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Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(19)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(19)
Author: J. Kenner

The champagne that seemed like such a good idea at the time now seems rather foolish.

I’m starting to doze off when my phone jars me awake. I jerk upright and dig into my itty-bitty purse to retrieve it. I don’t recognize the number, but since I’ve only given my new California number to Jamie and Carl, it doesn’t take a degree in statistics to figure out it’s one of them calling from an unfamiliar number or a telemarketer.

I answer, expecting Jamie, since I’m sure Carl wouldn’t interrupt me, not if he thinks that alone time with me is what Stark wants.

“I am so wasted,” I say, because if it’s a telemarketer, it just serves them right.

“I’m not surprised,” replies a familiar voice that does not belong to my roommate. “I believe I suggested you slow down.”

“Mr. Stark? How did you get this number?” I push myself back upright too quickly.

“I wanted to hear your voice.” His voice is low and sensual and despite everything I’ve been telling myself, it curls through me like liquid heat.

“Oh.”

“And I’d like to see you again.”

I force myself to breathe. “You will,” I say primly, because I have to nip this in the bud. “I’ll be at the meeting tomorrow.”

“I’m very much looking forward to it. Perhaps it would have been more prudent for me to wait and talk to you then. But the thought of you relaxed and tipsy, leaning back against the leather of my limo … well, that was an image I simply couldn’t pass up.”

My mind is in a whirl. What happened to the man who so coolly deposited me in the back of this car?

“I want to see you again,” he repeats, this time more forcefully. I don’t even pretend to misunderstand. He is not talking business.

“Do you always get what you want?”

“I do,” he says simply. “Especially when the desire is mutual.”

“It’s not,” I lie.

“Really?” I hear the interest in his voice. This is a game to him. I am a game to him. The thought pisses me off, and I’m grateful. Angry Nikki has a lot more control than Wasted Nikki.

“Really.”

“How did you feel when I put you in the limo?”

I shift uncomfortably. I’m not completely certain where this is going, but I’m pretty confident that I won’t like getting there.

“Nichole?”

“Don’t call me that,” I snap.

I hear silence on the other end of the line and I realize that I’m afraid he’s hung up.

“All right, Nikki,” he says, as if he knows that he’s soothing a very deep wound. “How did you feel when I put you in the limo?”

“I was pissed. And you damn well knew it.”

“Because I was sending you home alone in a limo? Or because I was sending you home alone in a limo so that I could keep a date with a beautiful woman?”

“In case it escaped your notice, we barely know each other. You are perfectly entitled to go out with whomever you want, whenever you want.”

“And you’re within your rights to be jealous.”

“I’m not jealous, and no, I wouldn’t be within my rights. Let me repeat the salient point: I hardly know you.”

“I see. So the fact that we crave each other doesn’t play into it? Nor the fact that I made you wet? That I held your cunt in my hand and made you moan?”

He’s about to make me moan again, but I manage to remain valiantly silent.

“Tell me then, at what level of intimacy can jealousy rear its head?”

“I—I’ve drunk my weight in champagne tonight. I am not even going to attempt to answer that.”

He laughs, full and genuine. I like the sound. And, yes, I like Damien Stark. He’s not what I expected, but there’s something compelling about him—and it’s more than just the fact that he’s hotter than sin and got me worked up into quite a lather. He seems perfectly comfortable in his own skin. I’m reminded of Evelyn, who so brashly told me that if her party guests didn’t like the way she ran the event, they could leave. I’d been shocked—my mother would have had a coronary right then and there. But I’d also been impressed.

As far as I can tell, Damien Stark takes that attitude to an extreme.

“Her name is Giselle,” he says, and his voice is soft. “She owns the gallery that’s showing Blaine’s work.”

“I thought Evelyn was showing the work.”

“Evelyn hosted the party. She’s become something of a patron for Blaine. But tomorrow morning the paintings will be transported to Giselle’s gallery. This cocktail date with Giselle and her husband has been on my calendar for over a week now. It’s business, and not something I could get out of. But I did step away in order to call you.”

“Oh.” Her husband. “Oh.”

On the one hand, I’m frustrated that I’m so transparent. On the other hand, he’s calling to soothe me, and the sweetness of that gesture moves me. Of course, I shouldn’t let it. I should be strong and tell him he shouldn’t have bothered. Because whatever is happening between us, it needs to be quickly nipped in the bud.

“So where are you?” I ask, completely ignoring my own wise counsel.

“Sur la Mer,” he says, naming a Malibu restaurant and bar that’s so chic even I’ve heard of it.

“I’ve heard it’s excellent.”

“The food is exquisite,” he says, “but it’s the ambience that really sets the place apart. It’s charming, but intimate. It’s the perfect place to have a drink and discuss business when one doesn’t want to be overheard. Or to not discuss business, for that matter.”

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