Now, it’s not even six and I’m already home, and as I ride the elevator up to my third-floor condo, I’m glad of the extra time. Jackson said he’d arrive by eight. That gives me two hours to chill. And to maybe, hopefully, find some peace with my decision.

I tap my code onto the keypad, hear the familiar whirr of the locks, and then push the door open. Despite the mountains of moving boxes that mar the landscape of my living room, my mood immediately shifts for the better. The condo is tiny but it’s all mine. Well, mine and the bank’s.

Damien had given me a bonus along with the project manager position, and I’d taken the leap and dived head-first into the wonderful and wacky world of home ownership. Now I own seven hundred square feet above retail space on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. And while the access to shopping is definitely a perk¸ the best part is the view.

The entire back wall works like a garage door. Down, it is a wall of glass panels that provide a view. Rolled up, it provides more living space by opening onto a balcony that looks out over the streets and the ocean beyond. And, of course, a really great breeze.

I press the button beside the front door and grin like an idiot as the mechanism kicks into gear and my back wall begins to roll up.

After that, though, I just stand there, a little at loose ends.

Jackson.

He’s going to be here in only two short hours. And, yes, I may be armed with my plan to use him before he can use me—to treat him just like one of the guys whose initials now mark my body—but that doesn’t change the fact that in the end, he’ll have his hands on me. His mouth on me.

And oh, dear God, his cock inside me.

And the sick, horrible truth?

Despite the fact that he’s forced my hand and tricked his way into my bed, I cannot deny that I want him there. And I hate myself just a little for that.

My phone rings, and I’m grateful for the distraction. I’m even more grateful when I check the caller ID and see that it’s Jamie.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I’m calling to tell you I sent you an Evite,” she says.

“You’re calling me to tell me you sent an email?” That’s undeniably weird, but not entirely surprising. I met Jamie Archer through Nikki and liked her immediately. She says what she thinks and doesn’t mince words and as far as friendship goes, she’s as loyal as they come. She’s also a lot of fun during happy hour.

“I want to make sure it didn’t go to spam. It’s an invitation to my Halloween party. Three weeks,” she says. “That gives you tons of time to find the perfect costume.”

“Sounds like fun,” I say, meaning it.

“Totally. It’ll be my first party in the condo. Well, since I’ve been back in the condo,” she amends. She’d rented her place when she returned temporarily to Texas to live with her parents. But she’s back now, doing the struggling-actress thing and happily dating Ryan Hunter, Stark International’s security chief.

“So you’re all settled back in?”

“Oh, yeah. I let my tenant have the place furnished and with all the kitchen stuff and linens. So when he moved out and I moved back, it was sort of like going on a backward vacation. Totally easy.”

I glance around at my stacks of poorly labeled boxes and grimace. “I think I hate you right now.”

“Need help?”

“Nope,” I say. “I’ll get it done.”

“Good, because I’m not doing anything today except lounging in bed naked and sending Evites.”

“Is Ryan with you?” I ask.

“Indeed he is.”

“Then I’m betting you’re doing more than lounging.”

“See, this is why you work for a guy like Damien. You’re so damn smart. Speaking of, I saw the pics of you from the premiere. Very cool.”

“The ones in the paper?”

“You rocked your outfit,” she says. “And how very stealthy of you.”

“Stealthy?”

“Nikki told me about the whole architect snafu. And how you ended up going to the premiere to meet with Jackson Steele. And persuade him …” She adds the last with a suggestive lilt.

“Is that what Nikki told you?” I ask, all the more mortified that she’d landed scarily close to the truth.

“The persuade part,” Jamie says. “I added the va-voom part myself. Makes a better story.”

I roll my eyes.

“Anyway, I think this Jackson dude is a way better choice than Martin Glau.”

I laugh. “Jamie, you don’t know shit about architecture.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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