“I think that meeting went well,” Ros offered as Charlie Tango lifted off from the small helipad atop the WSU building in Vancouver. “I really don’t know what Reese was caterwauling about.”
Christian nodded in agreement. After his breakfast meeting, he’d remained in the Portland office to deal with several other issues that needed his direct attention. Being the CEO of his own company rarely allowed for much recreation time, despite what some people thought. Yes, he had people to deal with a lot of the day to day decisions, and he paid them well to do so, but there were also specific things that he personally needed to oversee, for his own state of mind and because of the belief that the buck, as it were, stopped with him.
Hoping to get as much done as he could before the weekend, he’d planned to leave early, but got waylaid by one of his project managers, making noise about an issue with WSU which implied that they would be pulling the plug on a deal that Grey Enterprises had spent over six months working on, if they didn’t get what they wanted. Christian had decided to stop over in Vancouver on the way home to Seattle and deal with the issue directly, since Anastasia wouldn’t be been expecting him for a couple of hours at least.
“You should dock his pay for getting us all worked up. I mean honestly, if I didn’t think he’d enjoy it so much I’d knock the shit right out of him.”
Christian wondered what Ros would say if he admitted he was fond of that particular activity himself, but decided to just smile instead. His number two was a tigress all right, and luckily completely not his type. He did intend to have a talk with Reese about what constituted a crisis. He couldn’t be expected to see to every aspect of every deal himself, that was why he over a hundred employees for fuck’s sake. But, Ros was right, he should take the cost of their time and fuel out of the fucker’s pay. Reese was a damn good at what he did most of the time and Christian understood that everyone was allowed one mistake; and he was holding firm at one.
“Maybe I’ll just lock him in a room with you next time we fly to Portland?”
Ros shrugged and took a sip from her bottle of water. “Nah, I just had my nails done. I’d hate to mess them up on a face that ugly.”
Christian laughed. Damn, she was feisty. He’d pay for another trip to the salon to see the two of them fight. “I guess I’ll just have to have a talk with him tomorrow then.”
Ross pretended to shudder. Christian Grey ‘talking’ with an employee was sometimes worse than getting physically beaten and she wondered now what she had started. Reese could be a pain in the ass, but he was still a decent employee. “Well, maybe not a talk,” she hedged. “Maybe just a …quick chat? With witnesses….and an escape route.”
“Agreed.” Christian nodded. “I promise not to fire him.”
Ros adjusted herself in the seat and pulled at the tight harness she was strapped into. “Good, because I have enough to do.”
Christian laughed again. He wasn’t really upset about having to fly to Vancouver, although he had wanted to have an early day at work and get back to see Anastasia. He knew her friend Jose would be coming by to drop off her portraits and he didn’t want the two of them alone in the apartment. He trusted Anastasia, but not The Boy; never The Boy.
Money talks, he’d learned that lesson well thanks to Elena, but he also knew when people were simply being stupid or greedy and he suspected that was what happened with the board in WSU. He wasn’t going to give his money away just because he had plenty of it, there had to be a reasonable profit or in this case, a significant reason.
Weeks ago, when he’d heard about the possibility that several of the university’s scholarship programs were being pulled due to lack of funding, he had immediately jumped on board to offer his support. The school had been delighted when he offered to fund ten new scholarships and build them a new research library. They then asked for a new football field, as several of their scholarship students came through the Athletic scholarships, but Christian had balked at the idea.
There were enough jocks out there, he wanted to help the smart kids, the ones that had brilliant minds, but couldn’t afford school on their own or without holding down a full-time job, like Anastasia. While his decision had been made well before meeting Ana, and the deal over halfway developed, she helped him confirm his choice with WSU.
It irked him that she’d had to support herself working in a hardware store when she was so obviously beyond brilliant. He imagined how hard it must have been being in class all day, then working most of the evening and weekends only to be studying well into the night as well. No doubt such a schedule had been partially to blame for Anastasia’s atrocious eating habits.
He frowned suddenly as he thought of her last text and wondered what the hell she was up to? Something for his birthday, that could be anything and he hated surprises. Well, he shouldn’t say he hated them; he just wasn’t used to them. He really should have texted her back, but when he received her last text he was just finished his morning meeting and immediately became tied up with work and Reese about the issue at WSU.
He’d decided to stop over in Vancouver and deal with the crisis face to face, he understood few people were willing to bitch and threaten the CEO of Grey Enterprises as they were to one of his employees. He had been in full work mode and had forgotten all about Anastasia’s text until now, but he couldn’t very well text while he was flying.
“I think we should celebrate,” Ros decided as she twisted the cap back on her water bottle. “I think you should take me to dinner when we get back.” No one else would be as bold as she was with the CEO, but she and Christian shared a special, if not completely familiar relationship.
He shook his head as he checked their altitude and gently turned the helicopter North towards Seattle and home. “Can’t tonight.” He wanted to get home to Anastasia. Still, Ros did deserve a little treat, they both did after what they managed to pull off today. “Have you ever seen Mount St. Helena?”
Ros glanced at him, startled. “No, but isn’t it restricted airspace?”
“Not anymore, they lifted the ban last year. It’s on the way, we can do a quick fly by if you like. It really is something everyone should see, especially from the air.”
“Well then yes!” Ros practically glowed. “That sounds amazing!”
Christian nodded and adjusted his heading. It was only a minor detour from their current course and now that he’d thought of it he’d really like to see the volcano again too.
Twenty minutes later they were flying low over the majestic snow covered volcano.
“Isn’t it breathtaking?” She shot him a nervous glance. “You’re sure it’s dormant?”
“Oh no, it’s active. Could blow at any time.” He glanced at her solemnly. “Want to fly closer?”
Ros regarded him for a long moment and finally realized he was teasing her. Christian Grey was a bulldog when it came to safety so she knew he would never fly over it if there was ever any real danger. She had to admit, her boss had been unusually chipper and fun to be around lately. Obviously, Anastasia Steele was very good for him.
“Absolutely,” she tossed back. “Give ‘er.”
Christian grinned and swept the helicopter to just about two hundred feet above the ground so they could get an up close and personal view of one of nature’s wonders. “It really is fant…” Suddenly the instrument panel lit up and several sensors started ringing with alarms. “What the hell?”
He made as many adjustments as he could but nothing worked, and then he lost guidance control. The helicopter lurched sideways, then a horrible, gut-wrenching drop as it started to spiral down lower and lower, the ground rising up far too quickly to meet them.
“M... Mr. Grey?” Ros asked as she gripped her seat, trying to maintain her dignity in the face of her fear.
Christian pulled up on the now useless throttle, prayed that it would catch, just as a loud popping noise sounded around them and the fire engine light flicked on, mixing with the warning sounds of the rest of the panel. He risked a glance out his side window and grimaced at the flames shooting from the helicopter’s tail. Fuck! Fuck!
Christian started pushing buttons and pulling levers. Engine Power Control-locked. Fuel System off. Fuel Boost Pump Control- off. He checked the TGT and winced that it was not functioning. He continued to switch everything off.
“Are we going to crash?” Ros asked, her voice sounding far calmer than what she felt.
“Yes.” Christian had no control other than a very small portion of rooter control that allowed him to somewhat glide the machine away from the volcano.
“Are we going to die?”
“No.” Not if he could help it anyway.
He wasn’t ready to die. He couldn’t die; he needed to get back to Anastasia. Fate wouldn’t be so cruel to allow her to come into his life only to snatch him away after such a brief time together. Besides, Jose would be there with her, and he was damned if he was about to let that boy comfort his Ana in the wake of his death.
Ros watched as they bypassed a lake and continued to fall, no longer in circles but the plunging depth still had her stomach in her throat. She reached her hand across and placed it on his bicep, hardened by his continued attempt to manage their descent. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Christian.”
Christian allowed his eyes to meet hers briefly and he nodded. “Likewise.” When he looked back the ground was rising up to meet them and his only thought was for Anastasia.
They were down. Disbelief flooded Christian and he suddenly found it impossible to release his death grip on the yolk as he struggled to come to terms with his second chance at life; his second chance with Anastasia. As the helicopter hurtled toward Earth, he’d worked furiously to keep her somewhat level so they would not land nose or tail first. Because they had only been a couple hundred feet up when everything went to shit, he’d had almost no time to amend the situation.
A thousand thoughts had run through his mind, even as he determinedly worked to land the helicopter safely. He now understood what it meant to see your life flash before your eyes in the face of imminent death. He’d thought of his birth mother, the whore, why he wasn’t sure, and then of the bastard that had burned him and how he would never get his revenge. He thought of Elena and the salons they were partners in…Would his brother Elliot step up and take over Grey Enterprises and give her a fair buy out?
He thought of the sweetness of Grace’s face and his gratitude to her for changing his life and the innocence and beauty of his little sister Mia. Ana invaded his thoughts most of all, every moment he had spent with her, every moment more he wanted to spend. Would she find comfort in the arms of her friends Jose or Ethan if he died? That had angered him, the idea that anyone but him would touch her, hold her, make love to her, and this had been his final desperate thought…that he had to live to keep Anastasia away from all other men; so, she would always be his.
“Are we dead?”
Ros’s question pulled him back to the present and the smell of smoke and flame, reminded him that they were still in danger. He pried his fingers from the yolk and unstrapped his harness.
“Not yet.” He reached behind him for the standard fire extinguisher that was strapped to the lower bulkhead. “Get out, now.”
Ros tried to release her harness with hands that wouldn’t stop shaking and cursed. “God damn a…adrenaline.”
Christian immediately reached across and set her free. “Out! Go!”
Ros put her shoulder to the door and heaved it open. She grabbed her purse and scrambled down out of the helicopter as Christian did the same on his side. She rounded to the back to watch him douse the flames with the extinguisher.
“Get back!” he ordered, worried that the helicopter would blow up if he didn’t get the flames out in time.
“You get back!” she snapped, tossed her purse several feet and pulled off her suit jacket to attack a set of flames that started to lick at the side of the machine opposite of where Christian was spraying. “Out! Out damn you!”
Together they managed to get the fire out creating swirling masses of smoke that had them both coughing horribly. The extinguisher was empty and Christian tossed it to the ground, then pulled Ros further away from the damage and smoke.
“Do you *cough* think it’s out?” she wheezed.
“I think so,” he admitted, but didn’t want to get any closer, just in case. The idea of his beloved Charlie Tango exploding in front of him wrenched at his heart. “I hope so,”
“So, we’re not going to die?”
“Not from the crash anyway.”
“Good.” Ross tossed her ruined jacket to the ground, stepped up to Christian, slapped her hands on either side of his face, then pulled his head down and firmly pressed her lips to his in a heart, gratifying kiss. “Thank you, Mr. Grey,” she croaked, her voice hoarse from fear, relief and smoke.
Christian startled by such a bold move from his usually disciplined and often stoic number two, suddenly found himself putting his arms around her and squeezing her hard.
“Thank you,” he whispered, realizing that if anyone else had been with him in the helicopter, with the exception of Taylor, he would not have been able to maintain the composure to land. Her rock-solid demeanor and unwavering faith in him was as much responsible for their safe, albeit rocky, landing as he was.
Ros was stunned. Christian Grey had hugged her! Actually hugged her! She didn’t think he hugged anybody. She grinned, squeezed him back just as hard then they both quickly released each other and returned to their official roles. “Yes, well…that’s that then.” She dusted off her hands and glanced around. “Where the hell are we?”
Christian pulled out his blackberry, dismayed that he had no bars available in their current area. “Fuck.”
“No signal.” Christian waved at her. “Try yours.”
Ros retrieved her purse, pulled out her blackberry and was disappointed that she too had no signal. “Is it really that much to ask?” she demanded as she moved around and held up her phone, hoping to find an angle that would give her at least a bar or two. “Piece of shit.”
Christian knew they had to get moving. He hadn’t had the chance to send a distress call because he’d needed to cut the power so quickly, and while he didn’t want to leave the helicopter out here all on its own he knew Charlie Tango wasn’t going anywhere.
It would be dark soon, which reminded him that Jose was coming by today. He would be in the apartment with Anastasia, they would be alone. He could just see the two of them, curled up in his living room with a bottle of wine and some finger food that Mrs. Jones made up as they looked at Anastasia’s portraits.
He didn’t want anyone else looking at those! That was why he bought them in the first place. It irked him enough that Jose had the balls to take the photos, and then display them without Anastasia’s knowledge or consent. The boy was so in love with Anastasia it was pathetic, and at this very moment could be plying her with wine. He remembered what happened the last time Jose was alone with an intoxicated Anastasia Steele and he felt fury burn him to the core.
“Mr. Grey?” Ros grew concerned at the tightening in her employer’s face. “Are you all right?”
Christian glanced at her, startled, then forced himself to focus on their situation. “I think I remember seeing a road back that way,” he pointed north. “Three, maybe four hours away.” He suddenly focused on Ros’s pencil skirt and smart black pumps and winced on her behalf. “Well, shit, Ros.”
She glanced down at her three-inch Gucci shoes and for the first time was relieved she had not chosen to wear her Jimmy Choos that day. “I wasn’t exactly expecting to hike.” She lifted her gaze to his and smiled, determined. “I’ll be okay.”
“We’d better get started then,” Christian decided and slid his phone back in his suit pocket. He was anxious to get back to civilization and to Ana. “We’ve got a long walk ahead of us and it will be dark soon.”
Ros nodded solemnly and followed, watching as Christian gave one final look back at Charlie Tango, reluctant to leave it there.
It took almost two full hours walking over the uneven dirt terrain for Ros’s feet to really start screaming, but she refused to show it. The sun was dipping low in the sky and she was grateful, because the heat of the day had been oppressive against their constant walking.
Mr. Grey was now carrying his jacket over his shoulder his clothes and shoes were as dusty and dirty as her own. Her CEO had grown eerily quiet the last hour or so and she wondered what was eating him. They’d discussed business for the first little bit of their trek, but then he closed down and just walked. Now he had an expression on his face that she knew, from experience, warned against further discussion.
God! Were they ever going to find the damn road? She pulled her cell phone out of her purse again and cursed when she saw the battery was dead. “Motherfuckingsonofacocksuckingwhore!”
Christian stopped walking, her oath pulling him away from thoughts of Anastasia and Jose together. Such language was very out of character for Ros. “What’s wrong?”
“My battery’s dead.” She shook the phone, once, twice and then debated whether or not to fling it away. “Piece of crap.”
Christian pulled out his blackberry as well. “Still no signal, so what does it matter?”
“It matters!” she decided and then shoved the phone back in her purse. “How can we not have any signal? Where are we, Mars?”
Christian smirked. Ros was never this grumpy, she was certainly used to him being grumpy, but not the other way around. He glanced at her open toed shoes and could only imagine how much her feet were killing her, his own were protesting quite loudly in his stylish Italian loafers.
“Do you need to rest?” He asked the question out of concern, but desperately hoped she said no. He wanted…no needed to get home before something horrible happened between Anastasia and Jose. He hated not knowing what was going on, not being there to remind The Boy that Ana was his and only his.
Ros wanted to rest, she wanted to take off the shoes that had cost her almost three hundred dollars and chuck them in the lake back the way they had come, but she knew if she stopped, starting again would be just as painful. The rocky and uneven terrain would injure her feet if she took the shoes off, so she had only one choice.
“No. Let’s keep going.”
Thank fucking Christ! “You’re sure?”
“Do you need to stop?”
“Right.” She pulled herself up to her full height. “Anything you can do, I can do better, Mr. Grey.”
He almost grinned, but his worry and jealousy wouldn’t allow it. “I have no doubt.” There was a reason she was his number two. “But, I’m not wearing heels, Ros.”
“I don’t know that they’d go with your suit, Mr. Grey.”
He appreciated her trying to be brave, as his heart and head warred with what was best. “I wouldn’t mind a break,” he lied and knew that Ros knew he was lying.
“Honestly, Christian, I’m not sure that if I stop I will ever get started again.”
Christian nodded in understanding. “Okay, let’s go then.”
“Reese is such a dead man,” she decided as she hobbled forward again.
“Oh? I thought we were willing to forgive that whole thing?”
“That was before we crashed and almost burned to death! Now, the gloves are off.” She shot him a look. “With your permission, Mr. Grey, I intend to whip his ass bloody when we get back.”
“Or at least have him walk four hours in those shoes?”
Christian nodded solemnly. “Permission granted.” Permission. Would Jose ask Anastasia’s permission before he took her to bed? Would she let him? She didn’t seem able to cope with the boy last time and he simply didn’t trust the bastard.
He wished his phone did work, so he could at least call Taylor and tell him to stay in the room with Anastasia at all times, but then he remembered what his head of security was dealing with. He sighed and scowled at his watch. Jose would have been there a good hour now, more than enough time to ply Anastasia with wine. More than enough time to entice her to bed, to put his hands on her, to fuck her.
His hand fisted beneath the fabric of the jacket he held over his shoulder and suddenly he realized how dark it was getting. He hoped they reached the road soon.
“I’m sorry!” Ross gasped another hour later and suddenly dropped down on a large boulder. “I…I need a minute.”
Christian was beside her instantly and cursed, there was blood seeping from the open toes of her shoes. He’d been so caught up in his jealousy of Anastasia and Jose and his mission to get home he’d neglected this lovely, strong woman beside him.
He crouched before her, gently pulled off her shoes and winced. “Your feet are bleeding!”
“Didn’t know there was a torture chamber included with purchase.” She winced as Christian pulled out his handkerchief and wiped at where the blisters that had formed around the front of her foot had broken. “Should’ve paid more.”
“I’m so sorry, Ros.”
“Not your fault.”
No, Christian agreed, but it was somebody’s. Charlie Tango was the safest Eurocopter in its class. He paid top dollar top have it regularly maintained and checked everything himself before and after each flight. There was no way the engine should have caught fire, no way the instruments should have failed the way they had, and yet it happened. Someone had tried to kill him, but he would have to work out the who, how and why later.
He pulled out his blackberry and swore when he saw that his battery was also dead. Well, they’d just keep heading in the direction they were going. They had to be close, it had been hours. Luckily there was a full moon to guide them.
He made a decision and rose as he slipped his jacket over her shoulders, noticing the growing chill in the night air. “Put this on.” She slid her arms through the sleeves and he turned around, braced himself and crouched. “Climb on.”
Ros gaped at Christian Grey’s back. “You can’t…You can’t be serious!”
Christian grimaced and fought back the fear that was already climbing up his body and panicking his heart into a fierce, furious rhythm. Ros couldn’t keep walking, and he couldn’t carry her in his arms because if she accidentally brushed his chest he’d lose it. He didn’t like being touched on his back either, but it was the lesser evil and he could handle it better than he could his chest.
“Get on!” he ordered curtly, before he lost his nerve.
He had to force himself not to pull away as he felt her hands settle on his shoulders and her legs slip around his waist. He took several deep breaths, slipped his arms under her calves and adjusted so she was in a more comfortable place across his back, then slowly rose.
The pressure and heat of her against him was almost his undoing and for a brief instant he was a helpless child again, back in that horrid apartment with the pimp holding him down as cigarettes were burned into his flesh. A wave of nausea swarmed him and he almost stumbled, suddenly unsteady.
“I’m too heavy…” Ros began and started to slide her legs down.
“No.” Christian’s arms tightened in reflex and determination. She wasn’t heavy at all, in fact she was lighter than Anastasia, or perhaps he was simply stronger than he thought. It wasn’t her weight but her proximity that affected him. “Just…Give me a minute.”
He had to do this. Ros couldn’t keep walking on blistered feet and she was his responsibility after all. He had made the decision to fly to Vancouver. He had made the choice to check out the Volcano. He almost shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if he hadn’t been flying as close to the ground as they had been. He never would have recovered the craft at all if they had been any higher.
He took another deep breath and adjusted Ros’s body across his back. He could do this. He had to do this.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes.” He needed to focus, focus on something other than the feel of her pressing against his back. He gritted his teeth and pushed forward. “Are you…okay?”
Her feet were still screaming from the sudden stop in motion, but the relief of being off them far surpassed the discomfort. She tried to find the humor in the situation, a talent she’d honed in her years working with Christian Grey, who’s moods were legendary to those that worked closely with him. She’d had to learn quickly how to deflect and disarm a potentially dangerous CEO and never took things personally.
In her poshest voice, she solemnly commented. “I apologize for being yet another monkey on your back, Mr. Grey.”
It worked and despite the effort he was putting into not throwing her off and running, he managed a smile. “There’s always room for one more,” he replied through gritted teeth and instantly felt her stiffen at his tone. “I’m being an ass…just…don’t pay…any attention to me.”
“That is rather difficult, Mr. Grey, as it is impossible to ignore a handsome, muscular man between my thighs.”
She’d said it so matter-of-factly that Christian actually chuckled and he felt some of his panic ease. Maybe Ana was right, maybe he was healing. Besides, Ros’s hands weren’t on him, just her front to his back. He could feel the press of her breasts against his shoulder blades and reminded himself to consider them another barrier between them; which helped loosen a little more panic.
“I don’t know that any man would normally intrude on such a high security area, Ros,” he shot back working to keep the conversation going, working to set his mind to walking, talking and nothing else.
“It has happened, not often mind you, but the odd occasion.” They were practically flirting, something they absolutely never did, and while it felt weird, it also felt strangely comforting. “I had to hide the bodies afterwards of course, they were all ill equipped to deal with my true nature.”
“I have no doubt,” Christian agreed and shifted her just a little higher on his hips. “Where do you plan to hide mine?”
“In that lake, back there, if we don’t soon find the God damn road!” She jumped slightly at the howl of an unknown animal. “Oh God…wolves.” Her legs squeezed him lightly in fear. “Must walk faster.”
Christian immediately recalled the scene in Jurassic Park with the Tyrannosaurus Rex, a movie that Anastasia had insisted on making him watch a week ago. In actuality, he’d enjoyed hell out of it. But he didn’t think reminiscing about dinosaurs was appropriate when there were far more existent animals wandering about in the night.
“Keep your eyes open,” he asked her as he picked up his pace.
“Eyes, open…what…” Suddenly she saw it; a dark strip of pavement way in the distance. “There! I think we’ve found it!”
Christian confirmed her sighting and quickened his pace even more, just as eager to reach civilization as the monkey on his back.