We’ve reached the section where things really go downhill. This section comes with a massive trigger warning for sexual assault survivors.
Marcus has just found out that Hadassah is a Christian, and boy is he ever angry. He rants at her about how dangerous it is to be a Christian and then orders her to end her involvement with other Christians. At long last, Hadassah speaks up.
“Is Rome so afraid of truth she must destroy it?”
Marcus struck her across the face, a blow that rocked her and surprised a gasp of pain from her lips. She raised a trembling hand to her cheek.
“You forget to whom you speak!” Marcus rasped. He had never struck a woman under any circumstance, and the fact that he had struck this one made his heart hist inside him. But he would strike her again if it would make her listen to him and heed his warning and his command.
She recovered quickly and bowed her head in subservience. “I apologize, my lord.”
This book sends the evangelical teens who read it such absolutely godawful messages. Marcus isn’t just handsy, he’s outright abusive—but of course, Hadassah’s going to end up with him in the end, and all will be puppies and butterflies, because by then God will have changed Marcus’ heart. This idea that abusers can change is one that keeps women in abusive relationships every day.
Marcus tipped her chin and saw the pink imprint of his fingers on her pale cheek. Her eyes didn’t meet his, but he could see they were carefully expressionless. He felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach. “Hadassah,” he whispered, “I don’t want to hurt you. I want to protect you.” He laid his hand over the mark, wanting to cover it and make it go away.
Her eyes flickered to his and he saw an infinite sorrow and compassion in them. She gently laid her own hand over his as though to comfort him.
OMG Hadassah, be angry for once! For all she’s been through, Julia’s abortion is the only time we’ve ever seen her angry. Hadassah isn’t angry. She’s sweet. She comforts her abusers and has compassion for them. What was that I said about terrible messages?!
But wait. We’re not to the worst of it yet.
He cupped her face, drawing her close and filling his lungs with the scent of her.
“Hadassah … oh, Hadassah …” He bent and kissed her. Hearing her soft gasp, his heart raced, and he dug his fingers into her hair, kissing her again. Her hands pressed palm-flat against his chest, but he pulled her fully into his arms and slanted his mount over hers. She stiffened, and then, for one brief, heady moment, she melted against him, her mouth softening beneath his, her hands clinging rather than resisting. Then, as though suddenly realizing what was happening, she struggled in panic.
So, that happened. Marcus lets go of her tells her he wants her.
“Have I a choice?”
Marcus knew what he’d say if he gave her one. Against all natural human instincts, her cursed god demand purity of his followers. “What if I said no?”
“I would beg you not to violate me.”
He flushed hotly. “Violate you?” The word cut him and roused his already heightened temper. “My family owns you. It’s no violation to take what I want from something that belongs to me. It’s a sign of the respect I have for you that I’d even—”
He stopped, hearing himself. For the first time in his life, Marcus was filled with an unspeakable shame. As he stared at her, for just an instant he saw himself as she must see him, and he winced. Something, he had called her. Something!
And yet, Marcus doesn’t take this as his cue to walk away. Instead, he switches tactic.
I’m curious about something. If she had nothing else to consider, Hadassah would say yes. It’s not just her body responding to his touch—however hard it may be to believe, according to Rivers Hadassah is in love with Marcus. She wants him too. The sticking point is that she believes acting on that would be an offense against God. How different would this story be if Hadassah’s reason for hesitation were something else entirely? What if she simply did not want to have sex with Marcus? Would her lack of desire to have sex with him be treated as just as important and meaningful as her belief that having sex with him would be displeasing to God?
He tipped her chin. “I want to love you. You want me too, Hadassah. Maybe you’re too innocent to realize it, but I know.” He ran his finger down her cheek. “Sweet little Hadassah, let me show you what love can be. Say yes.”
She trembled, her body responding to the touch of his hand, the gentle huskiness of his voice, the sense of his growing desire—and her own. She could hardly draw breath at his closeness…
But what he spoke of was wrong. What he asked her to do would not be pleasing to God.
Rivers portrays this scene as a struggle within Hadassah.
She closed her eyes. God, help me! she cried within her heart. She had loved Marcus for so long. The feelings he roused in her now were melting her inside, burning away her reason, making her forget everything but the feel of his hands. He kissed her again, his lips parting. She turned her face away. Yeshua, help me resist these feelings! Marcus’ hand touched her gently, and the shock of sensation made her draw back.
The problem is that Marcus should have respected her no a long time ago. He should never have kissed her the first time—he knew what she believed about her unseen God. But even if he kissed her the first time, the moment she rebuffed him should have been the end of it. This isn’t a struggle within Hadassah. It’s a struggle with Marcus.
I suspect that Rivers classifies this as not-rape because Marcus does not actually rape Hadassah. This may not be rape, but it is sexual assault. Marcus is sexually assaulting Hadassah. In a Christian romance novel. And of course, we all know they’ll end up together eventually.
I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, but what messages does this book send its evangelical teen readers?
And still we’re not done.
He gave a harsh laugh of frustration. “Let’s see if you can say no one more time.” He pulled her into his arms and took her mouth again, releasing all the passion that had been pent up in him for weeks. She tested like ambrosia and he drank of her until his own desire was nearly too heavy to bear.
This is a tactic and a rhetoric that abusers use. It’s the “you know you want it” line. It’s used to excuse rapes, but it is also used within abusive relationships. The woman says no, the man sets out to change her mind whether she wants him too or not—because if he can make her want it, it’s okay. Marcus is right out of the abuser’s playbook, down to Rivers’ apparent belief that he can do all of this and still be somehow good and upstanding, unlike his selfish, horrible sister. I’m starting to wonder if Marcus actually wrote this book. It would explain some things.
“Very well,” he said with a mocking hist of his lips. “Go sleep on your cold little pallet and be warmed by your unseen god.” He made a dismissive gesture with his hand and turned away.
Wow. Awesome guy. So charismatic.
Unbidden, Arria entered his thoughts and he grimaced. To think of her in the wake of his feelings for Hadassah sickened him.
Can we stop with the Arria hate already? No really—what makes Arria so different from Hadassah? Arria is sexually experienced and knows what she wants. Hadassah is unavailable. That really is the only difference—Arria returned his passion, Hadassah holds herself back. It’s the classic Madonna/Whore complex. By being pure and sweet and saying “no” Hadassah has rendered herself desirable, while Arria is a slut. The unattainable woman is the one he wants, while the attainable woman is not just unwanted but somehow disgusting.
One last thing. I would argue that you can tell from this passage that this book was written before Josh Harris published I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris’ book, after all, made kissing before marriage an offense that sometimes felt tantamount to having sex before marriage. Rivers’ portrayal offers a Hadassah who is not happy about having been kissed, but who leaves this encounter still pure and unviolated. That is a decidedly pre-Harris understanding.
Next week we return to Julia, and Caius, and Phoebe and Decimus’ terrible parenting.
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