“No, stay. I mean if Mr. Stark—if Damien—doesn’t mind.” I’m still uncomfortable calling him by his first name during working hours. But as he has repeatedly pointed out, I’ve spent a good number of hours drinking cocktails by his pool with his wife. After so many Cosmopolitans, formality when we’re alone begins to feel strained.

“Of course I don’t mind,” he says. “What’s happened?”

I take a deep breath, and spill the news I’ve been hanging on to. “Martin Glau pulled out of the project this morning.”

I see the change in Damien’s face immediately. The quick flash of shock followed by anger, then immediately replaced with steely determination. Beside him, Nikki isn’t nearly so controlled.

“Glau? But he’s been nothing but enthusiastic. Why on earth would he want to quit?”

“Not want to,” I clarify. “Has. Done. He’s gone.”

For a moment, Damien just stares at me. “Gone?”

“Apparently he’s moved to Tibet.”

Damien’s eyes widen almost imperceptibly. “Has he?”

“He’s sold his property, shut down his firm, and told his attorney to let his clients know that he’s decided to spend the rest of his life in prayerful meditation.”

“The son of a bitch,” Damien says with the kind of contained fury I rarely see in his business dealings, though the press has made much of his temper over the years. “What the hell is he thinking?”

I understand his anger. For that matter, I share it. This is my project, and Glau has managed to screw us all. The Resort at Cortez might be a Stark property, but that doesn’t mean that it’s fully financed by Damien, or by Damien’s companies. No, we’ve worked our tails off over the last three months pulling together a who’s who of investors—and every single one of them named two reasons they were committed to the project: Glau’s reputation as an architect, and Damien’s reputation as a businessman.

He runs his fingers through his hair. “All right then, so we handle this. If his attorney is notifying clients today, the press will get wind of it soon, and everything is going to unravel fast.”

I grimace. Just the thought makes my skin feel clammy, because this project is mine. I conceived it, I pitched it, and I’ve worked my ass off to get it off the ground. It’s more than a resort to me; it’s a stepping stone to my future.

I have to keep this project alive. And, dammit, I will keep it alive. Even if that means approaching the one man I swore I would never see again.

“We need a plan in place,” I say. “A definitive course of action to present to the investors.”

Despite the situation, I see a hint of amusement in Damien’s eyes. “And you have a suggestion already. Good. Let’s hear it.”

I nod and tighten my grip on my tote bag. “The investors were impressed by Glau’s reputation and his portfolio,” I say. “But that’s not something we can replicate in another architect.” As the moving force behind some of the most impressive and innovative buildings in modern history, Glau was a bona fide starchitect—an architect with both the skill and celebrity status to ensure a project’s success.

“So I suggest we present the one man who by all accounts is poised to meet or surpass Glau’s reputation.” I reach into my bag and pull out the magazine, then pass it to Damien.

“Jackson Steele.”

“He has the experience, the style, the reputation. He’s not just a rising star in the field—with Glau out of the picture, I think it’s fair to say that he’s the new crown prince. And that’s not all. Because even more so than Glau, Steele has the kind of celebrity appeal that this project can use. The sort of publicity potential that will not only excite the investors, but will be a huge boon when we market the resort to the public.”

“Is that so?” Stark says, his voice oddly flat. I see him catch Nikki’s eyes, and can’t help but wonder at the quick look that passes between the two of them.

“Read the article,” I urge, determined to prove my point. “Not only is there a rumor that the story surrounding one of his projects is going to be adapted into a feature film, but they’ve already produced a documentary on him and that museum he did last year in Amsterdam.”

“I know,” Damien says. “It’s premiering at the Chinese theater tonight.”

“Yes,” I say eagerly. “Are you going? You could talk to him there.”

Damien’s mouth twists with what I think is irony. “Oddly enough, I wasn’t invited. It’s only on my radar because Wyatt mentioned it. He’s been hired to take the red carpet photos and some candids of the guests.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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