Dr. Jaime Lannister crouched in the closet and asked himself once again how the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Aemon Memorial Hospital had been reduced to this. His clipboard was balanced in one hand, pen and stopwatch in the other, flashlight clamped between his teeth. He peered out his observation hole at Ros on her hands and knees, being steadily pumped into from behind by her latest client.
“Oh, yeah, Eddie, right there, don’t stop,” Ros droned unenthusiastically. Jaime observed the man’s face and body movements, noting any changes on his clipboard in tidy columns. As he clicked the stopwatch and made another notation, the flashlight fell from his mouth and clattered to the ground. Ros glanced at his peephole and held her finger up to her lips in a “shh” motion, then made a face that communicated in no uncertain terms that Jaime was on thin ice.
He clamped the flashlight firmly in his teeth and continued watching and writing. As Eddie’s rhythm picked up, Ros began moaning louder, and in a matter of moments, the man was jerking and shouting and making all manner of undignified faces, then crumpling over onto Ros’ back. Ros’s face remained indifferent until Eddie pulled out and began to dress, at which time she smiled and cooed at him and sent him off with a kiss and his promise that he’d come back soon.
After Eddie was gone, Jaime unfolded himself with a groan and stepped out of the closet into the room where Ros was rearranging her long red hair in front of the mirror. Jaime sat on the edge of the bed and reviewed his notes, comparing Ros’ observations with his own. He’d come to the brothel several months ago asking for volunteers to take part in an as-yet-unofficial scientific study of human sexual response, and Ros hadn’t had any qualms about being observed as long as she was compensated. Jaime suspected she thought the watching was actually his kink, but she hadn’t judged, and she’d ended up being a valuable source of both firsthand knowledge and suggestions on how to make his data more accurate.
“His plateau stage lasted—”
“For fucking ever,” Ros said, rolling her eyes in the mirror.
“Eleven minutes,” Jaime finished, “and you really shouldn’t cuss so much.”
“Says the man who sits in a closet watching people hump all night.”
Jaime ignored the dig. “I have your orgasm as lasting…six seconds? Does that sound correct?”
Ros stared at him as if he were speaking High Valyrian, then burst out in a laugh. “Seriously, Doc. For being some kind of genius, you sure are dumb sometimes.”
Jaime frowned, puzzled, and shook his head.
“That was fake,” she said with gentle incredulity. “I faked it.”
Jaime was stunned into momentary silence. He finally stuttered, “Is that—is that common practice? Amongst prostitutes?”
“It’s common practice amongst anyone with a cunt,” she said, blotting her shiny red lips. “Women fake orgasms. All the time. Almost every time, although I haven’t checked my clipboard lately.”
“But why? Why would a woman lie about that?” Jaime felt as if his feet had been swept out from underneath him.
Ros put down her lipstick and came to sit beside him. “Doc. I like you. You seem real dedicated to your project. But if you really want to learn about sex, you’re going to have to get yourself a female partner.”
He sat and thought for a while as Ros straightened the room around him, then rose to his feet.
“Thank you again for your help, Ros,” Jaime said as he pressed a golden dragon into her hand. “I’ll be back next week.”
“I’ll be here. Thanks, Doc.” She patted him on the shoulder consolingly as if she knew she’d just upended his entire world.
His head spun on his several-block walk to his car and all the way home. By the time he walked into his house, he was resolved to take his project to the next level.
“The female orgasm.”
Dr. Dayne nearly choked on his 9 a.m. whiskey. “Excuse me?”
Jaime leaned over his boss’s dark wood desk, folded his hands and enunciated as if talking to a small child. “I want to do a research study. On the female orgasm. Among other things related to female anatomy and sexual response.”
Dr. Dayne stared at him as if he’d just sprouted another head. After an interminable pause, the older man said, “Whatever for?”
Jaime frowned. “Why do we ever research anything? To learn more about it.”
“Dr. Lannister, you are an obstetrician. What does the—” he cleared his throat, “female orgasm have to do with your work?”
Jaime sighed heavily. “It has become evident in my practice that women know very little about their own anatomy, much less their own pleasure. And that’s not their fault–look at all the studies done in this field recently.” He was waving his arms now and struggling to stay in his seat. “They’re all focused on sperm and erections and ejaculation, while completely ignoring the woman. This is totally unexplored territory. And, despite the current scientific consensus, I do believe the female orgasm might have an effect on fertility—which has everything to do with my work.” He sat back and crossed his arms, an obstinate look on his face despite his complete uncertainty about how his plea would be received.
“I know how stubborn you are, Jaime,” Dr. Dayne said, the use of his first name calling back to the two men’s long friendship. “So I’m not going to try to talk you out of this. But it’s going to be a hard sell. The hospital board isn’t just going to let you, what, watch people having sex? This isn’t a peep show.”
“I know. But this is important, Arthur. I’m tired of women coming into my office thinking something is wrong with them because they don’t enjoy sex, or that it’s their fault they can’t get pregnant, or that they know there’s a problem but are too ashamed to bring it up. They deserve to know about their bodies, and we can’t educate them unless we know about them first.”
Dr. Dayne still didn’t look convinced, so Jaime pushed on. “This will be the most comprehensive experiential study on human sexuality ever. Think about the publicity the hospital will get. The accolades. The donations.” Arthur’s eyebrow raised at the last word. Aemon Memorial Hospital was a small, not-for-profit teaching hospital on the outskirts of King’s Landing, and although it had a stellar reputation for producing top-tier doctors and nurses, it still struggled to attract donors and staff compared to the larger and better-known hospitals in the area like King’s Landing General and Mordane Children’s Hospital.
Jaime saw the moment the older man’s resolve broke, and tried to keep his face blank despite the triumph he felt. “You’ll need one hell of a proposal,” Dr. Dayne said, finishing his whiskey in one swig, “and you’ll have to find some research space and willing participants.” Jaime thought he heard Arthur mumble something like good luck with that under his breath, but couldn’t be bothered to ask him to repeat it when he had a study to plan.
Brienne stood in front of Dr. Jaime Lannister’s office and tried not to crinkle her resume any more than her nervous fingers had already done. It had been over a week since she’d seen the posting for a research assistant outside the hospital administration office where she’d been working for the past three years, but she hadn’t mustered up the courage to actually apply until today. Dr. Lannister had the reputation for being a brilliant–if slightly gruff and pompous–doctor and researcher, and she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little intimidated. But she knew she would regret it if she didn’t at least inquire about the position.
The door to Dr. Lannister’s office swung open and a young woman with a dark-brown bob huffed her way out the door, cheeks red and brow furrowed, looking either disturbed or angry, Brienne couldn’t tell quite which. She puzzled after the woman for a moment before stepping into the doorway. Dr. Lannister sat at his desk with his head in his hands, a large pile of what looked like resumes cluttering up his desk.
“I’m looking for a female research assistant,” he said without looking up, an annoyed edge to his voice.
Brienne, having been mistaken for a man frequently due to her size, simply cleared her throat. The doctor raised his head and took in her appearance – sensible flat shoes, pencil skirt, sweater, blonde hair cut into a shoulder-length bob – before he realized his mistake and shot to his feet.
“Oh, I’m sorry—” he stammered, but Brienne waved him off.
“It happens. So the position is still open?”
“It is. And you are?” He held his hand out for her resume.
“Brienne Tarth. I’m a secretary in the administration department, but I’m interested in helping with your study.”
Dr. Lannister scanned the paper. “It says here you studied behavioral science at King’s Landing University?”
“Yet you’re a secretary?” Brienne didn’t detect any judgment in his voice but still felt slightly offended.
“Oh, I didn’t graduate. Marriage interfered with that.” It was still her biggest regret, but she hoped this position might help give her the experience and motivation she needed to finish.
He nodded as if he’d heard the story a hundred times. “And your husband is fine with you applying for this assistantship?”
“We’re divorced.” At this, she raised her chin, daring him to judge her for it. She’d faced all manner of criticism since her divorce from Hyle, even from her own family, so she wasn’t scared of what this man might say. But he just looked at her, studying her as if she were under a microscope slide, then sat and motioned to the chair opposite his desk.
“How much do you know about this study, Ms. Tarth?” His hands were folded in front of him and he leaned toward her, his eyes almost unsettlingly focused.
“Well, I know that it’s related to infertility.” Everyone who worked in the hospital knew that Dr. Lannister was the leading authority on fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth, and frequently ran studies and clinical trials on new methods to improve couples’ chances of getting pregnant.
Dr. Lannister paused as if steeling himself. “It is…but that is only one aspect of it. It’s also about sex. And the human body’s responses during sex.”
Blood rushed to Brienne’s cheeks, a combination of proximity to the most handsome man she’d ever seen and the fact that he was speaking of things she was taught should not be spoken of outside the marriage bed, but she kept her face neutral.
When she didn’t react, he ticked up an eyebrow. “That doesn’t bother you? You’re not going to rush out in a snit or start crying or call me a pornographer?”
Brienne almost laughed. “Why would I do that?”
“You’d be surprised,” he said, glancing at the pile of discarded resumes.
“I’m a grown woman, Dr. Lannister. And like I said, I’ve been married. I know what happens behind closed doors.”
“But this—wouldn’t be behind closed doors, you see. What I’m doing has never been done before, and it will require my assistant to be both discreet and not easily flustered.”
Despite feeling quite flustered at the moment, Brienne was confident in her ability to fake composure. “I grew up on a farm. I have delivered foals and slaughtered pigs and seen all manner of animals mating.” She lifted a shoulder. “Sex is natural. Bodies are bodies.”
Dr. Lannister stared at her for an interminable moment, then put his elbows on the desk and leaned closer.
“Why would a woman fake an orgasm?”
Brienne gaped at him. Whatever she’d expected him to ask next, that certainly wasn’t it. Her first instinct was to deny that it happened at all, then to come up with an answer that wouldn’t harm the doctor’s male ego. But his sincerity, combined with Brienne’s instinct that he would see right through her attempts to placate him, made the truth the only option.
“To make the man orgasm more quickly. Usually, so she can get back to whatever it is she’d rather be doing.”
“And how often do you think the average woman does that, Ms. Tarth?”
“You mean fake an orgasm?” She asked, flustered. The doctor only nodded. “I don’t know—”
“Ballpark estimate.” He interrupted, waving a hand. “How many times out of ten, one or two—”
“Seven,” Brienne blurted, grimacing. “At least.”
He leaned back in his chair, whistling. “Well, that’s dismal,” he muttered, more to himself than to her. Then he leaned forward again with a slight smile and an excited gleam in his eyes. Brienne was struck speechless by how much more handsome he was when he wasn’t frowning. “What would you say if I told you we could find a way to make sex better, for both women and men? Cut that wretched number in half.”
“I’d say—that would change everything.”
The doctor studied her again, this time with less scrutiny and more curiosity. He slapped his hands on the desk and stood up. “Do you have plans tonight?” He grabbed a scrap of paper and scrawled something on it, then handed it to Brienne.
“Uh—no?” She looked at the paper with what appeared to be a barely-legible address and tried to puzzle out where he may be sending her and why.
“Great. The second part of your interview starts at nine p.m. See you there.”
Brienne nodded dumbly and shook the doctor’s outstretched hand.
“Oh, and Ms. Tarth?” he called as she stepped out of his office. “You’ll want to go in the back entrance.”
She walked out in a daze and wondered just what she’d gotten herself into.