Try as she might to ignore them, thoughts of him had come constant and unbidden over the past weeks. There were mornings she woke up only to realize they weren’t in her apartment in Lazhou, she was here, and she was alone. And when she felt really alone, her body empty and achy, she remembered their last good time together, the night before she left for Thailand.

“Ready?” Olivia asked.

            Jarek rolled his eyes. “As I’ll ever be.”

            They were in their predictable positions on her bed, propped up against the wall, Olivia’s laptop balanced on her knees. Tonight she’d given him his choice of movie—from five cheesy titles she’d already seen a dozen times but doubted he had—and he’d made his pick while she brushed her teeth. It was warm in her apartment now, and the air conditioner hummed unconvincingly from the corner while the ceiling fan spun in lazy circles. To compensate they were both stripped down to basics, Jarek in boxers and a T-shirt, Olivia in panties and a tank top. She tucked her head under his chin and he slung an arm around her shoulders, despite the warmth.

            “What’d you pick?” she asked as he pressed play.

            “You’ll see.”

            She waited for the opening theme to give away his selection, and frowned as the name of a production company appeared on the screen, its font cheap and dated. She’d seen all of these movies before, but as this one panned in on a remote mansion with an enormous pool and tacky brass fixtures, she couldn’t place it. The footage was slightly grainy, the camera angles jarring enough to be a distraction. And the buxom brunette with eight pounds of makeup definitely didn’t look familiar.

            Olivia craned her neck to shoot Jarek a suspicious look as the camera zoomed in on the “actress” as she leaned over the kitchen counter, massive breasts nearly spilling out of her low-cut top. She appeared to be reading some kind of formal document, mouthing the words as she did so. “Should I die, my wife will receive the entirety of my five million dollar life insurance plan,” she murmured, dragging a nail across her cleavage in what was probably supposed to be a thoughtful way.

            “What the hell is this?” Olivia demanded. She tried to straighten up, but Jarek kept her pinned to his side.

            “Just wait.”

            “I think I know what’s going to happen,” she said dryly. “This is not one of my movies.”

            “You said I got to choose.”

            “From the five I selected!”

            “You always pick. Now be quiet.”

            A man strutted into the room, and the woman turned. He was only half as attractive as the starlet, but she didn’t seem to care, letting him rip off her clothing so she remained in nothing more than sky-high wedge sandals and a belly button ring.

            “I missed you so bad, baby,” she crooned as he groped her up against the refrigerator.

            “What time is your husband coming home?” he grunted, forcing her hand into his pants.

            “Never, if we’re lucky.” They both cackled gleefully.

            “You know what I want,” he ordered, pushing her to her knees.

            “Mmm,” she moaned, licking her lips. “That’s what I want, too.”

            Olivia huffed in irritation when the woman tore at his fly, exposing a massive hard-on that she immediately and joyfully swallowed. “Jarek,” she said coldly. “Turn this off.”

            “Shh.”

            She pushed the laptop so it slid down to land on their feet, only then noticing the flash drive sticking out the side. He’d been hiding it with his hand the whole time, pretending to be holding the computer steady.

            “Olivia,” he snapped, reaching for it.

            She pulled out of his grasp and pressed her back against the other wall so they could look at each other. “Is this some kind of hint?” she demanded.

            He sighed, exasperated. “No.”

            “Then what is it?”

            “What do you think it is? It’s porn.”

            “If I thought this was a joke, I’d laugh, but I don’t think it is. Do you really like this movie?”

            He pursed his lips and avoided her eyes, and she realized he did like it. She didn’t want to embarrass him, and she didn’t particularly care what he watched in his own time, but she’d never watched an entire pornographic film before, and didn’t really want to. She had nothing in common with that woman, and he knew it. If this was his attempt to nudge her in a particular direction, she wasn’t feeling very receptive.

            “I like it,” he said. “And I want you to watch it.”

            She was upset. She liked things the way they were. She’d already tried new things—new to her, anyway—with him, and it hurt her feelings to learn that it wasn’t enough. “Why?”

            “I want you to watch it while I touch you.”

            “This doesn’t turn me on.”

            “You haven’t even tried.”

            “You think I should be able to do that?” Olivia jerked her chin at the screen now resting on Jarek’s lap, conveniently frozen on a shot of the woman with her nose pressed to her co-star’s stomach, his cock buried in her throat. “That I’m not—”

            Realization swept across his features, and she had to force herself not to roll her eyes. He was a smart man, but sometimes he had no fucking clue. “Olivia, no,” he said firmly. “It’s not what I want from you. You mentioned before that you didn’t watch this stuff, and I wanted to do something with you that you’d never done before.”

            “We’ve done plenty of things I’ve never done before. You’re the one with the wealth of experience.

            He closed his eyes and took a breath, then closed the laptop and put it on the floor. “It’s gone, okay? It was a bad idea.”

            She pressed her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. He didn’t mean anything by it. She believed him, even if she didn’t like it.

            “Is it your favorite?” she asked.

            “My favorite?”

            “Yes. I’ve been showing you my favorite movies, ones you’ve never seen. Is this your favorite thing to watch when you’re…”

            “Jerking off?”

            She nodded stiffly.

            “Depends on the mood. What do you think about?”

            She coughed out a laugh. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “No?” His muscles coiled and she tensed a second too late. The next thing she knew he had her pinned beneath him, her arms trapped under her ass, legs twisted in his. She was completely immobile and he grinned down at her, smug. He dipped his head so his lips brushed her ear. “Tell me one thing you think about,” he whispered.

            “Never,” she whispered back.

            He trailed a hand over her chest, rubbing his thumb back and forth over her nipples. She had no idea how he could take her from offended to alarmed to turned on so quickly, but he did it all the time and he was very good at it. And he knew it. He’d made a point of learning all the things she liked, and used them both for and against her. Today it was the latter.

            He kissed her throat, dragging his tongue along her pulse, and his hand skated over her belly to cup her through her thin panties. “Jarek,” she mumbled.

            “Just tell me,” he murmured.

            She twisted her face away from his seeking lips, the only body part she could control. “No.” Her cheeks flamed. In ten years, Chris had never asked her about this. Truthfully, she hadn’t done it that much while they’d been together. They’d known each other so long that she hadn’t been shy about asking for sex when she wanted it. The year after their break-up had gotten her reacquainted with that side of her sexuality, but she certainly wasn’t ready to talk about it. Ever.

            He tormented her with his lips and his hands, working her panties down her legs so she was left in the cotton tank top she planned to sleep in. Her hard nipples poked through the fabric and his fingers now slid easily through her wetness. Her breath was coming in harsh pants and she squirmed as her arms started to ache from the strange position.

            “Jarek. Hurry,” she pleaded.

            “Tell me what you think about when you touch yourself,” he said again. “And I’ll make you come.”

            “No. Do it anyway. My arms hurt.”

            He levered himself up enough that she could free her arms, though he quickly snared them and held them over her head in one strong hand. She gritted her teeth and tried to rub herself against his still-questing fingers, but he pulled them away and brought them up so she could see them shine in the lamplight. She looked away, embarrassed, and froze when he traced the tip of one finger along her lower lip, painting it with her juices.

            “Jarek,” she said in a strangled voice. “No.” She would do a lot of things for him, and surely the woman in the movie was fine with tasting herself, but Olivia was not a fan, even if he did sometimes kiss her after going down on her.

            “Shh.” He dipped his head and licked her lip. “You don’t want to tell me?”

            “No.” She was firm on this too.

            He snagged one of her hands in his free one and brought it between her legs, kicking her thighs apart. “Then show me.”

            She stiffened. “No!”

            “You ever do this for Chris?”

            “No.”

            “That’s your favorite word tonight, huh?”

            “Jarek…” Her arousal still pulsed low in her belly, but there was a shiver of discomfort winding its way up her spine as well. This was a very intimate thing to do for somebody who would never reveal something so personal of himself.

            “Come on, Olivia. Show me something you’ve never shown anybody else.”

            “You’ve seen everything,” she said weakly. “I don’t…”

            Oh fuck. She saw the moment he knew he’d won. He used to do this for a living, she remembered. Break people down. Get what he wanted. She was pretty sure he didn’t torture them in quite this way, but the results were the same.

            “If you really don’t want to, you don’t have to,” he relented, trailing his tongue along the shell of her ear. “But I really want to see. And I already did most of the work.”

            She couldn’t help but laugh. Then she tried to bargain. “Turn off the lights.”

            “No.”

            “You can never tell anybody.”

            “Never.”

            “Or talk about it again, even with me.”

            “Can I think about it? When I’m alone with my thoughts?”       

            “No!”

            “All right,” he said, sitting up and shifting to the bottom of the bed between her legs. He pinned her knees to the bed on either side, splaying her wide open. “I’m ready. Get going.”

            “Oh my God. Jarek, no, not like this.”

            “Why not?”

            “It’s too…exposed.”

            The look her gave her was deeply unimpressed. “I’ve seen it all before, Olivia.” He stretched up and caught the hand hovering awkwardly at her side, pressing it over the slick folds between her legs. “Do it.”

            She sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to focus on the ache low in her belly and not the absolute mortification threatening to overwhelm her. She was nothing like the woman in that movie. She didn’t pant and moan and make erotic sounds. She bit her lower lip hard enough to hurt and tried to think of something, anything, to distract her from his close perusal. But it was next to impossible. Eventually she felt his hands loosening their grip on her knees, gently stroking the inside of her legs, down her calves and back up, relaxing her.

            She thought about the first night he’d come here, when it had been his hand touching her. She pictured the time he’d bent her over the kitchen table and fucked her, hard and fast. She recalled the first morning in Beijing, his apology cunnilingus, the kind of apology she couldn’t help but accept. And then she thought about him showing up at school that first time, with all those trees, wearing the gaudy shirt she bought him in Shanghai. How he’d stood in front of the class and gone through the motions of the ridiculous song, not because he’d wanted to, but because it was what she had wanted. She came without warning, hips arching off the bed.

            “Fuck, Olivia,” he growled, launching himself on top of her. She could feel his knuckles rubbing along her skin as he shoved up her shirt and furiously fisted his cock until he came all over her stomach, mouth plastered to hers. She shook in the aftermath of her orgasm, feeling exposed even as he wiped the residue of his pleasure from her skin with a tissue.

            “Thanks,” he mumbled into her shoulder. He slid off so he lay facedown on the mattress, ready for sleep.

            “That’s it?” she teased, spying her panties at the bottom of the bed and hooking them with her toe so she could pull them back on.

            “That’s it?” he echoed sleepily. “What more do you want?”

            “You told me to give you something I’ve never given anyone else,” she said. “What are you going to give me?”

            She watched his back fall in slow, rhythmic waves. She sighed and reached over him to turn off the light, then lay back, giving up on an answer. But then, lying in the darkness, the words so soft she had to strain to make them out, she heard, “You already have it. You know what it is.”

            And she did.

 

Deleted Scene (not safe for work!)

This scene appeared late in the first (and second) draft of the manuscript. It came as a flashback as Olivia ruminated on her relationship with Jarek when he finally—finally!—called to ask her to go on the picnic.

I didn’t write this scene the first time through. After reading my very first rough draft, I was concerned that we hadn’t seen Olivia and Jarek happy (and smexy) together in too long, and given the relatively chaste reunion, I worried that the end would feel unsatisfying, so I went back and added this scene.

While I like the scene, I was never entirely sure if it belonged, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when my editor fingered it as her one big issue with the manuscript. She made the solid argument that, a) the story worked without it and it felt gratuitous, and b) we didn’t need it, because we now knew that Jarek and Olivia’s relationship was about more than sex.

 If you would like to see a bit more of the sexy times, however, the deleted scene appears below in its entirety.

This is a picture of the stretch of the Great Wall Jarek and Olivia hike in the book. I hiked it for my birthday, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. It's every bit as beautiful as it looks.

This is a pretty typical side street. In this case, these are the shops across the street from my apartment. The colourful packages on the ground are flowers and fruit baskets.

Hands down, this was the prettiest spot in town.

The setting for Going the Distance was strongly influenced by the small town I lived in for a year and a half while teaching English in China far too long ago. Here are a few pictures from my time there (they're my own pictures, hence the very poor quality) to give you some visual inspiration while reading!

Looking for a little something extra?

Read the first chapter!

Olivia Clarke’s fall from pretty, perfect and popular happened in an instant. With her life in tatters, she impulsively accepts a teaching job in the small city of Lazhou, China. Three months in, she’s ready to admit she made a huge mistake. She doesn’t speak Mandarin, the teachers at her school refuse to include her in anything, and she spends her nights watching counterfeit DVDs in her twin bed. Alone.

Jarek McLean is a loner. He’s not looking for friends, and he’s definitely not looking for love. The former army interrogator works as a carpenter for a small construction company rebuilding a travel office in Lazhou. When he meets Olivia he knows immediately she’s too wholesome to be his type, but when he discovers the pretty kindergarten teacher is hiding a secret, his inquisitive side rears its nosy head and demands answers.

Olivia isn’t interested in a one-sided interrogation, and makes her position clear: if Jarek wants to ask questions, he’ll have to answer some, too. Jarek’s never let anyone in—not into his apartment, not into his life, certainly not into his heart. But the closer he gets to Olivia, the more he falls for her, and suddenly the man who doesn’t do relationships finds himself in a most unexpected one.

When he reluctantly admits that this could be love, he’s faced with the most terrifying question of all: What the hell does he do now?