Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(9)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(9)
Author: J. Kenner

I do, however, want you.

What had he meant by that?

More to the point, what do I want him to mean by that? Which, of course, is a bullshit question. I know what I want. The same thing I wanted six years ago. I also know it will never happen. And even the fantasy is a very bad idea.

I scan the room, telling myself I’m only looking over the art. Apparently this is my night for self-deception. I’m looking for Stark, but when I find him, I wish that I hadn’t bothered. He’s standing next to a tall, lithe woman with short dark hair. She looks like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, vibrant and beautiful. Her small features are alight with pleasure, and as she laughs she reaches out and touches him in a casual, intimate gesture. My stomach hurts just watching them. Good God, I don’t even know this man. Can I really be jealous?

I consider the possibility, and in the spirit of tonight’s theme, I deceive myself once more. Not jealousy—anger. I’m pissed that Stark could so cavalierly flirt with me even though he’s obviously enthralled by another woman—a beautiful, charming, radiant woman.

“More champagne?” The bartender holds out a flute. Tempting. Very tempting, but I shake my head. I don’t need to get drunk. I need to get out of here.

More guests arrive, and the room overflows with people. I look for Stark again, but he has disappeared into the crowd. Audrey Hepburn is nowhere in sight, either. I’m sure wherever they are, they’re having a dandy time.

I sandwich myself between a wall and a hallway cordoned off with a velvet rope. Presumably it leads to the rest of Evelyn’s house. Right now, it’s the closest thing to privacy I have.

I take out my phone, hit speed dial, and wait for Jamie to answer.

“You will so not believe this,” she says, skipping all the preliminaries. “I just did the nasty with Douglas.”

“Oh my God, Jamie. Why?” Okay, that came out before I had the chance to think about it, and while this revelation about Douglas is not good news, I’m grateful to be dragged so forcefully into Jamie’s problems. Mine can wait.

Douglas is our next-door neighbor, and his bedroom shares a wall with mine. Even though it’s only been four days, I have a pretty good idea of how often he gets laid. The idea that my best friend is another ticky mark on his bedpost does not thrill me.

Of course, from Jamie’s perspective, he’s a mark on her bedpost.

“We were by the pool drinking wine, and then we got in the hot tub and then …” She trails off, leaving “and then” to my imagination.

“He’s still there? Or are you at his place?”

“God, no. I sent him home an hour ago.”

“Jamie …”

“What? I just needed to burn some energy. Trust me, it’s good. I’m so mellow now you wouldn’t even believe.”

I frown. Like a girl who collects stray puppies, Jamie brings home a lot of men. She doesn’t, however, keep them around. Not even until morning. As her roommate, I find that convenient. There’s nothing quite like meeting an unshaved, unshowered, half-naked man staring into your refrigerator at three in the morning. As her friend, however, I worry.

She, in turn, worries about me for precisely the opposite reason. I’ve never brought a man home, much less kicked him out. As far as Jamie is concerned, that makes me subnormal.

This, however, isn’t the time to get into it with my best friend. But Douglas? She had to go and pick Douglas? “Am I going to have to avert my eyes every time I see him in the complex?”

“He’s cool,” she says. “No big deal.”

I close my eyes and shake my head. The mere thought of being naked like that—emotionally and physically—overwhelms me. Not a big deal? The hell it’s not.

“How about you? Did you actually manage to form words this time?”

I scowl. As my best friend since forever, Jamie knows a few too many of my secrets. I’d told her all about my ambiguous encounter with uber-hottie Damien Stark at the pageant reception. Her reaction had been typical Jamie—if I’d just opened my mouth and formed actual words, he would have ditched Carmela and had his way with me. I’d told her she was insane, but her words had been like tinder to my smoldering fantasy.

“I talked to him,” I admit now.

“Oh, really?” Her voice rises with interest.

“And he’s coming to the presentation.”

“And …?”

I have to laugh. “That’s it, Jamie. That was the point.”

“Oh. Well, okay, then. No, seriously, that’s fabulous, Nik. You totally rocked it.”

When she puts it that way, I have to agree.

“So what’s he like now?”

I consider the question. It’s not an easy one to answer. “He’s … intense.” Hot. Sexy. Surprising. Disturbing. No, it’s not Stark that’s disturbing—it’s my reaction to him.

“Intense?” Jamie parrots. “Like that’s a revelation? I mean, the guy owns half the known universe. I hardly think he’d be all warm and fuzzy. More like dark and dangerous.”

I frown. Somehow, Jamie has summed up Damien Stark perfectly.

“Anything else to report? How are the paintings? I won’t ask if you’ve seen any celebrities. Any celebrity younger than Cary Grant, and you’re clueless. I mean, you could probably trip over Bradley Cooper and not even know it.”

“Actually, Rip and Lyle are here, and they’re being civil to each other despite their feud. It’ll be interesting to see if the show gets picked up for another season.”

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