Sometimes the road to happily ever after is bumpy with lots of twists and turns. This month, I’m highlighting all the struggles couples face in Romanceland. Today’s excerpt comes from Still Waters, a novel by Ellen K. Bennett. Enjoy!
What happens when the nice guy meets the quiet girl? Still waters run deep, they say … Greg, the ultimate nice guy, and shy, beautiful Maura, should have made the perfect couple. But Maura has a dark secret. A secret buried so deep that she has never told anyone. Until now. Greg and Maura first appeared in Chemistry – A novel about love and attraction. Now Still Waters tells their heartbreaking story.
***INCLUDES ‘ICE QUEEN’ – BONUS POSTSCRIPT TO STILL WATERS AND A FREE PREVIEW OF CHEMISTRY – A NOVEL ABOUT LOVE AND ATTRACTION***
Greg didn’t say a word to me on the way home the night that we bumped into Gary. But his jaw was grinding and he gripped the steering wheel so hard I thought it would break. Meanwhile I was trembling like a leaf, my hands clasped between my knees to stop them from shaking. When we got to my place, he walked me up to the door, but instead of leaving me there, he followed me inside and went and sat on the couch.
‘Yes, please do come in,’ I said, a little sarcastically. ‘Coffee?’
‘Maura, please come here.’ He spoke calmly enough, but his voice was fraught with tension. ‘I want to talk to you.’
This was so not a conversation I was ready to have, but what could I do? He obviously expected some explanation for Gary’s behavior and cruel words. So I went and sat down on the opposite end of the couch, and folded my arms defensively, refusing to meet his eyes.
‘Do you want to tell me who that was?’ he asked, breaking the silence.
‘No, I don’t,’ I replied curtly.
‘Can I assume then, that he had something to do with what we were talking about last night?’
‘No, you can’t. I told you I don’t want to talk about it. He’s nobody. Just a guy I went out with a few times.’
‘And by the sound of it, a guy who was unable to respect your boundaries.’
I snorted. ‘That’s a nice way of putting it.’
‘Are you telling me,’ his voice was shaking with barely suppressed rage now, ‘that that fucker is the one that hurt you?’
I just looked down and said nothing.
‘Answer me Maura!’ he barked.
I jumped with fright at the sharpness of his tone, and it broke the spell. I was no longer able to hold onto my self-control.
‘No, I will not!’ I shrieked. ‘How can you judge him for not respecting my boundaries when you do the same thing? I told you I don’t want to talk about it!’ and I jumped up, ready to flee the room.
But Greg was having none of it. Mr Nice Guy was now all business. He grasped my arm firmly but gently, and made me sit.
‘That is the most insulting thing anyone has ever said to me,’ he remarked, sounding calm. ‘I have never in my life forced anyone, let alone a woman, to do something that they don’t want to do.’
Now the floodgates opened. I couldn’t hold my tears back any more.
‘I apologise,’ I whispered, hanging my head. ‘Please forgive me. I know it is not the same thing.’
‘I care about you Maura. I would never do anything to hurt you, no matter what happens between us. But I really do want to understand why you feel the way you do. Now, please, if you are able to, tell me what that man did to you.’
‘You will laugh at me.’
‘I assure you sweetheart, that I don’t think there’s anything funny about this.’
‘It sounds so stupid, but it’s not what he did, so much as what he said. What he called me. You heard him.’
‘I heard a man who can’t take no for an answer and whose pride had been hurt because he was rejected by a woman who, frankly, is far too good for him. You’re going to have to fill in the gaps for me here.’
‘Oh, Greg,’ I sighed. ‘Really, why do you need to know? It will only embarrass me and make you angry.’
‘Because it’s important,’ he replied. ‘Because you’re important and you are hurt. I don’t know if I can do anything about that, but I want to at least try to understand. Please trust me enough, at least as your friend, to do that.’
So I told him the story, but I lied about, or rather omitted, the most important part. Some scars just run too deep. I told him some of what had happened, but conscience was heavy with the knowledge that I hadn’t told him the whole truth. Because that truth would come out, and when it did, I was worried that he would never be able to look at me the same way again.
Jesus, no wonder the poor girl didn’t want anyone to touch her. On the other hand, I was relieved to hear that the prick hadn’t actually gone through with his assault. How I itched to drive my fist into his face hard enough to crunch bone. Did that mean she was a virgin? I supposed it did. I guess I knew that anyway, but hadn’t allowed myself to dwell on it. Running around deflowering virgins wasn’t something nice guys like me did.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Maura on Thursday evening when she got in from her appointment with her therapist, Viviane.
‘Hi, sweetheart. This is a nice surprise. How was your day?’
‘It was good. Busy. Actually it was hard to concentrate, because I was thinking about you.’
This made me smile.
‘I was thinking about you too. Did your appointment go well?’
There was a pause.
‘Yes. And no. Viviane would like to meet you. Would you be able to come with me next week? I am sorry to ask, and I hope it is not presumptuous of me, but she thinks it’s important.’
‘Sure, I can do that. We’re not in some kind of trouble are we?’
I couldn’t help snickering a little at the thought of the two of us, at our age, being scolded by Maura’s sex therapist.
‘No, but there are some things she thinks you should know. And it will be easier for me if you hear them from her.’
That didn’t sound too bad. She probably just wanted to impress upon me how sensitive Maura was, and to caution me to take things slowly. But if it would make Maura feel better, and help us to move forward, then I was all for it. Turns out that what I didn’t know would change me and our relationship forever. Ignorance really can be bliss.
After that meeting, I felt like I was going to be sick. In the bathroom I was overtaken by dry heaves. I sat on the floor, shivering and shaking, playing what she had told me over in my head. That she had actually asked for help, and instead of being protected, as she should have been, she was rejected and made to feel even worse. I was beginning to see now that the depth of the psychological damage might well be beyond my capacity to understand. How much more of this could I take? How much more of this had she been forced to endure? The damage to her body was monstrous, but it was the assault on her mind that caused the damage that she endured to this day.
Goddammit, I was crying again. Maura’s story made me want to scream and rail and beat my fists. It made me want to find those who had hurt her and torture them slowly. The thought of her as a girl, used, hurt and humiliated, and then a sad, lonely teenager, broke my heart. And that is not just an expression. I had a sharp pain in my chest, while I tried to choke down my sobs, so that she could finish her story. But when she was finished, I gave in and completely broke down.
I sat with my head in my hands and howled. I hadn’t cried like that since I was a boy. I thought I would never be able to stop. I feared that I would, and would have to face her. Face her hurt and her courage. Face the trust she had placed in me, and face how hopeless I now felt about a relationship with her. Nobody could be expected to overcome that kind of trauma and it was completely nuts for me to expect it from her.
Disgust. Of course that was what he would feel. After we left Viviane’s he didn’t say one word to me, and he could barely look at me. When he dropped me off at the ballet studio, he curtly bit out that he would see me later, and drove off. So this was how we would end, I reflected. I supposed it was better that it happened sooner rather than later, and I was no stranger to this feeling of nauseating misery. Some degree of it had been my companion for most of my life. But dancing has always been my refuge, and I threw myself into it now, using the music and the movement to blunt the edge of my despair.
While I danced, apprehension was creeping in. I wasn’t apprehensive about confiding in Greg anymore. I knew now that I could trust him completely. But I knew the part that was to come could shatter that, and make him unable to ever touch me again. Even if it didn’t, it would make him sick and sad, if his reaction to the first part of my story was anything to go by. I wanted to spare him that.
How sad that as my confidence grew, his had declined. Greg’s doubts were completely natural, and I was no stranger to what he was feeling. I had had those doubts about myself for nearly my whole life. But I couldn’t unsay the things I had told him, and he couldn’t forget what he now knew.
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Ellen K. Bennett is a pen name under which I write my books of erotic adult fiction. This subterfuge is necessary to avoid causing embarrassment to my scientific colleagues, who may be searching for the more serious work that I publish in real life. I have lived in the UK, Canada, and South Africa, and I now live on the West Coast with my fellow-scientist husband and our two children. We are dedicated wine drinkers, beach bums, and dog lovers. Writing is my joy and my passion, and I love hearing from readers.
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