“I like architecture,” I say again.

He returns to the table and pulls out a few of the photos that sit inside the open box. The first are additional shots of Jackson Steele buildings. But under that, he finds my house photos.

He pulls out one, two, eight, a dozen. After he’s spread them on the table, he turns to me again. “I know you like architecture,” he says with more than a little irony in his voice. “But I never saw you as going fangirl over residential buildings.”

“I like to look at houses.” I shrug, because there really is no more to say.

“Why?”

“Does it matter?” I snap. I go to the coffee table and gather them up—small cottages, large mansions, log cabins, adobe pueblos. Some in fancy neighborhoods, some in gangland. Some in places like Brentwood where I grew up.

I toss them all back inside the box.

“Why?” he asks again, this time more gently.

“I don’t know.” It’s only half a lie. I have done this for years—even back when I was a child I would walk the neighborhood with a disposable camera—and I can sit for hours staring at a house, making up stories about the people who live behind the walls. In college, I took photography classes and spent almost all my time shooting houses. Now, it is both an obsession and a passion.

But I tell none of that to Jackson, and I still don’t answer his question. But the truth is, I don’t know why. Because I’m not sure what I expect to find when I look through the lens. All I know is that I haven’t found it yet.

For a moment Jackson says nothing, he simply looks at me. Then he picks my dress up off the couch and hands it to me. “Put it on.”

“But—” I’m not sure why I’m protesting, I only know that I’m confused.

“It’s well after eight,” he says, though his voice sounds tired enough that it could be after midnight. “I think it’s time I take you to dinner.”

twelve

Jackson has my skirt unbuttoned and his hand on my thigh when the waitress pushes open the sliding paper partition to enter the small, private booth.

As she does, Jackson leans over and kisses my ear, at the same time whispering, “Quiet.”

At first I don’t understand what he means, but then his hand slides north and his fingers find my thong. I freeze, terrified that he is going to do exactly what I know he’s going to do. And yet even as I’m fervently wishing that I could slide over to the next colored cushion, some tiny treacherous part of me wants what he is offering. A forbidden touch. A secret pleasure.

Good god, what the hell am I thinking?

I start to squirm away in protest, but he catches my eye and shakes his head just slightly as the kimono-clad waitress bows, then kneels carefully on the far side of the table from us. As she places the decorative tray of sushi and sashimi in front of us, Jackson’s finger slides under the lace to tease and play with me.

We are sitting on a backless bench of cushions that is directly on the floor, our feet descending into the sunken area which holds the table in this high-end, Beverly Hills sushi restaurant.

It is the kind of place where executives broker million-dollar deals. It is not the kind of place that hides lust and passion in dark corners while the rest of the world looks away.

And yet there is Jackson, gently stroking my clit as the waitress refills our sake.

And there is me, biting my lower lip, my cheeks surely burning, as I try to sit completely still as tremors of pleasure burst through my body.

Whether I should be or not, I cannot deny that I am wet—so desperately wet. And that right then I am craving more.

Jackson does not disappoint, and as he slides his finger inside me, I swallow a small sound of surprise and pleasure, then close my hands tight around the edges of the table.

The waitress’s smile never wavers as she takes our empty soup bowls, stands, and leaves silently with another small bow at the door.

“Jackson!” There is something like panic in my voice as I whisper his name.

“Tell me more,” he says. “What did Galway say when you told him Stark wanted to buy the island?”

When we’d arrived at the restaurant, I hadn’t known what to expect. Jackson’s mood had shifted in the apartment, going from heated demand to practiced politeness, as if we were a couple out on a first date, each being slightly careful around the other.

His choice of restaurant had surprised me as well. We’d never gone out for sushi in Atlanta, but I’d mentioned once that it’s my favorite food. I considered asking if he’d come here on purpose, but the truth is I wanted to believe it had been intentional, and didn’t want to know if coming here had been little more than a coincidence.


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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