Some secrets should only be shared in the dark.
Jonah and Vivienne’s erotic bond—living out raw scenarios of captivity and force—began as no-strings sex between strangers who shared the same desires. Now the intimacy between them is turning into love, but it’s a love built on fantasies so extreme that exploring them makes guilt inescapable. But the risks they're taking are far more dangerous than they'd imagined.
A stalker is terrorizing the city, and one of Jonah’s ex-lovers names him as a potential suspect to the police. Standing by a man under suspicion could cost Vivienne everything. But when Jonah’s stepfather takes advantage of the scandal to seize control of the Marks family fortune, Vivienne is drawn into her lover’s broken family and twisted past. Only then will she learn how dark the truth really is...
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.10(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Reader Advisory:Begging for It deals explicitly with fantasies of nonconsensual sex. Readers sensitive to portrayals of nonconsensual sex should be advised. See the back of the book for more warning details, which may contain spoilers.
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.
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.
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.
“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—”
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
The phrase drunk tank earns him a glare from the worker behind the reception desk, but it takes more than this to repress Geordie Hilton. He grins as the two of us head out, as if daring the day to knock him down.
When we get into my Civic, he immediately syncs his phone with the sound system, an old habit from when we were dating. I never minded, because Geordie has great taste in music and introduced me to artists I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. At the moment I also appreciate the moment it buys us—the opening for us to talk. “How are you doing?” I say.
Geordie pauses, phone in his hand. PJ Harvey’s bass beat begins to thump through the speakers. He glances over at me, his usual cheeky smile slightly . . . bent. “Don’t suppose you’ll let me get off with ‘fine, thanks.’”
“Not this time.”
He leans back in the passenger seat. Even the pale light of this overcast afternoon reveals the dark circles under his eyes, the new hollows in his cheeks. Geordie has gone from being wiry to being too thin. Only his floppy brown hair remains as rakish as ever; everything else about him is cast in shadow.
Finally Geordie says, “One day at a time. That’s what they keep telling us here. Over and over, until you think you’ll slap the next person who lets those words come out of his mouth. But they repeat it for a reason, don’t they? You really can’t look any further ahead. You try to get on top of things today, and leave tomorrow until it comes. So that’s what I’m doing.”
We’re silent for a long, awkward pause. Finally I manage to say, “The withdrawal—was it terrible?”
“They say I got off lucky. I didn’t go through DTs, which is the part of withdrawal that actually kills some people.” He sighs. “Me, all I had to deal with was vomiting, nausea, a bad case of the shakes, and a three-day-long anxiety attack. Imagine that party, if you will. But as of now, drumroll, flourish of trumpets, I have been sober for two whole weeks. Please, hold your applause to the end.”
“You’re trying to make it sound like it’s not a big deal.” I smile, partly to cover my horror at the thought of Geordie as sick and weak as that. Mostly, though, I’m smiling out of pride. “But you’re beating this. You really are.”
He shrugs. “Two weeks. No more than that.”
“No less than that either.” Surely the first few weeks are the hardest. Then again, I don’t understand how addiction works; it’s not one of my demons. I don’t want to take Geordie’s struggle for granted. “When I talked to you about this, I honestly didn’t believe you’d accept that you had a problem. Instead you took action, immediately. That takes a lot of courage, Geordie.”
He laughs ruefully. “You’re not the first person who ever brought up my drinking. Just the first one I could hear.”
I wonder who spoke to him about it in the past. How many friends or lovers might have fallen by the wayside because Geordie wasn’t ready to face the truth? “Then I’m glad you heard me.”
“All right then, enough of my dismal story. How are things with Arturo and Shay? I can’t believe I haven’t seen wee Nicolas yet.”
“We’ll change that,” I promise as I put the car into gear and pull out. “It’s crazy over there of course, but the baby’s so adorable. You just want to pick him up and smell his head.”
“Smell his head?” Geordie shakes his head in disbelief. He’ll see. “Did you go home for Thanksgiving?”
He grimaces. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. How many extra hours in therapy did that require?”
“It wasn’t bad this time, actually.” I can’t tell Geordie why things were better, because while he knows my family stresses me out, he’s never known the full story behind it. The fact of my rape is one I’ve shared with only a handful of people. So he couldn’t know what Jonah’s defense meant to me. “Dad’s recovering well; I wound up only staying a couple of days because Mom said they were finally getting ‘back in their routine.’ Anthony and Chloe went on some kind of trip, so it was just my parents, Libby, and me.” Finally I could’ve spent time with my family without Anthony, and this is the year my mom doesn’t demand I stay as long as humanly possible. Figures.
“Your sister and her husband went on holiday at Thanksgiving?” Geordie asks. “Left their daughter behind?”
“I know. It’s weird.” Especially given how hard a guilt trip Chloe gave me about coming home for Thanksgiving this year. Then again, she laid down that ultimatum before she finally heard Anthony admit part of what he’d done to me. No doubt neither of them wanted another confrontation so soon. It feels good knowing that, this time, they blinked first. “We had a low-fat, low-sodium meal because of Dad’s heart condition, ugh. But I sneaked Libby out for pecan pie the next day. So that pretty much counts as my best Thanksgiving in the past decade or so.”
“Beats the hell out of mine. I mean, my family, we’re Scots, so it’s not like we ever made a big deal of it even after we’d been living over here for a while. Sometimes Mum would buy a turkey at the grocer’s. End of story. But this year, I was at Mullins for the ‘celebration,’ and no, you cannot mock me for those air quotes, for they are well earned. If you ever want to taste the actual flavor of depression, I’m here to tell you, it’s reconstituted mashed potatoes at an alcohol-rehab facility.”
By now I’m giggling. “Was it that bad?”
“Says she who’s never eaten reconstituted mashed potatoes. Tastes like fake butter and failed dreams. And oh! They served some monstrosity called a turducken.”
“What are you talking about? Turducken is delicious.”
Geordie gives me a look. “Then why have I never heard of it before? What kind of animal is that even supposed to be?”
“They call it that because it’s a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey.”
“That’s supposed to be a holiday meal? Sounds more like a botched experiment by Doctor Moreau.”
It feels so good to laugh like this again. Geordie and I were always more friends than lovers, which is why we’re able to have this second act to our relationship. He needs a friend right now—and, in a smaller way, so do I.
As if he’d read my mind, Geordie said, “Did Jonah come home with you for Thanksgiving? You said he’d been down to New Orleans with you before.”
He speaks precisely, politely. It’s not that Geordie is jealous of Jonah, exactly; our breakup was mutual. But accepting the next guy is probably always awkward.
Or it would be, if Jonah were still in my life.
“He didn’t.” I despise the sudden brittleness in my voice. It makes me sound like my mother. “We’re—taking a break.”
Geordie gives me a sidelong look. “Is this a Ross-and-Rachel break? Or the more permanent variety?”
The only way to stop sounding like my mother is to do something she never does—tell the absolute truth. “I wish I knew.”
We fall silent, and the music on the stereo takes over. Geordie pats my arm once. It’s an awkward gesture, but I appreciate it anyway. These days, it helps to remember that I’m not alone.
• • •
Between my counseling session, picking up Geordie, and dealing with students’ last-minute, panicked e-mails about their impending final projects, I keep my mind occupied throughout the day. It’s when I go home at night that my imagination begins to wander in dangerous directions.
I live in the odd little zone between South Congress and First Street, which ought to be one of the most desirable spots in the city. But most of the houses here were built long before the restaurants and clubs came, before average homes had foyers, cathedral ceilings or master suites. We have small yards and wire fences. We have driveways instead of garages. My neighbors are a mix of older couples hanging on, would-be gentrifiers who always have a project in progress, and college students who hang obscure flags or beer signs in their windows.
My place is a notch above its surroundings, located close to my landlord’s grander house, which is one of the older ones in this area. I’ve wondered if it was intended as a guest house, or even servants’ quarters. No matter why this was built, I’m glad it’s mine. I love my tiny house of white brick, with tons of bookshelves (all of which I’ve filled) and a freestanding fireplace that doesn’t get much use. Bedroom, living room, the smallest kitchenette in the world and an even smaller bathroom—that’s it. When I’m in here, I feel like I’m in a snug little nest safely above the rest of the world.
Though, once, I let Jonah break in.
As I sit on my love seat, my e-reader dangles in my hand, almost forgotten. I can’t see the words on the screen, not while I’m remembering that night.
We always set the rules of the games in advance. Different encounters, different force, different ways. Once he pretended to be a not-so-good Samaritan, offering to help me change a flat but raising the price of his assistance second by second—from putting my hand on his cock all the way to spreading my legs for him in the backseat of his car while he fucked me senseless. Another time—he pretended to be a stranger at a charity event who tricked me into going backstage, then took me while he kept one hand firmly gripped around my throat. Each encounter was different. Each fulfilled a different kind of fantasy.
The night he broke in here, he mocked me. Humiliated me with my own sex toy. I fought him, cursed him out, and it didn’t make any difference. Jonah forced me to suck him off; he came in my mouth for the first time. By then I’d already had two orgasms myself and was . . . limp, almost weak in the aftermath. But I still relished drinking him down. He could’ve fucked me all night if he wanted. I wouldn’t have taken us out of the game. I would have been his victim, his slave. Just thinking about him taking control makes my pulse race. I feel it in my gut, in my throat, and between my legs.
Jonah, I think, flopping back onto the white cushions of my love seat. Why can’t you get past this?
But that’s not a fair question. We don’t always get to choose our own limits. If he can’t live out our fantasies after knowing what I’ve been through, then . . . that’s it.
I never let myself think that before. Despite the silence between me and Jonah, I’ve believed so strongly that we would find our way back to each other—that what we shared together would be more powerful than what was done to us. My belief alone isn’t enough, though. Jonah has to believe that too, and maybe he doesn’t.
That night on campus in my mind—the hope and desperation that must have been radiating from me, the hunger in his gaze as he checked out my short skirt, then the haunted look as he pulled away, unwilling to go any further.
Is that the last time we’ll ever be together? Is our ending so stunted and sad?
We deserved better than that. Both of us.
Tears well in my eyes. I haven’t let myself break down about this even once because I was so determined to believe Jonah’s withdrawal was a detour instead of a dead end. Now, though, I let it out, curling into a ball for a good long cry.
As I sob into the crook of my arm, I tell myself, let it go. But it’s too much to let go of. The weight of the fantasy, the guilt, my anger toward Anthony, and most of all Jonah and everything we might have been—so much more than partners in a fantasy—it’s more than I can lay aside in a night.
I do my best, though. I cry until I’m out of tears, and I lift my head from the damp cushion only to crawl into bed. By then my head aches from sobbing and exhaustion drags me down within seconds, into a sleep too deep for dreams.
The next morning, I awaken with still-swollen eyes and a dull dread at the thought of muddling through this day.
Which is why it’s so shocking to check my phone and find a message from Jonah.
He’s sent back to me the first words I sent to him: Let’s talk.
As I drive downtown that evening, I’m so nervous I can hardly pay attention to my surroundings. Maybe I should’ve called a cab. I pull up a mellow playlist, hoping the soothing tones of Norah Jones will calm me down.
But who am I kidding? Calm is not on the menu for tonight. I’ve missed Jonah so much, body and soul. It feels like I’ve waited years for this moment, not merely a few weeks.
We can work through this, I remind myself. Jonah finally sees that too. If he hadn’t, would he have reached out to you like this? You two have another chance. Don’t blow it by freaking out.
Just as I think this, my phone rings, and I patch it through the car system. Maybe it’s Jonah; I feel a stab of fear that he’s going to call the date off, say he can’t handle it after all.
When I hear who it is, however, I smile. “Vivienne, darling!”
Kip Rucker is our fine arts department secretary. He’s seventy percent ruthless efficiency, twenty percent sass, and ten percent omniscience. Even his new, red-hot romance with a bartender named Ryan hasn’t shaken his ability to turn around, transfer, or otherwise control pretty much anything at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s as if he has both Hermione Granger’s Time-Turner and Sauron’s all-seeing eye.
Luckily, Kip likes me.
“You are going to worship the ground I walk upon,” he continues. “Assuming you don’t already, which you should.”
“Of course I do. So why am I going to worship you even more?” I continue as I steer toward downtown Austin.
“Tanisha, my friend in the registrar’s office—”
Virtually everyone at the university is Kip’s friend . . . or, at least, owes him a favor.
“—she’s putting together the schedules, and thanks to my advice, a certain someone only has two class days per week next semester, and not a single reason to be on campus before one P.M.,” he finishes with satisfaction. “The adulation may now commence.”
“That’s fantastic!” I laugh out loud. “Oh, God, is this the part where you say I have to give you my firstborn child?”
“What on earth would I do with that? All I ask in return is your undying gratitude, of course. And a favor should I ever require one.”
“You’ve got it.”
“Any plans this evening?”
“Nothing in particular.”
I wish I could bite back the words as soon as I’ve said them. Lying to Kip never works. “Ohhhh,” he says, maddeningly knowing. “The combination of dishonesty and hesitation intrigues. Either you’ve found someone to make Jonah Marks jealous, or the elusive Mr. Marks has come to his senses of his own volition.”
“We’re not having this conversation yet.”
“Aha! He has come to his senses.” I can just imagine Kip’s face—half-expectant, half-ravenous, like a cat about to pounce. “Tell me all.”
“There’s not much to tell at this point, I swear. Don’t you have a hot boyfriend of your own to spend time with?”
“Come to think of it, I do. But don’t think this gets you out of explaining the entire thing the very next time I see you.”
“Good night, Kip.” I disconnect the call, and I realize I’m grateful for that brief interruption. Hearing from Kip was exactly what I needed to stop worrying. Now I can allow myself to look forward to this evening with Jonah. To talking with him again.
I can allow myself to hope.
• • •
We meet in the same hotel bar where we first got together to negotiate our arrangement. This is where we set our limits, where all the boundary lines are drawn.
Maybe we can demolish a few boundaries tonight.
Some hotel bars seem to be designed for conventions—long tables perfect for a dozen boisterous strangers wearing name tags, cutesy plastic drink menus in bright orange or green on every flat space. But this place? It’s meant for seduction. The lobby bar area is broken up into white-walled, nearly separate rooms lined with low couches the color of cream. Earth-toned pillows and carpet, plus the enormous blazing fire, give the space a sort of Arabian Nights feel.
Sunday night would be quieter here regardless of the week. Since this is the end of the Thanksgiving holiday, tonight I have the bar to myself—until Jonah walks in.
His dark V-neck sweater hugs the striking dimensions of his body—the wide shoulders, the long, slim waist. His wheat-colored trousers suggest his muscled thighs rather than revealing them, but suggestion can do a lot. His gray eyes sweep over me, reminiscent of the cool appraisal he’s given me so many times, always driving me wild.
Tonight, though, his gaze is shadowed. Raw.
Although this conversation is definitely just that—talk only, no games, no sex—I dressed to remind Jonah just what he’s missing. Tight black jeans, a nude camisole to create the illusion of bare skin beneath my slightly sheer red top, sky-high heels: The kind of thing that would normally turn him on. But when I sense the sadness within him, I feel foolish for believing a sexy outfit could fix anything.
Our problem isn’t a lack of attraction. Merely being in the same room together sets us each on fire.
Our problem is that this fire could burn us both down.
Jonah leans close enough to me that I think he might kiss my cheek, but he doesn’t. He sits just next to me, our knees almost brushing. I am so near I can smell the scent of his skin. When I breathe that scent again, it hits me how badly I’ve missed that. Him. Us.
“I’m sorry,” he says. Jonah’s not big on hellos or good-byes. “The other night—coming onto you like that—it wasn’t fair.”
“It would have been, if you hadn’t stopped.” I want him to know that it’s all right to touch me. More than all right. Begging for it, he said to me, and right now, I’d fucking beg if I thought it would help. It wouldn’t.
“Don’t.” He can no longer look me in the face. Instead his gaze falls on the bottle of wine I ordered for us—pinot noir, the deep red of it brought out by the firelight just beyond. Two glasses wait.
“I went ahead and ordered,” I say, slightly flustered by his silence. “I hope that’s okay.” We both know he doesn’t give a damn what we drink.
Jonah continues, “I should’ve said hello like a normal person. Walked you to your car. But the sight of you in that skirt—out there all alone—”
His fantasies all begin with a woman alone and vulnerable. That’s how my fantasies begin too.
When our eyes meet, I see the Jonah I know and want. The one he tries to hide from everyone else in the world but me. He whispers, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you all night.”
Heat flushes through me as I imagine Jonah back in his apartment, fist tight around his erection as he stands in the shower, jerking himself off to the memory of me that night. Maybe he envisioned one of the scenarios that tantalized me, like dragging me into my car, taking me on my own backseat. I think of his lips slightly parted as he breathes harder and faster—the water from the shower beading on his pale skin—the dark head of his cock sliding back and forth within his grip. When he did that, he was remembering me.
My power over him comes from my powerlessness in his arms. The paradox intoxicates us both.
I lean forward and pour us each a glass of wine. It’s not that I want to get him drunk, convince him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He’s respected my boundaries, and I want to respect his. But this is a difficult subject to discuss, even after months of living out our shared fantasies. The wine can only help.
We need a little lubrication, I think, a joke I can never share. My panties are already so wet just from the sight of him that I can feel the crotch of my jeans getting damp.
“Is that why you wanted us to meet?” I say. “Because you can’t stop thinking about me?”
Jonah breathes out, not quite a sigh. “Of course.”
Hope blazes brighter within me. “You’re ready to play our games again?”
His expression darkens. “That’s not what I said.”
Why? I want to plead. But we both know why.
In our last intimate conversation, Jonah finally told me the primal origin of his fantasies. He was born into so much privilege and wealth that he might as well have been a prince in a fairy tale: His mother, Lorena Marks, was an heiress, perhaps the richest and loveliest girl in Chicago’s upper crust, and his father, Alexander Marks, was a self-made man, the founder of Oceanic Airlines. Both Jonah and his little sister Rebecca were raised in Redgrave House, a mansion so baroque and beautiful that it’s a landmark known around the nation. They were dressed in velvet, tended by nurses, untouched by care.
But fairy tales always take a turn for the dark. Jonah’s father died, and his mother—perhaps weakened by grief—remarried. To the outside world, Jonah’s stepfather would have seemed to fit the role of king equally well. Carter Maddox Hale is a luxury hotel mogul who appears on the covers of magazines like Forbes. He brought with him two more children from his first marriage, a girl called Elise and a boy named Maddox. According to Jonah, the children all loved each other from their very first day together, and never called each other stepbrother or stepsister. The bond was as deep as blood.
Within Redgrave House, however, Carter Hale revealed his true self. The fairy tale shifted into reverse as the prince turned into a beast.
Carter raped his wife regularly, and brutally. That would be enough to make him a monster. But his needs were even more depraved. When Jonah was five years old . . . Carter began forcing him to watch.
Jonah might be made to stand against the wall; he might be commanded to climb in the bed and lie right next to them. Elise had to watch too, sometimes. He and Elise worked hard to make sure that Carter never turned on the younger two; I don’t even know if Rebecca and Maddox ever learned the truth. But Jonah feels that he kept them safe, that they’re not as twisted up inside as he will always be.
Because that was Jonah’s first impression of sex—violent, forcible, and merciless. Over and over, as a child, he would ask his mother what was wrong. Over and over, she refused to accept the truth of what was happening. Denial was easier for her. So she told Jonah that what was happening was normal between men and women.
He learned better, thank God. But the damage to his psyche was done. For him, the sights and sounds of force will always be arousing. He can’t change that any more than I can.
Rape was my first experience of sex too.
“Knowing that you’ve been hurt,” he says, “realizing what Anthony did to you—it changes things for me.”
I was so fucking happy when Jonah stood up to Anthony. He’d seen the truth hidden beneath our actions, the same truth my family refused to see even when I told them in plain words. Nobody had ever defended me; nobody had ever made Anthony back down.
If I’d known it would signal the end of my relationship with Jonah, I would’ve broken down and wept instead. I wouldn’t even have cared that Anthony was watching.
Jonah continues, “It used to turn me on so hard, thinking about you tied up, at my mercy. And now all I want to do is get between you and anyone or anything that could do you harm.”
Tears prick at my eyes. I’ve waited so long for someone to feel this way about me.
And yet I also waited just as long for someone to make love to me the way I really wanted—to accept me as I am, kinks and all. Will I always have to choose between the two?
“You know how much I need this,” I whisper.
But he shakes his head. “There can’t be anything that either of us wants in bed as much as we need each other.”
I can’t argue with that. I don’t want to. Jonah’s voice has become ragged; his hand grasps my forearm like he will never let go.
“You’re the only one who’s ever understood, Jonah. The only one who ever could understand completely.” The words tremble. I’m on the brink. “But you’ve pulled away.”
“I’m sorry. I should have tried harder, thought it through. At the time, I hated myself so much for hurting you that I couldn’t see anything else. Couldn’t feel anyone’s pain but my own.”
You weren’t hurting me, Jonah. You gave me what I wanted when no one else would. Why can’t you see that?
He continues, “There has to be another way for us to be together.”
“Like normal people?” It’s a joke. We both smile crookedly. Whatever Jonah and I are together, it ain’t normal. “Does that mean we won’t ever—play our games again?”
The euphemism fades his smile. “We can have a relationship without that.”
“Yeah, we can—we could—but I don’t want to. You didn’t just give me the fantasy I wanted; you gave me something I needed.” Then I tilt my head, inviting him to be less serious for a moment. “And it was absolutely the best sex of my life. Are you going to tell me it wasn’t that good for you too?”
“You know it was. No other woman would ever—completely give herself to—Jesus. You’re perfection.” Jonah cuts himself off. “But the game isn’t necessary for me to enjoy having sex with you. Remember Scotland?”
He swept me off to the Highlands for one amazing week earlier this fall. While he did whatever it is earthquake scientists do off the Scottish coast, I drew constantly—pages and pages a day of heather-covered hills and otters darting beneath dark water. I plan to turn those drawings into a series of etchings soon. We ate our dinners together in the tiny seashore inn where we stayed, and at night Jonah took me to bed, treated me like the most fragile treasure in the world, caressing me, going down on me longer and better than any other man ever has—
—and it wasn’t enough.
Which isn’t his fault. I know good oral when I get it, and damn, does Jonah give it. Most other women would have been screaming his name within seconds. But my brain was wired for perversity long before Jonah ever came along.
“I enjoyed making love with you in Scotland,” I say honestly. Simply being that close to him, having him treat me so tenderly—that had its own kind of magic. “But by now you have to have guessed that it didn’t work for me on its own.”
“You mean you were faking it.” He sounds so stung. So cheated.
“No, I wasn’t! I’ve never had to do that with you, Jonah. Not even once.” I take his hand in mine. “I should’ve been honest with you from the beginning. But it was so hard to admit to you that I don’t—that I can’t ever get off without imagining being raped.”
Just said the R-word in public. But nobody’s sitting particularly close, and the low music muffles anything we would say so that nobody else can hear.
I continue, “It’s hard to admit that to myself, sometimes. I hate it. I’ve spent so many years in therapy trying to change it, but it never changes. So even when you weren’t playing the game, I still was.”
Jonah leans back on the sofa. He looks disappointed—no, worse. Wounded. Like he’s not hurting because of me; he’s hurting for me.
“Never,” he says. “You’ve never gotten off any other way.”
“Before Anthony—” But I stop. For me, sexually, there is almost no such time as before Anthony. I was fourteen. An age when girls might begin to wonder, or explore. Me, I went straight from daydreams to nightmares. “I touched myself like any other kid would, or I did, beforehand.”
“I didn’t get myself off again for four years.”
Jonah’s broad hand closes over mine, as if he could reach into that awful time and pull me out. “It wasn’t like that for me,” he says, quietly. “So I didn’t realize what it was like for you.”
Of course it wasn’t like that for him. Guys are lucky, with their dicks. No matter how fucked-up they are, the mechanism usually works. It’s like they have an expressway to orgasm, while even the happiest women sometimes have to wind their way through a maze. “That’s how it is for me,” I say. “I want to work on it, but—that’s my truth, that’s where I am. If you can’t be with me until I’m over it . . . Jonah, that’s going to be a long time.”
He doesn’t answer right away; he’s deep in thought, weighing what I’ve said. I want him to take this seriously, but I also want an answer. More than anything, I want him to drag me back to his apartment and ravage me until the pleasure in my body drowns the pain in my head.
I take a sip of wine. Killing time. The suspense stretches me thin.
Finally, Jonah says, “You know why this is hard for me. It’s not like I drew some arbitrary line.”
“I know.” What must it have been like for him, watching his mother broken down night after night, year after year? “But I don’t understand why what Anthony did to me has to define what we do together.”
“When you put it that way, it sounds cruel. I don’t mean for it to be.” The silence between us lasts even longer this time. Jonah’s gaze turns inward, toward other people and other times. “What my stepfather did to my mother wasn’t only meant to hurt her. Elise and I weren’t merely props for his sick games; it took me a long time to realize he enjoyed victimizing us just as much. I think he wanted Elise to feel helpless. To expect nothing but pain from any man. He’s the kind of man who would want his daughter to believe that. And Carter wanted me to be that kind of man too.”
“You aren’t. You have to know that, Jonah. You’ve always taken such good care of me.”
His gray eyes search mine. “I want to believe you,” he says. “Sometimes I do. Other times I wonder whether all the evil I saw in Carter is in me too, but—silent. Ticking like a time bomb. Waiting to detonate.”
I understand what Jonah means. No, I don’t believe he’s grown up to be anything like that bastard Carter Hale. But I know what it’s like to feel like a parent’s script is forever waiting for you to speak the lines. My father’s denial, my mother’s sharp, shallow judgments: I hear echoes of those in my own thoughts from time to time. The fact that I don’t believe the words will never fully stop me from hearing them.
Jonah continues, “Knowing what you’ve been through—that you’ve been hurt—that brings us too close to what I lived through before. I can’t forget what’s been done to you, and I can’t pretend it doesn’t affect me.”
“It’s like—like you stopped seeing me as me. Now you can only see me as a victim.”
“That’s not true.”
“Okay, then you can only treat me as a victim. And you were the one who helped me feel less like a victim than I ever had since the day Anthony raped me. With you, it was like I owned this. I’d felt so sick and ashamed, but with you—when we acted out our scenes together—I could let the shame go. You set me free.”
“Vivienne,” he says, leaning closer. Jonah folds my hand against his chest. He wants to kiss me, but he doesn’t. Neither of us moves. We are bound together and yet parted. Two halves that can’t be glued into a whole. Maybe that’s how it is when you find someone whose wounds are the same as your own.
But I’m not willing to give up on Jonah. Not the sex, not the emotions between us, not any of it. If I’m going to fight for this man, I’m going to fight for everything.
“Jonah, you and I—we’re walking through the same dark place, together,” I whisper. “Don’t leave me there alone.”
“I don’t want to leave you. I don’t even think I could, unless it’s the only way to keep you safe. Make you whole.”
I want to cry. I want to scream. Jonah holds so much power over me—but this is the one power nobody else can ever have.
“You don’t get to make me whole,” I say. “You have to take me as I am, or we’re lost.”
Jonah wants to protest, but even as he opens his mouth, I sling my handbag over one shoulder and stand. The firelight plays across his face, tricks of light and shadow obscuring what he feels in this moment.
But I know myself, and that’s enough.
So I say, “Listen to me. Tomorrow night, I’ll be at home. At ten P.M., I’m going to unlock my front door. At eleven, I’ll lock it again. If you’re still on the other side of the door—then I’m locking you out. For good.”
“What?” He looks stunned. No, hurt.
“I know it’s not fair,” I confess. “I don’t like giving you an ultimatum. But what I’ve had with you is the one honest sexual relationship of my entire life, and if giving up that honesty is the price of getting you back, it’s too high. I won’t live a lie again.”
“You’re giving me one day?”
My voice trembles as I say, “How much time would be enough? A month? A year? This isn’t about waiting until we’re both comfortable and ‘healthy’ or whatever the hell else our goals should be. It’s about accepting that we’re both twisted as fuck and the only way we’ll ever work this out is together. If you can’t deal with that now, then you’re probably not going to be able to deal with it ever. And if that’s the case, then the best thing for both of us is to move on as soon as we can.”
Jonah finally gets it, I can tell. Slowly he nods. But his expression has become completely unreadable—those steely eyes closed to me again—and I have no idea which way he’ll jump.
“Tomorrow night,” I repeat. “Ten to eleven P.M. I’ll be waiting.”
Instead of waiting for a reply, I turn and walk out, refusing to glance back even once.
As I fumble for my car keys in my purse, blinking back tears, I ask myself if I’m really ready to draw that line in the sand. A traitorous voice inside me whispers, It’s not too late to return to the bar and take everything back.
But I am ready. I have to be. Because the barrier between me and Jonah isn’t one that will slowly disappear with time.
Jonah has to tear it down.
The next morning, I keep myself busy at the university. Exams are upon us, which means I have to lead two exam-review sessions, read a few late papers, and sort through e-mails about a statistically improbable number of dead grandmothers. Normally I’d get through this by reminding myself that I’ve got the afternoon off—
—but free hours today are hours of almost unbearable suspense. Every second is one more tick on the clock counting down to the moment Jonah comes for me, or I learn I’ve lost him forever. My mind refuses to focus. The disconnect between my inner tension and the outside world makes everything slightly surreal.
Luckily, I can invite myself to a place where focus is impossible anyway—to a house with a newborn baby.
“Thank God,” Shay breathes as I enter the town house with a couple bags of groceries. She’s propped up in this puffy red recliner she and Arturo bought at Goodwill. In her arms, Nicolas nurses hungrily, his tiny pink hands opening and closing against her breast. “Tell me you brought chocolate.”
“Not just any chocolate.” I swung by World Market on the way over; they carry various snacks from all over the world, including Shay’s native Australia. As I triumphantly pull out a red-and-brown packet, Shay lights up.
“Tim Tams! Thank you. I swear, I’m going to eat the lot in one go.” She sighs in anticipatory delight. “Nursing a baby—it’s like you can’t get enough calories in you, no matter how hard you try.”
“Sounds like fun. The calorie part, I mean.”
She laughs. “Not the rest, huh? Oh, God, I must look like hell.”
Shay’s hair, usually tinted some outlandish shade of maroon or purple, now shows an inch of plain brown roots. Her thick-framed glasses are slightly askew on her face, and she’s wearing the same pajamas I saw her in two days ago. Having a new baby might be one of the greatest joys human beings can experience, but from what I can see, it’s also completely fucking exhausting.
I peel open the Tim Tams and set the packet next to her. Shay stuffs one in her mouth with her free hand, then gives me a big-cheeked smile.
“Hey, baby,” I whisper as I brush one fingertip along Nicolas’s arm. He keeps feeding hungrily, his heavy-lidded eyes shut against this unfamiliar world. “I’m here to help your mom and dad out today. So where do I start?”
“Ask Arturo.” Shay sighs as she reaches for another Tim Tam. “I have no idea what’s happening in the rest of the house. I don’t think I’ve left this recliner since four A.M. except to pee.”
My real family lives one state over, in the physical sense. In the emotional sense, they might as well be on the moon. That distance might be harder to bear if I hadn’t found an adopted family to love and be loved by. Carmen Ortiz began as my randomly assigned freshman year roommate. Within a couple months, she’d become my best friend. When her younger brother Arturo joined us at UT Austin, we both took him under our wing, and for the past few years, I’ve been the unofficial third sibling. They even brought me back to their home in San Antonio to spend a couple of Thanksgivings with them and their parents. The way they love each other—openly, unabashedly—it shows me what a healthy family looks like. My parents and Chloe don’t have a clue.
Not to say that Arturo and Carmen don’t argue. They do, and it can be fierce. Carmen’s attitude about his early marriage to Shay and the pregnancy—let’s say it took her a while to adjust. But Ortizes even fight fair. Even at their angriest, they’re always talking to each other from a place of love.
Excerpted from "Begging for It"
Copyright © 2015 Lilah Pace.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This story continues from Asking for It. Excellent wrap up for Jonah and Vivienne's journey from darkness to light, love and a future. The story covers so many subjects that "normal" people consider taboo. The story confirms how families turn on their own and how it affects children on into adulthood. I am glad it addresses therapy and willingness to work with a good therapist to find your way out of the dark. The story addresses in my opinion that sex out of the norm is alright as long as the parties are in agreement and there are safety words in place. It addresses how gay people are abused and society would look on it as they deserved it... no one deserves abuse. Good job to this author
Lilah Pace absolutely blew my mind with Asking for It. It pushed me to think differently and gave me one of the toughest book hangovers I've had to date. The ending kind of wrecked me and I was really nervous (but eager) to find out what would happen with Vivienne and Jonah. Needless to say, I jumped right into Begging for It the minute I got access to the review copy. This book had a different feel for me than Asking for It did. I knew it would be difficult to recreate the magic of the first book, but I had high hopes. I wasn't disappointed. Where, to me, the first book was more focused on the physical connection between Vivienne and Jonah, and her coming to terms with what she really desired, this book was more about the after.There are a lot of unanswered questions going into this book – and, honestly, for a good portion of the book. Is it possible for Vivienne and Jonah to have a real relationship? There's no doubt they have a connection that's stronger than their shared kink, but can they make it work? Can they both come to terms with the events of their pasts to share a future together? What's the truth behind the ugly incidents happening around the campus? I won't get spoilery in my review. What I will say is that I liked the character growth of both Vivienne and Jonah during this book. This book is focused more on the mental than the physical – not to say there weren't some incredibly hot scenes – as both Vivienne and Jonah continue to come to terms with the parts of their pasts that make them who they are today. They're both broken, and despite the fear that being together will weaken them, I actually found the opposite. They were stronger together and I was rooting for them to let go and make a real go of it. This series was incredible. The characters were complex and amazing. I loved the honest look at consent and desire and the strength it took for each of these characters to step up and declare their needs. I loved the growth and the challenges. It made me think, it made me feel and took me by surprise in a lot of ways. I don't know what Lilah's plans are for future books, but I'm already ridiculously excited to find out. I'm a big fan. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.