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Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(8)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(8)
Author: J. Kenner

“Saturday?”

“Is that a problem?” Stark asks me.

“No, of course not, but—”

“He’s attending personally,” Carl says. “Personally,” he repeats, as if I could have missed it the first time.

“Right. I’ll just find Evelyn and say goodnight.” I start to move away, but Stark’s voice draws me back.

“I’d like Ms. Fairchild to stay.”

“What?” Carl speaks, expressing my thought.

“The house I’m building is almost complete. I came here to find a painting for a particular room. I’d like a feminine perspective. I’ll see her home safely, of course.”

“Oh.” Carl looks like he’s going to protest, then thinks better of it. “She’ll be happy to help.”

The hell she will. It’s one thing to wear the dress. It’s another to completely skip the presentation rehearsal because a self-absorbed bazillionaire snaps his fingers and says jump. No matter how hot said bazillionaire might be.

But Carl cuts me off before I can form a coherent reply. “We’ll speak tomorrow morning,” he tells me. “The meeting’s at two.”

And then he’s gone and I’m left seething beside a very smug Damien Stark.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I know exactly who I am, Ms. Fairchild. Do you?”

“Maybe the better question is, who the hell do you think I am?”

“Are you attracted to me?”

“I—what?” I say, verbally stumbling. His words have knocked me off center, and I struggle to regain my balance. “That is so not the issue.”

The corner of his mouth twitches, and I realize I’ve revealed too much.

“I’m Carl’s assistant,” I say firmly and slowly. “Not yours. And my job description does not include decorating your goddamn house.” I’m not shouting, but my voice is as taut as a wire and my body even more so.

Stark, damn him, appears not only perfectly at ease, but also completely amused. “If your job duties include helping your boss find capital, then you may want to reconsider how you play the game. Insulting potential investors is probably not the best approach.”

A cold stab of fear that I’ve screwed this up cuts through me. “Maybe not,” I say. “But if you’re going to withhold your money because I didn’t roll over and flounce my skirts for you, then you’re not the man the press makes you out to be. The Damien Stark I’ve read about invests in quality. Not in friendships or relationships or because he thinks some poor little inventor needs the deal. The Damien Stark I admire focuses on talent and talent alone. Or is that just public relations?”

I stand straight, ready to endure whatever verbal lashes he’ll whip back at me. I’m not prepared for the response I get.

Stark laughs.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m not going to invest in C-Squared because I met Carl at a party any more than I’d invest in it because you’re in my bed.”

“Oh.” Once again, my cheeks heat. Once again, he’s knocked me off balance.

“I do, however, want you.”

My mouth is dry. I have to swallow before I can speak. “To help you pick a painting?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “For now.”

I force myself not to wonder about later. “Why?”

“Because I need an honest opinion. Most women on my arm say what they think will make me happy, not what they actually mean.”

“But I’m not on your arm, Mr. Stark.” I let the words hang for a moment. Then I deliberately turn my back and walk away. I can feel him watching me, but I neither stop nor turn around. Slowly, I smile. I even add a little swing to my step. This is my moment of triumph and I intend to savor it.

Except victory isn’t as delicious as I expected. In fact, it’s a little bitter. Because secretly—oh, so secretly—I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be the girl on Damien Stark’s arm.

4

I cross the entire room before I pause, my heart pounding wildly in my chest. Fifty-five steps. I counted every one of them, and now that there’s no place left to go I am simply standing still, staring at one of Blaine’s paintings. Another nude, this one lying on her side across a stark white bed, only the foreground in focus. The rest of the room—walls, furniture—are nothing more than the blurred gray suggestions of shapes.

The woman’s skin is pale, as if she’s never seen the sun. But her face suggests otherwise. It reflects so much ecstasy that it seems to glow.

There is only one splash of color on the entire canvas—a long red ribbon. It is tied loosely around the woman’s neck, then extends between her heavy breasts to trail down even farther. It slides between her legs, then continues, the image fading into the background before meeting the edge of the canvas. There’s a tautness to the ribbon, though, and it’s clear what story the artist is telling; her lover is there, just off the canvas, and he’s holding the ribbon, making it slide over her, making her writhe against it in a desperate need to find the pleasure that he’s teasing her with.

I swallow, imagining the sensation of that cool, smooth satin stroking me between my legs. Making me hot, making me come …

And in my fantasy, it’s Damien Stark who is holding that ribbon.

This is not good.

I ease away from the painting toward the bar, which is the only place in the entire room where I’m not bombarded by erotic imagery. Honestly, I need the break. Erotic art doesn’t usually make me melt. Except, of course, it’s not the art that’s making me hot.

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