Christian sat at his desk studying the papers before him. The candle flickered, breaking his concentration and not for the first time tonight, his thoughts went to his wife. Her cool demeanor was a mask. He knew this for certain because he had perfected his own over the years. She was protecting herself, against what, he was not sure. All he knew was that the feisty and passionate woman who had confronted him on his ship and challenged his alter ego on the dance floor, had suddenly retreated into this empty husk, who had barely walked through the past few days leading up to their wedding.
Her reserve had warned him to be patient but her latent tears had ripped at his heart. Within those pathetic murmurs he heard all of the passion she had been denying and he had very nearly gone to her. Instead, he had stilled his hand upon the handle, rested his forehead against the door and simply listened to all of her pain, wishing for the first time since he had approached her father, that he had done things differently. All of the decisions he had made were for their collective good. At the time he had been certain of his motives, but in being so convinced of what he thought was right, he had removed her choice in the matter. So he had stopped himself from going to her tonight, choosing not to force himself on her, as many husbands did to their wives. Instead, he hoped that, as unworthy as he was to be a husband, he could love her enough for the both of them, and in time, she might learn to love him in return.
The clock chimed two and Taylor entered the room.
“We’re ready, Sir.”
Christian nodded, locked the papers in his drawer, donned hat and cloak and followed his man through to the library.
When she awoke the next morning, Ana felt a sense of relief. It had not been her intention to evade her wifely duties but the delayed intimacy gave her some space to breathe. There were things that she had never wanted to consider for herself: marriage and children were at the top of that list. Not because she did not have a desire to be a mother but because of all that it might mean for her children’s future. Kate and Sir Raymond had both independently convinced her that a true love-match might overlook all of the other aspects of herself that she feared but her parents had a love match and she had watched the impact that time had on her father. Slowly eroding away his desire. Sometimes love could not conquer all. She also knew, with unfailing certainty, how society shuns what it does not collectively understand. Christian was the son of a Duke but as a bastard son, society already had its opinion of him, regardless of how the Duke and Duchess accepted him. He should know this better than most. Their expectations could not keep all of the detractors at bay. There were some who would never accept him. Ana’s disappointment was wrapped around the idea that her father knew the added impact this marriage would have and yet he aided and abetted Christian’s ridiculous plans anyway.
She could make blithe statements to herself about beds being made and certain bodies being forced to sleep in them but even as she denied him, she knew her heart was engaged. Ana simply could not remain cold and standoffish forever. It was only a matter of time before Christian would wear her down and then she would have to face certain consequences of that particular door being opened. As it was, she could hardly contain the feelings that had been simmering beneath the surface since the day they met. He had unwittingly awoken her passions and she was fighting to tamp down her own desires.
Moving about the room, Ana sought out the supplies she had acquired after her second trip to the docks. She had not gone to seek out Christian on that occasion, but to gain explicit knowledge that might help to put her mind at ease. The women had laughed at first, thinking that she was about to become the mistress of the great Captain Grey. There was less laughter when she announced her wedding. Looks had been cast around the group before Miss Andrea had quietly taken her to a dingy room above one of the local pubs. The smell alone had made Ana nauseous but it was not enough to make her run. She had come away with the information she required and Andrea’s warnings ringing in her ears. There were risks, always risks, but she had to try. After all, she would not be able to stave off his advances and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to.
Having rung for tea, Ana had finally ventured downstairs in search of Christian. Instead, she had found the housekeeper, Mrs Jones, a capable sort who ran a tight ship. There ensued a rather conveniently timed tour of the house that took her away from seeking out Christian for the next hour or so and gave her more badly needed breathing room.
Mrs Jones had introduced her to the many staff inside the house and had taken her through three levels with a quiet efficiency. In some ways, the woman reminded Ana of Christian and she wondered for the thousandth time that morning where he was, even though she was glad that she did not have to see him yet.
“You do look a bit peaky, my dear. Perhaps some tea?” Mrs Jones guided her into the drawing room two hours later, where a small table had been set in anticipation. As if she had given a signal, a maid entered the room with a tray of freshly made tea and a plate of scones with jam and cream. It was only when the hint of bergamot hit her palate that Ana realized she was both parched and famished. Mrs Jones had served with what Ana could only assume was her usual efficiency.
“Thank you, Mrs Jones. This is lovely.” Ana glanced around at the room with its large windows and the play of mid-morning sunlight on the carpeted floor. When the housekeeper turned to leave, Ana halted her. “Mrs Jones, please sit and take tea with me. I should like to learn more about the house.”
Ana also had no desire to be left alone feeling so much like a visitor in her new home. After almost a week with only her mother for company, she missed Kate. Eventually, she hoped that Kate would come to visit her and that she might finally find mend their rift and find some peace with the circumstances of her marriage. The fact that Kate had not spoken up for her had stung, especially when they had both shared their deepest desire to flaunt society’s mores and marry a man of their choosing for no less than true love. Especially when Kate had such deep feelings about Captain Christian Grey. She had felt sure that when she saw Kate appear on the balcony that night, her dearest friend was about to put a stop to the madness, but she had held back in stunned silence, leaving Ana with no choice but to bow to her father’s desire for satisfaction. The thought of that particular betrayal had hurt the most. Her father had supported her stance on marriage, and she had been the happiest of daughters because of that unwavering support. Ana had known from a very early age that her father was deeply in love with her mother, even though the woman was as mad as a hatter. He presented a rather different story to society but Ana, alone, knew the truth of why her mother was left in the countryside to rusticate. Now her father had sold his own daughter down the matrimonial river and she had no doubt that it would be a long, long time before she would forgive him.
“Would you like another scone, M’Lady?” Mrs Jones’ calm voice cut through Ana’s reverie.
“Oh, no thank you, Mrs Jones. They are very tasty but I have had quite enough. Thank you.” Ana smiled in as reassuring a fashion as she could muster. It probably looked like a grimace. She thought she might have to practice schooling her looks so that she might fool the help. She had the disconcerting feeling that Mrs Jones was one of those women who noticed everything.
You’re very welcome, M’Lady.” Mrs Jones smiled and sipped her tea.
“Please, call me Ana.” In Kate’s household, the servants had done so. They had called her Miss Ana, although now she was no longer a ‘Miss, and Kate was Lady Kate or Miss Kate. Kate often commented that her mother would be turning in her grave at the familiarity Kate maintained with the household staff but Kate insisted and Ana followed suit, liking that the staff often felt more like friends than servants. She frowned at the thought. She should very much like to have at least one friend in this strange place.
“M’Lady,” Ana frowned. Mrs Jones kept up the use of a title when Ana did not have one. Perhaps Christian had not had time to notify Mrs Jones about the wedding before they had arrived at the Grange, although one week did seem ample time to get a message about whom he was marrying. Maybe it slipped his mind. “If I may be so bold, you don’t seem very happy to be here. Is the house not to your liking?” Mrs Jones placed her cup down on her lap and regarded Ana quietly.
“Oh, goodness, no. The house is lovely.” And it truly was. From the beautifully appointed furnishings to the warm, bright outlook the house was at peace with the its surroundings, both homely and in tune with the outdoors. Whoever had decorated, and Ana could only assume it was Mrs Jones, had been able to marry the best of the sea and land. A refuge of peace against the wildly harsh and beautiful coastline.
“I’m so glad. The Captain will be pleased. He chose most of the decor himself.” Ana placed her own cup down on the saucer and looked at Mrs Jones in surprise. She glanced around the room once more, taking in the tasteful tapestries hung on the walls and the careful placement of small conversational pieces that welcomed.
“The Captain has good taste.” She cast a thought to the rooms she had walked through this morning and how they were beautifully appointed. Everything about the house was warm, cheerful, welcoming. Unlike the Captain himself. He had hardly glanced in her direction through the hours of coach ride, his eyebrows knit into cold, hard lines. This was to her advantage, of course, but she couldn’t quite fathom the difference between when he played the pirate, full of humor and warmth, and the man that he truly was. Cold, intimidating, willful and unemotional. In spite of what she had first mistook as a dark passion, he obviously didn’t relish bedding her any time soon. More proof that his motives for marrying her were awry. Her thoughts must have shown on her face.
“Yet, you don’t like it much, do you?” Mrs Jones looked set to reach out, to pat her hand in a motherly fashion, her voice and eyes full of concern but then she withdrew. Ana thought how her own mother would not have shown such concern, either. Lady Caroline no longer seemed to know how to behave around her daughter. She had once been a loving mother. Now there were times when Ana swore that Caroline didn’t know who she was. Ana wiped a tear from her eye.
“Gracious. You must think I’m terribly ungrateful. I love the house, really. I think I am just a little overwhelmed at the suddenness and scope of…change. I shall be myself in no time.” A wan smile played across her lips.
“He’s a good man.” Ana lifted her eyes to Mrs Jones. The woman was being quite genuine. “You just need to give him a chance.”
Mrs Jones held her eyes for a moment and for the first time since her wedding, Ana wondered if his distance might not be as a result of her actions. After all, she had refused to see him before the ceremony except to attend formal meals at Bellevue out of politeness. Even then Her Grace had seen fit to excuse her from that chore at least once. As she reflected on the hours that she had spent inside her own thoughts, Ana paled. Wasn’t that the first indication she had had that her mother was changing? Choking down her fear, Ana resolved to play the hand she had been dealt differently. Perhaps they might not love, but surely they could learn to get along. Thousands of couples did so every day, did they not? And should that not happen, Ana glanced around, then the Grange seemed like a nice enough place to spend the remainder of her years. A handkerchief was thrust into her hand by the good housekeeper and she dabbed the corners of her eyes again.
“Mrs Jones, do you know where Captain Grey is?” Ana wasn’t sure that she wanted to be anywhere near Christian but she also felt bereft of his presence. It was disconcerting and she wondered if perhaps seeing him might ease her entry into her new life.
“He rode out at first light, M’Lady. I would imagine we shan’t see him again until supper. He will be out on the coast road visiting tenants.” This particular coast was notorious for smugglers and Ana felt a a sense of alarm. Once more, her emotions must have shown quite clearly to Mrs Jones who patted her hand reassuringly again. “He is always careful and he has Mr Taylor with him. Don’t worry.”
“Oh, I wasn’t. I just wondered what we might have for supper. Might we discuss menus, Mrs Jones?”
Mrs Jones smiled. “As you wish, M’Lady. Perhaps we can adjourn to your study.”
Ana raised an eyebrow as she paused her cup halfway to her lips. “I have a study?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll have fresh tea brought through.”
An hour later, Ana and Mrs Jones had completed their task and Mrs Jones excused herself to continue with her chores. As the woman got to the door, Ana called out to her.
“Mrs Jones. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or that this is a reprimand, but you keep calling me M’Lady when I am plain Mrs Christian Grey.”
Mrs Jones paused at the door. “The Captain is also Viscount Trevelyan, M’Lady. A title given to him after his role in the skirmish with the French navy off the coast of Calais five years hence. The title went with the land he inherited from his maternal grandmother, Her Grace’s mother. The king saw fit to grant the title as well.”
Ana frowned, “but the Captain does not use the title?”
“No, M’Lady. However, he is regarded by his servants as Lord Trevelyan. He forgives us our sins.” She smiled and gave a small wink as she left the room.
Ana could not fathom why Christian would not use an honor to which he was entitled. She wondered if his rejection was a some sort of statement. The man was proving to be a mystery. She pondered this as she crossed the hall to the library.
Deciding to select a book to read, Ana wandered about the room, her fingertips drifting across the leather-bound tomes, enjoying the feel of the worn leather and finding herself amazed at the breadth of topics that the Captain chose to read. Of course, it could all have been for show but the books had a clearly loved look when she opened them, as if each one was cherished and read on numerous occasions. Locating a favorite, she took it over to the window and settled into a large leather armchair, wide enough to curl her feet under and snuggle in to read in comfort and seclusion. Ana tried not to note the overwhelming sense of safety she felt at the scent of leather and sandalwood that she knew was uniquely Christian. Nor the serenity of the setting and its calming effect on her nerves. But as the rain began to strike the window pane an hour later, she drifted off to sleep.
Waking with a start, Ana glanced around in the gloom to find Christian standing near the bookshelf watching her as she slept. Although she was sorely tempted to fluff and worry about her appearance she chose to be as still as he, peering up at him from behind sleepy lashes.
“Yes.” He didn’t smile, he didn’t move. He barely shifted his eyes from hers. Tense anger radiated from his stance, making Ana feel like she was an intruder in the space. As she was about to look away she noticed his appearance.
“You’re wet.” She rose from her seat and walked over to him. He was still wearing his hat and cloak, the water running in icy rivulets down his unshaven skin. His eyes held the faint bruising of lack of sleep, and goosebumps were evident where his skin showed above his cravat. He might not want her attention but he was going to get it. “Come with me.”
Ana took his hand and led him through the house, up the stairs to their apartments. Fires had been stoked in both the master and mistress bedroom but she took him into his room and rang the bell for his valet. For his part, Christian was disconcerted at this sudden desire to take care of him. He had entered the room not expecting to find anyone and was surprised to see her small body curled up in a reading chair in front of the window. Her dark lashes rested on her pale skin and her chest rose and fell in soft shifts of air. She was angelic and peaceful and he had had no desire to wake her. He only wanted to watch. Then she had stirred and it had taken a moment to realise that she was watching him. That connection brought on painful urges that he had to fight to control. Now, here she was, acting as his valet, stripping his wet clothing and inadvertently stirring his frozen body to life again.
Fingers darted around his neck and he shuddered, as she softly removed the sodden cravat. She tossed it on the wet pile by the hearth that was his cloak and jacket. Not wanting to endure his reaction to her touch, he tried to undo the buttons of his waistcoat but his fingers were too cold to cooperate. She brushed his hands aside and made quick work of another slick layer. When she made to lift his shirt, he nearly lost all semblance of control as the fire from his loins raced up to warm the frozen extremities of the rest of his body. He had spent all night aching for her. Now he frowned. He’d be damned if he would lose complete control of his bodily functions now. Not over the removal of a shirt. Pushing her hands away he stopped her from assisting him, but noted her breathing becoming more erratic as his chest was exposed. Each sharp intake drove his desire to throw her down in front of the fire and ravage her body.
For a moment she froze, her eyes trained upon the dusting of hair across his stomach and then a blush crept over her cheeks and she turned away to tidy up the discarded clothes. Her blush calmed his own lusts, and he was about to offer some sort of reassuring words when a knock came to the door and two footmen came in carrying buckets of hot water for the hip bath. Ana supervised the filling and then passed the clothing to one of the footmen to take away.
“I shall leave you now, Sir.” She was about to creep away.
“Anastasia. Please. Stay.” He was dangerously close to falling on the floor and prostrating himself at her feet. Her eyes raised to his and he could have sworn that he saw longing. Then the shutters came down and he watched her emotional retreat long before her body slipped through the door.
Damn! The past days had been a form of torture. Every effort that he had made to woo his lovely wife-to-be was met with a cold, hard refusal by her family and servants. Within two days after the ball she had hastily moved out of Lady Kavanagh’s London house and retreated to her family home in the country. Once she was gone, Kate had finally consented to receiving him but did so with a scowling Reynolds in attendance. The discussion had not gone well and Kate claimed that Anastasia had ceased to communicate her plans or feelings with her best friend of the past ten years. Although he was sorry for her loss, he had no idea what the situation had done to contribute to this particular rift. Kate had given a hollow laugh.
“No. You wouldn’t understand the trials of a mere female. Betrayal must come so easy to you, it certainly has to her father.” And he had no idea what she meant by that either.
As far as he could see, his plan had been executed with near perfect accuracy. There were some moments where he felt sure that Sir Raymond was about to ruin the whole thing but in the end he had recovered well and Christian had got exactly what he intended. Anastasia’s reputation would stay in tact after their careless rendezvous on ship and the odious Jackson Hyde would leave her alone for good. He knew that he had done the right thing, the only thing that made any sense, to restore her reputation. Of course, she would be somewhat tainted by marriage to the bastard son of a Duke but they would live here where society could not condemn. Now that she was here, he could concentrate his efforts on locating and rescuing Ethan Kavanagh, knowing that she was safe. And the benefit for him was that he would finally have her in his bed. He had every intention of telling her all of this after the balcony scene. Only she had immediately left the ball and refused to speak to him until they were standing before the alter and even then she only appeared to be speaking to God.
It seemed somewhat ironic that her first words since their betrothal had been a comment on his physical state of moistness but it had come as such a surprise to hear her voice that he had nearly made to reenter the room, just to be sure.
Anastasia was a mystery to him, where no woman had been before. He had had his fair share of willing wenches and overenthusiastic debutantes. There had been a slew of bored wives and lonely widows. But he found that he had no idea how to seduce his own wife. Not as himself, anyway. She had seemed to respond to Captain Blackheart with ease and a complete lack of guile that was almost alarming. The last time she had laughed had been with Blackheart. Perhaps, she should have married him, Christian thought sullenly, as he swilled the water in the tub around his growing erection.
Less than half an hour later he descended the stairs in his dinner garb and headed for the dining room, all but running into Ana at the door. He halted his footsteps along with his breath and took in the vision of loveliness that stood before him. The deep blue evening gown, part of the trousseau that Lady Katherine had bestowed upon her as a wedding present,brought out the deepest hues of her eyes. Pearl drops hung from her ears matching the pearl necklace he had given her the day after the mask. Well, he had tried to give them to her and she had returned them three times before he had had Sawyer slip them in amongst the gowns and gems from Kate. Now here they were laying against the creamy softness of her neck and he felt his heart jump up into his throat.
She looked apprehensive and skittish again and he wanted to say something charming to relax her but nothing came to mind. He scowled at his lack of inventiveness. Instead, he offered his arm to her, which to his relief, she took and they entered the dining room together.
As a confirmed bachelor, dining was a perfunctory affair based on timeliness, order and functional need. He required no table decorations and so demanded that none were present. He ate from the plainest of china and dined on the simple country fare of the locale. What met him was an elegantly adorned table setting, with arranged flowers and the best silver laid upon it. The food was a spectacular mix of local produce cooked in the French style. Footmen served with an efficiency that Christian had not realised they possessed, as all of his house staff were also simple country folk. It seemed that in one day, his wife had worked some kind of magic on them all and he could have been in his mother’s house.
“Did you ride far today, Sir?” Ana startled him with her question as they completed the first course. She sipped her wine, daintily, drawing his gaze to the soft fullness of her lips. Inwardly, he groaned at his own lustful thoughts arising again.
“Yes. It has been a while since I have been here and I wanted to visit the outlying farms. I had not timed my return well and the weather caught us up as we got to within half a mile of the house. I apologise for dripping on the carpets.”
She raised an eyebrow and he nearly choked on his asparagus. “Why? They’re your carpets, after all, Sir.”
“Christian.” He reminded her firmly. “And they’re your carpets too, Anastasia.” He tried to keep his tone warm but he suspected from the twist of her mouth that he was failing.
“Mr Taylor was with you? Did he arrive in such a state and feel it necessary to drown the Aubusson, too?” Christian paused, and noticing the twinkle in her eye, let out a laugh.
“No. Mr Taylor would have been taken good care of downstairs, I would imagine. Mrs Jones would have given him the lashing of her tongue if he dripped on her floors.”
The next course arrived with a flourish and they settle in to eat a feast of pheasant and rabbit.
“I was surprised to meet your chef. It is unusual to have a man working in this capacity in a country house.”
“But not unusual when on the sea. LeCler was injured in a galley fire five years ago. That was when he lost his leg and I moved him to the Grange to recuperate. It didn’t take long before he had taken over the kitchen.”
“Your cook must have been pleased.” Ana took another mouthful of the succulent meat.
“Oh, indeed. She was a good cook but an even better breeder of horse flesh. She runs the stables for me.”
Once more Ana was astounded by what his words and actions revealed. It was obvious from his ride today that the tenants were a priority. He also did not let the injured slip from his employ. This Captain Grey, lit up when he talked of his staff and he spoke of them almost as old friends. Not as an employer. Yet, he was still relatively cold and unfeeling with her.
When she had tried to help him undress, he had batted away her hands even though his were clearly too cold to cooperate. Any time her skin had brushed accidentally against his, he had jumped in his skin, as if she were stabbing him with a stiletto. He held his body in such rigid reserve, she thought he might well turn brittle and break. Nothing she did seemed to be right. Perhaps he could sense something in her that he found distasteful. She had quashed the feelings of desire she had had for him. Had bitten her own tongue to the point of drawing blood to resist leaning down and running it over his taut stomach. When she had left him she had had to walk outside in the cold air without a cloak to try to cool the heat simmering beneath her skin. It seemed somewhat ironic that while she was burning hot with lustful fever, he held a mask of icy reserve that chilled her more than the touch of his frozen skin.
Although he seemed to have warmed to her a little over this dinner. Perhaps, if she worked with Mrs Jones, she might discover other things that might please him. She liked this softer and humane man who sat before her. If she could coax this a little more from him, there was a chance that they might even begin to be friends. She wondered if it was permissible or even possible to feel molten desire for a friend. Surely not.
“Goodness. And Mrs Jones? How long has she been at the Grange?”
“Gail has been here for five years, ever since her husband died. He was my 2nd mate.” Christian’s voice was sombre. Ana hadn’t meant to hit a raw nerve.
“On your naval command?” Christian’s mouth hardened as he nodded.
“Time to retire.” He gruffly announced, suddenly rising from his chair. She had hardly finished her dessert and was not the least bit sleepy after her afternoon nap but here he was ordering her to bed. A flutter entered her stomach at the thought. Perhaps he wanted to come to her tonight. The thought was not unpleasant, or at least, not as unpleasant as it should be. When he had not attended her last night, she assumed fault, and she also knew in her heart that she was trying to make amends. Surely, she was playing with fire.
Rising from her chair, Ana tried not to show how eager she was to receive him. They ascended the staircase, her hand wrapped around his arm. Her body was trembling by the time he saw her through the door of her room and bid her goodnight. It was in that moment that she remembered what she wanted to discuss with him at the end of the dinner. If he had not rushed them to bed, she would have asked to sit by the fire in the library while she turned to matters that seemed to have been forgotten.
“Christian?” She turned and peered up at him. He was so tall, so dark. His gray eyes sparkled like the moon on the ocean on a warm, still, summer night. Her lips parted of their own volition.
“Yes, Anastasia?” His voice was a harsh, low growl that resonated in her stomach, sending a tremor through her body. His hand was still on her arm and she wanted to lean into him, but she needed to ask her question first.
“Will you still be sailing to France to rescue Ethan?”
Christian stepped away from her and she felt the chill as if it were a real wind on her soul.
“We shall discuss this tomorrow. Goodnight, Anastasia.” He turned abruptly and walked to his door leaving her alone in the hall. She stepped through her own door and tried to draw some much needed warmth from the freshly stoked fire. Her ladies maid, a pretty French girl called Louise, was laying out her nightdress before undoing the fastenings of Ana’s gown. Ana was deep in thought about the evening. As much as it pained her to see that Christian had forgotten his promise to rescue Ethan, she didn’t believe for a moment that he would not use the adjoining door at some point. When Louise had departed, she readied herself for that eventuality as quickly as she could. Relaxing back against the pillows with a nervous smile she closed her eyes trying to calm her nerves. Without intention, she drifted off to sleep with the candles still alight, only to wake in darkness. Disappointingly, she was alone.