
“Christian.” She kisses his cheek, then turns to me and folds me in her warm
embrace.
“Ana. How are you holding up?”
“I’m fine. It’s my father I’m worried about.”
“He’s in good hands. Doctor Sluder is an expert in her field. We trained together
at Yale.”
Oh . . .
“Mrs. Grey,” Dr. Sluder greets me very formally. She’s short-haired and elfin
with a shy smile and a soft southern accent. “As the lead physician for your father,
I’m pleased to tell you that all is on track. His vital signs are stable and strong. We
have every faith that he’ll make a complete recovery. The brain swelling has
stopped, and shows signs of decreasing. This is very encouraging after such a
short time.”
“That’s good news,” I murmur.
She smiles warmly at me. “It is, Mrs. Grey. We’re taking real good care of
him.”
“Great to see you again, Grace.”
Grace smiles. “Likewise, Lorraina.”
“Dr. Crowe, let’s leave these good people to visit with Mr. Steele.” Crowe
follows in Dr. Sluder’s wake to the exit.
I glance over at Ray, and for the first time since his accident, I feel more
hopeful. Dr. Sluder and Grace’s kind words have rekindled my hope.
Grace takes my hand and squeezes gently. “Ana, sweetheart, sit with him.
Talk to him. It’s all good. I’ll visit with Christian in the waiting room.”
I nod. Christian smiles his reassurance, and he and his mother leave me with
my beloved father sleeping peacefully to the gentle lullaby of his ventilator and
heart monitor.
I slip Christian’s white T-shirt on and get into bed.
“You seem brighter,” Christian says cautiously as he pulls on his pajamas.
“Yes. I think talking to Dr. Sluder and your mom made a big difference. Did
you ask Grace to come here?”
Christian slides into bed and pulls me into his arms, turning me to face away
from him.
“No. She wanted to come and check on your dad herself.”
“How did she know?”
“I called her this morning.”
Oh.
“Baby, you’re exhausted. You should sleep.”
“Hmm,” I murmur in agreement. He’s right. I’m so tired. It’s been an emotional
day. I crane my head around and gaze at him a beat. We’re not going to
make love? And I’m relieved. In fact, he’s had a totally hands-off approach with
me all day. I wonder if I should be alarmed by this turn of events, but since my inner
goddess has left the building and taken my libido with her, I’ll think about it
in the morning. I turn over and snuggle against Christian, wrapping my leg over
his.
“Promise me something,” he says softly.
“Hmm?” It’s a question that I am too tired to articulate.
“Promise me you’ll eat something tomorrow. I can just about tolerate you
wearing another man’s jacket without frothing at the mouth, but, Ana . . . you
must eat. Please.”
“Hmm,” I acquiesce. He kisses my hair. “Thank you for being here,” I
mumble and sleepily kiss his chest.
“Where else would I be? I want to be wherever you are, Ana. Being here
makes me think of how far we’ve come. And the night I first slept with you. What
a night that was. I watched you for hours. You were just . . . yar,” he breathes. I
smile against his chest.
“Sleep,” he murmurs, and it’s a command. I close my eyes and drift.

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