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Begging for it, p.1
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       Begging for It, p.1

          part  #2 of  Asking for It Series  by  Lilah Pace / Romance & Love
Begging for It
Page 1

Prologue

I’m ashamed of what I want.

I want it anyway.

Although I’ve tried to break the habit, it never works. Sometimes I indulge in fantasies that would bring most women over the edge. A hot guy with his face buried between my legs, his muscular arms wrapped around my open thighs; that sexy professor from my undergrad poli sci class, bending me over the desk in his office; even Robert Downey, Jr. , and Chris Evans inviting me into an Avengers three-way and proving they have superpowers of their own.

None of it gets me off. Every time, my fantasies ultimately bring me back to my most secret shame. The hands that caress me hold me down; the moan of satisfaction I imagine turn into screams for help, screams no one hears. As the fantasy becomes more savage, more brutal, I glory in it more and more.

And in the end, I only come when I imagine being raped.

I loathe this about myself. Rape is a vicious criminal act, one that makes the victim feel like a hollowed-out, broken thing; I should know. Countless self-help books, sex toys, and therapy sessions have taught me more about why I have these fantasies. They’ve also taught me that lots of people get off on this—female and male. But my desires still betray me, own me.

For a long time I kept my needs secret. My boyfriends had no idea what I was imagining behind my closed eyes while they were inside me. Once I tried to tell my ex-boyfriend Geordie about it—lightly, playing it as no more than a kinky whim—but that was a kink we didn’t share. He couldn’t go along, not even for me, and I wound up feeling humiliated and even more ashamed than before.

But I’m glad I told Geordie. Because in a drunken haze at a party months later, he blurted out my secret. Most of the people who overheard him snickered or leered, knowing only that I wanted to try something crazy in bed.

One man heard the truth even Geordie hadn’t understood. One man realized exactly what I wanted, and how I wanted it.

Jonah Marks understood because he wanted it too.

We began a sexual relationship built on our shared secret. At first we tried to remain unknown to each other, coming together only as strangers, to intensify the fantasy. Jonah understood what I needed and how to give it to me. He let me become a victim; I let him become a monster. And yet we always stayed within the limits we’d set. He understood how to walk the line that let me feel scared and safe at once.

Over time, though, we were no longer strangers. We knew only one thing about each other—but it was the most intimate thing anyone could know. We had looked into each other’s souls.

Finally we saw too much. Saw the truth. Jonah pulled back. Now he’s lost to me—for now, and maybe forever.

But not if I can help it.

One

Normally I don’t worry much about walking across campus to my car. My schedule as a graduate teaching assistant allows me to leave before dark most of the time, and the University of Texas at Austin is one of the biggest colleges in the nation, meaning people are usually around.

However, this is the Saturday night after Thanksgiving. Most students are still at home with their families. Professors too. Me, I left New Orleans sooner than I’d planned. The enormous pile of research papers I had to grade could’ve been split into a couple of days’ work, but I was close enough to finishing this evening to keep on to the end.

That’s why I’m walking across a nearly deserted campus, not far from downtown, at 11 o’clock at night.

A white truck drives along the nearest road. Its headlights sweep past me, and I blink against the glare. For a moment I think the truck might be about to stop, and I wonder if it’s stopping for me. But then it drives on¸ and I breathe out a sigh of relief.

The world spends so much time telling women how not to be raped—more time than it spends telling men not to rape. So I remind myself that I know what to do. I keep my head up. I look around me so that I’m alert and aware of my surroundings. No earbuds to deafen me to the sound of approaching footsteps, no phone in hand to distract me with texts or games. What I’m wearing shouldn’t attract undue attention: denim skirt, wine-colored cardigan. And I’ve got on flats I could run in, if I had to.

And I also know to meet the eyes of any man I see, so he’ll realize I’ve registered his presence. That I could identify him later.

Which is why, when I hear the dull thud of boots on the ground near me, I turn my head—and stop in my tracks.

The man walking so close is tall, six-foot-two or -three. Muscular too, as his low-slung jeans and tight-fitting shirt reveal. Yet he’s not some bodybuilder type; his waist is almost impossibly narrow beneath such broad shoulders, his neck long. His proportions suggest both brutality and fragility. One glance would tell anyone this man is stretched to the breaking point, and make you wonder what he’d do if he broke. In the bluish glare of the streetlight, his features are almost too beautiful to be rugged, but not quite. Straight nose, high cheekbones like slashes, his thin-lipped mouth set in a firm line. One of his broad hands could circle my throat. The description for the police would begin Caucasian, fair skin, dark hair cropped short, clean-shaven. His eyes are the shade of steel. Page 2

And they are locked on me.

I felt so sure of myself a few moments ago. So strong and prepared. Now I see myself as an attacker would. A woman in her midtwenties, all alone, weighed down by a messenger bag stuffed with seven pounds of papers. The bag’s strap cuts diagonally across my torso, pressing my sweater tightly against my breasts. Nobody else is within sight or hearing. My car must be at least a hundred feet away.

If he wanted to come at me, nobody could stop him. Not even me.

“You’re out late,” he says, his deep voice tight. Tense.

“Well, you know. ” The kind of meaningless nonstatement we all make to strangers. I shrug the messenger bag behind me. I could run easier that way. But the strap only twists my cardigan, sliding the hem up enough to bare a few inches of my skin to the cool night air. Our endless Texas summer has finally ended; the chill has come.

But I’m not shivering with the cold.

It’s anticipation.

“Girls shouldn’t walk around outside late at night,” he says, stepping closer. The streetlight elongates his shadow; the dark line of it slices across the ground between us. “It’s dangerous. ”

“Walking isn’t dangerous,” I retort. “People are. ”

His voice deepens further, almost a growl. “Yes. So why are you out here?”

“I’m going to my car. ”

“You could’ve gone home anytime you liked. ” He’s speaking to me stranger to stranger, like a naughty little girl he has the right to chastise. “But you stayed late, on purpose. So you could walk out here all alone. ”

My breath catches in my throat. The mood between us shifts by the instant.

And then it turns sharp as a knife as he finishes, “Some people would say you were begging for it. ”

The possibilities multiply within my mind, a pornographic kaleidoscope. He could force me into his car, or mine. Hold me down in the backseat, rip off my panties, and fuck me senseless. Or maybe he’ll play it cooler, offer to give me a ride on a cold night, swear to act like a gentleman. But instead of dropping me off as he’d promised, he forces his way into my house, ties me up, and does whatever he wants with me, for hours. He could even drag me down right here.

Any other woman would go for her phone. Or scream. Or run.

Instead I stand there, drinking him in. The other edge of fear is desire, and it’s desire that has me now. Not only desire—lust. I don’t care how cold the night is; I don’t care how dangerous it would be. I just want him, so badly I’ll do anything.

And he wants me just as much. I can tell by the way his jaw clenches, by how he keeps trying not to look at me but still can’t resist.

We have become hunter and prey.

Come on, Jonah, I think as I look at the man I have feared and fought and maybe begun to love. Let go. Take me.

He takes one step forward—and then we both freeze as the white truck circles around again and stops nearby. Someone leans out the open driver’s side window; through the glare of the headlights I recognize a friend of a friend, this guy named Mack. “Hey, Vivienne!” he calls. “You need a ride to your car?”

“I’m good!” I answer. I would’ve turned the ride down no matter what. Mack’s always struck me as the stereotypical frat bro, hardly my type. Then again, when he saw me walking around alone and vulnerable late at night, he tried to help out. Maybe I misjudged the guy.

Doesn’t change the fact that right now I could scream at him for interrupting Jonah and me.

Mack simply waves before he puts his car back in drive and heads out, leaving me alone with Jonah again. But it’s too late.

The spell has been broken, the game ended. I look into Jonah’s eyes and what I see there is not desire. Not only desire, anyway. What I see most strongly is pain.

Very quietly he says, “We’re not doing this. I’m sorry. ”

Damn it. “You started it . . . ”

“Because you make me lose control. ” Jonah half-turns from me, giving the lie to his own words. This man has iron self-control. I wish he didn’t. “Vivienne, you know why we have to stop. ”

“You’re the one with the—” But what do I say? Hang-up is too trivial; problem too judgmental. The truth would be closer to wound, or scar. Yet the last thing he wants is my pity.

More resolutely, he continues, “I can’t play for a while. Maybe not ever. I don’t know. ”

Not ever? He can’t think like that. We’ll never find an answer if he’s not even looking for it. “Jonah—”
Page 3

“I just can’t do it to you. Not knowing what I know. ” His shoulders slump, like he’s been carrying a tremendous weight for far too long. “It changes things. ”

“You’re not protecting me with this, you know. Maybe you think you are, but all you’ve done is make me ashamed. ” Jonah Marks was the first person who ever got me past that shame, who gave me the freedom to own my desires. Having that ripped away from me aches with an almost physical pain.

“Vivienne—”

“You decided I’m too fragile to touch. Which is what broke me. ” My voice cracks. “Ironic, huh?”

I walk past him, hurrying to my Honda Civic. I toss the heavy messenger bag in ahead of me, get in, slam the door. Jonah stands in the distance—watching me to make sure I get in the car safely. He punishes me and protects me; that’s the paradox of the man.

That same paradox is now tearing both of us apart, from each other and within ourselves.

As I put the car in reverse and pull out, I catch one last glimpse of Jonah in the rearview mirror. He’s staring after me with an expression so bruised that, despite my anger, my heart hurts for him.

But whatever he’s feeling isn’t enough to make him come after me, and I drive off into the darkness alone.

Two

My therapist deserves a raise.

Doreen leans back in her easy chair. “Are you surprised your meeting with Jonah didn’t end the way you wanted?”

“It began the way I wanted, and then we got interrupted. ” Jonah wanted it as badly as I did, if not more. I know that in my bones. “But I should’ve realized he wouldn’t follow through regardless. ”

“Why so?”

“Because I thought he’d put aside all his misgivings so we could fix our problems with sex,” I say. “When our problem is the sex. ”

“Is it?”

“Jonah thinks so. ”

I curl my sock-clad feet under me on the sofa. Doreen makes her patients leave shoes at the door, probably to make us feel less formal, more comfortable. It works too. None of the other psychologists I’ve talked to over the years were able to put me at ease, but Doreen’s practice is different. Her office is a sunny, cozy room in the corner of her house. Instead of the usual diplomas and certifications on the walls, she decorates with thriving houseplants and African art.

We broke off our sessions for a few weeks, just before Jonah and I hit the shoals. Doreen prodded me a little too hard about my fixation on my rape fantasy. I didn’t want to hear it; honestly, I still don’t. But when I came back to her, she understood. Doreen’s wise enough to know when to let something go for a while, and when to remain quiet so that I’m forced to find the truth that fills the silence.

Which is what she’s doing now.

“Jonah and I have both struggled with our fantasies. Neither of us has ever come to peace with what we want, or why we want it. But when we were together, living it out—I didn’t feel so guilty and ashamed anymore. Jonah was so careful to make me feel safe. We set our boundaries, and he never, ever violated them. He never would. So when I was with him, I could let go. Completely. ”

Doreen nods. “You established trust and intimacy. ”

“We thought we were being so smart,” I murmur, almost to myself. “Like we could wall off that part of our lives and preserve the fantasy. But we didn’t understand what we were getting into. ”

That first night together had been brutal, terrifying, and perfect. Jonah had wrecked me—ripped my clothes from my body, forced me to my knees, thrown me down onto the hotel room desk, and fucked me mercilessly. I came harder than I’d ever come in my life, crying out even as he pounded into me. The sound had made him laugh in triumph. In that moment, Jonah owned me, and he knew it.

But afterward, as I trembled and struggled to catch my breath, Jonah had held me tenderly. He’d brought me water, made sure I was okay, and gave me one of the gentlest kisses I’ve ever known.

That kiss was my first hint that I’d found more than my ultimate sexual partner. In Jonah I had discovered something far more rare.

“So you expanded that relationship,” Doreen says, bringing me back to the now. “It seemed to be working for a while. ”

“When he came home to New Orleans with me, it changed everything. ” I sit up straighter, energized by the memory of righteous anger. “It wasn’t just that he was there for me when we were so scared about Dad—I mean, it was that too. But Jonah stood up to my family. He saw through the lies. For once, just once, finally someone was on my side and it made all the difference in the world. ”
Page 4

“Your family betrayed you. ”

Doreen is simply telling the truth. Yet even after all these years I find it hard to put it that bluntly. Instead I shrug, folding my arms atop my knees. “They took Anthony’s side. ”

She shakes her head. “They took their own. The side of convenience and luxury and denial. They chose to believe what was easy instead of what was hard and true, and they didn’t give a damn about what it did to you. ”

Even Doreen has rarely put it that harshly before. I find it bracing. “Jonah saw the truth without having to be told. He believed in me implicitly. I’ve been waiting for that my whole life. So why did that truth have to be the exact thing that drove him away?”

“Because Jonah was uncomfortable living out rape fantasies with someone who had actually been raped,” Doreen replies firmly.

I duck my head so I don’t have to meet her eyes. “We set our boundaries. He made it okay for me. So why isn’t that enough for him?”

“Boundaries protect both the person who sets them and the person who obeys them. When Jonah learned the truth about you, he needed to redraw the lines. ”

“The lines he’s drawn now keep us apart. ” My frustration boils over, and I wrap my arms around myself as if that could keep the agitation inside. “It’s like we always said—I want to be a survivor. Not a victim. But that’s what I am to Jonah now. Just a victim. ”

“I doubt it’s that simple. His feelings about this are bound to be complex. After all, he’s a survivor too. ”

Jonah was never raped. Never molested. What happened to him was stranger, and maybe even sicker.

We’ve traveled parallel paths, he and I. We were betrayed by those who should have protected us. We’ve fought for our sanity and won. We’ve dealt with the dark desires spun from our worst secrets and found ultimate pleasure in them, together.

Yet what we shared is also what has torn us apart.

Doreen says, “How are the other people in your life reacting to the split? As I recall, you’d just introduced Jonah to your friends. ”

Despite everything, I laugh. “I don’t think any of them have noticed. ”

Not because they don’t care—because all our lives turned upside down at once, in different ways.

Times like this make you believe in astrology. Mercury in retrograde.

•   •   •

Later that day, I walk into the Mullins Recovery Center, an outpatient facility on the far south side of town. Although I’m casually dressed in skinny jeans and a drapey black sweater, I feel conspicuous anyway. You don’t enter Mullins unless you’re an addict or somebody who cares about an addict very much. This isn’t a place I ever expected to be. But I guess that’s true for everyone who comes here. Nobody plans to become an alcoholic, or to love one.

Certainly nobody plans to be her ex-boyfriend’s main support system more than six months after the breakup. Yet here I am.

Geordie emerges from one of the long corridors, the rubber soles of his Chucks squeaking against the linoleum. As these kinds of facilities go, Mullins is top notch. Still, there’s that slightly depressing, antiseptic quality to the furnishings, even to the scent of the air. It seems to me that Geordie looks . . . faded.

That’s exhaustion, I remind myself. He’s doing hard work, and his body is fighting to recover from abuse. Of course he’s not going to be his usual self.

Then again, I might not even know Geordie’s real self. In some ways, I am only now meeting him, the person he could be without alcohol.

“Bless,” he says, his Scottish accent stronger than usual as he comes up and busses me on the cheek. “You not only came, you came early. ”

“Hey, you said you needed a ride. ”

“Still, thank you. ” Geordie zips his fleece jacket as if he already feels the outdoor chill. “I’m not sure my ego could’ve taken the bruising if I’d had to call a taxi to pick me up from the drunk tank. ”
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LILAH PACE SERIES:

  • Asking for It
  • His Royal Secret
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