All of that should terrify me, but instead it enticed me. And that simple reality had thrown me completely off center.

“Tell me,” he said, as his fingers slid through my short hair. “Tell me why you look like a rabbit about to bolt.”

I hesitated, but answered honestly. “You scare me.”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. No, I think it’s because I don’t scare you.” His eyes narrowed. “You’re an enigma, Sylvia Brooks. I think that’s why I want you. I saw you the moment you walked away from the crowd and headed out to the veranda. I asked your name and I’ve watched you all night. Polite, yet distant. You’re never rude, but it’s as if you’ve got a line drawn around you that you don’t let anyone cross.”

I gaped at him, because he was absolutely right. What frightened me was that he saw so quickly what I prided myself on hiding so well.

“I’m in that circle now,” he continued. “And it’s not because I scare you.”

I licked my lips. “No? Then why?” I felt hope mixing with desire inside me, because I truly wanted to know what he was going to say. I didn’t understand this thing I felt for him. This fierce, fast punch that had knocked me sideways and left me dizzy and giddy and, miraculously, wanting more.

“It’s because you don’t understand it, either.”

I fought the urge to hug myself in defense against the goose bumps that were rising on my arms. “Don’t understand what?” I asked, though I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“This,” he said, gesturing between the two of us. “You don’t understand it, but you feel it as palpably as I do. And so you let me in.” He moved closer, and I caught the scent of him, smoke and wood, like a forest after a storm. “You may not understand it. But, sweetheart, you need to trust it.”

I wanted to. So help me, in that moment, I’m not sure I’d ever wanted anything more. But …

I tilted my head back so I was looking right into his eyes. “What if I can’t?”

“Then I’ll just have to convince you.” He drew me close and kissed me again, this time slow and sweet, but it still set my head to spinning. And so help me I craved more. So much more.

When he broke the kiss, he stepped back, and I felt my body move with him, unwilling to let the distance between us increase.

“I’m going to take you home now.”

His words were a command, underscored by the kind of certainty that would normally make me run or rebel. I did neither. Instead I clung to the one small fact of which I was certain—that if I said no, he would let me go. He might not want to, but if I asked, he would let me turn around and go back to the party.

I didn’t want to, but I held tight to the knowledge that at the core of it, the decision was mine. And right then, that was enough. I nodded. “Yes,” I said. “Take me home.”

He drove fast, which didn’t surprise me. Neither did the car, a sleek black Porsche that maneuvered the tangle of Atlanta traffic as smoothly as butter on a griddle.

“Nice ride.”

“It is,” he agreed. “She’s a classic. I bought her from a collector as a present to myself when I got my license a few years back.”

“Your real estate license?” I asked, assuming he either worked with one of the Brighton big shots or was being courted as an investor.


I sat up a little straighter. “Oh.”

He took his attention off the road long enough to glance at me. “You sound surprised.”

“I’m not,” I said. “It suits you.”

“Does it? How so?”

I hesitated, then told him the truth. “Because you’re a little bit arrogant.”

“Oh, really? And here I expected to be flattered.”

“You should be. It’s like the way you’re handling this car. All confidence and zip, in and out of traffic.” I shrugged. “That’s how I think of architects, I guess. It goes back to the pyramids, right? I mean, some Egyptian architect had the audacity to say that his design would rise up to the sky, and that they would figure out a way to make that happen. It’s like building a skyscraper to the heavens or a bridge that spans a canyon.”

I looked out the window at the Atlanta skyline, shining over the city. “It takes my breath away, you know. There’s such control and precision to creating something like that. It’s—I don’t know.”

“I think you do,” he said softly.

I glanced over at him, saw him looking back at me with both interest and understanding on his face.

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance