The road to a happily ever after in Romanceland is never an easy one. This month, we’re highlighting the dark moments of our favorite romance novels and novellas. Enjoy this excerpt from Chemistry by Ellen K. Bennett.
Chemistry – a novel about love and attraction
He’s a tough city cop, and she’s a brilliant graduate student. They meet under impossible circumstances, and they can’t stay away from each other.
In 1992, 22-year-old Nell Russow arrives in Calgary from Auckland to begin a Masters degree in Biochemistry. She and her fellow graduate students frequent a bar near to campus where, unbeknown to them, after hours, girls are drugged and raped by a group of regular punters and some of the staff. One night, Nell is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
During the course of a police investigation into the use of date-rape drugs, Nell meets Mark Shore, an undercover investigator, posing as a customer. After the case is successfully prosecuted she encounters Mark again. Unable to deny her attraction to him, Nell finds in Mark both passion and compassion, and an as yet unexplored sexual connection.
Reckless, carefree Mark, and calm, rational Nell begin to explore the limits of their sexuality and tolerance, with him leading the way in some of their darker experiments.
The cab from the airport pulled up in front of Mark’s apartment building in the early morning sunlight. I raced up the stairs, and then I was outside his door pounding on it, jiggling up and down impatiently, so excited to see him I could hardly wait. The door opened and there stood Lisa. She was dressed in her uniform (she worked in a beauty salon, which I would nastily refer to as a massage parlour), ready for work. I have to hand it to her, she dealt with it perfectly.
‘Oh! Hello Nell. What on earth are you doing here at this hour? I thought you were only coming back tonight. You look exhausted. Why don’t you come in and have some coffee with us?’
Us? Who was ‘us’? I actually pushed her out of the way as I barged into the apartment, calling out for Mark. I was so tired and confused, I just couldn’t make out what she was doing there. I think I would rather have found an alligator in Mark’s apartment than this perfectly groomed and made-up nightmare.
Mark came out of the bedroom, a towel around his lean hips, towelling his hair from the shower. He looked adorable but I was in no mood. Still, I didn’t want to lose my cool and jump to conclusions. There could, after all, be an explanation for this, although I couldn’t imagine what it could be.
Keeping my voice as level as possible, I asked him,
‘What’s going on here Mark?’
‘Oh, my God, Nell!’ he exclaimed, but I couldn’t tell if it was because he was shocked or because he was excited to see me. ‘When the hell did you get in?’
‘A little earlier than you were expecting me by the looks of things.’ I jerked my head in Lisa’s direction.
She was now in the kitchen, making coffee as if she belonged there. I felt like I was going to be sick. Mark played it cool.
‘Oh, baby come here and give me hug. I’ve missed you so much,’ he said, bearing down on me.
I took a step back and said,
I said this calmly and quietly, but it wasn’t a question, and there was now no mistaking my demeanor. If I had burst in on the two of them, then I was not going to take it on the chin or look the other way.
‘Oh, Lisa just came by to pick up some CDs on her way to work, eh Lisa?’
Mark was clearly hoping that this would get him off the hook and she would play along. The bitch, she dropped him right in it.
‘Yes, I just popped in for a coffee and to pick up some things that I left here the other night.’
I didn’t but I wasn’t going to say so. I decided to let them do all the talking.
We stood there, facing each other. I was aching to touch him, hold him and tell him how much I had missed him. I was so sorry that I had come here now to be confronted with my worst nightmare. On the other hand, what if I had just gone straight home? Would he have told me about it?
‘Sweetheart please don’t jump to conclusions. You know we’re just old friends.’
‘Yes Nell,’ chimed in the blonde coffee maker. ‘You don’t need to get upset. It’s really no big deal.’
‘Mark, I don’t know what to think. I just dropped by to say hello to you on my way in from the airport. I thought it would be a nice surprise. Clearly it isn’t. I’m going home now and maybe I’ll see you later.’
And I left, with Lisa calling out a cheery goodbye as I slammed the door behind me. Round one to you Barbie, I thought. Mark didn’t come after me – he wasn’t dressed – so I hailed another cab and went home, where I took a long shower, took the phone off the hook and went to bed with some sleeping pills. The jetlag was taking its toll on me, and as upset as I was, I was exhausted and just wanted to enter oblivion.
In the late afternoon the downstairs buzzer rang, and then rang again insistently, stirring me from the fog of sleep. My suitcase, which had gone astray, had been tracked down and was now downstairs, delivered by the airline. The bell for my apartment’s front door rang a few minutes later, followed by loud knocking, just in case I hadn’t heard it. This guy obviously wasn’t pleased at being imperiously ordered to carry heavy bags around the building when all he was being paid to do was deliver them.
I opened the door to find Mark standing there with my suitcase. He had left work early and arrived as my luggage was delivered. I slammed the door hard in his face, narrowly missing his fingers and yelled,
‘Oh, will you just bugger off!’
‘Don’t you want your luggage?’ he asked through the door.
‘Please just leave it there and go away.’
‘No. I want to talk to you.’
I wrenched open the door again.
‘Really? About what?’
‘You know about what.’
‘I don’t think I need anyone to join the dots for me Mark. I hope you had a good time, I really do, but I can’t cope with you and your childish infidelities right now, so please just leave my luggage and go.’
But he didn’t. He dragged it inside for me and went and sat on one of the couches, cool as you please, just looking at me. He wasn’t smiling, or trying to pretend nothing had happened, but he wasn’t looking too sheepish either.
‘Please come here Nell.’
I was standing over in my kitchen, arms folded tightly around myself and huddled inside my pajamas, a ball of fury.
‘Mark, I am not taking instructions from you, least of all in my own home. I have just flown half way around the world, and all I wanted to do was come and see you. You cannot possibly be so unimaginative and selfish as to think that finding Lisa of all people with you this morning, in cozy domesticity, acting like she owned the place, was going to make a nice welcome home for me.’
‘Please let me explain.’
‘I will do no such thing. I am not interested in the details, which will only hurt me more than you have already, and please don’t insult me by trying to make excuses. You will only make things worse.’
‘How have I hurt you?’
‘Don’t ask me stupid questions. I am tired, I am jetlagged and I am going back to bed. You can sit there and twiddle your thumbs if you have nothing better to do with your Friday night, which I am sure is not the case. I would prefer it if you left.’
‘I’d rather stay. You must be hungry. Knowing you there’s no food in the house.’ There wasn’t. ‘Why don’t you let me go out and get some things and then cook you a nice meal and we can talk about what’s going on?’
‘Oh, Mark,’ I was now close to tears. ‘Please just leave me alone. I really cannot deal with you right now.’
I went back to my bedroom, closing but not locking the door, and went back to bed and eventually fell asleep again. I could hear Mark, who wisely left me to simmer, moving around next door, turning on the TV or the radio, opening and closing the kitchen cupboards, no doubt inspecting my poor supplies with disapproval, and then the front door closed with a click.
When I woke up it was dark. My face was haggard from the trip, puffy bags under my eyes, and I was without makeup. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas either. I wasn’t going to make an effort for him tonight. He would have to confront me as I was, if he had had the courage to stay.
Mark was lying on one of the couches, comfortable, relaxed, feet up and reading a newspaper. The TV was on with the sound low, tuned in to one of the news channels. He looked up as I came out of the bedroom and gave me a tentative smile, but I didn’t smile back. I ignored him completely, not even mumbling a response to his,
‘Hello sweetie. Feeling better?’
I went to the kitchen to get some water and Mark sat up and put the newspaper aside, following me. He put his arms around me from behind as I was standing at the sink drinking, resting his chin on the top of my head. I held myself stiffly, rigid and unresponsive and then I pulled away and went and sat on a kitchen stool and stared at him. I wasn’t going to give him any help at all.
‘You look really tired darling,’ he ventured.
‘Travelling around the world in one day does that. But thank you for the compliment,’ I replied with sarcasm.
‘Look, would you please just settle down and eat something and let me talk to you. You really have blown this right out of proportion.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it’s because I’m so unreasonable that you felt you needed to fuck that tart while I was away for just a few weeks.’
I didn’t raise my voice, but Mark was going to have to work hard for this one.
‘I didn’t fuck her, and she’s not a tart.’
That’s what you think, I thought.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Look darling, you know I get a bit carried away from time to time, but it’s you I love, and Lisa’s engaged to André.’
‘So, it didn’t mean anything.’
‘So you did fuck her.’
‘No, I didn’t. She came over to watch some movies the other night. She was worried that I was lonely. I may have had a bit too much to drink, and she kissed me. But I swear that was all.’
‘Is that supposed to make me feel better?’
God help me, I was going to forgive him as usual, but Lisa better stay out of my way if she wanted her perfect face and hair to stay that way. There was no doubt in my mind that she had planned the whole thing, and had been at his place that morning deliberately, hoping that I would arrive and walk in on them. How could Mark be so stupid and so blind to her manipulation?
Had this been the end of it, maybe things would have been okay. But things were not okay. The case Mark was working on was making him quite dangerously disturbed, and he was moody and distracted, tired and drawn. My heart ached for him, but I didn’t want to add to his pressure, so I tried to go along with him and do what he wanted, wanting to make him happy. He needed help, and I didn’t know it and neither did he.
Things went back to what, on the surface, passed for normal, but towards the end of August, Mark was sent out of town for two days to work on the case. He was by now in such a state of emotional frustration, a state which he could not share with me, that he was seeking something else, something darker and more destructive. Something in him needed the sad, angry release that I was unable to give him. Afterwards he was even more sad and depressed than before.
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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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