“But that’s my point,” I press. “It’s a red carpet event. This guy has celebrity sparkle all the way. We need him on our team. And the article also says that he’s looking to open a satellite office in Los Angeles, which suggests that he’s trying to move more into the West Coast market.”

“Jackson Steele isn’t the only name in the pot,” Damien says.

“No,” I agree. “But right now he’s the only one with a serious spotlight on him. More than that, I’ve already looked into the few others who might appeal to the investors, and none have current availability. Steele does. I didn’t present Steele as a possible architect in the original development plan because he was committed for the next six months to a project in Dubai.” At the time, I’d been grateful that Jackson was unavailable because I didn’t want to be in exactly this position. Now, however, things have changed.

“The Dubai project fell through,” I continue. “Political and financial issues, I guess. It’s all outlined in the article. I did some quick research, and I don’t believe Steele has another green-lit project, but it won’t stay that way for long. Jackson Steele can save the Cortez resort. Please trust me when I tell you that I wouldn’t suggest him if I didn’t absolutely believe that.”

And wasn’t that the god’s honest truth?

“I believe it, too,” Damien says. “And I agree with your assessment of the situation. If we don’t get Jackson Steele on board right away, we’ll lose our investors. The only other way to keep the project alive is if I fully fund the project, either using corporate assets or my personal funds.” He draws in a breath. “Sylvia,” he says gently, “that’s not the way I do business.”

“I know. Of course I know that. That’s why I’m suggesting we approach Jackson. I mean Steele,” I correct, biting back a wince at my unintentional familiarity. “This is a high profile project—exactly the kind of thing that he’s focusing on these days. He’ll sign on. Everything about it is what he’s looking for.”

Once again, Damien and Nikki share a look, and worry snakes through me.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “But is there something I don’t know?”

“Jackson Steele has no interest in working for Stark International,” Nikki says, after a brief hesitation.

“He—what?” It takes a moment for the words to sink in. “How do you know?”

“We met him when we were in the Bahamas,” Nikki explains. “Damien offered to bring him in on the ground floor for the Bahamas project, pulling him in even before Stark International acquired property. Full access to every detail of the project. But he made it very clear that he doesn’t want to work for Damien or any of Damien’s companies. He says that Damien casts a long shadow, and he’s not interested in being caught under it.”

“In other words, we won’t be landing Steele for this project,” Damien says. He glances at his watch, then at Nikki. “I need to get back,” he says, then returns his attention to me. “Call the investors personally. This isn’t the kind of thing I can sit on. I’m truly sorry, Syl,” Damien adds, and it’s the nickname that drives home how real this is. The project is dead. My project is dead.

I tell myself I should be relieved not to risk the memories. That I’ve been a fool to think that I have the strength to tempt my nightmares. That I should just let this project go rather than walk right back into everything I once ran from.

No.

No. I’ve worked too hard, and this project means too much. I can’t just let it go. Not like that. Not without a fight.

And, yes, perhaps there is a part of me that wants to see Jackson Steele again. To prove to myself that I can do this. That I can see him, talk to him, work so goddamn intimately with him—and somehow manage to not shatter under the weight of it all.

“Please,” I say to Damien, as I squeeze my hands into fists and tell myself that the staccato beat of my heart and the clamminess of my skin stem from fear of losing the project and not the thought of seeing Jackson again. “Let me talk to him. We need to at least try.”

“There will be other projects, Ms. Brooks.” His voice is gentle, but firm. “This isn’t your last opportunity.”

“I believe you,” I say. “But I’ve never known you to walk away from a floundering deal if there was any chance of saving it.”

“Based on what I know of Mr. Steele, there isn’t a chance.”

“I think there is. Please, let me try. I’m just asking for the weekend,” I rush to add. “Just enough time for me to meet with Mr. Steele and pitch the project to him.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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