Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(24)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(24)
Author: J. Kenner

I close the door carefully and set the dead bolt, but I leave the chain dangling in the hope that my guess as to Jamie’s whereabouts is right. Then I start to tiptoe to my room, just in case my guess is wrong.

Even dimly lit, the condo is easily navigable. A traditional apartment before the owners decided to go condo, it’s small at only about eight hundred square feet. The main room serves a triple purpose as entrance hall, living room, and dining area. There’s also a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bedrooms. The living area is on the left, and is furnished comfortably with a chair and a sofa. One long wall boasts a never-used fireplace and a mounted flat-screen television.

Just in front of the door—past the four feet or so that can be considered the foyer—is the dining area, which has a truly ugly orange Formica table and four mismatched wooden chairs. Jamie may have bought the condo when prices were down, but that didn’t mean she’d been rolling in extra cash. She’d furnished it with an eye to cost, not appeal. I don’t mind, but I’ve already told Jamie that when I can afford it, I want to paint the interior and try to make the place a little more Ikea. Home and Garden is completely out of the question.

The kitchen is to the left of the dining area, and is separated from the living area by a solid wall that one day I’d love to knock down and turn into a pass-through. Until then, whoever’s cooking not only can’t see the television, but is trapped in the claustrophobic galley-style kitchen. Between the dining area and kitchen are two stairs that seem to serve no purpose. They lead to the bedrooms—one on either side—and the bathroom, which takes up the space between.

I’ve gone about three feet and am transitioning from entrance to dining area when a light snaps on to my left. I turn and see Jamie in the far side of the room, curled up in the battered armchair that Lady Meow-Meow uses as a scratching post.

“You okay?” I ask, because Jamie brooding in the dark is never a good thing.

She stretches her arms and yawns, disrupting Lady Meow-Meow who is a big blob of white fur in her lap. “I’m good. Must’ve fallen asleep.” She shifts in the chair, then rolls her head, getting the kinks out. I eye her for signs that she’s bullshitting me, but she seems genuinely fine. I’m relieved. Call me selfish, but I’m not in the mood to micromanage anyone’s drama but my own.

“So?” she demands as the cat leaps down and pads to the kitchen for kibble.

I shrug, still standing there in my little dress with my shoes dangling from my fingertips and my naked tush catching a breeze under the flouncy skirt. “Tired,” I say, because I need to collect my thoughts. Jamie always sees more than I want her to, and I don’t want to dive into the conversation unprepared. “Wanna grab breakfast at Du-par’s in the morning? I’ll give you the full scoop then. But it’ll have to be early.” I hook my thumb toward my bedroom. “I need to go crash.”

“You’re really not going to tell me shit? Why the hell did I wait up?”

“You didn’t wait up. You were asleep.”

She waves a hand, sweeping my logic away as irrelevant.

“In the morning,” I say, and before she can argue I turn and head to my room. I wait a second in case she decides to burst in after me, and when she doesn’t, I peel off the dress. I stand naked for a moment, feeling the cool breeze from the air conditioner caress my still-hot skin. My favorite pajama bottoms are folded on my pillow, and I slip them on. I don’t bother with underwear, and the sensation of the threadbare material against my still-sensitive sex is fantastic. I think of Damien and rub my palms lightly over my bare breasts. My nipples peak, and I’m tempted to pull out my phone and call him back.

Jesus, Nikki. Get a grip.

I don’t know what Damien Stark wants from me, but the truth is that I don’t care. Because it’s not going anywhere. I’m not getting naked with Damien Stark. That’s simply a given. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the fantasy he’s given me, all wrapped up in silver paper with a bright, shiny orgasm.

I slide onto the bed and slip one hand down into the pajama bottoms. I’m no longer drunk, just nicely buzzed, and I can’t think of a better way to drift off to sleep.

The sharp chime of the doorbell nips that plan in the bud, and I leap to my feet, yanking my hand out of my pants as I move like a guilty teenager caught by her parents.

“Is that Douglas?” I shout to Jamie.

“Hell no,” she says. “I train them better than that.”

“Then who—”

“Oh, fuck,” she says, not in anger or fear, but in amazement. “Nik, honey, get your ass out here.”

I yank on a tank top and hurry into the living room, not even willing to venture a guess as to who could be out there at this time of night.

As it turns out, it’s no one. Instead, it’s a huge flower arrangement parked on the doorstep. A mass of wildflowers—daisies and sunflowers and Indian paintbrushes and other flowers I don’t recognize. They are beautiful and cheerful and warm and wild.

They are perfect.

Damien, I think, and it feels like my whole body is smiling. It has to be Damien.

Jamie bends down to snag the card and has it out of the envelope before I can reach her. I silently seethe until she looks up at me, a grin tugging at the side of her mouth.

I hold out my hand for the card, which she hands over with a gleam in her eye.

There is one word printed on it: Delicious. Beneath that are the initials D.S.

And me, the girl who never blushes, does so for about the millionth time that night.

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