Authors: Nicola Marsh
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Teen & Young Adult
Was this really what I wanted? Working my arse off cooking for a bunch of non-appreciative pricks for months on end, then spending my down time screwing old chicks?
My life was officially down the crapper.
“Thanks,” she said, patting my cheek. “I’m heading back to the ball. See you round.”
Not if I could help it and it wasn’t until she disappeared from view that I realized we hadn’t even exchanged names.
There had to be more to life than this.
I had no idea what I was doing here.
An end of semester party at some college kid’s open house a block from the Strip.
Actually, that’s a lie. I did know what I was doing here. I just didn’t like my motivation.
I wanted to cut loose tonight. Do something completely out of character.
Make out with a stranger? Let some hot guy feel me up? Whatever I wanted, I couldn’t describe it exactly, but I wanted more than
. This constant edginess that I was missing out on something.
Everyone around me constantly talked about sex. How many times they’d done it. How many guys were useless at finding a clit. How freaking awesome having a guy go down on you was.
I was clueless. I seriously had no idea what any of it entailed because I’d never done it. Any of it. And it was starting to piss me off.
Not that I’m one of those dumbass girls who is obsessed with losing her virginity. Far from it. I’ve been too busy assimilating into college life and keeping up my grades to worry about sex—or my lack of.
But with a long, endless summer stretching before me, and a lot of cute guys at this party, guess it was natural to wonder…would this be the summer I finally did it?
I’d be nineteen in the fall. UNLV’s oldest virgin. I should make a T-shirt.
“You made it.” Dave appeared before me, wearing a white button down, dark denim and a goofy grin. He’d ditched the glasses and actually looked less dorky and kinda cute. “Nice one, Geekette.”
“Summer vacation officially starts tonight, so can we lose the droll nicknames?” I tried a snooty glare and failed. Trying to stare down a friend never worked.
“Maybe we can,” he said, leaning in close, the scotch on his breath unexpected. “So what else should I call you? Babe? Cutie?”
I chuckled. “If that’s your lameass attempt at flirting, save it.”
A fleeting frown creased Dave’s brow before his signature grin was back in place. “Have you seen the view yet?” He pointed upstairs. “Everyone’s talking about it.”
“I only just got here,” I said, not particularly interested in any view other than the one that would show me what the hell I would be doing over summer.
“Come on, then. I’ll show you.” He snagged my hand so fast I spilled some of the cheap Chardonnay from the plastic cup that had been shoved into my other hand on arrival.
“What’s your hurry?”
He winked in response and I rolled my eyes. Looked like Dorky Dave was intent on cutting loose tonight too. I couldn’t fault him for that, but the longer I hung around him, the less chance I had of making new friends, making out with a hot guy and cutting loose myself.
A rowdy group of frat boys dressed only in Hawaiian-print board shorts thundered down the stairs as we climbed, jostling us. Dave slung a protective arm around my waist and pulled me close to him. Couldn’t fault the guy for gallantry but when he didn’t remove his arm as we reached the top floor, that same uncomfortable feeling I’d had in the library earlier today returned. Stronger this time.
“Where are we going—?”
“This way.” He opened the third door on the left and pulled me inside. “Come check out this view.”
As he kicked the door shut, a quick glance at the doorknob had me exhaling in relief. No lock. Which meant that little warning bell inside my head was ringing for nothing.
Until I crossed the bedroom to the window to look out and Dave came up behind me. Bracing his arms against the windowsill, either side of me. Blocking me in. Then he pressed against me. He had a boner.
“What do you think of the view?” He rubbed against me. Moaned a little.
Those warning bells? Clanging so freaking hard I could hardly hear myself think ‘you dumbass.’
“The view’s not bad. My cousin lives down there. About a block past the Venetian. Great place. Small apartment, enough for her. She’s expecting me—”
“Ssh…” He silenced my babbling by slipping an arm around me from behind. His hand cupped my breast.
I had to get out of here. Now. Because for a noisy party downstairs, I couldn’t hear shit up here. Which meant if I screamed, what were the chances of anyone hearing me?
But it wouldn’t get to that point. I wouldn’t let it. I wasn’t some naive teenager—okay, maybe I was—but I had enough smarts to know I needed to talk my way out of this by appealing to Dave my friend, not Dave the horny prick whose balls I’d like to knee hard until he sang the national anthem as a falsetto.
“Listen, Dave. We’re study buddies. Let’s not mess with that, okay?” I tried to ease away but his hand under my breast tightened, squeezing to the point of pain.
“Study buddies? What the fuck?” He spun me round so fast I felt woozy. “Does this feel like I’m interested in just studying?”
He grabbed my hips and pulled me roughly against him, grinding his hard-on against me. I felt like puking. “You know what you are, Jess? A cockteaser.”
He thrust against me again to ram the point home. “For two semesters you’ve sat next to me. Leaning across me to copy notes. Letting your hair brush my arm. Smiling at me like English is the last thing on your mind.”
He grinned, a sinister stretching of thin lips over slightly protruding teeth. “So don’t give me some bullshit now about us being just friends, because I know you want this.”
The guy was nuts. How the hell had he taken our innocent study dates and built them up into some sicko sex fantasy? I shook my head. “No, I don’t.”
“Bet I can change your mind.”
And that’s the moment I knew I was in serious trouble.
Because I’d just said no. And Dave didn’t believe me.
“Let. Me. Go.” I annunciated each word clearly.
Yeah, like that would help the message sink into his thick skull. “This isn’t going to happen, Dave. I said no.”
“Fucking cockteasing bitch,” he said, a second before his mouth slammed onto mine.
I screamed. Useless. His tongue stuck in my mouth and I tried to bite it, which only served to make him angrier.
He grabbed my ponytail and pulled. Hard. My neck snapped back. Pain ricocheted down my spine. This was bad. Really bad.
I fought, desperate to escape. But the more I writhed and bucked to get away, the stronger he seemed to get. The windowsill dug into my back as he pinned me easily with his body weight and one arm, the other arm insinuating its way between our bodies. Sliding lower. Unzipping.
I would not let this happen.
Mustering every ounce of strength I could, I wrenched my mouth free for a moment and that’s all I needed to let out an ear-shattering scream.
“For fuck’s sake.” He released me, shoving me away so hard I stumbled and fell onto the bed.
Like that was helping my situation. I scrambled up fast and ran for the door, half expecting him to come at me again.
“Frigid bitch.” His tone was so cold, so derisive, I wondered how I could’ve been fooled into thinking this guy was mild-mannered. “Here’s a tip for you. Don’t enter a bedroom at a party unless you want to get laid.”
I opened the door and paused, incredulous. In what alternate reality did a girl trusting a friend equate with her expecting sex just because they entered a bedroom?
“And here’s a tip for you, dickwad.” I stared at his groin and wrinkled my nose. “No means no.” I held up my hand and let my pinkie droop. “So keep your tiny wiener in your pants. And if you ever come near me again, I’ll have you up on sexual assault charges so fast your head will spin.”
Brave fighting words, while I was a quivering mess inside.
To my amazement, Dave deflated before my eyes. Slumped shoulders. Red face. And he started to shake. “I’m sorry, Jess. Been a long time and—”
“Save it, asshole. Just because you’ve got a severe case of blue balls doesn’t mean you get to force a girl into having sex with you.”
That’s when I started to shake too, when the enormity of what I’d just escaped hit me. “Stay the hell away from me. Or better yet, when I get back after summer, I want you gone. Transfer out.”
His hangdog expression did little to soothe my rampant sense of injustice. I had to get in a parting shot.
“And for the record? I’ll be telling every girl in my dorm what just happened here, and they’ll tell their boyfriends who’ll beat you to a pulp if you don’t leave. So don’t think I’ll stay silent because I’m embarrassed or ashamed.” I flipped him the bird. “Because you’re the one who should be ashamed, you stupid prick.”
I made a run for it then, half slipping, half sliding down the stairs. I pushed through the crowd, made it to the door and out. Freedom.
I ran on pure adrenalin all the way to Chantal’s apartment, where I banged on the door until my fists ached.
Thankfully, it was her night off and when my cousin opened the door, I stumbled inside and burst into tears.
I hated cooking Mrs. Gee’s hearty beef stew. Dicing onions would have to be my least favorite task in the kitchen and she’d assigned me a kilo’s worth.
“How was the B&S ball?” she said, rinsing and drying her hands while eyeing me with curiosity.
I paused mid-chop and blinked against the constant sting. “Same old.”
Mrs. Gee tut-tutted. “Wild women and monstrous hangovers?”
“Something like that.” I resumed dicing, preferring not to think about that night two weeks ago. The night I kinda went a little crazy.
“You were back rather early?” She poured beef stock into the monstrous pot on the stove and added a handful of fresh tarragon and oregano. “Thought you’d be gone for a few days.”
“Maybe I missed you too much?” I winked and the sixty-something cook blushed.
“You’re full of it,” she said, grabbing a ladle and stirring the stew. “So what really happened?”
I couldn’t tell her the truth, for the simple fact I hadn’t quite figured out what had happened myself.
After the forty-year-old blonde had rooted me on her Ute, I’d made my way back to the main arena. And stood on the outskirts for the next two hours, feeling like crap.
Empty on the inside. Mixed with a healthy dose of disgust.
What kind of a soulless prick hooked up with nameless women?
Pricks like me.
Because that’s how I’d felt, watching couples dance and make out and drink until they were comatose…like I had no soul.
I felt dead on the inside. Like nothing or no one could touch me.
And it had scared the shit out of me.
I’d stopped drinking right then and grabbed a few hours sleep to give the alcohol time to work out of my system, before hitting the road and heading back here.
But the empty feeling hadn’t subsided and nothing I did these days could shake it. Not even long rides on horseback, sleeping in a swag beneath the stars or losing myself in concocting new recipes.
I needed to shake things up but had no frigging idea how to do it.
“Nothing happened.” I took the chopping board over to the pot and scooped the onions in. “Do we put the spuds in now or later?”
“Stop trying to distract me with cooking talk.” She waggled her finger. “You haven’t been yourself since you got back from that ball and I’m worried.”
A little piece of my hardened heart melted. Ever since I’d arrived at Cooweer four months ago, Mrs. Gee had been like a makeshift mum. Rather nice, considering I hadn’t had a mum since mine had done a runner when I was six. At least she’d lasted two years longer than my dad, who’d bolted when I was four.
Mrs. Gee saved me the choicest cuts of meat, made my favorite passion-fruit pav regularly and imparted her best recipes with regularity. She was great. But I wasn’t used to having anyone worry about me, least of all an older woman I barely knew.
“Don’t worry about me.” I blew her a kiss. “You’d be better off being concerned about me figuring out your secret ingredients and winning the Royal Agricultural Show next year.”
She snorted. “You’re going to hang around that long?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
The truth was, I had no idea how long I planned on staying. After Mum left, I spent ten years of my life being shunted from one foster home to another, until I’d had a gutful at sixteen and escaped. Barely. The beating I’d received from a sadistic older ‘brother’ at that last house stayed with me, all the incentive I needed to fall off the foster system map and go bush. And I’d been traveling ever since, working my way across outback New South Wales and into Queensland.
I liked being a nomad. Multi-tasking; anything from shearing sheep to picking up horseshit. Landing the cooking gig had been totally unexpected and the first thing in my life I actually enjoyed.
“I’ll make you a deal.” Mrs. Gee folded her arms and propped against the island bench in the middle of the huge kitchen. “You stick around a little longer and I’ll show you how to make my famous jelly lamingtons.”
“I don’t do cakes,” I said, secretly thrilled she liked having me around that much.
“You shove them down that big mouth of yours just fine.” She grinned and I smiled back, enjoying our unexpected camaraderie. I didn’t let many people get close. Mrs. Gee was definitely an exception to the rule.
“Well, you’ll have to stick around another month at least, because we’re having house guests.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the door leading into the main homestead. “Yanks, apparently. Some politician who works for the missus’s father in LA. And his girlfriend.”
“So? What’s that got to do with me?” I cooked for the station workers, Mrs. Gee handled the homestead. We co-existed in the kitchen in culinary harmony, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting to cook more than the requisite stews and bolognaise and schnitzels the workers preferred.