Asking for it, p.17
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       Asking for It, p.17

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  Stepfather, I note. Jonah could have no memory of his real father, and Carter Hale’s been married to Jonah’s mother for almost three decades. Most kids in that situation would wind up calling their stepfathers Dad. Not Jonah.

  He continues, “Like most tourists in Hawaii, we went out to see the volcanoes. I hadn’t imagined you could get that close to the lava flow. When I saw it—glowing orange with heat, pure liquid stone—” To my surprise, he grins. “I was ten, so I thought it was totally cool. ”

  I laugh out loud. “So that’s how you picked your scientific specialty? Because it was cool?”

  “Any scientist who tells you something different is lying. If you’re going to spend your entire life studying something, it needs to thrill you. Volcanoes and earthquakes thrilled me when I was a kid, and they still do. Even after all the studies and the dissertation and months of looking at nothing but seismograph readings. I get a charge out of it every time. ”

  “Hey, they always say that if you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work,” I say.

  “Which is a crock. ” When I raise an eyebrow at Jonah, his smile regains some of the fierceness I know so well. “If you spend twelve hours in a row doing something—anything—it feels like work. ”

  Laughing, I admit, “Okay, yes. The studio’s my favorite place to be, but there are times when I feel like if I go in there one more time, I’ll tear my hair out. Still, I’d rather go crazy making art than do anything else. ”

  Jonah nods. “That’s it exactly. ”

  “So you get to spend your whole life chasing lava. ”

  “And you’ll spend yours making art. ”

  “Yes and no,” I say. “After graduation I’m hoping to go into museum work. Preserving old etchings, curating important pieces, even using original plates from centuries ago to make new prints. ”

  He gives me a look. “You should do your own work. Not worry about taking care of someone else’s. ”

  “It’s not either/or. I’ll never stop creating my own work. But even if I set the entire art world on fire, it’ll be years before I can support myself through my etchings alone—if ever. So there’s going to be a day job for a while, probably a long while. Should I do something boring that sucks my soul away one day at a time? Or should I surround myself with some of the greatest etchings of all time, and help other people understand how amazing they are?”

  After a moment, Jonah nods. “When you put it that way, okay. I see it. ”

  Then his hand brushes against mine. At first I think he’s drawing me aside as we go past a group of college kids drunkenly weaving along the sidewalk. After they pass, though, he adjusts his grip, twining our fingers together.

  Page 65

  Jonah Marks has screwed me hotter and dirtier than any other man ever has—and yet my heart flutters like a girl’s as he holds my hand for the first time.

  We browse the various shops for a little while, mostly for the pleasure of remaining hand in hand. Cowboy boots are available in every color, every size; these days in Austin, college girls wear them more often than ranchers do. Other stores offer Mexican crafts—thick woven serapes, kitschy wrestler’s masks in red and gold satin, bins filled with beads painted like the skulls of Dia de los Muertos, tin hearts crowned with flame.

  “These are called milagros, right?” he asks as he traces his finger around the sharp edge of one of the hearts. “Miracles?”

  “Exactly. ” An enameled image of the Virgin Mary is at the very center of the heart. “The flame symbolizes the Holy Spirit, touching hearts, making us change. ”

  Jonah gives me a look; I seem to have surprised him. “Are you a believer?”

  “I think you’d have to call me a ‘hopeful agnostic. ’”

  “I’m less hopeful. But when I see things like this—the feeling in them—I envy that kind of faith. The world must look so different, through those eyes. ”

  I like this man. Once you break through his cool reserve, he’s . . . engaging. Intelligent. Even fascinating. He may be guarded, but it’s possible to get past his gates. I’ve only just begun learning who Jonah is, besides my ultimate sexual partner; now I realize I want to find out everything there is to know.

  Finally the shops begin to close, and Jonah drives me the short distance home. We don’t speak. I suspect Jonah’s mind is full of many of the same questions now rushing through my mind about what happens with us later. Can two people so sensually connected by a very specific fantasy have any other kind of sex? Am I ready to find out? Strange though it seems after everything Jonah and I have done, making love as ourselves—not playing any roles—feels far more intimate, and even more scary.

  But when Jonah walks to me to the door, he stops. “Aren’t you coming in?” I ask.

  “Not on the first date. ” At my surprise, he smiles that fierce, knowing grin that turns me to jelly. “What kind of man do you think I am?”

  I squeeze his hand. “You’re right. Wouldn’t want to rush things. ”

  “Wouldn’t be proper,” Jonah murmurs as he draws me closer. Two of his fingers trace along the side of my face, painting my skin with the warmth of his touch.

  “We couldn’t have that. ”

  “Absolutely not. ”

  “But what about kissing?” I tilt my face up toward his. “Do you kiss on the first date?”

  “Not usually. ” Jonah pulls me into his arms. “But sometimes I make an exception. ”

  He nuzzles my cheek, my chin. Tilts my head back slightly so he can brush his lips against my throat. I breathe out—a sigh that makes him tighten his embrace. My fingers stroke the back of his head, his short hair soft against my palms. Then I trace his neck and the broad planes of his back. I could worship this man’s body for hours. The powerful muscles I feel beneath my hands make him seem like he was created to give pleasure, or pain. Maybe both.

  When Jonah’s mouth meets mine, his touch is feather-soft. My entire body reacts—flushing warm, getting wet, wanting more. I part my lips, and he kisses me again. Only the tips of our tongues touch, but it’s enough to make me reel.

  But then he pulls away, his arms slipping to my sides, and I know he’s about to go. That’s all? I want to smack him. I want to kiss him again. And yet this is perfect. For our first date, we’re leaving each other wanting more.

  Jonah’s voice is husky. “I enjoyed tonight. ”

  “Same here. ”

  “We can do this again sometime?”

  “Sometime soon. ”

  He smiles, leans forward, and gently kisses my cheek. “Good night, Vivienne. ”

  “Good night. ”

  I don’t shut my door until he’s started his car. Once I’ve closed and locked it, I literally slide down to the floor. My laughter sounds giddy. What was erotic fascination has become infatuation—and I love it.

  How long has it been since I felt this kind of elation after a date?

  Never. Not unless you count the one kiss from that Barcelonan exchange student. This is about a thousand times better.

  I’m still beaming when I lie down in bed and turn out the light. It feels like I could even smile in my sleep.

  •   •   •

  Page 66

  My subconscious has other ideas.

  Someone’s knocking on the door. “I’m tired,” I moan. “I don’t want to come down for breakfast. ”

  The knocking continues. Gets harder and louder. It turns into pounding.

  “Jonah?” I sit upright, unsurprised to find myself back in my childhood room. My bedspread is trimmed with eyelet lace. The stuffed lamb I loved as a baby, Woolly Bully, still sits on a bookshelf, ratty and gray and yet adorable. “What are you doing here?”

  The next slam against the door makes the wall shake, and I hear someone roar, “Let me in!”

  That wasn’t Jonah.

  I scramble out of bed. In my haste I trip myself up in my own sheets and fall o
n the floor, so I try to crawl to the closet. If I hide in the closet he won’t find me—

  The door breaks, pieces flying against the wall. I scoot to the back of my closet, hanging clothes swinging against my shoulders and head, thinking, please no please no please—

  “You can’t hide from me,” Anthony says as he comes toward me. His fist closes around my wrist, and by now I’m screaming, but no one can hear. Nobody ever hears. “Come on. Get on the bed. Be a good girl. ”

  “I won’t,” I shriek. “I won’t—”

  Then I’m awake, in my own bed, gasping for breath. I realize I woke myself up screaming in my sleep.

  Twenty-one

  After that nightmare, sleep doesn’t come easy. I give up around six A. M. If I have to be awake this early, I might as well get in some more studio time.

  Carmen texts me around eight, supposedly just to see what’s up—but I know she wants to hear about my night with Jonah. I’m reluctant to explain, for a few reasons, but I’ve admitted he’s in my life. Besides, if I can talk Carmen into swinging by the studio to chat, I might be able to persuade her to pick up coffee on the way.

  “One café au lait,” she announces as she comes in the door. “So spill. Good date or bad date? Not a great date, I’m guessing, since you’re here instead of at his place. ”

  “Oh, come on. I don’t usually move that fast. ” Jonah doesn’t figure into the equation; he’s an outlier. “Just faster than you. ”

  “I can’t help it if I’m an old-fashioned girl. ”

  Carmen smiles as she says it, but it’s only half a joke. She dated the same guy throughout high school, and another guy through most of our undergrad years, so she has almost zero experience with sex outside a committed relationship. Not for lack of chances, though: Carmen gets more male attention than any other woman I’ve ever known. Cute as she is, she’d be the first to admit she’s not any kind of supermodel—but she radiates warmth and fun, which is more attractive than anything else.

  “Out with it,” she says as she perches at a drafting table in one corner. “What did you guys do? Were you able to get more than two words out of him?”

  “We went to dinner. It took the conversation a while to get rolling, but soon it was fine. Better than fine. Great. Jonah’s not cold or unfriendly. He’s guarded until he gets to know people, that’s all. ”

  Not really. Something else lies behind Jonah’s silences, his darkness—something that began at Redgrave House in Chicago. But I wouldn’t talk about that part of Jonah’s life even if I understood more about it. His troubled relationship with his family is none of my business, and even less of Carmen’s.

  “Who knew? I guess everybody has, I don’t know, hidden depths. ” She blows a bit of her cappuccino’s foam out of the way. “When did you get interested in him, anyway?”

  I’m torn. Carmen is my best friend; I don’t make a habit of lying to her, beyond the occasional fib like, You look fine, nobody’s going to notice you spilled coffee on your skirt. But how can I possibly explain the whole truth about this? The only two human beings who come anywhere close to understanding are Doreen and Jonah himself—and even those two don’t have the whole picture.

  Finally I decide to start at the beginning and see how far I get. “Well, you remember that I met Jonah when he changed a flat for me—”

  “Chivalry’s not dead!” Carmen chirps.

  I remember Jonah forcing me to my knees, growling, Look at me when you suck my cock. Even that quick flash of memory gets me hot. “Then he was at your party, thanks to Shay, and—” Maybe I can lead into the truth like this. “—after Geordie, uh, embarrassed me out on the deck, I was pretty freaked out. Then Jonah talked with me. Distracted me. ”

  Page 67

  “Oh, right. Arturo said Geordie started oversharing about your relationship. What did he say?” Carmen’s eyes widen. “Did Geordie talk about your sex life?”

  Dammit. I thought every single person at that party knew! That was the reason I hid out at the far end of the yard in the first place. When so many people heard Geordie drunkenly apologize for not fulfilling my rape fantasy—well, I thought that was the kind of gossip that flowed through a party even faster than sangria. Arturo heard it, I know. But apparently nobody told Carmen.

  I ought to be grateful. Instead, I’m chagrined. If someone had told her the truth then, I wouldn’t have as much to explain now. I say, “Yeah. Geordie got seriously personal, and I was pretty embarrassed. ”

  Carmen shrugs. “Come on. You guys went out for more than six months. It’s not like people didn’t know you two were sleeping together. ”

  “That’s not the point. Geordie, um, gave specifics. ”

  “Oh, my God. Was he talking about your body? I would die. ” She gives me a look. “Do you think that’s why Jonah got interested in you? Because that would weird me out. ”

  I can’t tell her. I can’t. Carmen’s so far from realizing what I’m talking about, and I don’t want to bridge the gulf between her relative innocence and the kind of kink Jonah and I have indulged. Explaining feels impossible . . . or, at least, uncomfortable. “Not quite like that,” I say, not meeting her eyes. “Jonah didn’t want me to feel embarrassed. So we wound up, uhh, talking when we saw each other at the charity benefit. And guess what? At the silent auction, he actually bought my etching. ”

  “No way! Really?”

  I smile back. “Even better, he decided to bid on it before he knew it was mine. ”

  Then Carmen and I are talking easily about the fact that Jonah’s interested in my art, and how cool that is, plus it’s pretty hot for a guy to be flying all around the world to study volcanoes, and so on. I ask her whether she’s made a move on her latest crush, but she claims she’s too busy with schoolwork. Has she suddenly turned shy? Maybe this particular guy brings out her bashful side. Our conversation widens as we spiral further away from the dark truth I’d rather not tell.

  Doreen’s voice echoes in my memories. Pay attention to the secrets that you keep. You don’t have to share everything with everyone—but sometimes the very things you hide are the things you least need to keep locked inside.

  The secret Jonah and I share is different. Surely it belongs to us alone.

  •   •   •

  Carmen has a ten A. M. class, so before long she’s headed to campus, as blissfully ignorant of my warped sex life as ever. I need to get into the departmental office soon, so I should follow her, but I linger awhile, restless and unable to focus.

  Instead I pace the length of the studio. People will start coming in soon, but for another few minutes, the space is mine alone. My footsteps on the concrete floor echo in the empty space. The air smells like paint. I’m surrounded by drafting tables, a potter’s wheel, easels, X-Acto knives, pots of ink. A few long poles stretch from floor to ceiling, lingering evidence of the spiral staircases that were here back when this was a warehouse. Masking-tape labels proclaim this brush or that canvas to be the property of one of the artists who pays for the studio’s use.

  I wish the studio belonged to me. Only me.

  Because then I could ask Jonah to meet me here.

  He would rip open my work shirt. Cover my mouth with his hand. Thrust against me so that I felt the length and hardness of his erection against my belly. I imagine him using the ragged remains of my shirt to tie me to one of the poles—pulling so tight I can almost feel the pressure. My breaths quicken as I imagine him taking one of the artists’ knives and cutting away my jeans and panties. Then he could force my legs apart and—

  “Hey!”

  Startled, I spin around to see Marvin—a painter, one of my fellow TAs at the UT department of art, and the guy who told me about this studio in the first place. “Oh! Hi. Hi there. How’s it going?”

  “Fine. ” Marvin gives me a look as he hangs his messenger bag on one of the wall hooks. “You okay?”

  “Sure! Of course. ”
<
br />   “You look a little flushed, that’s all. ”

  “Just got done working hard. ” Wow, that could not have sounded less convincing if I’d tried. Hastily I head for my own bag. “Heading out. Anything you need me to take care of at the office?”

  Marvin shakes his head, bemused. “It’s all good. ”

  Page 68

  Honestly, I think as I drive to campus. You went out with Jonah. You’ve told your friends. The two of you are—normalizing this.

  He’s not your mystery lover anymore.

  But the whole day, I can’t stop thinking about Jonah. Not the conversation we shared—not the tender kiss at my front door—but endless fantasies, overlapping each other and blurring every other thought I have. Over and over, I imagine him taking me as roughly and brutally as possible.

  Concentrate! I tell myself, as I sit through a department meeting, as I grade papers, as I talk to Geordie on the phone about a mutual friend’s birthday dinner. It doesn’t help. My erotic imagination has taken over, and there’s no room left in my head for anything else. Even when I guest-lecture in the Renaissance Sculpture class, I linger too long on the slide of Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. It’s as if I’m drinking in her fear, his lust, and her hands reaching skyward for escape.

  I want Jonah to chase me. To catch me. I want it now.

  As I walk back to my office after class, my phone vibrates in my hand. I’m expecting Geordie to call back with the final word on the restaurant, so—for once—I don’t look at the screen before I answer. “Hello. ”

  “Oh. Vivienne. ” Chloe sounds dismayed to have gotten me instead of my voice mail. That makes two of us. “How are you?”

  “Fine. And you?”

  “Very well, as it happens. ” As if you care remains unspoken. “Mom’s decided to get rid of the armoire on the second floor. You know, the one that used to belong to Aunt Mignon? It would look just perfect in my guest room . . . but of course I’ve taken the last few heirlooms. So I thought I ought to ask you whether you were interested before I became greedy. ”

  Sounds generous, doesn’t it? Of course, Chloe’s fully aware that I live in a two-room house that barely has room for my books, much less more furniture. “You should have it,” I say. “Besides, then the armoire will be Libby’s someday. ”

 
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