Asking for it, p.3
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       Asking for It, p.3

         Part #1 of Asking for It series by Lilah Pace
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  “Brilliant. ” Geordie lived in Inverness until he was sixteen, and occasionally his accent and slang give him away. “The internship went great. Seriously, beyond my wildest expectations. We won amnesty for four immigrants in danger of exportation to home countries where they’d have been killed, either for political protests or sexual orientation. Four in three months! The wheels of justice rarely spin so fast. ”

  Most young attorneys who return to law school for an LLM do it to make even more money; Geordie’s getting his LLM so he can better help people. I don’t regret breaking up with him, but it’s good to be reminded of what I liked about the guy in the first place.

  Plenty of the eyes watching us are female. More than one woman at this party hopes to make sure I’m out of the picture with Geordie, so she’ll have a shot at climbing into the frame. He’s handsome—okay, adorable—with floppy brown hair, puppy-dog eyes, and a smile that can be warm, or sly, or both at once. With his white oxford shirt unbuttoned at the neck, sleeves rolled up, his frame looks less skinny, more wiry. He’s the ideal hero of a romantic comedy.

  Page 9

  But my life isn’t a rom-com, and it never will be. That ship sailed long before Geordie came along.

  Besides, standing within arm’s length of Geordie does less for me than just glancing across the room at Jonah Marks.

  Again I look toward the corner where I saw Jonah last, but he’s not there. Did he leave the party already?

  If he did, I ought to feel relieved. I don’t.

  Time to focus on Geordie again. “Good for you,” I tell him, meaning it.

  We chitchat about his time in Miami for a while, then go our own ways within the party. I manage to dodge Arturo’s old roommate, Mack, who always stares at my tits; he’s one of those jocks with a thick neck and square head, like a canned ham in a Longhorns T-shirt. For a while I get to talk with Kip, the department secretary in my section of the art department, but then he receives some urgent text that sucks him into the cell phone dead zone. Mostly, even though I ought to be mingling and meeting new people, I hang out with Carmen. We’re best friends for a reason, and besides, she has a new crush to describe in detail.

  As for my crush—if you can use such an innocent word for what Jonah Marks does to me—I refuse to let myself look for him again. Nor does he seek me out. Either Jonah’s on the patio or he blew out of here early, because I don’t see him once.

  What I do see is Geordie going back for a third glass of sangria.

  And a fourth.

  And a fifth. That’s assuming I didn’t miss any refills, and I might have.

  It’s on the fifth sangria that Geordie stumbles into the coffee table. A few people’s drinks slosh onto the carpet, which makes Carmen swear under her breath; one of the candles rocks but doesn’t fall over to start a fire. Barely.

  People laugh, but there’s an edge to it. Geordie’s drunker than anyone else at this party, by far.

  “Hey,” I say to him as gently as I can. “Let’s get you some air. ”

  Even as she dabs paper towels against her carpet, Carmen defends Geordie. “It’s all right! The rug’s dark. It won’t even show. ”

  “No, Viv’s right. She’s right. ” Geordie must be smashed; otherwise he’d never risk my wrath by calling me Viv. “We should all listen to—to Viv—a little more often. ”

  I get up and sling one of his arms around my shoulders. If he or anybody else misinterprets this, it’s on them.

  “Why don’t I listen to you more?” Geordie stumbles against me, but I manage to keep us upright. “You’re always so smart. ”

  “That’s me. The genius. Come on. ”

  With my free hand I slide the glass door open and guide him onto the brick patio. Only a few people linger out there now, and I pay attention to none of them. Instead I get Geordie to the ice chest, where—amid several bottles of beer—I find a Dasani for him.

  “Drink this, okay? You need to drink nothing but water the rest of the night. You should eat something too. ”

  Geordie clasps the bottle of water, but he doesn’t take a sip. Instead he gives me this sad smile. “I should’ve tried harder with you. I should’ve made it work. ”

  Is he going to cry? Damn, Geordie’s a sloppy drunk.

  He just keeps talking. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be the partner you wanted me to be. ”

  “It’s okay. Really. Please drink some water. ” I prop him against the patio table. Around us, a few people are snickering at Geordie; I’m still loyal enough to feel angry on his behalf.

  “I mean, it’s for the best. I know that. I do. But it hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?” Geordie’s slurring now. “We should’ve had more fun while we could. ”

  “Less fun,” I say. “More water. ”

  Finally Geordie takes a sip, but it doesn’t shut him up for long. “I just couldn’t do that for you. Any of it. And, oh my God, I feel so bad about the rape thing—”

  He did not say that. He did not start talking about this in public, at a party, with strangers standing around listening.

  Except he did.

  My face goes cold with shock, then hot with shame, as Geordie continues. “I mean, kink yay, right? Everybody should love kinks. And you get to have yours! You do. But it’s not my kink. At all. Playing rapist freaks me out. But I shouldn’t have been such a dumb cunt about it. ”

  “We’re not discussing this here,” I manage to say. “Please stop. ”

  It hits Geordie then, where we are and what he’s done. The impact gets through all the booze. He sucks in a breath. “Oh, fuck. ”

  Page 10

  I don’t want to look at the faces of the people standing around who just heard that, but I can’t help it. A few of them look shocked. Others look amused. That creeper Mack leers at me in a way that makes my skin crawl.

  Worst of all is the one face that remains impassive—Jonah Marks, only a few feet away, who must have heard every word.

  Four

  Once, when I was thirteen, the bloody string of my tampon somehow hung out from the edge of my swimsuit. Jackson Overstreet—who I thought was so cute, with his blond hair and blue eyes, the boy I hoped would be the first guy ever to kiss me—he saw the string, pointed it out to everyone at my friend Liz’s pool party, and laughed the loudest of all. Given how many people were shrieking in laughter at once, that was a hard competition to win. Jackson won it hands down. Since then I’ve believed that moment would probably be the single greatest public humiliation I’d ever feel.

  Turns out it wasn’t even close.

  I stand at the edge of Carmen’s yard by the tall wooden fence. The noise and light of the party are as far away as possible, which isn’t nearly far enough. What I want most is to leave. But to leave, I’d have to walk through the crowd, and I’m not ready to do that yet.

  Footsteps in the grass behind me make me cringe. When Arturo comes up beside me, though, his smile is kind. “You all right?”

  This is Arturo; I can’t lie to him. “If ‘mortally embarrassed’ counts as all right. ”

  “Don’t be like that. Everybody gets a little crazy in the sack once in a while, you know? I could tell you a few stories, if Shay wouldn’t kill me afterward. ”

  I give him a crooked smile. Probably everyone else who heard Geordie thinks what Arturo thinks: that he was talking about a bad night of role-playing, a one-time thing. They have no idea how deep this goes for me. To them it’s a tremor, not an earthquake.

  Arturo adds, “Geordie’s a dick. Carmen shouldn’t have invited him. ”

  “He was drunk. That’s all. ” I push my bangs back from my forehead. The night is sultry—hot and humid. “I’ll take it up with him later. You guys stay out of it. ”

  Arturo holds up his hands, a gesture of surrender, but I can tell he’s not ready to let Geordie off the hook yet. My adopted younger brother is more protective than any real older brother could ever be.
He’s slow to anger, but once he finally gets mad—watch out.

  Hopefully someone’s driven Geordie home by now.

  “You sure you’re okay?” he says.

  I nod. “Just give me a few more minutes, all right? By tomorrow maybe I’ll be able to laugh about it. ” Fat chance.

  “Sure thing. ” Arturo’s hand touches my shoulder, a comforting pat, before he heads back to the gathering.

  Nobody else knows the truth. If I’d been able to laugh off what Geordie said, chances are most people wouldn’t have thought much more about it. I’m making it a bigger deal than it has to be by staying away from everyone else, so I should knock it off. Probably Mack’s smarmy grin is the worst of the aftermath, and that’s already over.

  Geordie, you dickweed. I might keep Arturo from giving him hell, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to. You couldn’t have spent one single party drinking ginger ale?

  Footsteps on the grass again, but I don’t turn around. “I’m coming back in, really—”

  My voice trails off as I see who’s come to my side.

  Jonah Marks doesn’t look directly at me; he stares in the same direction I do, right past the fence, but there’s no missing the intensity of his focus. He is as vividly aware of me right now as I am of him.

  “Sorry your ex embarrassed you,” he says.

  “He, um, he just had too much to drink. ” I hug myself a little tighter. “Guess we’ve all been there. ”

  “I’ve never humiliated one of my lovers at a party. Have you?”

  Wow, thanks for describing it as humiliation. “I just meant, I’m not angry with Geordie. You don’t have to be either. ”

  Jonah doesn’t seem to think my take on this matters. “He should never have revealed something so private. ”

  I remind myself: a tremor, not an earthquake. “That was just one thing Geordie and I talked about, one time. Don’t read too much into it. ”

  My best bluff. I even manage a smile. Most people would believe it. Jonah doesn’t.

  “If it were no big deal, you wouldn’t be standing out here now,” he says. “I knew the truth as soon as I saw your face. You want that fantasy. You want it more than you’ve ever wanted anything else. ” He looks directly at me for the first time. “You hate it, don’t you? The fantasy. I do too. But it doesn’t change anything. ”

  Page 11

  I feel naked in front of him. Exposed, and vulnerable. I can’t think about what he’s saying; all I want is to get away. But Jonah’s presence—the sheer heat of him—holds me in place, trapping me. “You—I don’t want to talk about this with you. ”

  “I think you do. ”

  The presumption of the guy. “Excuse me?”

  He takes a sip from his wineglass, utterly unhurried, completely and maddeningly calm. Then he says, “I want to tell you this now—tonight, while you’re safe, and with your friends, and you know I’m not threatening you. What your ex said—if that’s the fantasy you want, I can give it to you. ”

  Did he just say that? He did.

  It’s like every sound turns into white noise. Like my brain won’t process words any longer. The shock is physical. “You—you didn’t mean—”

  “Rape as fantasy. You’d like to play one role. I’d like to play another. ” Jonah’s tone remains diffident, but his eyes tell another story. He stares at me so intently that I can’t help picturing him in the role he wants to play. “On your terms, and within your limits. But I think we could . . . satisfy each other. ”

  I can’t even answer him.

  Apparently I look as shocked as I feel, because Jonah says, “You’re safe. You’re with friends. Even if you were alone, you’d be safe with me. ”

  There are a thousand objections I could make, from long outraged diatribes to a slap on the face he’s surely earned. I go with, “I don’t even know you. ”

  “That’s going to make it better for you,” Jonah says. “With a boyfriend, you can pretend—but it’s a joke, really. A game. Not the fantasy you really want. Me? I’m nearly a stranger. I can do more than fuck you. I can scare you a little. Just a little. Enough to make it what you really want. ”

  I need to shut this down. “This is crazy. You know that, right? And it’s never, ever happening. ”

  “It’s your fantasy, and mine. Chances like this don’t come along often—two people twisted in the exact same way. ” Jonah smiles; it’s a fierce expression, rather than a friendly one. “If we don’t make something out of this, I think you’ll regret it. I know I will. ”

  I want to tell Jonah that he’s wrong. I want to tell him to fuck off. I want to make it clear that I’m not the twisted woman he described—but I can’t. This man has already seen right through me. “I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. ”

  “We can have a lot more than that. Think about it. ”

  I can’t help imagining it. Every fevered, violent fantasy I had about Jonah that night on the side of the road comes back to me, more vivid than most of my real memories. I wanted him to take me. Control me. Drag me down and force me.

  The whole time, he was fantasizing about doing that to me. Maybe more than I even dared dream. Out there in the dark, when I was at his mercy, that was what was going through his mind.

  Probably I should feel insulted, or scared. Instead I am powerfully, almost painfully turned on.

  Turned on is not the same as suicidal. I say, “There’s no way in hell I’m giving you permission to rape me. ”

  “That’s not what I asked for. I asked to play a role in your fantasy, just like I’m asking you to play a role in mine. Nothing happens you don’t want to happen. ” His gray eyes are unfathomable. “We can work out a few details in advance, for your protection. ”

  “Is this something you do with women?” I demand. Though I only mean it in terms of fantasy, I realize almost instantly that Jonah could have done this for real. I might be talking to a rapist. I could be a potential victim dangling in front of him like low fruit on a heavy branch.

  “A couple of ex-girlfriends tried to act scenes out with me, but it was never quite right. They didn’t want to play rough. ” His smile is as sharp and bright as a straight razor. “I think you do. ”

  That ought to scare the shit out of me, except—he’s right. I do want to play rough. I want the dirtiest, filthiest brutality, and I want it badly. Wanted it for so long. We still haven’t exchanged more than a handful of words, but I already realize that Jonah’s exactly the kind of man who’d give me what I need without any hesitation. Without mercy.

  I don’t want to want that. My fantasy is something I’m trying to escape from, not sink down into. If I try this and hate it, that would be beyond horrible. It might be as traumatic as a real rape, and I would have walked right into it.

  Page 12

  That’s not what scares me, though. What scares me is that I’ll try it and love it. Maybe I really am that fucked up.

  I’d rather not find out. “Listen. I realize this is—an offer. Not a threat. But we’re having an extremely unnerving conversation, and I wish we weren’t. ”

  Something subtle changes about Jonah’s expression. I remember the way I was thinking about him earlier tonight—that this was a man who could be broken. Some of that vulnerability is visible now, if you look hard. “I would never force a woman against her will. Never. If someone held a gun to my head, I’d tell him to shoot. That’s not a line I’d ever cross. ”

  “But you fantasize about raping women. ”

  He raises an eyebrow. “You fantasize about being raped. You know the line between dream and reality. So do I. ”

  How can he not see how different it is? My fantasy comes from a very dark place, but a very real one. For Jonah, this is probably just a way to get off.

  I should walk away. I should suck up my pride, go back into the party, grab my purse and keys, and get home as fast as I can. Tomorrow I ought
to call Shay and tell her not to invite Professor Marks to any more parties.

  Instead I stand there, breath catching in my throat. Jonah’s eyes crinkle at the corners, a smile too dark to show. He knows exactly how aroused I am. The shame I feel is just fuel for my desire.

  “What about you?” Jonah says. “Have you done this before? I doubt it. ”

  Not the way he’s talking about. “No. ”

  He cocks his head, studying me intently. “We could start slow. Not too much at first. We’d work up to what you really need. ”

  Jonah knows what I really need. And I can’t stand him knowing.

  “This is crazy. ” I tuck a few strands of hair behind my ears and straighten my camisole, trying to pull myself together. But I can’t help noticing that my nipples are obviously hard beneath the thin black fabric; even though I haven’t caught Jonah looking at my breasts, I know he’s seen that too. “Like you said, it’s just a fantasy. I think we should leave it there. ”

  “Too bad. Would’ve been a wild ride. ”

  It takes a lot of gall to be that confident about something this outrageous. To hell with being intimidated; to hell with being polite. “Where do you get off, asking me to do something that kinky when I hardly even know you? We’re supposed to make plans to fuck before we’ve even touched?”

  Jonah doesn’t answer at first. Then he cups my face in one hand, rough and possessive, and brings his mouth to mine.

  His kiss is hard. Insistent. His tongue pushes my lips apart. I don’t want to kiss him back, but I do. My head falls back as he steps closer, claiming me with an arm around my waist. I surrender to his touch. He wakes up every nerve in my body—like I hadn’t known I was sleepwalking until this second. Desire sears my mouth, my breasts, my cunt.

  Just when it feels like my knees might buckle beneath me, Jonah suddenly pulls back. It throws me off balance, and I nearly stumble. He must see that. He must see me flushed and breathing hard. This man already knows how much power he has over me, and he wants even more.

  Jonah says, “The ball’s in your court. ”

  With that he strolls back toward the house, like what happened is no big deal. I can only stand there and watch him go.

  Five

  I can’t sleep.

  Carmen’s party wrapped up a couple of hours ago. I made up for my freakout by staying until the very end, until I was helping Carmen scoop up beer cans and toss empty Tostitos bags in the trash. If anyone made a joke about anything, I laughed, even if I didn’t think it was funny. More sangria? Sure. The life of the party: That’s me. I pretended Geordie hadn’t spilled my secret, and for the most part people either didn’t know or didn’t care. The only one who put me on edge was Mack, who kept staring at me. Then again, Mack always stares.

 
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