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Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(10)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(10)
Author: J. Kenner

The silence at the other end of the line tells me I have scored big with that one, and I make a mental note to thank Evelyn. It’s not easy to surprise my roommate.

“You bitch,” she finally says. “If you don’t come back with Rip Carrington’s autograph, I am so finding a new best friend.”

“I’ll try,” I promise. “Actually, you could come here. I kind of need a ride.”

“Because Carl keeled over and died from surprise when Stark said he’d do the meeting?”

“Sort of. He left to go prep. The meeting’s been bumped to tomorrow.”

“And you’re still at the party, why?”

“Stark wanted me to stay.”

“Oh, did he?”

“It’s not like that. He’s looking to buy a painting. He wanted a female perspective.”

“And since you’re the only female at the party …”

I remember Audrey Hepburn and feel confused. I’m most definitely not the only female at the party. So what is Stark’s game?

“I just need a ride,” I snap, unfairly taking my irritation out on Jamie. “Can you come get me?”

“You’re serious? Carl left you stranded in Malibu? That’s like an hour away. He didn’t even offer to reimburse cab fare?”

I hesitate a fraction of a second too long.

“What?” she demands.

“It’s just that—well, Stark said he’d make sure I got home.”

“And what? His Ferrari’s not good enough for you? You’d rather ride in my ten-year-old Corolla?”

She has a point. It’s Stark’s fault I’m still here. Why should I inconvenience one of my friends—or fork over a buttload of money for cab fare—when he already said he’d get me home? Am I really that nervous about being alone with him?

Yes, actually, I am. Which is ridiculous. Elizabeth Fairchild’s daughter does not get nervous around men. Elizabeth Fairchild’s daughter wraps men around her little finger. I may have spent my whole life trying to escape from under my mother’s thumb, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t manage to drill her lessons in deep.

“You’re right,” I say, even though the idea of Damien Stark wrapped around any woman’s finger remains a little fuzzy. “I’ll see you at home.”

“If I’m asleep, wake me up. I want to hear everything.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” I say.

“Liar,” she chides, then clicks off.

I slide my phone into my purse and head back to the bar—now I want that champagne. I stand there holding my glass as I glance around the room. This time, I see Stark right away. Him and Audrey Hepburn. He’s smiling, she’s laughing, and I’m working myself up into quite a temper. I mean, he’s the reason I’m stranded here, and yet he hasn’t made any effort to speak to me again, to apologize for the whole “be my decorating wench” fiasco, or to arrange a ride for me. If I have to call a cab I am absolutely going to send a bill to Stark International.

Evelyn passes by, arm in arm with a man with hair so white he reminds me of Colonel Sanders. She pats him on the arm, murmurs something, then disengages herself. The colonel marches on as Evelyn eases up next to me. “Having a nice time?”

“Of course,” I say.

She snorts.

“I know,” I say. “I’m a terrible liar.”

“Hell, honey, you weren’t even putting any effort into that one.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just …” I trail off and tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear. I’d curled it and pinned it up in a chignon. A few loose curls are supposed to hang free and frame my face. Right now, the damn thing is just annoying me.

“He’s inscrutable,” Evelyn says.

“Who?”

She nods toward Damien, and I look in that direction. He’s still talking with Audrey Hepburn, but I’m struck by the certainty that he had been watching me only moments earlier. I have nothing to base that on, though, and I’m frustrated, not knowing if the thought is wishful thinking or paranoia.

“Inscrutable?” I repeat.

“He’s a hard man to figure out,” Evelyn says. “I’ve known him since he was a boy—his father signed me to represent him when some damn breakfast cereal wanted his face on their television spots. As if Damien Stark with a sugar high was the way we wanted to go. No, I landed the boy some damn good endorsements, helped make him a goddamned household name. But most days I don’t think I know him at all.”

“Why not?”

“I told you, Texas. Inscrutable.” She draws out each syllable, then punctuates the word with a shake of her head. “ ’Course I don’t fault him, not with the shit that was piled onto that poor kid. Who wouldn’t end up a little bit damaged?”

“You mean the fame? That must have been hard. He was so young.” Stark won the Junior Grand Slam at fifteen, and that had pushed him into the stratosphere. But the press had latched onto him long before that. With his good looks and working-class background, he’d been plucked out of the flurry of hopefuls as the tennis circuit’s golden boy.

“No, no.” Evelyn waves her hand as if dismissing the thought. “Damien knows how to handle the press. He’s damn good at protecting his secrets, always has been.” She eyes me, then laughs, as if to suggest she was only joking. But I don’t think so. “Oh, honey, listen to me ramble. No, Damien Stark is just one of those dark, quiet types. He’s like an iceberg, Texas. The deep parts are well hidden and what you do see is hard and a little bit cold.”

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