Authors: Helena Newbury
“Stop! I know!” I could feel my face flushing. Okay, no way could I admit to just sleeping with a guy I barely knew. “Nothing happened. We just talked.”
She gave me a long stare.
“What?” I asked innocently.
“You just talked?”
“Yes!” I put on my most indignant voice. “And actually, Nat, I’m a little offended that you’d imply otherwise. I’m not
“Okay. Sorry. One small question,”—she smirked—“why are your top and bra on the living room floor?”
Nat stood there mercilessly, grinning, waiting for an answer.
We…things happened,” I said, shamefaced.
“But I thought you hated each other! All that shouting, at Darrell’s place!” I could see a trace of a smirk under her astonishment, and wondered if she’d seen us kiss. Had she known, since then, and she was just having fun playing dumb?
“I do hate him!” I told her. “He’s rough and arrogant as hell, he’s an idealistic hippy, but….”
But I think I’m turning into some sort of submissive.
“But I like him,” I finished lamely.
She pulled me into a hug. “
I stood there stiffly as she hugged me. Neil and I felt like a lot of things, but “sweet” wasn’t one of them.
When Nat was back in her room, I did something that I hadn’t done in a while. I stripped off the robe and stood naked in front of my mirror and just looked at myself.
I like my body. Not many women can say that. It isn’t because I have a nice body—my boobs are way too small for most guy’s tastes, I don’t think my legs are in proportion and I have weird, sticky-out shoulders—but I like it. I
to like it.
My mom is a doctor of psychology and writes a sex and relationships column online—fortunately, she calls herself “Doctor Kath” and most people don’t pick up on our surnames being the same. But alongside the embarrassment of having a mom who’s always talking about sex (high school was
of fun for me, particularly when she did a special on how to deal with daughters getting their first period), there have been other effects. One of them is that I was never allowed to have anything other than a positive body image. If I expressed even the slightest qualm about being too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, my mom had me naked in front of a mirror, reciting affirmations.
I understand, looking back. She was paranoid about me being anorexic, for one thing, given that a worrying number of ballet students are. And annoying and embarrassing as it was, I did come out of it with a grudging acceptance of my body—I don’t feel I’m battling against it, as some women do. Doesn’t stop me from wishing for bigger boobs, though.
As I stared at myself in the mirror, though, I wasn’t hating myself or loving myself. I was examining myself. I was looking at the marks.
They weren’t anything serious—I mean, he hadn’t
me or anything. I wasn’t about to let some guy abuse me. The marks were only faint and they were fading fast…but they were there.
My breasts bore the faintest indentations of pink, regular notches, where his teeth had lightly bitten. The lips of my sex were plump and engorged from my arousal and the lengthy—I flushed—
he’d given me. The marks I was most interested in, though, were on my wrists. There was a faint pink area on my right wrist where the watch on my left wrist had pressed into it. That had happened because he’d held my wrists one on top of the other, over my head, as he’d taken me.
Holding me down on the bed.
What worried me wasn’t that he’d done it—I’d had no doubt, throughout, that if I so much as formed the word “No,” he’d stop immediately. I never felt like he’d do anything I didn’t want. What worried me was my reaction.
I’d climaxed harder than I ever had before, as he took me. I wasn’t sure what that meant.
I looked again at my ravaged body. How was it that, all of a sudden, the perfectly nice, normal sex I’d had with men in my social circle was all relegated to…
And what I had with Neil—almost stranger sex, and kinky, with it—blew my mind? I wasn’t that girl. I wasn’t into that stuff. Was I?
The next day, Sunday, I went with Nat to hear Karen and her quartet play in Central Park. There was still virtually no breeze, but at least being outdoors and away from the traffic made it feel a little less muggy. Sitting there on the bench, I watched Nat grinning to herself and really started to worry.
It was crazy: ever since I’d known her, I’d been encouraging her to get out there and meet somebody. Now she finally had and, immediately, I was nervous. But Darrell didn’t know her like I did. He didn’t know about the cutting and, if I knew Nat, he never would. She’d keep it a secret and he’d either have to accept that, or they’d break up.
And Darrell didn’t strike me as the sort of person who could live with his girlfriend having secrets. He was far too inquisitive, too determined. Look at how he’d tracked her down after meeting her at the audition.
On the other hand, what right did I have to question her choices? Look at what I was getting myself into.
Then Nat started to dance, right there in the park, and I really began to worry. That was it: she was clearly smitten. Next she’d be singing in the rain.
Or maybe…maybe I just needed to stop being such a killjoy worrier and start living a little. Maybe I should just relax and enjoy the moment.
The hell with it.
I stood up and danced as well, gliding past Nat as she came back towards the bench, and it felt good to just let it go for a moment—to stop trying to control everything and just enjoy it….
Something about that thought, about the sensation itself, niggled at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I jumped onto the bench across the path and went into first arabesque and then into a promenade, twisting slowly on one leg while Nat did the same. Ballet’s always so serious—it felt good to be doing it with a smile on my face, for once.
But as soon as it was over, I took one look at Nat’s face and it hit me. She wasn’t just smitten. She was full-on in love, after just a few days. I gawped at her. “You and your billionaire—you’ve—”
“Don’t say it!” she said quickly.
“Don’t! I’m not. I don’t think I am. Maybe I am.” I could see her blushing. “I really like him.”
I looked at her doubtfully. “Nat, you’ve known each other for no time at all. Are you sure you’re not going too fast?”
the one who nearly used the L word. Not me. I never said I was,” she said.
I folded my arms. “Doesn’t matter what you call it. It matters how you feel and you’ve fallen for him hard.” She dropped her eyes and I pressed. “Haven’t you?”
She bit her lip. “I’m…
Happy in a way I haven’t been in a long time. He makes me feel stuff that…” She sighed. “I
“Don’t get me wrong,” I told her. “I like the guy. I really do. And far be it from me to counsel you on getting in too deep when I’m”—I blushed—“
with Neil. But that’s different. That’s just sex. You and Darrell, that’s like some full-blown, kissing on a windswept cliff in the rain-type stuff.”
“Is it really just sex?” she asked. “You and Neil?”
I thought about it. I couldn’t tell her everything—not about the way I changed when I was around him, but she deserved an answer. “I’m not sure. It’s sex
and yet it’s deeper at the same time. I haven’t figured it out yet. Anyway, don’t change the subject. I’m trying to stop you getting your heart broken.”
“I don’t think Darrell’s a heartbreaker,” she said quietly.
Oh, you poor naïve thing.
I gave her a hug. “A man doesn’t have to be a heartbreaker,” I said. “We do all the work for them. We unwrap our hearts layer by layer until they’re completely exposed and then lay them on the ground in front of them. All they have to do is step on them.”
Less than a minute later, her phone rang. It was Darrell, postponing their date.
While Nat moped in her room, facing a week without Darrell, I lay full length on my bed and fumed on her behalf. I’d liked Darrell, but now I wasn’t so sure. Would he even go through with the date in a week, as he’d told her? Was he even in Virginia, as he claimed? Or was it all just an excuse to extricate himself when he realized Nat had issues he wasn’t ready for?
If he hurt her, I’d kill him.
It didn’t do wonders for my own situation, either. Up until that phone call, I’d been seriously thinking about heading over to Darrell’s place and quizzing him about Neil. He was my only link to the mountain of muscles and leather. I had no phone number, no address, nothing. I’d friended him on Facebook, but he hadn’t accepted yet and he barely shared any personal details publicly. Pretty much all that was visible on his profile was a headshot and the logo of a local motorcycle gang.
Like all the other women throughout history who’ve been seduced by the wrong guy, I was powerless. Forced to wait for him to contact me, if he chose to. I’d seen Neil three days in a row—then today, nothing. I had no idea whether that meant today was the exception and I’d see him tomorrow or that the fling was over and I’d never
see him again.
I lay there bathing in misery for another few minutes before I felt it start. A twisting, glowing worm of anger deep inside my belly.
Fuck this! I’m Clarissa Forsberg-West. I don’t let some guy play games with me!
I bent my knees to my chest and then shot them out straight, launching myself off the bed to land in a crouch like a pissed-off cat.
I fired up my laptop and called up Facebook. Neil’s minimalist page was still there, with the motorcycle gang logo taunting me.
Mad Dog Riders.
Well, fine. If that was all I had then
Mad Dog Riders
Everyone’s on Facebook, even motorcycle gangs (they called themselves “a club”). There was even a picture of their clubhouse and an address.
I grabbed my car keys.
The biker ambled over to Bartholomew and rested one huge hand on the roof, the other on the window sill. I’d wound the window down so I could talk to him, but when he leaned almost inside and I smelled the beer on his breath, it started to feel like a mistake. “You wantin’ to get that fixed?” he asked.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” I said pointedly, and telepathically told Bartholomew not to listen to the silly man.
He gazed at the hood. “Engine’s a little shaky on tickover. We could tune that up for ya.”
The hell it is.
“Thank you, but not today. I’m looking for Neil.”
“Neil?” He didn’t look evasive. He looked blank.
“Biker leathers. Long hair.”
Okay, that doesn’t really narrow it down.
“Um. I think he’s from California? Went to MIT?”
The guy’s eyebrows suddenly lifted. “Oh! Doc?”
“Quite possibly,” I said. “Is he in there?”
I was stopped at the gate to the biker’s compound. And it really was a compound, complete with chain link fence topped with razor wire. I could see a garage, a junkyard and the “clubhouse” I’d seen in the photo, which seemed to be a bar in all but name. All bars look seedy in the bright sunlight but this one, with its cracked neon sign and bars on the windows, really took the prize.
“You a cop?” asked the guy.
“Do I look like a cop?” I was in a purple flowery top I’d bought from a local designer on Etsy, a tiny leather jacket made of calf’s leather and Diesel jeans that fit like a second skin. I’d been going for I’m-trying-to-dress-appropriately-but-I-know-I’m-not-a-biker-so-it’s-sort-of-ironic. The spike heels were probably too much, but I’d been in the mood to make an impression. When the guy’s eyes tracked down my body and then back up, I wished I’d just worn my normal street clothes.
“No,” said the guy, in a slightly pitying way, and swung the gate open for me. “He’s in the clubhouse.”
I parked between a couple of Harleys, ignoring the looks I got from the bikers lounging around in the sunshine. I walked up to the heavy, windowless door of the clubhouse.
What are you doing, Clarissa?
I pulled open the door and strode into the gloom.
It was dark inside the clubhouse, thanks to the tiny, barred windows, and it took my eyes a while to adjust. I saw a long bar, a pool table and some bikers sprawled on chairs—drunk, asleep or possibly dead. But no Neil.