Jackson, damn him, is brutally calm. “I’m just making sure that everyone has all the relevant information.”

“What does that even mean?”

He moves to the window and stands beside it, so that downtown Los Angeles is spread out behind him. I’m reminded of the image from the premier—Jackson on the girder in jeans and a hardhat, all power and control, force and motion.

Today, he wears a finely tailored suit, and looks crisp and put together.

Or mostly put together.

Because it is impossible not to notice the wound on his cheek. It’s covered by an adhesive butterfly bandage, but the cut and the bruising are still somewhat exposed. And when I glance down, I see that his knuckles are raw as well.

Those injuries weren’t there last night, and as I stand there, I’m absolutely certain that I am the reason for them.

I’m not entirely sure how that makes me feel.

He may be injured, but nothing about this man looks like a victim.

On the contrary, he’s a man used to getting what he wants—and right now, I know that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“Stark’s a powerful man,” he says, then turns from the window to face me. “I don’t want him thinking ill of me because he believes I turned down his project.”

“That’s a load of crap,” I retort. “You turned down the Bahamas resort without even blinking.”

He simply shrugs. “Maybe I was overbooked. Maybe the terms were unacceptable.”

“Or maybe you told Stark you didn’t want to work on a Stark International project. That he casts too long a shadow.”

“True,” he says. “But don’t you think it’s reasonable that now I want to show Mr. Stark that I spoke too hastily? Because the truth is that I cast a long shadow, too, and if I do this, it will ultimately be known as a Jackson Steele project.” He meets my eyes, his expression flat, but the corner of his mouth curves up just enough so that his amusement is plain. “Don’t you agree?”

Since he has just tossed my words back in my face, I can hardly disagree.

“I’m ready, willing, and able to perform,” Jackson says. “Stark needed to know that. The only question is whether the specific terms of the deal are acceptable, and I believe that’s what Stark told you to work out with me.”

It’s true. Damien had originally left it to me to put together the deal points with Glau, and now I’m supposed to do the same with Steele.

How uncanny that I already know what our sticking point will be. Me.

His smile is wide and smug. “If it turns out that we can’t come to terms, then you can relay that to him. But at least I’ll leave here knowing that Damien Stark is aware that I was, at least for a time, ready to work on his resort. Enthusiastic, even,” he adds as he looks me up and down.

I feel a rush of sensual pleasure that, God help me, I do not want to feel. I don’t want to surrender. All I want to do is run.

I force myself to stand taller. Straighter. To speak cleanly and crisply despite my frayed nerves. And, yes, despite my own damnable desire. “Why are you doing this?”

“You know why,” he says as he strides to me. I hold my ground, resisting the urge to move backward and clutch the credenza behind me. “Because I want you, Sylvia.”

He reaches out, then traces his fingertip along my collarbone as I stand stock-still, trying very hard not to shiver from the thrill of his touch.

“I want you naked,” he whispers in a voice as tempting as sin. “I want you exposed. I want you open to me. And I think,” he adds in the kind of voice that will broach no argument, “that you want me, too.”

I exhale slowly and force myself to look at him. “Goddamn you, Jackson Steele.”

“I once told you that I’m a man who goes after what he wants, and that’s still true. But here’s a question for you, Sylvia. Are you a woman who does the same? You say you want this project, this resort. Prove it. It’s here for the taking. Right now, the only obstacle is you.”

I say nothing, because if I speak, I’m afraid of what I’ll say.

His eyes, like blue fire, meet mine. “Tonight. Eight o’clock. Be ready for me.”

I pull open the glass door to Totally Tattoo and am immediately accosted by both loud colors and equally loud music.

“Sylvia!” Joy high-fives me as I step up to the glass case that doubles as a cash register stand and a display for the shop’s various rings and bars. Cass doesn’t do piercings herself, but she hired Joy just shy of a year ago, and the arrangement has worked out well for both of them. “When are you getting your tongue pierced, girlfriend?” she asks, just as she does every time I come in.

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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