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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

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“You heard me.” I propped myself up on my elbow, confused, because surely he couldn’t know what I’d done. “What are you talking about?” “You don’t have to fake an orgasm to keep my ego in check. I promise you, I can handle it.” “Oh.” Apparently he did know.

A little numb, I laid back down, then rolled over so that I was facing the wall rather than him.

“Why?” he asked. “Why not just tell me to stop? That you weren’t in the mood? Did you think it would piss me off?” he asked, and there was no disguising the harsh tone of self-disgust in his voice.

“No.” I spoke firmly, then rolled back to meet his eyes because he had to understand that it wasn’t him. “No,” I said again.

“Then why?” “Because you made me feel it.” His brow furrowed. “I’m not following you.” “Everything you did— everything you were doing— it felt amazing. Being awakened that way. The sensuality of it. The eroticism. I loved it.” “But?” I forced myself to go on.

“It kept building and building, like light and color converging on a point. Like what I imagine a star goes through before it turns into a supernova—everything being pulled inward and then getting tighter and tenser and fuller until it has no choice but to explode in this crazywild splash of light and energy.” I drew in a breath and shrugged. “At least, that’s what it feels like for me—an orgasm, I mean.” His lips twitched. “I got the orgasm part. Go on.” “I felt that—all of that.

With you, I mean. It was all there, every feeling, every sensation. Huge and wonderful and—I don’t know —earth-shattering. Except I couldn’t get there.” His brow furrowed again, and I knew he must not understand.

“It’s as if I’m one of those donkeys wearing the bridle with a carrot dangling in front. And I’m chasing that carrot, and I want it so badly.

Only I don’t realize that there’s no way that I can ever reach it.” I licked my lips. “Except I do realize that. Because I’ve chased that carrot before. I’ve felt it all get bottled up before. And I know that I could chase the carrot all night and I’d still never catch it.” “And so you faked it.” “I’m sorry. I—I guess I wanted to give you the part you were supposed to have.

Because you really did make me feel amazing. And if I just told you to stop, you’d never know that. And I wanted you to know.” I hesitated. “Does that make any sense to you at all?” He reached out and stroked my cheek, his expression so tender it made me want to cry all over again.

“Yeah,” he said. “I get it.” I exhaled, relieved. “But I am sorry. If I’d known that you could tell I was faking, I never would have.” I frowned. “For that matter, how did you know? Oh, god, can all men tell?” He actually laughed, which went a long way to making me feel better. “I don’t know about all men. I don’t even know if I could tell with another woman. The topic doesn’t come up often.

But with you I can tell because I watch you. Because I’ve seen you come three times now.” He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “You matter to me, Kat. And so I pay attention.” I blinked back tears, feeling somehow both humbled and special. “Oh.” He brushed the pad of his thumb under my eye. “Tell me why.” “I thought I just did.” “No, not why you faked it.

Why you had to. Tell me what happened to you.” I looked away, focusing on the orange glow of the morning light that was just starting to seep through the window. “Nothing happened.

I told you. That’s just the way I’m wired.” “Bullshit.” He cupped my face with his palm and turned me back to face him. “For something that has the potential to give us so much pleasure, sex can sure as hell mess us up. Tell me how it messed you up, Kat. And don’t lie to me.” I drew in a deep breath, not sure that I could talk about it. But this was Cole, and once I started to tell the story, it flowed easily.

“I guess when I said I’d never come with a guy, that wasn’t entirely accurate. I have once before.” I sucked in a breath and kept my eyes on his face. “I was ten,” I said, and saw him wince before he was able to hide the sting of emotion.

“Yeah, I know, right?

When I was ten and Roger was sixteen, we spent a lot of time together. Our parents were dating—working the grift together, really—and so when we traveled, they’d share a room, and put me and Roger in a connecting room.

They’d lock the door, of course. I didn’t really understand what they were doing, but Roger knew. And it got him worked up.” “What did he do to you?” Cole asked, the words so precise they scared me with their clarity.

I didn’t want to remember.

Didn’t want to go there. But it needed to be said, and Cole had a right to know what was wrong with me. And so I clenched my hand tight at my side, and began.

“I was clueless the first time it happened,” I said. “I’d gone to bed and Roger had stayed up to watch a movie— we didn’t usually stay in hotels where you could rent movies, and he’d been poking around in the R-rated titles. I don’t remember what he found. I don’t even know if it matters. All I know is that I’d fallen asleep. And then I’d awakened to this sensation— it was Roger’s fingers in my underwear.” “What did you do?” His voice was slow and even.

“Nothing,” I said, my voice low. “I was confused and scared and I just sort of stayed there. I was on my back, just sleeping in a long T-shirt and underwear, and so I just pretended to still be asleep.” Cole said nothing, but his body had gone tense, and I knew the signs of his temper.

If Roger had been in that room with us, I’m not entirely sure he would have been able to walk out of it.

“Go on,” Cole said, once the silence had hung between us for what seemed like forever.

“He—well, you know,” I said. “He touched me.” “Did he penetrate you?” I shook my head, drawing strength from the way Cole was keeping his own temper in check. I could talk about this, yes. But only if I could keep emotion out of it.

“No,” I said. “But he did other stuff. He played with me. Explored me. I’m not sure if he was just curious or if he was trying to get a reaction, but I kept my eyes closed and kept my breathing steady, and just pretended I was asleep. But I wasn’t.” I drew in a shuddering breath. I hated these memories. Hated going there. But I wanted Cole to understand.

Beside me, Cole took my hand. He said nothing, but that steady pressure was enough to urge me on.

“I could hear him breathing. And it started coming faster and faster, and the bed shook just a little.

And then he gasped and sighed, and then finally he went back to his own bed.” I pressed my fingertips to my eyes. “I didn’t realize until later that he was jacking off, but I do remember that I was scared. Not that he’d hurt me—not scared like that. But terrified that he’d know I was awake.” “You don’t have to go on,” Cole said. “If you don’t want to talk about it—” “No,” I said firmly. “I do.

I mean, I don’t. Not really. I wish I could tell you without telling you. But I want you to know. I want you to understand. And—and in some weird way it feels good to get it out.” “I’m glad,” he said, then squeezed my hand.

“Anyway, the next night we were still at that hotel.

And I tried to stay awake. I like to tell myself that I planned to scream at him to keep his paws off me, but that wasn’t the truth.” I pressed my lips together, then sucked in air for courage. “And this is the part I really hate, because the truth is that I was ten and that meant that I was a walking petri dish of hormones.” “And what he’d done was horrible, but it felt good.” I looked at Cole in wonder. “Yes,” I said. “Oh my god, yes. And as I laid there faking sleep, part of me was scared he’d do it again— but I think a bigger part of me was scared that he wouldn’t.” “That doesn’t make you bad,” Cole said. “You were a little girl.” “I know. I do. But...” I trailed off with a shrug.

“I’m guessing he didn’t keep his hands off you.” “You guessed right,” I said. “The next night he got into my bed again. And he touched me and teased me, and this time my fear was less. And that meant I felt more of what he was doing to me. And it felt pretty amazing, you know? All this incredible sensation that just flowed through me, building and building like roses climbing the wall of a sensual garden.” I looked at Cole, but he said nothing.

“I liked the way it felt,” I admitted. “And I liked that this was what grown-ups did.

And I liked that it made me feel special. But I also knew that it was bad. Shameful.

And that he was bad. But that I was worse for liking it.” “Jesus, Kat,” Cole said when I confessed that.

I shook my head. “I was a kid. I was just figuring stuff out. I’m telling how it was, not how it is.” I clutched tight to his hand. “But thank you.” I slid back into the memories. Back into the story. Whether by plan or luck, Roger never got me so worked up that I reached orgasm. But the nights became a ritual, and damned if I didn’t look forward to it.

“And then there was this one night. I don’t know why, but he touched me longer, and it all kept rising up, the way it does when you’re building, you know? And I was right there, and I could tell that it was different this time. And part of me was terrified and wanted it to back off. But another part of me wanted the feeling, because I could tell something was happening, and I wanted to know. I wanted to feel.” “You came,” Cole said, and I nodded.

“I tried to hold it in, but there was no way. I cried out, and my body shook, and when I opened my eyes, Roger was staring down at me.” I squeezed my eyes shut in defense against the memory. “He looked horrified. Disgusted. And I swear I’m surprised that his look didn’t reduce me to dust right then.” “Kat,” Cole said, then raised my hand to his lips and kissed my palm. That was all he did, but it was enough. It gave me the strength to finish.

“That was the last time he touched me,” I said. “If we hadn’t been traveling together, it would probably have been the last time he spoke to me. As it was, they were only with us for a few more months. I’ve never seen him again. I don’t even know his last name. But I guess technically, before you, I did come once with a guy. Thank you, Roger.” I shrugged, as if to suggest that this was all in the past and had no more effect on my day-to-day life than the price of Oreos in China.

Naturally, Cole wasn’t buying it. “Baby,” he said, then pulled me to him. He stroked me, telling me he was sorry. Making me feel cherished and special.

And, damn me, I started crying again.

“Sorry. Sorry,” I repeated, wiping the tears away. “I get weird when someone takes care of me. It’s not something I ever got used to.” “Your dad?” “I love him, but he was more of the self-sufficient variety.” “I’ve got you now,” he said, and made the tears start to flow all over again.

“It’s fear, I think,” I said, thinking about Roger and how he messed me up. “Fear that if I come, whoever I’m with will leave. Except maybe not,” I amended.

“Because you’re the only one I’ve ever truly cared about staying.” “I’m flattered.” I met his eyes. “It’s true,” I said, because I was going all in and putting my heart on the line.

“I’m right here,” he said, stroking my cheek. “And I’m not going anywhere.” I closed my eyes and breathed in deep, then turned my face so that I could kiss his palm. I felt warm and safe, and for the first time I was glad to be talking about all this junk in my life.

“Part of it’s guilt, too, I think,” I said.

“You have nothing to feel guilty about.” “But I do,” I countered.

“Because I liked it. I liked the way it felt when he touched me. I even...” I trailed off, then gathered my courage. I wanted this out. I wanted to slay these demons once and for all.

I sucked in a breath.

“There were even nights when I told him I was afraid of nightmares and asked if I could crawl into his bed. He always said yes, and I always went because I hoped—” “You wanted the feeling because it’s a good feeling.

But you knew he was doing something wrong, taking something without permission and taking it from a child who had no business consenting anyway.” He stroked my hair, twirling a blond curl around his finger. “You were a little girl whose body was awakening, and I know that you understand that. I know you don’t really think you have anything to feel guilty about.” “I do know that,” I said.

“But knowing and feeling are two completely different things. And my body hasn’t really caught up with the program. It doesn’t matter, though,” I continued. “Not anymore. You’ve got me past it over and over. That’s pretty amazing.” “You humble me, Kat.

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