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Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(17)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(17)
Author: J. Kenner

Stark catches up to me so quickly that I imagine the engineer still pitching, unaware that his quarry has escaped.

“You should slow down,” he says in a voice that suggests I’m on his staff.

But I’m not on his staff. “I’m fine,” I say. “I have a plan.” I don’t mention that the plan involves sitting down and never getting up again.

“If it involves getting so rip-roaring drunk that you have no choice but to get off your feet by laying down, then I’d say your plan is coming along quite nicely.”

“Don’t be patronizing.” I stop in the center of the room and glance around, taking in the collection of canvases that fill the space. I pause, then deliberately turn and look him straight in the eye. “I assume you want a nude?”

I see the heat rising, struggling to burn through his mask. I force myself not to smile with victory.

He lifts a single brow. “I thought you were disinclined to help me.”

“I’m in a charitable mood,” I say. “So? Nude? Landscape? Still life with fruit? I’m assuming that since we’re here at Evelyn’s show, you’re thinking nude.”

“It’s certainly at the forefront of my mind, yes.”

“Do you see anything here that appeals to you?”

“I do, actually.”

He’s looking right at me, and I think that maybe I’ve played this game a little too cavalierly. I know I should back off, but I don’t. Maybe it’s the tiny bubbles talking, but I like seeing the desire in him. No, that’s not true. I like seeing him desire me.

It’s a simple yet startling realization.

I clear my throat. “Show me.”

“Pardon me?”

I have to force myself to sound nonchalant. “Show me what you like.”

“Believe me, Ms. Fairchild, I’d be very happy to do that.”

The hidden message in his words isn’t very hidden, and I swallow. I opened this door. Kicked it open, really. But now I have to actually walk through it. I shift my weight, uneasy—and stumble on the damn shoe.

He catches my arm, and I gasp as the shock of his touch against my bare skin rumbles through me.

“You need to take them off before you hurt yourself.”

“Not happening. I don’t do bare feet at parties.”

“Fine.” He takes my hand and leads me toward the hall with the velvet rope. He moves slowly, allowing for my sore feet, but then looks at me with a wicked grin. “Or perhaps I should simply use the caveman carry?”

My glare changes to a gape when he unfastens the velvet rope and steps into the darkened, private hall behind it. I hesitate, then follow. He rehooks the rope, then sits on the velvet-covered bench. He looks up at me without even a hint of apology, as if he owns the world and everything in it. Then he pats the seat next to him, and because my feet hurt and my head is spinning, I sit without argument.

“Now,” he says. “Take your shoes off. No,” he adds, before I can protest, “we’re behind the rope, so we’re not officially at the party now. You’re not breaking any rules.”

He says the last with a grin, and I match it without thinking.

“Move sideways,” he instructs. “Put your feet in my lap.”

Social Nikki would protest; I slide my feet up onto his trousered legs.

“Close your eyes. Relax.”

I do, and for a moment there is nothing, and I fear that he’s punking me, after all. Then his fingertip traces along the bottom of my foot. I arch back, surprised and delighted. The touch is featherlight and almost tickles, and when he does it again, I release a shuddering breath. My whole body stiffens as I concentrate only on that one spot. I feel the sparks shoot through me, and realize that I’m aroused.

I clutch the edge of the bench and let my head tilt back farther. A few tendrils of hair brush the nape of my neck. The combination of sensations—his touch on my feet, the soft caress of hair—is overwhelming. My head truly is spinning now, and not from the champagne.

He increases the pressure, using the pads of his thumbs to work the soreness out of my feet, then gently strokes the sensitive spots where my shoes have rubbed. It’s slow. It’s intimate. It’s confusing as hell.

I’m breathing hard, and I can’t deny the small knot of panic that is beginning to unravel in my stomach. I’ve let down my guard. I’ve let things progress. I’m edging dangerously close to where I never, ever go—but damn me, I don’t know that I have the strength to turn back.

“Now,” he says.

I open my eyes, confused, and the rapturous expression on his face almost does me in.

“I’m going to kiss you,” he says, and before I even have a chance to process his words, his palm is pressed against the back of my head. Somehow, he’s shifted our positions, and it’s no longer my feet on his lap, but my thighs, so that our bodies are close and he’s bent over me, his lips pressed against mine. I’m struck by how soft his mouth is, yet firm, too. He’s completely in charge. Demanding. Taking exactly what he wants—and what I’m so willing to give.

I hear myself moan, and he takes advantage of my parted lips to dip his tongue inside.

He is an expert kisser, and I lose myself in the pleasure of it. I don’t know when, but at some point I realize that one of my hands is clutching his shirt and the other is twined in his hair. It’s thick and soft and I make a fist around a handful and use that to leverage his mouth even harder against mine. I want to lose myself in his kiss. I want to let the fire that’s spreading over my body grow. Maybe it will consume me. Maybe, like a Phoenix, I will rise again after being incinerated by Damien Stark’s touch.

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