Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(16)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(16)
Author: J. Kenner

It’s a bewildering realization, but also flattering and, yes, exciting.

“The truth is I know exactly how you feel,” he says.

I gape at him, wondering if he’s been reading my thoughts.

“I’ve always hated tennis shoes. I used to practice in my bare feet. It made my coach crazy.”

“Really?” I find this tidbit into Stark’s real life fascinating. “But didn’t you endorse a brand?”

“The only brand I could stand.”

“That’s a nice little rhyme. They could have used it as the tagline.”

“It’s a pity they didn’t have you on their marketing team.” He reaches out and brushes his thumb along the line of my jaw. My stomach quivers and I exhale, a single soft moan. His eyes go to my mouth and I think that he’s going to kiss me and I absolutely do not want him to kiss me and, dammit, why isn’t he kissing me yet?

Then the balcony door opens, and a couple emerges, arm in arm. Damien pulls his hand back and the spell is shattered. I want to scream at the couple, and not just because I’ve been left feeling hot and needy. No, something’s been lost. I’m liking the Damien Stark who laughs and teases in the dark. Who flirts so softly and yet so intently. Who looks at me with eyes that let me see.

But our moment is gone. And if we go inside, I’m certain his mask will go back on. I’m even more certain my own will.

I almost suggest we go back down the stairs to the beach, but he’s holding the door open for me, and his face is all hard lines and angles again. I step past him into the room, something tight and sad knotting inside me.

The party is still going strong. Possibly even stronger now that the guests are on their second, third, or fourth drink. The room is stuffy, almost claustrophobic, and I slip out of Stark’s jacket and hand it back to him. He runs his palm over the silk lining. “You’re warm,” he says, then slips it on, the movement entirely normal and inexplicably erotic.

A waitress materializes beside me, her tray full of sparkling wine. I take a flute and gulp it back. Before she can edge away, I replace my empty glass and take a fresh one.

“For medicinal purposes,” I say to Stark, who has also taken a glass, but has yet to take a sip. I am not so hesitant, and I down half of my glass in one long swallow. The bubbles seem to rise straight to my head, making me a little bit giddy. It’s a nice feeling, and one I’m not used to. I drink, sure. But not champagne, and not very often. But I feel vulnerable tonight. Vulnerable and needy. With any luck, the alcohol will quench the ache. Either that, or it will give me the courage to act on it.

Oh, no.

I almost toss the champagne aside. Even with the aid of tiny bubbles, I’m not going there.

As I tilt my head back to take another sip, I catch Stark’s eyes on me. They’re dark and knowing and predatory, and I suddenly want to take a step backward. I clutch the stem of my glass harder and stay rooted to the spot.

The corner of his mouth quirks up with amusement as he leans in closer to me. I breathe in the clean, crisp scent of his cologne, like the woods after a rain. He brushes a strand of hair from my cheek, and I wonder why I don’t melt right then.

My body is hyperaware. My skin. My pulse. I tingle all over, and every tiny hair on my arms and the back of my neck is standing up, as if I’m in the middle of a lightning storm. It’s his power I’m feeling, of course, and I feel it most strongly in the increasingly demanding flesh between my thighs.

“Is there something on your mind, Ms. Fairchild?” I can hear the tease in his voice, and it irks me that I am so transparent.

That bite of irritation is good—it draws me out of the haze. And, because I’m emboldened by the champagne, I look straight at him when I answer. “You are, Mr. Stark.”

His lips part with surprise, but he recovers himself quickly. “I’m very glad to hear it.” I’m only halfway aware of his words. I’m too focused on his mouth. It’s gorgeous, wide, and sensual.

He takes another step closer, and the storm between us grows more intense, the air full and heavy. I can almost see the sparks.

“You should know, Ms. Fairchild, that before the night is over, I’m going to kiss you.”

“Oh.” I’m not sure if my word is an expression of surprise or assent. I wonder what those lips would feel like on mine. His tongue forcing my mouth open. The heated exploration as hands clutch and bodies press together.

“I’m glad you’re looking forward to it.” His words jolt me from the fantasy, and this time I do back away. One step, then another, until the storm between us calms and I can think clearly again.

“I’m not sure that would be a good idea,” I say, because fantasy is all good and well, but this can only go so far, and it’s important that I remind myself of that.

“On the contrary. I think it’s one of my better ideas.”

I swallow. To be honest, I want him to follow through right then, but I’m saved from my foolish wish by Stark himself. Or rather, by his reputation. Apparently Carl isn’t the only one who believes in the power of networking, and we’re joined by a cadre of people wanting to bask in his circle. Investors, inventors, tennis fans, single women. They come, they talk, and Stark politely sends each on his way. The only constant at his side is me. Me and a never-ending stream of waiters with more champagne, chilled so as to take the edge off the fire that’s building in me.

The room, however, is starting to sway a bit, and I tap Stark on the arm, interrupting his conversation with a robotics engineer who’s well into hard-pitch mode. “Excuse me,” I say, then aim myself toward a small bench on the side of the room.

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