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Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(29)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(29)
Author: J. Kenner

A reception desk dominates the room, its surface cleared of everything except an appointment calendar and a phone. At the moment, it is unmanned. I’m wondering if Damien doesn’t keep a receptionist working on Saturdays when a tall, lithe brunette appears in the hallway leading off to the left. She smiles at us, revealing perfect teeth. “Mr. Rosenfeld,” she says, holding out her hand. “I’m Ms. Peters, Mr. Stark’s weekend assistant. I’d like to welcome you and your team to the penthouse. Mr. Stark is very much looking forward to your presentation.”

“Thank you,” Carl says. He looks a little intimidated. Behind me, Brian and Dave are a cacophony of shifting feet and rustling clothes. They are definitely a little intimidated.

Ms. Peters leads us down a wide hallway to the right and into a conference room so huge that NFL teams could practice there. It’s then that I realize that the penthouse office takes up a full half of the top story. The elevator rose in the center of the building, and the side we’re on is roughly shaped like a rectangle, with the reception area in the middle, the conference room on one side, and Stark’s office on the other.

But that means that there is an entire half a story behind us. Does Stark’s office flow into that space as well? Is some other CEO subletting from Stark?

I’m not sure why I’m so curious, but I am, and so I ask Ms. Peters about the building’s layout.

“You’re right,” she says. “The office area of the penthouse takes up only half the square footage. The rest of the space constitutes one of Mr. Stark’s private residences. We call it the Tower Apartment.”

“Oh,” I say, wondering how many residences Damien Stark has. I don’t ask, though. I’ve already pushed the bounds of nosiness.

Ms. Peters points out the hidden wet bar built into one wall. “It’s fully stocked. Help yourself to orange juice, coffee, water, soda. Or if you need it to calm your nerves, you’re more than welcome to have something stronger.” She says the last with a smile, her voice full of humor. But honestly, at the moment I’m thinking that a double shot of bourbon might be just the ticket.

“I’ll leave you to set up,” Ms. Peters says. “If you need anything, just buzz me. Mr. Stark is finishing a call. I expect he’ll join you in ten minutes.”

It turns out to be twelve. Twelve long minutes during which I alternate between working feverishly to set up our showcase and worrying nervously about how I’ll react when I see him again.

And then the twelve minutes are over and Damien is striding into the conference area. The moment he enters the space, the air shifts. This is his territory, and though he doesn’t say a word, power and authority seem to cling to him, and the two men who enter behind him are little more than afterthoughts. Every movement is controlled, every glance has purpose. There can be no doubt that Damien Stark is the one in charge, and I feel a strange little surge of pride that this exceptional man not only wanted me, but has touched me so intimately.

He’s wearing jeans and a tan sport coat over a pale blue shirt. The top button is undone, and the ensemble gives him a casual, approachable quality. I wonder if he dressed that way on purpose in an attempt to make his guests more at ease. Just as quickly, I realize that of course he did. I can’t imagine that Damien Stark does anything without fully understanding the impact his actions will have.

“Thank you all for meeting here. On the weekends I like to work out of the penthouse. The change of pace reminds me that it’s time to kick back a little.” He turns to his two companions and introduces them as Preston Rhodes, the new head of acquisitions, and Mac Talbot, a new member of the product acquisition team. Then Stark shakes Brian’s and Dave’s hands, taking the time to chat briefly with each. They still look nervous, but I think that he’s soothed them enough that neither of the boys will botch the presentation by pushing a wrong button with a shaky finger.

He greets me next. Acceptable, polite, professional. But when he pulls his hand away, there’s the slightest curve of his finger, so that he gently strokes my palm. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I choose to take it as an acknowledgment that last night happened, but that today is only about the presentation.

All that in one little touch. I smile, and as I take my seat at the table, I realize that I’m much calmer. Whether he intended it to or not, Stark’s touch has soothed me.

Finally, he shakes Carl’s hand and greets him as if they’re the best of friends. They chat about vintage LPs—apparently Carl collects them—and the weather and the traffic on the 405. His intent is clear—he’s putting Carl at ease, and he’s done it so skillfully I can’t help but admire his technique. Finally, Stark takes a seat at the conference table, but not at the head. Instead, he sits opposite me, his long legs stretched out. He gestures to the head of the table and tells Carl to begin whenever he’s ready.

I’ve seen the presentation so many times that I mostly tune it out, focusing instead on Stark’s reaction. The technology really is amazing. Video footage of athletes is analyzed using a series of proprietary algorithms that translate anatomical movement into spatial data sets. Stats from each player are mapped against the data. Then, taking into account the player’s particular body structure and metrics, the software provides concrete suggestions for improving performance. But what is truly revolutionary is that those suggestions are demonstrated in holographic form so that the athletes and their coaches can see the actual position adjustments necessary for improvement.

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