Monday, August 26, 2013

EXCERPT: Between Brothers

Title: Between Brothers
Author: Lauren Gallagher

Chapter 1

I woke one Sunday morning with a stranger in my bed and a sick feeling in my gut.
Watching him sleep beside me, I couldn't decide if I wanted to scream, cry, or just shake my head and curse under my breath.
It wasn't the casual sex that bothered me. It wasn't the fact that it was my fourth one-night stand since my husband and I separated three months before. No, what bothered me was replaying the previous night's festivities in my head and realizing that it had been no different than the others before him.
In short, it sucked.
Just like it always did.
I sighed, muttering a few obscenities as I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and got up. I was honestly starting to believe that sex was overrated. My husband had been my first and he'd never done much for me. After we separated, I decided to burn off a few years' worth of sexual frustration, certain I'd find something better than the lackluster sex I'd "enjoyed" with him. Sex with someone else had to be better than sex with him. It had to be.
I stood, running my hand through my disheveled hair and pulling on my robe as I let out a frustrated sigh. I'd always heard that sex in books and film bore no resemblance to reality, but assumed that there had to be something on the spectrum between what I found in porn and what I found in my own bedroom. There was no way people would go to the lengths they did to get sex if it was really this bad.
There was one thing I couldn't deny: the only common denominator among my less-than-thrilling partners was me. So what was I doing wrong?  Was it just bad luck? Maybe bad taste?
I cast a quick glance at—what was his name? Ken, that was it. He was still sound asleep.
Ken wasn't bad looking. Quite the contrary, actually: he looked like he divided most of his time between a gym and a tanning bed, and his highlights probably cost as much as my car payment. Of all the men I'd met recently and the handful I'd slept with, Ken had seemed the most promising. He could dance, and he was a fantastic kisser. 
He was a fantastic kisser, but that only seemed to apply when he was kissing my mouth. The second he put his mouth anywhere else, he had all the grace and precision of a blind man trying to spearfish with his tongue.
I couldn't complain about his cock. Well, that's not true. I couldn't complain about its dimensions. In fact, I distinctly remember laying eyes on it and thinking Jackpot! The previous couple of men I'd slept with had evidently done horrendous things in their past lives and were paying for it—dearly.
Ken, I soon discovered, hadn't escaped penile karma either: he was well-endowed, but it took longer for him to put the condom on than it did for him to have an orgasm.
Maybe it was good sex. Unfortunately for me, I blinked and missed it.
With a sigh, I wandered into the bathroom for a shower, wondering if this really was as good as it got. Maybe sex was like the emperor's new clothes: Everyone who had it knew that it sucked, but no one wanted to admit it because they didn't want to be the only one.
The thought made me chuckle as I stepped into the shower, but I truly was starting to wonder. As the hot water ran over my shoulders, I rested my forehead against the cold tile and sighed again. I wasn't lonely. I was still on the rebound from my marriage, especially since John and I hadn't even settled on whether this was a temporary arrangement, or if we were truly calling it quits. Divorcing or not, I just wasn't interested in anything serious with anyone. In fact, I was enjoying being on my own, living in my own place, not being attached to anyone.
What I did want, though, was some decent sex. Some satisfying sex. Hell, I'd have been happy with just one decent orgasm caused by someone other than myself. I knew what an orgasm could feel like, and the sad excuses for orgasms that these men gave me never seemed to hold a candle to the ones I had on my own. And at least my vibrator just went quietly back into the nightstand drawer when I was done, instead of lingering in my bed for awkward morning after small talk and empty promises to get together again.
I sighed and closed my eyes as the hot water ran over my neck. Something wasn't right. There had to be a man out there that knew how to please a woman. Or maybe I didn't know what I was doing. All I knew was that something had to give, or I was going to have to buy stock in batteries.
By the time I was done with my shower, the sick feeling was still in my gut and Ken was still in my bed. He was not, however, still asleep.
He grinned at me from the bed. "Hey, beautiful."
Oh, I've never heard that before, Casanova. "Good morning," I said with a forced smile.
He winked. "It certainly will be."
I bit my lip. I couldn't do it. No way. "Actually, I, um." C'mon Marisa, think. "It's…you know…that time."
He eyed me for a second, puzzled, then made the connection. "Oh." He made short work of getting out of bed and dressed. We had some coffee and made awkward small talk in the kitchen before he left.
The 'period card', I thought with a smirk after he was gone. Works every time.
I made myself some breakfast and sat alone in the living room, mulling over last night, over the other one night stands, over my ex. Something had to give. Really. There had to be some decent sex out there. There just had to be.
The question was, how the hell did I find it?

Chapter 2

On my way home from work on Monday night, my good friend Darren texted me to see if I'd mind a visitor for an hour or two. This was hardly an unusual occurrence; ever since I moved into the apartment in Lynnwood, I lived about halfway between Darren's work and his apartment. When traffic was heavy, as it usually was this time of night, he sometimes stopped by for a cup of coffee. Darren had the patience of a saint except when it came to traffic, so it was just as well.
I really wasn't in the mood for a visitor. Between the usual bullshit at work and my lingering frustration from my one-second stand on Saturday night, I just wanted to be alone. But I could always stand Darren's company, so I texted back a simple "see you shortly."
He knocked on my front door just seconds after the pot of coffee was ready. I don't know how he managed it, but he always showed up right when the coffee was done. He sat on one of the bar stools on the opposite side of my kitchen counter as I poured our coffee and we made small talk.
Darren was an intriguing collision of masculine and feminine. His dark hair was perfectly trimmed, perfectly kept, parted just far enough off center that it perfectly complimented the contours of his face. He was fair-skinned with intense blue eyes and high cheekbones above a sharply angled jaw. When he moved, he carried himself with the grace of a woman but the swagger of a man.
What I wouldn't have done to get that man into bed, but I didn't dare cross that line. I wondered what he would have thought if he knew that all he had to do was say the word and I'd fuck him. Then again, given my rather cynical attitude about sex at that point, it would probably be just as disappointing as sex had always been, and I didn't want to spoil my fantasy.
Our small talk wound down and we drank our coffee in silence for a moment. He watched me over the rim of his cup as he took a sip. "Something tells me you've had a shittier day than usual."
I shifted my weight and set my coffee down. "What makes you say that?"
"Because you wear your bad moods on your sleeve."
I scowled. "Maybe that's why everyone was keeping me at arm's length at work today."
He shrugged. "Or it was you keeping them at arm's length."
"Most likely."
He set his coffee down and cocked his head. "So what's up?" He lifted an eyebrow. "Problems with John again?"
"Hardly," I said bitterly. "We haven't spoken since I moved out."
"I thought you guys were trying to sort it out."
I rolled my eyes. "John's definition of 'working it out' is to go our separate ways for six months, see other people, then get together again and basically start over."
He stared at me incredulously. "Are you serious?"
I nodded. "Ever the romantic one, John." With a shrug, I added, "So, I'll see other people, wait it out, and talk to him then." I looked into my coffee cup. "I hope we manage to work things out, but…" I let my voice trail off.
Darren didn't push the issue. We'd been down this road. He knew that I still loved John, that I hoped against all hope that this separation was temporary. He picked up his coffee. "So if that's not what's bothering you today, what is?"
I took a sip, rolling it around in my mouth for a moment while I tried to decide just how much I wanted to tell him. We'd been friends for years; there weren't many topics that were taboo between us, but I'd never gone into much detail about my sex life. I sighed and swallowed my coffee. "Well, it isn't John per se, but it does have to do with your gender."
He gave me a look of mock offense. "Impossible. What has any member of my gender ever done to piss you off?"
I snorted. "More like, what hasn't any member of your gender done?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Do tell."
I sighed. "Can I ask you a really stupid question?"
"Wouldn't be the first time."
"Guilty." He took a drink. "Now ask away."
I swirled my coffee gently, avoiding his eyes. I tried to find the words. "Damn it, I don't even know how to say it."
"No, you don't look fat in those pants."
I laughed. "Why, thank you. Seriously, though…" I bit my lip and thumbed the handle on my coffee cup. Finally I set the cup down and crossed my arms across my chest. "You watch porn, right?"
He blinked, then laughed. "You found my collection, didn't you?"
"No." I paused, laughing. Then I cleared my throat and tried to be serious. "You do watch it, right?"
He shrugged. "I do, but not as often as you might think."
His cheeks colored a little. "I'm a bit more of a fan of the written word than crappy acting and plastic tits."
"An erotica fan?"
He nodded.
"Okay, so that was my next question: if you read erotica." My cheeks were burning.
He watched me over his coffee cup. "Are you ashamed of me now?"
I laughed. "Please. I could probably loan you a few copies of things you've never read." Including a few short stories of my own starring you. Or your brother. My laughter faded. "My question, though…" I chewed my lip for a second, trying to find the words. "Does what you read even remotely resemble what you experience with a woman? In reality?"
He blinked. "Hell no." I was about to sigh with relief that I wasn't the only one, but he continued, "The real thing is so, so much better."
My heart sank. "Really?"
He lifted an eyebrow. "You sound disappointed."
I looked away.
He leaned forward, folding his hands on the counter. "Don't tell me you've never…" Our eyes met and his lips parted. "You're kidding."
I shook my head. "I thought it was just John. I mean, he couldn't do crap for me." I let out a breath. "But every guy I've been with since we separated…" I shrugged.
He stared at me for a moment. "You mean," he paused, rubbing the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes as if trying to comprehend what I'd said. "You've never gotten off during sex?"
I shrugged. "I do sometimes.  But it's nothing like, you know…" My face was on fire.
He smirked. "Like when you do it yourself?"
I kept avoiding his eyes, but nodded. Christ, I couldn't imagine having this conversation with anyone but Darren, but even with him, it was almost unbearable. "I just, anytime I've fucked a guy, I walk away feeling like, 'that's it?'"
"So, I mean, what are they doing? Or not doing, as the case may be."
I took a breath. "The last one barely lasted long enough to get the stupid condom on."
Darren laughed. "A minute man. Charming. Didn't he at least make up for it some other way? His mouth? His fingers?"
I rolled my eyes. "Oh please. The man couldn't have gotten me off with his mouth if his life depended on it."
"Okay, so Loser Number One is a minute man with a malfunctioning tongue. Next?"
"Then one was too rough with his hand, wouldn't go down on me —"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up." He gestured sharply and shook his head. "Say that again? He wouldn't go down on you?"
I shook my head.
He clicked his tongue. "Philistine. Tell me he at least lasted more than a few minutes when he fucked you."
"Oh, he lasted a while," I said. "Long enough that I was starting to sing '99 Bottles of Beer' in my head."
He laughed so hard he choked on his coffee. "My God, Marisa," he chuckled. "Where are you finding these guys?  I mean, if someone lasted that long, he should have at least been able to hit your G-spot a few times."
I stared at him, raising an eyebrow.
His jaw dropped. "Tell me at least one of them has found your G-spot."
I dropped my gaze. I had a somewhat vague idea of where my own G-spot was. The men I'd been with were liable to find Jimmy Hoffa before they found it, though.
Darren set his coffee cup down hard and eyed me. "My gender is truly letting me down, here."
"More like letting me down."
He shook his head. "So, have you told them what you like? Pointed them in the right direction?"
I thumbed the handle on my coffee cup and stared at the floor. Of course. Since I'm so good at that. Just like I can tell the man sitting across from me that I'd jump his bones at the drop of a hat. "Honestly? I'm not even sure how to steer them in the right direction."
"Tell them what you like, what you don't like."
"I know, of course," I said. "But, to be honest, I'm not even sure what to ask for. What I want." Besides you.
"You know what feels good, right?"
"Well, when I do it."
He shrugged. "Well, it'll probably feel good when they do it too, provided you give them some feedback. Men aren't mind readers, you know."
I swallowed. "I tried that with John. A little. He just always brushed it off and insisted he knew what he was doing." I laughed bitterly. "I don't think he ever really gave a shit if I came anyway. Whenever I did, it certainly wasn't because of any concerted effort on his part."
Darren ran a hand through his hair. "Well, the first thing you need to do is find a man who wants nothing more in the world than to get you off."
I blinked. "A what?"
He smiled. "They're out there. Trust me. Making love to a woman is an art form, and there are plenty of artists out there."
"If it's an art form, I'm getting all the ones that are in Remedial Scribbling 101."
He laughed and shook his head again. "Well, on the bright side, it means you have nowhere to go but up."
"So what do I do? Ask a guy if he enjoys getting a woman off before I take him to bed?"
"That's a start. Okay, seriously. You know, talk to him beforehand."
I rolled my eyes. "Right, because every man doesn't think he's Casanova."
"Okay, fair enough," Darren said. "No guy is going to tell you he sucks in the sack. It's not so much what he says, it's how he says it."
I cocked my head. "What do you mean?"
"If a guy promises you thirty orgasms in a night, he's probably full of shit. The kind of guy who thinks a woman's having an orgasm any time she moans." He sipped his coffee before he went on. "You want the guy who asks you what you like before he starts telling you all the reasons why he should be a porn star."
"Can't say I've ever run into such a guy."
"They're out there. I promise." He eyed me. "But, the other side of that is that you have to actually tell them what it is you like."
"Easier said than done," I muttered.
He shrugged and sipped his coffee again. "And I don't know how it applies to men, but I can tell a hell of a lot about a woman by the way she kisses."
I shifted my weight. "How so?"
"If she just sort of passively lets me kiss her, then I can pretty much guarantee she'll be a passive, cold fish in bed." He paused, watching me for a second, then went on. "If she's practically chewing my face off, trying to stick her tongue down my throat, then she's got quite the sexual appetite, but isn't terribly responsive to my cues. When I start gagging, it's time to back off, you know?"
I laughed, but as I thought about what he'd said, he was right. John was a very domineering kisser, the kind who made the decision between a gentle kiss and a deep French kiss without any input on my part. The guy from the other night went straight to challenging my gag reflex with his tongue the very first time he kissed me, and he certainly didn't take his time with anything else.
In the back of my mind, I wondered what it would be like to have the kind of confidence to look Darren in the eye and ask if we could test that theory right there in my kitchen.
Instead, I set my cup down and ran a hand through my hair. "Sounds like I need a damned degree in psychology to figure out if it's worth taking a guy home."
Darren smirked. "It's not as hard as it sounds. You'll be fine. You just have to pay attention to his cues." He sipped his coffee and leaned back in his chair. "Then, once you get him into bed, you've got to give him enough feedback to let him know if he's doing the right thing."
I let out a frustrated breath. "I guess that's going to take some work."
"You'll get the hang of it," he said. "Trust me. All it will take is a few cases of 'I want this' resulting in earth-shattering orgasms, and you'll have no trouble asking in the future."
Prove it, Darren. Fucking prove it. Right here. Right now.  I swallowed hard. "I'll take your word for it."

He grinned over the rim of his coffee cup. "Trust me."

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