“What’s wrong?” he asked, his face lined with concern.
“Nothing.” I caught his hand and pulled him toward the elevators.
* * *
After a few attempts to get me talking in the car, Blake seemed to give up. We stepped into the cool air of his apartment and I made myself at home at the wet bar in the living room. I filled a cut glass lowball to the brim with ice and some smoky amber liquor from one of the many bottles in his collection.
I sank into the couch and pressed the cool glass against my forehead, willing away the frenzied thoughts that had taken over. I wanted to banish each and every one of them. Tuck them away where they no longer felt like my own, or better yet, where I might forget them entirely. I took a healthy gulp from my glass to hasten their journey.
I shouldn’t be here, but I couldn’t be alone right now, and sharing square footage with Sid didn’t count. I needed a powerful distraction, and Blake had always been supremely helpful in that department. He sat on the coffee table across from me, holding my legs between his. He stroked the sensitive skin above my knees, but my body was numb, unable to process even the most basic desires that Blake inspired in me.
“Talk to me, please,” Blake said evenly.
I stared past him, giving him nothing. Sharing my past with Blake seemed impossible, but something sparked to life. A little part of me wanted to break down the wall that kept my past safely hidden from the present.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” I said, unsure how I could even begin to tell him, even if I wanted to. I could barely handle the onslaught of emotions that had been terrorizing me since leaving the restaurant.
“That’s bullshit. You looked like you witnessed a crime scene in there.”
“I was remembering one.” I regretted the words as soon as I uttered them. My body tensed with a different kind of fear. Blake would never look at me the same again. He would know someone had taken his pleasure from me, and that in my stupid, young ignorance, I let him.
Silent, he waited for me to continue. I forced the rest of the drink down, waiting for the relief it promised. If I told Blake now, he’d either head for the hills, or maybe he’d care, though I couldn’t imagine why. It dawned on me that if we had any chance for a future, he’d have to know.
“We were freshmen. I went with some friends off campus for a weekend party, and we ended up at a frat house. The place was mobbed. We danced, we drank too much punch. I barely ever drank, so I was obliterated by the time I got to the bottom of my cup. I wandered away from the group.” I trailed off, lost in the memory I’d so carefully buried.
How could I possibly explain how naive I had been, to follow a friendly stranger to the bar that we never found, like a child being lured with candy? Then to be so intoxicated that I could barely fight him off, my refusals lost in the chaos of the party that raged inside.
The man I saw tonight was the man who had taken my innocence, leaving me violated and sick in the bushes where Liz finally found me. Years of preserving myself for a first love, or at the very least, a buzzed night of mutual consent, had all been for naught, and the shame had kept me silent.
“I tried to fight him off,” I whispered. This time, I couldn’t swallow away the tears that fell free down my face. My limbs felt weak and heavy, weighed down by my past and the reality that losing whatever I had with Blake to it would be a crushing blow.
Blake’s jaw clenched, and he sat back, raking his hands through his hair. The momentary separation from his touch physically hurt, the places where our skin had met ached for his return. I needed the contact as an affirmation that this new knowledge wouldn’t color how he felt about me. A sickness twisted inside me at the thought.
“Are you happy now?” I laughed weakly through my tears, wishing Blake would respond.
His expression was frozen with a nameless emotion.
“I’m damaged goods.”
“Stop.” The authoritative bite to his voice gave me pause.
“You’re not damaged, Erica.”
I swallowed hard, wishing I could believe him. “I’m simply stating the obvious. It doesn’t make sense for you to want to be with someone like me anyway. You should be dating socialites, models, not someone like...me.” My voice caught as the words left me.
“I’m not interested in dating models.”
“Well, that makes no fucking sense, you realize that? I’m a mess. I mean, just look at me.”
“I do. Frequently, in fact. You’ve been driving me crazy for days. I can barely sleep at night.”
“Now, I have you. No roommates, no crowds, and you’re trying to come up with every reason to scare me off. If you think this changes things, you’re wrong.”
I looked away, helplessly fighting the tears that just kept coming. When he sat next to me and pulled me onto his lap, I went willingly, wanting to feel him close again. How he could still want me, I would never know. He wrapped me tight in his arms, cocooning me to his chest until the sobs slowed and my tears ran dry.
“You’re stunning,” he said.
Nuzzled into his shoulder, I shook my head. “How can you say that after what I just told you?”
“Because it’s true. Erica, one horrible experience doesn’t define you. If it did, I doubt you’d want to be with me either.”
“I do,” I said.
My hand slid over his shirt to feel his heart beating a slow and steady rhythm. I knew nothing about his heart but something inside of me wanted to deserve it then. What would it be like to have his desire, and his love? Suddenly my feelings for Blake began to overwhelm the painful the memories he’d coaxed out of me moments earlier.
He lifted my hand and brushed his lips softly over my fingertips. Inch by inch, he caressed me, claiming every expanse of bare skin with a quiet tenderness I’d never known, healing me with his hands and lips. The pain and the numbness gave way to relief, and then, to a familiar warmth that simmered below the surface.
I tugged at his hair and tipped his head back for an urgent kiss. Somehow, he’d broken through, overwhelming my senses with the pressing need to be possessed. His smell, his taste, and his primal hunger—I craved them all. I explored the depths of his mouth with my tongue, tangling with his, ravenous for him. He met me with equal intensity. He shifted me so I straddled him, crushing our bodies together so they were flush. A soft cry escaped my lips at the sudden contact and the fervency of his movements. Then he stopped, fisting his hands to his sides.