Home > Unwrap Me (Stark Trilogy #3.9)(15)

Unwrap Me (Stark Trilogy #3.9)(15)
Author: J. Kenner

“What is up with you?”

I just shake my head and ask the bartender for another. I’m amazed by how much the mere sight of Damien Stark has affected me. I’ve never had such a visceral reaction to a man in my life, and it’s unsettled me so much that I’m deliberately not looking in his direction. I’m too afraid that my knees will go weak and I’ll fall on my face.

“You’re worrying me today,” Jamie says.

“I’m fine. I swear, I’m fine.” I draw a breath and tell myself to shake it off. I can do this. Haven’t I lived my entire life wearing various versions of myself? I just need to get steady. To put on my Social Nikki mask, carry myself with the poise and confidence that my mother drilled into my head—and try my damnedest not to look in that man’s direction again.

“I tripped. That’s all.” I look at Jamie, who clearly doesn’t believe my pronouncement. “It’s been a strange day, I’m feeling light-headed, and I tripped. That’s all. Go mingle. This is a Hollywood party. You should be out charming people who can get you work. Not babysitting me.”

I watch the debate play over her face. The potential for a gig—or a hot guy—weighed against best friend karma.

“Seriously,” I assure her. “I’m fine.” I tug my phone out of my tiny purse. “I’ll text if I need you. Promise.”

Jamie points a finger at me. “You better.” She gives me a quick hug, takes a glass of wine from the bartender, and heads out.

I consider finishing my Scotch and going for another, but decide to just nurse the one that I have. Better to stay at least a little sober.

I hold on to the glass as if it were a life raft, then wade out into the stormy social seas.

I don’t see Stark, although I tell myself that I’m not looking for him. Because it’s really best not to do that until I’m sure that I’ve got my shit together. Instead, I’m looking for any friendly or familiar face. A port in the storm. And when I see Charles Maynard, Ollie’s boss, I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know him well, but I’ve met him at a few of Ollie’s firm functions. And I certainly know him well enough to pop over and say hi at a party.

I’m heading that direction, when a group standing behind him parts like the Red Sea, and there’s Damien Stark again, striding through the gap to make his way to Charles.

I freeze, mission aborted.

They chat for a minute, and it’s clear from where I’m standing that these men know each other. Ollie doesn’t talk about his work much, but I think he mentioned that the firm represents Stark International, and for a moment I idly wonder if Ollie has met Stark.

The thought makes me frown—something about the two of them knowing each other rubs me the wrong way—and it’s then that Stark shifts his attention from Charles to me. The moment his gaze hits me, I gasp, then take an unexpected step toward him, compelled by nothing more than the force of his will.

One step, then another, and then I recover my senses and force myself to stop. I’m standing beside a Queen Anne–style chair, and I reach for the back and hold on, as if that will keep me from walking farther toward this man who has thrown me so off balance.

I see a frown touch his lips, and then he says something to Charles. A moment later, Damien Stark is walking toward me, and my stomach lurches. His eyes are on me, full of heat and awareness, and once again I feel as though this has happened before. That I know him—really know him. And that, somehow, I have lost him.

My fingertips tingle as I imagine the feel of his skin beneath my hand. And my own body heats from the memory—no, not a memory, the fantasy—of his lips dancing over me, making me crazy. Making me wet.

I have absolutely no idea what is wrong with me, and I want to turn around and run, but I can’t. I’m stuck where I am, transfixed by the heat in his expression. By the dark promise of his onyx-colored eye. By the wild passion in the amber one.

I think that I will stand here forever if that’s how long it takes him to come to me, and even as I think it, I want to kick myself, because that isn’t how I think. I am not prone to lust. I do not throw myself at men. On the contrary, I’m careful. I’m private.

And yet despite all of that I find myself taking a step toward him. As I do, I see the welcome and the relief on his face—and then, just moments later, I watch as his expression closes and his face goes hard. Unreadable. Inscrutable.

I stop, confused, and then gasp with shock and disappointment as a tall, thin, utterly gorgeous woman swoops up to him, hooks her arm through his, and kisses his cheek.

“Carmela D’Amato,” Jamie says, making me jump when she appears behind me. “She’s a runway model—pretty hot these days, actually. According to gossip, they’ve been dating on and off for years.”

I had shifted to look at Jamie, and now I shift back. Stark is no longer looking at me. Instead, he’s turned away and is leading Carmela toward the balcony door. Bitch.

“Were you working up the courage to ask about the license?”

“Yeah,” I lie. My business was the furthest thing from my mind, and, frankly, that simple truth pisses me off. What the hell has happened to me? Does the man emit some sort of Nikki-attracting pheromones?

“We could follow them out to the balcony. Want me to go with you?”

I shake my head. “It’s okay. Let the man have his Christmas party.” And let me get myself together again.

I follow her around for the next hour or so, and we chat with various Hollywood types I’ve never heard of while Jamie gushes and quotes lines and talks about her favorite movie scenes or television episodes. After a while, I can feign interest no longer and excuse myself to go look at some of the artwork that is, as Jamie had warned, placed throughout the house.

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