I have to get out. The walls of my apartment feel like they’re closing in on me. I can feel the weight of the brick pressing down, crushing me. If I stay inside I will fucking lose it.
I can’t believe I nearly punched Elliot. For the briefest of moments, I really wanted to beat the shit out of him. My own brother! I haven’t felt this out of control since I was 15. Since before Elena. I don’t want to feel that again. I can’t.
So I run. I pound the streets, pushing myself harder and harder, but I keep seeing Elliot’s face: the shock and hurt in his eyes. I can’t outrun that.
I haven’t really taken any notice of where I’ve been running so I’m surprised to find that I’ve ended up in mid-town, near McCaw Hall. I’ve been here many times for the opera, often birthday treats for Mia. Thinking about my little sister helps calm me down. Her no bullshit approach cuts through all the crap: I admire that about her, even though it’s fucking irritating at times. The run has calmed me, somewhat: I manage to gain some perspective on the incident with Elliot. Fact is, I didn’t hit him, even though I wanted to. So I didn’t completely lose it.
The thought is of fleeting comfort. I need to get a grip. I hope Elena can help. In fact, I’m counting on her. Again.
* * * *
Saturday morning and after spending a couple of hours working out in a gym I’ve found half a dozen blocks away, I have an appointment with a realtor. There’s an apartment I’m interested in. I take some pride in the fact that I can afford to buy it for cash. The place I’m in at the moment is beginning to feel claustrophobic. But I have a more pressing motive: the new place, if I like it, has underground parking, which makes it much more private. I can avoid the press who are taking too close an interest in the continuing success of GEH; more importantly, it will give me the privacy I need if I’m going to have my own sub. The idea is very attractive.
I’m five minutes early for the appointment so I lean against the wall, my gym bag at my feet, and enjoy a rare moment of peace in the mild Spring air.
I spot the realtor before she’s killed the engine of her electric blue Corvette. In her thirties, she’s wearing a burgundy power suit and five inch heels. I wonder in passing how she manages to drive safely in those shoes. She glances at her Rolex and frowns. I’m amused by her irritation: she hasn’t realised that her appointment arrived before her and is currently lounging in the sun, ten feet away. It must be the Aviator shades.
I decide to put her out of her misery.
She turns and stares.
He mouth hangs open.
“You’re Christian Grey?”
I frown. I really don’t like repeating myself.
“Yes. The penthouse?”
She gathers her scattered wits, openly staring at me. Maybe it’s not the shades; maybe it’s the jeans and T-shirt. Whatever.
“Of course, Mr Grey. This way, sir.”
She fumbles the key and manages to drop it on the sidewalk. She doesn’t see me roll my eyes as I bend down to retrieve it for her.
“Oh, thank you! So clumsy. Please, call me Portia.”
I don’t care if your name is Titania! Just show me the fucking apartment!
The lobby is small, but calming in polished granite and there are two elevators. Although the building is only ten floors, there are 37 apartments: nine storeys with corner units, plus the penthouse.
In the elevator Miss Roberts starts fanning herself.
“It’s a little hot in here,” she murmurs.
I can’t say I’d noticed.
The elevator doors open into a small vestibule facing a plain, white door. Miss Roberts seems a little shaky. Too much caffeine or not enough?
Once through the door, she seems to snap out of it and launches into her sales patter.
“You’ll see this delightful penthouse has been furbished to a high standard with nearly 4,000 square feet of living space, and two en-suite guest bedrooms. There’s an underground garage and state of the art security with CCTV, managed off-site. Let me show you the master bedroom: it has stunning views over the city.”
She touches my arm in what’s meant to be a flirty gesture. I freeze, then take a step away, out of her reach. A look of confusion crosses her face. She blushes, then continues with her spiel.
“The kitchen has every convenience and…”
“I didn’t see a freight elevator?”
She’s thrown by my interruption.
“Er, yes, there’s a large freight elevator to the rear.” She hesitates but her curiosity gets the better of her. “Did you have a particular reason for asking?”
She waits for me to reply but it’s really none of her business and I have another question.
“How good is the sound proofing?”
She blinks, surprised by my question, no doubt. “Er, well, let me see.” She hastily scans through her notes. She should fucking know this! “I’m sure you won’t find a problem with traffic noise up here…”
“I have a piano,” I explain, irritated with her ineptitude. Well, I don’t have a piano yet, but I plan to.
She looks surprised again. Her eyes flick back to me, reassessing rapidly. “Well, we can check for sound leakage but my notes say that resonant absorbers have been incorporated into the build.”
“Good enough. I assume the apartment is available immediately?”
“Well, yes, subject to validation of your mortgage agreement.”
“I don’t have a mortgage. No loan agreement.”
She looks stunned then annoyed. “Mr Grey, this apartment is on the market for $1.7 million.”
“I’ll pay you $1.55. Cash.”
She gasps. “Cash? Well, I…”
“Speak to the owner, Miss Roberts. I want an answer on Monday morning: or I’ll withdraw my offer. You have my cell number.”
She looks faint. Oh, for fucks sake! This is your job!
“Of… of course!”
We return to the lobby in silence.
As I sling my gym bag over one shoulder and saunter down the sidewalk pleased with my latest acquisition, Miss Roberts is still standing in the street.
* * * *
When I get back home, my apartment looks small and shabby by comparison. I really can’t wait to get out of here.
I fire up my laptop and am surprised to find an email from Elena.
From: Elena Lincoln
Subject: Re: Dinner
Date: March 13 2004
To: Christian Grey
Change of plan. I think I’ve found what you’re looking for – as previously discussed. I’ll pick you up 7.30pm.
MD, Escala Salons Inc.
I’m irritated that she’s changing our dinner plans but I can’t be bothered to argue. Not today.
I work for several hours, order a chicken salad from a nearby deli for lunch, then work on through into the evening. When I finally stand and stretch, it’s already 7pm.
I shower quickly and dress in my usual off-duty uniform of black jeans, white shirt and black jacket.
My cell rings exactly at 7.30pm.
“I’m outside, Christian.”
I run down the stairs and find Elena double parked.
She’s dressed in her usual severe style: black cocktail dress, diamond earrings.
“Your hair is damp.”
“Showers tend to do that, Elena.”
“So where are we going?” I’m irritated that I have to ask.
“A new club.”
“Christ, Elena! You know I can’t go somewhere like that anymore!”
“Don’t snap at me, Christian. CK’s is an exclusive club for people who can afford it. Invitation only. You need a sub: this is where we’ll find one. I’ve spoken to Christine, and she’s arranged for you to interview two possibilities.”
“The owner. Very discreet.”
Our destination is a large, colonial style house a few minutes from the Greenlake Bar and Grill, the kind of genteel place a minor politician would aspire to. There are a number of expensive cars parked outside: mostly European marques, BMWs and Mercedes.
A doorman who looks like he’s doubling as security opens the door and studies Elena’s letter of introduction before granting us entry.
“Mrs Lincoln and Mr Grey, ma’am.”
A tall woman with a glossy, black bob strolls out to meet us. Her movement is that of a catwalk model: feline and predatory. I assume this is Christine.
“Welcome to CK’s,” she purrs, examining us closely. “How nice to see you again, Mrs Lincoln. I believe you’ll both be selecting submissives this evening?”
“If we can find suitable matches,” says Elena coolly.
“Of course, Mrs Lincoln. Your preferences were noted on acceptance of your application.”
She turns to address me directly. “Mrs Lincoln has advised that you are considering joining our… let’s call it our subscription service. She has outlined what you’re looking for, but I prefer to conduct one-to-one interviews myself.”
I shrug. “Elena knows my tastes.”
She snaps her fingers and a waiter brings each of us a glass of chilled champagne.
“Your good health, Mrs Lincoln, Mr Grey.”
We raise our glasses to her toast then she leads us inside.
CK’s is the last word in opulence. Soft leather couches line the small, intimate booths, and Chopin’s Nocturne Opus in E flat major is playing softly in the background. Men and women sit in pairs or small groups, chatting and eating dinner. A large chandelier hangs from a ceiling rose in the centre of the room, and each table is lit by a Tiffany’s lamp. It’s more like a members’ only dining club than a BDSM recruitment centre. But I like it: it’s soothing.
Christine catches my eye.
“How much has Mrs Lincoln told you about our service, Mr Grey?”
“Well, let me explain: I vet applications from members for both Dominants and Submissives. I interview all members personally and then match people for their preferences. It’s an introductory service, if you will, although I must say that our chef has two Michelin stars and we stock an excellent selection of wines in our cellar.”
She signals to a man of about my age.
“Mrs Lincoln, Marcus will show you to one of our meeting rooms so you can interview your shortlisted submissives.”
Elena smiles and takes Marcus’ willing arm, leaving me with Christine.
“How long have you known Mrs Lincoln?”
She pauses. “I see. Well, Mr Grey, if you’ll follow me…”
She leads me into a large, attractive office. The furniture is rather heavy and Victorian for my tastes but it fits in with the general décor and everything is of the best quality. She sits behind the vast, ebony desk and waves me to a chair.
“Mrs Lincoln has given me an outline of what you’re looking for.” She checks her notes. “Between 25 and 35, slim, petite, brunette. Long hair preferred.” She looks up. “Anything else?”
“Nobody with dependents.”
“Hmm. Well, one candidate I was going to suggest, Sonya, has said that she’s the owner of a Border terrier called Vixen. Interesting name. Does that count?” She raises her eyebrows.
“Only if the dog wants to watch.”
She laughs out loud at my response. “Indeed! Well, if you could just run your eyes over this list, Mr Grey. Cross out anything that is a hard limit for you.”
The form is very comprehensive and I’m pleased that Christine is so thorough. I delete a total of nine acts. She glances through my amendments.
“No acts involving breath control? No threesomes? Those are usually quite popular.”
I shake my head. Too hard to control safely.
“Anything else? Anything not mentioned on the list?”
“Just the dependents, as I mentioned.”
“Noted. Well, I do have two possible candidates that I’d like you to meet, based on the profile Mrs Lincoln gave me. She does seem to know you rather well.” She pauses again. “May I speak frankly, Mr Grey?”
I’m surprised by her question.
“I thought we were speaking frankly, Christine.”
She smiles. “Indeed. I don’t wish to be… personal… but I do have some concerns.”
“Forgive me, Mr Grey, but I take it you were… trained by Mrs Lincoln?”
I nod, suddenly uncomfortable: where is she going with this?
“I thought so. Mr Grey, I have been in this business for… well, more years that I am prepared to admit to, and I have met a number of Dominants like Mrs Lincoln. My own training, however, was more… sensitive.”
I really have no idea what she’s fucking talking about. More sensitive with a whip? More sensitive with a cane?
“Yes, I see how that may sound rather contradictory but my belief is that a dom is responsible for their sub’s emotional and spiritual well-being, as well as their physical health. It’s not about control: it’s about trust. It’s not pain: it’s about sensation. A submissive must trust that his or her dominant has their best interests at heart. It’s not just about personal gratification and sexual dominance. Your duty as a dom is to keep your submissive safe, healthy and, dare I say it, happy. Your responsibility, your duty is to protect your sub, not to break her spirit.”
Her words are revelatory. “I want to protect her. I mean… I want to protect my submissive.”
It’s true: I realise that I want to protect. That’s important to me. And I can’t help questioning how much Elena did that. She certainly didn’t protect me in Boston when she let that stranger touch me. I shiver at the memory and Christine fixes me with a penetrating gaze.
“Well, it seems we’re on the same page after all, Mr Grey. This surprises me. And I’m not a woman that it’s easy to surprise.”
I sit back, forcing myself to control my emotions, taking a sip of champagne to mask my feelings.
“If we manage to match you up tonight, Mr Grey, the annual membership will be $25,000: a finder’s fee, you might say.”
“Good! Well, then, please follow me and I’ll introduce you to the first candidate. He name is Kirsten and she’s 32. She’s an experienced submissive. Her last dominant moved to Florida, hence her present situation. Here’s her application form. Oh, and she’s not in role at present. I prefer first meetings to be… neutral.”
I scan my eyes through the details. “She’s a social worker?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all.” In fact I rather like the idea that she’s the nurturing type.
Christine opens a door into another room. This one is smaller, but still very much an office. A woman with soft, hazel eyes smiles pleasantly at me. My eyes are drawn to her long, wavy brown hair. She stifles a soft gasp when she sees me. I frown. What’s her problem?
“Kirsten, this is Mr Grey.”
“Well, I’ll leave you two to talk. Mr Grey, come back to my office when you’re finished.”
Christine leaves and I take a seat and turn to face Kirsten.
“Good to meet you, Kirsten. I’d like to ask you about your former dominant. How long were you with him?”
“Seven years. He wanted me to go to Florida with him, but my family and friends are here. And I didn’t think I could stand the humidity down there.”
“You’re from Seattle?”
“New York originally. But I’ve lived here since I was 22.”
“And you have no dependents?” I already know the form says not, but I have to check.
“Good. This is my list of hard limits: is there anything you want to add to it?”
I’m pleased to see she reads it through carefully.
“No, that’s fine, sir.”
“And you’d be available every weekend, if required?”
“How soon would you be available?”
“Immediately, sir. I’ve missed… playing.”
Her words really fucking turn me on. Several scenes spring to mind and I wonder if I could convert one of the guest rooms in the apartment into a playroom. Hmm. Probably best to improvise: my family… well, Mia mostly, is so fucking nosy, that she’ll want to look in every room. If I have one kept locked, she’s bound to ask questions.
I realise Kirsten is still looking at me. I clear my throat.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“I was wondering… pardon me for speaking frankly, but you look very… young. Have you done this before? Sir?”
“Yes, Kirsten, I have.”
She waits for me to continue but that’s enough fucking information. I stare back at her and she immediately drops her eyes. Her lips part and her breathing hitches slightly: I can tell she’s excited. Fuck! That’s arousing!
I stand up before things go any further.
“Thank you, Kirsten. I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you, sir,” she whispers.
I walk out and take a deep, steadying breath, then make my way back to Christine’s office.
I knock and walk in.
“Ah, Mr Grey. How did you find Kirsten? Would you like to meet Sonya now?”
“No, Kirsten is… fine. I’d like to try a one month contract.”
“One month? I normally recommend three: it gives you a better chance of deciding if you’re compatible in the longer term.”
“Fine: three months.”
“Excellent! And when would you like her to start?”
“I hope to be moving into a new apartment in a couple of weeks. I’ll contact you.”
I take my credit card out of my wallet and hand it over.
She runs it through a machine and passes it back, a slight smile on her face. Then she stands and we shake hands.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr Grey. I’ll escort you back to the main room. Mrs Lincoln is waiting for you.”
“Thank you. I’ll find my own way.”
“As you wish. Until next time, Mr Grey.”
I find Elena sitting in one of the booths, studying a menu.
“I’ve ordered for us, Christian. Oh, don’t look at me like that! I know what you like! Well, did you find a suitable sub?”
“Yes. Did you?”
“Possibly. We’re still negotiating the hard limits. I saw two: neither were prepared to go as far as you did, Christian.”
Her words make me uncomfortable and I’m reminded of Christine’s comments about her own training, and about the role of a dominant.
“You were a marvellous submissive, Christian. Are you sure I can’t tempt you back?”
“No, you fucking can’t, Elena.”
She laughs lightly. “Just checking, Christian. Oh well, I could try them out, I suppose. I can be very persuasive, can’t I?”
She laughs again. “More champagne?”