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Table of Contents
About The Book
Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future.
But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.
When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside.
That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.
Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.
Smart, sexy, and provocative, Unteachable is about what happens when a love story goes off-script.
WHEN you’re eighteen, there’s fuck-all to do in a southern Illinois summer but eat fried pickles, drink PBR tallboys you stole from your mom, and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl till you hurl. Which is exactly what I was doing the night I met Him.
It was the kind of greenhouse August heat that feels positively Jurassic. Everything was melting a little: the liquid black sky, the silver-gel-penned stars, the neon lights bleeding color everywhere. All summer there’s a carnival a mile from my house, in a no-man’s-land rife with weeds and saw grass, a sea of flat earth. It felt like the edge of forever out there. I cracked a tallboy and it echoed like a rifle shot. I took a swig of that pissy weak stuff, savoring the coolness. I was sitting on a picnic bench, watching the roller coaster go up and down and up again, the joyous screams phasing in and out like a distant radio station. Roller coasters scare me, and it has everything to do with me losing my stuffed bunny George when I was five. George fell from a hundred feet in the sky when I threw my hands up in cruel, careless glee. Mom sewed new eyes on, but I cried and cried and said he was dead until she let me bury him in the backyard. We made a coffin out of a Froot Loops box. Mom, so drunk she was crying, too, gave the eulogy.
So maybe part of why I was out here tonight was because I was tired of being a kid, stuck with kid fears and kid memories. Senior year would start in two weeks. I wanted to go in already an adult.
I pounded the last of the beer and crushed the can on the bench.
My name’s Maise, by the way. Maise O’Malley. Yeah, I’m Irish as hell. But you probably knew that from the drinking, right?
I went into the carnival. Apparently, a breaking news bulletin had just gone out about my legs: three pairs of wolf eyes looked over instantly, then moved down, up, down, the old broken elevator gaze. It’s always the older guys, too. But I’m kind of screwed up from growing up without a father, and I like when they try to daddy me.
Try being the operative word, as Mr. Wilke says.
But we’ll get to him.
I smiled at no one, sauntering past stalls stuffed with popcorn and pretzels and corn dogs, snow cones and cotton candy. The air was drugged with sugar and salt. It made my head spin. A bell rang nearby and someone whooped triumphantly. I passed the rigged games—milk bottles, darts—where people stubbornly threw money at the carny, desperate to win some giant lice-ridden teddy fresh out of a Taiwanese sweatshop.
Mr. Wilke says I’m both cynical and worldly for my age. I choose to take them both as compliments.
I wasn’t ready to face the roller coaster yet, so I rode the merry-go-round for a while, going for the full Lolita effect as I lifted a leg high and slowly, slowly draped it over a painted horse, reveling in how uncomfortable I made all the parents. One man kept glancing in my direction until his kid pulled his sleeve and snapped, “Dad!” I raised an eyebrow coolly. Too bad I didn’t have any bubble gum.
Finally the beer had charged up my blood. I marched over to the YOU MUST BE THIS TALL sign. The line was short. It was getting late, for a weeknight.
Then I saw the name of the roller coaster.
I almost turned around right there. Stupid, yeah, but PTSADS doesn’t care how stupid a trigger is.
If you need me to spell that out, it’s Post-Traumatic Stuffed Animal Death Syndrome. I thought it was pretty funny. Mom and the psychologist did not. The psychologist said I had substituted George for Dad and I actually had post-dad syndrome. I told her George was a fucking bunny.
“You getting on?” the carny said. He had so much acne he looked like a halftone comic, like when you peer really close at a newspaper and everything that looked solid is just little dots.
I gave him my ticket.
The assholes on this ride had decided to take every single car except the front. Again, I almost turned around. I did turn, actually, and saw a guy behind me, so I turned back and got into the empty car because I was not going to chicken out in front of the entire universe. Best-case scenario: I close my eyes for four minutes and get a free blow-dry. Worst-case scenario: I fall from a hundred feet in the air, and there’s no sewing my eyes back on.
The door to my car opened.
It was the guy. He raised his eyebrows questioningly, and I shrugged. He got in.
At least I might die next to a hot guy.
Revised worst-case scenario: I throw up on him, we both die.
“You’re pretty brave,” he said, lowering the bar over us. “Must be a veteran, sitting up front.”
“It’s my first time,” I said. Well, first time on my own terms.
He smiled. It lit his face like a camera flash. “Mine too.”
Then Deathsnake lurched forward, toward doom.
It’s a trick, the way it starts. There’s a loud, creepy ratcheting, like some massive clockwork grinding beneath you, but the car just farts along inconspicuously. People behind us were talking about stupid shit. Some girl told someone to put away his phone and I prayed that he wouldn’t and that it was expensive. The guy next to me looked out over the fairgrounds as we ascended, and I peered past him, but my attention was split. Beyond him, a confetti of lights and fey music, all the ugly carny weirdness rendered magical thanks to distance. But my eyes kept catching on his face. From below it was traced with red neon, from above with metallic moonlight, sketching out a bold, almost sulky chin, lips that looked too soft and sensitive for a man. His eyelashes were a fringe of furry gold. I couldn’t see his eyes from this angle.
He looked over suddenly and I whipped my head away. “What a view,” he said.
“Tell me about it,” I mumbled.
I could feel him smiling.
“Oh, shit,” someone said behind us.
And we dropped.
I’m not going to do the whole roller-coaster/falling-in-love metaphor. I didn’t fall in love with him up there. Maybe I fell in love with the idea of love, but I’m a teenage girl. This morning I fell in love with raspberry jam and a puppy in a tiny raincoat. I’m not exactly Earth’s top authority on the subject.
But when we crested the first peak and the world sprawled beneath us like a tangled-up string of Christmas lights and then we plunged toward it at light speed, the guy and I reached for each other’s hands spontaneously and simultaneously.
And I felt something I’ve never felt before.
You can call it love, or you can call it free fall. They’re pretty much the same thing.
When Deathsnake glided to a stop, we both looked like we’d stuck our fingers in electric sockets. Einstein hair, Steve Buscemi eyes. The guy had screamed more than I did. I mostly laughed, at his screaming, at my fear, and finally at how good it felt to be alive right then and there. Not once had I thought of George or my mother or my sad life.
The guy—who I mentally upgraded to The Guy, capital letters—offered me a hand out of the car. We still had shit-eating grins plastered on our faces.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Helping me lose my roller-coaster virginity.”
I don’t think he meant to flirt, but he blushed anyway. He looked at me a little closer.
This is the part where they realize you’re jailbait.
“How old are you?” he said, right on cue.
I love what that does to their faces. Old enough to . . . fill in the blank.
But The Guy only smiled. “I don’t want your parents to think I’m some creep.”
He could have said, I’m a teacher, and everything would have been different.
“I’m here by myself,” I said. “All that matters is whether I think you’re some creep.”
“Let’s test that hypothesis.” And I headed for the exit.
I knew exactly what he was seeing from the rear view. The cutoff jean shorts, the creamy legs sleek and slender as a filly’s, the tight tee, the cascade of burnished chestnut hair. I was, perhaps, very slightly, flouncing. Normally I’m cool and collected. But I was giddy from the heights and this beautiful man paying attention to me. I still hadn’t really seen him head-on, so in my mind he became a pastiche of male models and movie stars.
“How do you feel about centrifugal force?” I said over my shoulder.
“Totally against it.”
“Great. Next up is the Gravitron.”
The line here was longer, and when he caught up we turned to each other, and I did a double take.
There was the sensitive mouth I’d seen earlier, the lips that looked made for poetry and murmuring sweet French nothings in cologne commercials. Je te veux, mon chéri. But now there was a whole face to go with them, and that face—oh my god. You know when a swimmer gets out of a pool, and they’re radiant and flushed, mouth open a little, eyelashes dewy and sparkling, squinting like they’ve just come back from another world? He had that look, permanently. Like he wasn’t really from here. He was some beautiful thing coming up from a beautiful place, squinting amiably at our brightness and filth. I could give you the technical specs—cheekbones high and chiseled, straight patrician nose, tall forehead, boyishly handsome—but it was the expression that made him beautiful.
He’d said something to me and I was just gaping like an idiot. “What?”
That smile again. Like a flashbulb going off, freezing you in the moment.
“Did you know you can walk on the wall while it’s spinning?”
“It’s nuts. You’ll feel like a superhero. They won’t let you do it now, but if you hang around till closing and slip them some cash, they’ll look the other way.”
My eyes must have lit up at this. The Guy leaned in suddenly, tilting his face.
But he just stared at my eyes, as if searching for a stray eyelash. A free wish.
“What are you doing?” I whispered, hoping I didn’t have beer breath.
“Green,” he said, and leaned back. “I wanted to know the color.”
“Why? So the police can identify my body later?”
Thankfully, he laughed. We handed over our tickets.
“Five bucks says you scream,” I said.
They lined us up against the wall. Lights went off. Marquees blinked on. The giant steel saucer began to spin. They were really going for the UFO effect here.
“Someday they’ll make spaceships like this,” I said. “So the astronauts can walk around.”
“Like in 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“The movie. You’ve never seen it? It’s a classic.”
That was the first time I felt the difference in our ages.
“How old are you?” I said.
“Old enough,” he said, and we both laughed.
My bones stuck to the wall like magnets. I tried to raise my arm, but it weighed a hundred pounds. The boards we stood against rose off the floor, our feet levitating. A girl near me giggled uncontrollably. The saucer was still accelerating, flattening my insides, making me feel both weightless and infinitely heavy. I tensed my legs and raised them straight out, sitting in midair. The Guy grinned at me. His gaze lingered on my legs, and the edges of his grin softened, and even though my stomach was a pancake, something in it fluttered. Little two-dimensional paper butterflies.
The UFO reached maximum velocity. I let my legs slam back down. I wanted to feel like this all the time, like I was rushing through the universe, everything intense and pressed right up against my skin. The Guy gave a wild, jubilant yell. The giggling girl sounded like she was drowning. At that moment I knew every single person on the ride wanted it to go faster, faster, blood pooling at the backs of our skulls, until we were tingling and dizzy and flew apart into a million particles of happiness.
I had trouble getting my balance when we came down. The Guy rooted in his pocket for something. He took my hand.
He pressed a five-dollar bill into my palm. “You win.”
I felt weirdly sheepish. I didn’t want to take his money. “I was just kidding.”
“I’m a man of my word.”
Yes. You’re a man, a very pretty one who’s being very nice to me, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
“Fine. Let’s support the economy,” I said, waving the bill at the game stalls.
We decided the least-rigged game was the water gun race, because it had a winner every round. I paid up and sat next to a little boy whose mom stood behind him, maneuvering his arms like a puppet. On my other side was a fat drunk guy who smelled like sausage. He leered at me.
This would be cake.
I grabbed my WWII-era machine water gun and took aim at the bull’s-eye dead ahead. The carny counted down. Three. Two.
I brushed Fatso’s bare leg with my calf.
The little boy lost before it even began. He started crying, and his mom snapped at him and seized the gun. She only managed to squirt out a tragic, flaccid little stream before her kid burst into wails and she pulled him off the seat.
“And Seven drops out,” The Guy announced, as the carny stared at us with sullen boredom. “A sad day for Team Seven. Six has the lead now, but Five is gaining fast.”
I hit my bull’s-eye flawlessly. My marker rose smooth and steady.
Fatso had pretty good aim, too. We were neck and neck.
I rubbed my calf along his hairy shin.
“But wait! Five is falling behind! He seems to be losing focus. Can he pull it together?”
I hooked my foot around the back of Fatso’s leg. Dragged my toes up his meaty ham hock.
Ding ding ding!
“Winner! Number Six by a landslide.”
I turned a huge smile on Fatso. “Sorry, mister.”
He wasn’t mad at all. His piggish eyes gleamed. “I got another game you can beat me at.”
“Dad,” I said brightly, “this man wants to play a different game with me.”
Fatso heaved himself off the stool, his hands up in the surrender/I-didn’t-touch-her position, and backed into the crowd.
“You’re a dangerous girl,” The Guy said softly.
I made a gun with my fingers and blew imaginary smoke away.
My choice of prize was a weepy-eyed velvet pony. It was the look on its face—soulful, hopeful, earnest—that appealed to me. I crushed it to my chest, getting my smell all over it as we strolled aimlessly through the crowd. Mostly older, drunker people now. Two veiny guys yelling, inching into each other’s faces. A man chasing a woman who kept saying it was too late, he blew it.
“I’m thirsty,” The Guy said. “You want something?”
I shrugged, which apparently meant yes. He bought two plastic cups of beer.
“How old are you?” he said again as he watched me drink.
“When’s your birthday?” he said fast.
My reply was just as quick. “August seventeenth, nineteen ninety-two.” I’ve memorized dates for getting into clubs since the dawn of time. Last year I was born in 1991.
He relaxed, smiling, sipping. “Congratulations. You can do everything now but be the president.”
I thought about why he was so fixated on my age. What he was thinking of doing.
“Are you in college?” he said.
His eyebrows rose. I laughed.
“Kidding. I never went.”
We still hadn’t told each other our names. It was beginning to feel deliberate.
“You’re not from around here,” I said.
He gave me a funny look, half flattered, half perplexed. “Why do you say that?”
“For starters, stripping is a respectable profession in these parts. It’s gainful employment. Plus you don’t have an accent.”
“Neither do you.”
“Well, golly, Mr. Man,” I drawled, “you sure are right about that.”
He laughed. “So you hide it. You’ve reinvented yourself. A self-made woman.”
I think he’d been drinking earlier that night, like me. His eyes were glassy and a bit feverish.
“Maybe,” I said mysteriously, trying on the idea in my head. A self-made woman. I threw back the rest of my beer. The Guy stared at my throat, and I swanned for him as I swallowed. When my head came down my eyes were lazily half-closed, my mouth pouty. That fuck-me look I’ve used to great effect on other men.
The Guy averted his eyes. Took a drink. Scanned the crowd.
I felt stupid. I hugged the stuffed pony under my arm.
“Why are you here alone?” I said.
He touched my elbow and bent close. “You want to go somewhere quieter where we can actually talk?”
He didn’t let go of my elbow, and I thanked a whole pantheon of gods for that. It felt different now. His skin on my skin caused a chemical reaction. My cells were rioting.
We walked out of the carnival into the night sea of grass and stars.
I did a suave little twist of my arm until our hands joined. I pulled him through the darkness toward the picnic table, then let go and hopped up, hugging the pony between my knees. He stopped a foot away.
“You look incredible,” he breathed.
A rush of sweet blood to my head.
“So do you,” I said, my voice also gauzy.
He moved toward me. Cool platinum starlight played off his hair, the gold sheen on his arms. He wasn’t super tall, maybe five foot ten, but his frame was elegantly made, lithe muscle knitting around finely sculpted bones. That muscle rippled beneath his T-shirt and the jeans that molded to him. I pressed my palms to the splintered wood but I could still imagine them running down a hard thigh. I’m going to fuck you, I thought. Somewhere not far from here. Maybe the back of your car. The only question is how we’ll get there.
“Did you bring me out here to talk,” I said, “or for something else?”
He looked chagrined. He sat beside me on the table. The rides were shutting down, great mechanical dragons folding their wings, coiling up their segmented tails. I propped the stuffed pony behind my head and lay back, looking up at a perfect planetarium sky.
“You asked why I’m here alone.”
I glanced over at him. He stared straight ahead.
“I see the lights every night. It seems like the whole world has figured out how to be happy, but no one’s letting me in on the secret.”
There are moments, when you’re getting to know someone, when you realize something deep and buried in you is deep and buried in them, too. It feels like meeting a stranger you’ve known your whole life.
“Why’d you get on the roller coaster?” I said.
A little comma formed in the corner of his mouth, a half smile. “I’m starting a new job soon, and . . . I’m terrified, honestly. I thought that if I faced another lifelong fear, it’d give me confidence.”
“You didn’t seem scared.”
“You don’t remember me screaming.”
I grinned. “Au contraire. August twenty-first, twenty-thirteen. Never forget. But you seemed happy.”
It should have tipped him off that I didn’t talk about his job, I talked about feelings. I was too young to care about boring adult jobs. I was still testing out how my heart worked.
He was smiling at me now. I imagined him putting a knee between my legs, holding me down. The sky felt like a huge hot aquarium, swimming with tadpole stars.
“How about you?” he said. “Why tonight?”
“I’m starting a new job, too, actually.”
“What kind of job?”
High school senior.
“It’s sort of an unpaid internship. Anyway, I guess I wanted to do something the old me wouldn’t have done.”
“Would the old you have done this?”
I sat up slowly. My body was languid and light. We were very close, mostly by accident. His stubble glittered like gold dust. The ledge of his lips cast a shadow I couldn’t look away from. “What am I doing, exactly?”
I felt the heat of his hand before it touched me, and shivered. He laid it on my bare knee. Didn’t stroke, didn’t squeeze, just placed it there like a card he’d dealt, waiting for my move.
“This?” I said. My voice had lost all body again, becoming air contained in a thin envelope of words. I mirrored his movement, rested my hand on his jeans. The denim was smooth-worn and warm.
His other hand cupped my face. Somehow he’d gotten closer without quite kissing me yet. There was a carnival smell still on us, beer and popcorn and motor grease, but all of that faded into a kind of white noise, and now I smelled him. Something between suede and smoke. The clean tang of sweat mixed into his cologne, turning into a musky alcohol. Pure delirium. I couldn’t breathe any more of this. I couldn’t get enough of it.
My body was on autopilot. Mouth opening, face tilting, everything yielding. “What am I doing?” I whispered again, and knew he felt my breath in his own mouth.
“Seducing me,” he said.
My eyes opened all the way. My bones regained solidity. Blood pumped furiously into my throat, my temple, fleeing my hands and every part of me that had wanted to be touched by him. I pulled away.
His brow creased. If we’d known each other’s names, he would have said my name then with a question mark.
Was that what I was doing? Seducing him? Another throwaway fuck?
Was that all this was?
“Did I say something wrong?”
I shook my head. But I stood up anyway, grabbed the stuffed animal, mangled it in my hands.
Again, that pained pause on his face where he wanted to say the name of this girl who was clearly upset. Funny, how our own names soothe us. It’s okay, Maise. You are yourself. Whoever that is.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t trying to seduce you.”
The tension went out of him. It wasn’t his fault. It was just the crazy girl and her crazy girl-feelings.
Was that unfair? Maybe I wanted to be unfair.
“Hey,” he said. He came close, his hand hovering over my shoulder blade, waiting for clearance to land. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. If you weren’t trying, it would’ve happened anyway. You are so beautiful.” The hand retreated. “I’ve upset you.”
“No, you haven’t.”
He rocked on his toes a few times, back and forth. I’d learn later that it was his nervous habit. It endeared me to him, a little—instead of retreating from anxiety, he psyched himself up to face it. “I don’t want the night to end like this. Can I take you home?”
He walked at my side, never ahead or behind. Our bodies aligned naturally. I never had to guess where he was going.
He drove a Chevy Monte Carlo built before I was born. It looked like something out of a Tarantino film. I don’t read too much into people’s vehicle choices. Mom drives a minivan, and she’s never taken me to soccer practice or gymnastics. Her van is her office. Only clients get to see the inside.
The front seat of his car was a solid piece of old leather. It smelled dizzyingly masculine. When he got in the seat dipped toward him, peeling away from my skin.
“Where do you live?”
I turned to him. I was breathing hard. He noticed and his hands came off the wheel, his body angling toward me.
We met halfway.
Before this goes any farther, I should tell you I’ve slept with older men before. Some much older than me. Like, times two and up on the multiplication table. One was almost times three.
Thanks, Dad, for leaving a huge void in my life that Freud says has to be filled with dick.
I don’t blame it entirely on him, though. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul, and all that jazz. Obviously I’m compensating for something, but I think even if I’d had a normal childhood, I’d have grown bored of boys my age. They’re like oversensitive car alarms. A brisk breeze is enough to set them off. I should know, since I lost my virginity to one in freshman year. I didn’t even realize it when he came—I thought he was still trying to get in.
Okay, I thought. Bad first pick. The next will be better.
The next one lasted twenty-four seconds. I counted. He said if I really wanted to feel something, we should try anal.
At some point you realize they’re still children, and it starts to feel weird and pervy.
So when a guy in his late twenties flirted with me at a gas station, I got into his car, and he fucked me on a bare mattress in a stuffy one-room apartment that smelled like ashes and beer. He made sure I came first, and he didn’t whine about wearing a condom. He called me gorgeous and bought me a burger before he dropped me home.
I could get used to this, I thought.
So I did.
It seemed like the kiss would be frantic, urgent, but when our lips actually met it was soft. Restrained softness. All the urgency went into our hands, perched on each other’s shoulder and neck like talons. My heart was ecstatic. He wanted this as much as I did and also wanted to not fuck it up, to not let it become a gross sloppy drunk screw. I kissed him slowly, indulgently, feeling the pillowed satin of his lips, the gritty scatter of stubble all around them. It took serious willpower to go slow. Beery bitterness in our mouths, but it just made everything sweeter—this was something we wanted no matter what imperfections tried to deter us.
His hand circled my skull, pulled me into him. I tilted my face further, my mouth at a right angle to his, opening for his tongue. God, when had I last been kissed like this? Had I ever? It felt like being fucked, but sweetly, more personally, somehow. Inside my veins my blood glowed the same neon red as those carnival lights. He pulled back, pulled gently at my lower lip. Opened his eyes and looked at me.
“I’m not trying to seduce you,” I said in an absurd gasp.
He smiled. Not the ultrabright public smile from earlier, but one just for me, small and sly, one corner of his mouth higher than the other.
It was pretty obvious who was seducing whom here.
Some part of my old self wrested control. She curled her hands in his shirt and yanked him toward her. She lowered her body to the long seat and hooked her legs around his, let his weight settle atop her. They kissed again, her and him, and this time it was urgent and frantic and all the things they’d been holding back. Teeth now, and nails. She felt him get hard, the thick ridge of it pressing through his jeans against her inner thigh. She felt our body, mine and hers, getting wet, the sweat between her breasts, on the back of my neck, between our legs. We grasped the zipper of his fly.
The Guy pushed himself up on his elbows, panting. “Wait.”
Then I was me again, hair sticking to my face, flushed. “What?”
He closed his eyes. I could tell breathing was a conscious effort on his part. He lowered his face, grazed my cheek with his sandpapered one. “I want you,” he whispered into my hair, and a million filaments of electricity raced across my scalp. “But I want to know you. I don’t just want a hookup.”
When he raised his head again, I felt that same weightless drop I’d felt when our hands first touched a hundred feet above the Earth.
He combed a hand through my hair, untangling it. “Is that too old-fashioned for you?” A self-deprecating smile. His forehead furrowed when he smiled like that.
“No,” I said.
“You are so beautiful. God, I just want to touch you.” He sighed, his chest moving against mine. Sodium light slanted through the windshield, painting the side of his face with warm lemon. “You know why I was happy up there? Because I completely forgot where I was. All I could think about was you.”
I couldn’t wait anymore.
I took his face in my hands and brought it back to me. We kissed with closed mouths, then tongues again, and he pressed me down, his knee between my legs, like I’d imagined him doing. I felt his kiss all the way through me. I felt it in every hollow place, filling me with summer heat, starlight, sweat, and abandon. When he broke away I said, low and steady, “We can do both. It doesn’t have to just be a hookup.”
His expression was pained, but he didn’t argue this time.
I raked my fingers through his sweat-damp hair. Wrapped my legs around his. His weight made my breath shallow. I felt the rotation of the Earth, our bodies pulled together by gravity. “I want to fuck you,” I said.
The pained look melted away.
I’d burned off my alcohol. The drunk feeling that surged in me now was self-generated. I didn’t even think of where we were parked, if anyone might walk by. I didn’t care. He kissed my throat, my collarbone, pulled the tight sticky tee off with more grace than I would have. His stubble tingled against my breasts. He opened my bra, pressed his hot mouth to my skin. Every string in me tightened and hummed. There was some jerky shifting as I tugged off his T-shirt and he took off my shorts, then our bodies rejoined, skin on skin. Every time an article of my clothing came off, he would spend a moment exploring the revealed area with hands and mouth, then he would kiss me again. Something was spiraling wildly inside of me, more and more out of control. My usual clinical approach to sex wouldn’t work here. He kept confusing it with these tender, adoring gestures. Just fuck me, I wanted to say. But I didn’t want him to just fuck me. I wanted this to keep going on forever, never running out of clothes or new places to be touched.
Finally his fingers slipped into the waistband of my underwear. I popped the button of his jeans, and he didn’t stop me this time. He didn’t stop me as I unzipped his fly, either. Or as I slid my hand around his dick. It’s almost surreal, the first time you feel it and realize this man is going to fuck you with it. It was thick and hard, entire degrees hotter than the rest of him. As I touched him his eyes closed, his eyebrows slanting upward, toward bliss. I love that. I love how absolutely helpless they get when you touch them. I pulled him out of his jeans, pressed my thighs around him. My underwear was still on.
He reached out for something. Flipped the glove box open, extracted a foil wrapper. Pressed it into my hand.
I love when they let me do this, too.
I tore it open, rolled it over him. There’s something so final about it that makes my insides turn to water. No going back. No more excuses. It’s going to happen.
He ran a hand through my hair again, his eyes almost sad. Tucked both thumbs into my underwear and pulled it down. I didn’t let him take it all the way off. Too cramped inside the car anyway. I wanted it to feel desperate, difficult, necessary.
“Fuck me,” I said. My voice shook.
He pressed himself against me, but not inside. We both grimaced. Then again, letting me feel the length of him. The condom was instantly slippery. I breathed through my teeth.
He clamped one hand to the side of my face and said, “Tell me your name.”
Oh, fuck. He was going to do this, make it real.
I bit my lip and rolled my hips against him.
His breath flooded over me. I felt each muscle in him flexing, his abs crunching against my belly, his thighs stretching inside of mine. He slipped his arms beneath my back, pulling me closer to him. That hard dick right up against me was making my brain explode.
“Fuck me,” I said again. No shake. A growl.
“Tell me your name.”
It wasn’t easy for him. I probably could’ve waited him out. He probably would’ve given in. But I said, impatiently, “Why?”
“I don’t want this to just be sex. I want to know who you are.”
Men have a thing I call sex logic. When they’re horny, which is most of the time, the rules of logic change. Instead of being an organized system of reasoning, logic becomes the shortest path to getting what they want. In my present situation, I also succumbed to sex logic. It’s not like he could find me with a first name, anyway. Even in a town this small. Even with a name this uncommon.
And maybe a part of me wanted to let him in. Really let him in.
“Maise,” I said, shaky again.
Something shifted in his face, a puzzle piece sliding into place.
“Hello, Maise,” he said.
“Hi. What’s yours?”
“Evan,” I said, “please stop talking and fuck me.”
He kissed me first, and held my lip between his teeth, sharply, when he did it. I cried out, not from pain but relief. I’d been aching for this, and it wasn’t until he was inside me that I realized it. He fucked me slowly, his eyes open, on my face. My fingers and toes curled and then sprang loose. The funny thing was that his kiss had felt like fucking me, and his fucking me felt like being kissed, everywhere, every bit of my body unbearably warm and buzzing. I had to turn away, close my eyes. Shut down some of my senses. I heard my own voice, the breaths I vocalized without meaning to, and I sounded so girlish and young that it excited me. I was getting off on myself. Crazy. Evan—oh god, he had a name now—lowered his mouth to my breasts, kissed them, sucked at a nipple as he thrust into me, and I felt like I was being turned inside out. Everything became a confusion of overlapping sensations. I hadn’t even realized I’d slipped my hands into the back pockets of his jeans, pulling him deeper into me. Fleetingly I was aware of my bare foot splayed against the cool window. The smack of my skin against leather. Eventually the outer world fell away and all that remained were pressure points. His hands cupping my ass, holding me still, making me feel all of him inside of me, filling me with hardness and heat. You start feeling crazy things when you’re close. All the inhibitions dissolve. I wanted him in every part of me, my mouth, my ass, between my breasts, every place that could be fucked. He went still inside of me and I could have screamed. When he started fucking me again he was so slow, so fucking slow I felt every inch of him, sinking in all the way to the hilt, pressing my clit, and my eyelids fluttered and I said, “I’m gonna come, I’m gonna come,” and he kept fucking me steadily and I let go, every coiled bit of tension shooting out of my nerves in an electric storm. He came with me, his whole body seizing up, monstrously strong for a heartbeat, his fingers digging into my ass and his dick a startling hardness inside me when I was already softening, melting. He pumped into me, softer and softer, his head falling, body going slack, until his weight hung there, poised on the fulcrums of his elbows.
Planets moved in their orbits. Dawn broke in the United Kingdom. A car door slammed like a typewriter key.
I looked up at his face. He was already looking at mine.
When was the last time the man who’d just fucked me wanted to see my face after he came?
Neither of us blinked or seemed to breathe. He was still inside me, soft now. I didn’t know what to do. They usually pulled out immediately, or I disengaged and started looking for my clothes. I couldn’t move, trapped under him.
He brushed my cheek with the back of his hand.
Oh god. Please don’t say something cheesy. Please don’t talk.
He leaned in and kissed me.
I could deal with this. I closed my eyes, kissed him back. An aimless, unhurried kiss, not wanting anything from him now. As he kissed me he pulled out, gentle. I made a little sighing sound. He tucked his dick into his fly, leaving the condom on. His eyes moved over my body but now, unlike earlier, they lingered on my face.
He was looking at me like he knew me. Not in the biblical sense—obviously we were past that—but in a you-are-more-than-a-quick-fuck sense.
I sat up, forcing myself to reach casually for my clothes. Underwear up. Bra on. I couldn’t get into my shorts without almost kicking him in the face, which made him laugh and grab my leg and rub his cheek against my calf. I tried not to let the prickle of his stubble send fireworks through my nervous system, but you try arguing with endorphins.
The car smelled like bleach and sweat, that magical sex musk that isn’t so magical after it’s all over.
How the hell was I going to get out?
The pony stared at us lugubriously from the dashboard. Jesus. Little fucker had watched the whole thing.
My spine crackled when he said it. I pretended to find something interesting in the side mirror. “Yeah?”
“Just trying it out.”
Would it be too rude to open the door right now?
Fingertips grazed my forearm, the fine peach fuzz there. “Are you okay?”
I turned to him. I guess that’s all he wanted—to say my name and get a response. He tilted his head, that otherworldliness shimmering in him. God, he was a beautiful man. And he was so nice to me. And I had to get out of his car before I choked.
“Hey,” I said with forced cheer, “I’ve got an idea.”
His eyebrows rose hopefully.
“I’m going to see if there’s anyone left to bribe at the Gravitron.” I made myself smirk. “You should get cleaned up. Meet me there?”
I’m a pretty good liar. Key skills: eye contact, confidence, not caring about the outcome.
But here was the problem. Somehow, in the two or three hours since I’d met him, Evan had gotten to know me well enough to see through the bullshit. Maybe he heard some undetectable crack in my voice, saw a furtive glint of desperation in my eyes. Because instead of joking or blushing or anything normal, he looked at me like I’d just said I never wanted to see him again.
Never mind that that was exactly what I was saying.
“Okay,” he said quietly.
Key skill: follow-through.
“Great,” I said, and leaned in to peck his cheek.
He grabbed my jaw, holding my face still. My heart thumped like a vampire kicking his way out of his coffin.
Evan just looked at me. He ran his thumb over my mouth, my cheek, as if he was memorizing them, knowing it was the last time he’d see them.
I didn’t have the heart to give him a fake kiss. I lowered my head and got out of the car.
My bike was chained to the cyclone fence behind the Tilt-a-Whirl. It was quiet inside save for a few drunk carnies messing around with the strongman hammer. I swung onto my seat, wincing at the sweet burn between my legs. God fucking dammit. I had to stand to pedal out of the tall grass and dirt, and of course every push reminded me of what I’d just done and how good it had felt and how bad I felt now.
Yeah, I hook up with older guys. And then I leave them, before they can leave me.
Thanks for the abandonment issues, Dad. Fuck you very much.
When I reached the blacktop my eyes were blurry. It was just the wind. Really, it was.
- Publisher: Atria Books (October 14, 2014)
- Length: 320 pages
- ISBN13: 9781476786407
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Raves and Reviews
Praise for Unteachable:
"Lyrical, vivid, and poignant, Unteachable is one of best forbidden romances I've ever read."
– Lauren Blakely, New York Times bestselling author
"Unteachable infuses the complicated dynamics of forbidden sexual tension and untamed passion, all while managing to break your heart. Easily one of my favorite reads."
– Gail McHugh, New York Times bestselling author
"With lush, haunting prose, deft storytelling and scorching sensuality, Leah Raeder weaves a love story that obliterates convention. The best book I’ve read this year."
– M. Pierce, bestselling author of the Night Owl Trilogy
"Leah Raeder's writing is skillful and stunning. Unteachable is one of the most beautifully powerful stories of forbidden love that I have ever read."
– Mia Sheridan, bestselling author of Archer's Voice
“Unteachable is a lyrical masterpiece with a vivid storyline that grabbed me from the very first page. The flawless writing and raw characters are pure perfection, putting it in a class all by itself.”
– Brooke Cumberland, USA Today bestselling author of Spark
"With an electrifying fusion of forbidden love and vivid writing, the characters glow in Technicolor. Brace yourselves to be catapulted to dizzying levels with evocative language, panty-blazing sex scenes, and emotions so intense they will linger long after the last page steals your heart."
– Pam Godwin, New York Times bestselling author of Beneath the Burn
"A simply stunning portrayal of lies, courage and unrequited love. Raeder has a gift for taking taboo subjects and seducing us with them in the rawest, most beautiful way."
– S.L. Jennings, New York Times bestselling author of Taint
"Unique and poetic. You can feel every forbidden touch and taste every delicious kiss between these characters, and like them, you hunger for more. Read it and become immersed in Raeder’s brilliant writing. You won’t regret it."
– Mia Asher, author of Arsen
Praise for Cam Girl:
“Raeder’s beautifully broken characters are so full of life that they leap off the page and demand that the reader pay attention to them…it’s a must read for anyone wanting a sexy deep dive into a tangled psyche and a difficult life.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Cam Girl is a beautiful exploration of gender and sexuality that begs readers to question how well we know those closest to us, including ourselves. Raeder's trademark sensual lyricism is in full effect here, but it's the fraught yet tender relationship between Vada and Ellis that will have you glued to the pages until the oh-so-perfect ending."
– Dahlia Adler, author of UNDER THE LIGHTS
“Raeder keeps the action moving as readers try to figure out the dual mysteries—what happened on the road that night, and who is Blue?"
“Gripping, emotional, relatable, and yes, romantic (in all the best ways) read. Whatever Raeder writes, I will always want to read and recommend.”
– RT Magazine
“Raeder’s best book yet. It has the grit, language, and heat you’d expect, but there’s more. Raeder has clearly dug down and bled and studied the mirror to reveal the ugliest and most beautiful parts of herself, and human nature. CAM GIRL is a rich and unflinching narrative.”
– Emery Lord, author of Open Road Summer
Praise for Black Iris:
"Like an afternoon special on bullying gone impossibly dark, Raeder's dizzyingly intense, drug-addicted queer teenage revenge fantasy takes its reader on a sexy, bloody journey of pure emotion that's by turns expressed, denied, and turned back in on itself. Delaney Keating, viciously mistreated in high school for her attraction to girls and damaged by her unstable mother's suicide, falls into a love triangle with two of the dramatic inhabitants of underground dance club Umbra: DJ and patient medical student Armin, and impulsive, fierce, deliciously sensual Blythe. She pulls them into her scheme of violence against her abusers in a heady mélange of lust and bloodlust, while the triad pulls against itself with internal jealousies. A twisting timeline dancing over a year's events makes every moment seem both immediate and angrily steeped in memory. Major themes include depression, mania, and the ways that the use and abuse of drugs affect access to the reality of self and the world's essential nature; but the soul-searching always comes in the context of action, everyone around hit by the shrapnel of exploding feelings. This is an exhilarating ride for our inner underdog, craving a taste of what it would feel like to just get back at everyone if we were reckless enough not to care about the consequences."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Risky, brave, bold. Heart-breaking, captivating, and sensual. There aren’t enough words to describe this suspenseful powerhouse of a novel. Raeder’s gorgeous prose and raw characters will keep you flipping to the very end. Black Iris is one of the best books I’ve read this year."
– Karina Halle, New York Times bestselling author
"Intense and visceral, Black Iris is as sharp as a knife and beats with a heart that is double-edged and dangerous."
– Lauren Blakely, New York Times bestselling author
"Provocative, seductive, and skillfully written, Black Iris is a story that stands out from the crowd."
– K.A. Tucker, USA Today Bestselling Author
"Raeder masterfully weaves a dark, twisted, dangerously sexy quest for revenge with a raw, honest search for kinship and self-acceptance. Black Iris demands your attention, your heart, and an immediate reread."
– Dahlia Adler, author of Last Will and Testament
“Equally wicked as it is beautiful. This story is one of the best reads I've read to date. My book hangover afterward was real. It honestly opened my eyes to all things LGBTQIA+ and the importance of treating mental illness. Overall a very note-worthy read that everyone should digest at least once.”
– Book Baristas
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