She’s seen the monster. “Ana,” I whisper, pleading with her. I want her to stop. I want to hold her and make the pain go away. I want her to sob in my arms. “Don’t you dare Ana me! You need to sort your shit out, Grey!” she snaps, and walks out of the playroom, quietly shutting the door behind her. Stunned, I stare at the closed door, her words ringing in my ears. You are one fucked-up son of a bitch. No one has ever walked out on me. What the hell? Mechanically, I run my hand through my hair, trying to rationalize her reaction, and mine. I just let her go. I’m not mad…I’m…what? I stoop to pick up the belt, walk to the wall, and hang it on its peg. That was, without doubt, one of the most satisfying moments of my life. A moment ago I felt lighter, the weight of uncertainty between us gone. It’s done. We’re there. Now that she knows what’s involved, we can move on. I told her. People like me like inflicting pain. But only on women who like it. My sense of unease grows. Her reaction—the image of her injured, haunted look is back, unwelcome, in my mind’s eye. It’s unsettling. I am used to making women cry—it’s what I do. But Ana? I sink to the floor and lean my head against the wall, my arms on my bent knees. Just let her cry. She’ll feel better for crying. Women do, in my experience. Give her a moment, then go and offer her aftercare. She didn’t safe-word. She asked me. She wanted to know, curious as ever. It’s just been a rude awakening, that’s all. You are one fucked-up son of a bitch. Closing my eyes, I smile without humor. Yes, Ana, yes I am, and now you know. Now we can move forward with our relationship…arrangement. Whatever this is. My thoughts don’t comfort me and my sense of unease grows. Her wounded eyes glaring at me, outraged, accusatory, pitying…she can see me for what I am. A monster. Flynn springs to mind: Don’t dwell on the negative, Christian. I close my eyes once more and see Ana’s anguished face. What a fool I am. This was too soon. Way, way too soon. Fuck. I’ll reassure her. Yes—let her cry, then reassure her. I was angry with her for running from me. Why did she do that? Hell. She’s so different from any other woman I’ve known. Of course she wouldn’t react in the same way.