He turns his back to the window, his laser blue eyes now focused intently on me. “Stark’s married now,” he says, as if we were discussing the weather. “So I want to know if you’re still fucking him.”

Now anger launches me to my feet. “Damien? Are you insane? I never—”

“You left me.” Gone is the calm tone, the bland expression. He’s wild now, ferocious as he strides the short distance across the room to stand in front of me.

His anger is no match for mine, though, and our joined fury seems to fill the room, making the air buzz and pop. All we need is a lit match, and we’ll both go up in flames. “Five years ago, you left me so you could go fuck Damien Stark.”

Without thinking, I lash out, slapping him hard across his left cheek, right over the still raw cut. I hope it hurts. I hope it fucking brings him to his knees.

He grabs my upper arms, tight enough to bruise, and yanks me toward him. I can see the wildness in him, can feel the tempest building between us. For a moment I’m not sure if he’s going to hit me or kiss me, and he better not goddamn do either, because I am as close to losing it right now as he is.

I do nothing, though; I know better than to poke a wounded animal. And after a moment, he pushes me away. “Fuck.”

I back off, breathing hard. I lean against the bed as I watch him pace the room. Once, twice, until he stops at the window again. Until he lashes out once more, the force of his hand against the glass making the images in the window shimmer, as if the fury of this one man has upset the balance of the world.

Slowly, very slowly, I walk toward him. I pause behind him, close enough to reach out and touch him, though I do not. “I told you before—I left because I had to.”

“You left Atlanta. You went to work for him.”

“Yes. Because after Reggie fired me I contacted human resources at Stark International and asked them to put my application back in the active file. I told you I’d applied for a job with him. And I got it. The old-fashioned way—by having a solid résumé. I didn’t leave you for Stark, and I swear on my life that I have never slept with that man.”

He pulls me to him, the motion so unexpected that I gasp, and as I do, he closes his mouth over mine. The kiss is wild and hard and almost painful. Teeth clashing, mouths burning. It is a claiming, not a kiss. A battle, not a seduction. And when he backs away, I am breathing hard, a little bit aroused and a lot lost.

And Jackson is himself again. Cool and controlled as if the last few moments haven’t even happened.

“This is the way it’s going to work. You’re mine. Wholly and completely. You’re ready for me when I say. How I say. Do you understand?”

“Do I have a choice?”

He doesn’t even bother to answer. We both know what the answer will be.

“On the bed,” Jackson says, and for a moment I do not move.

This really is it, I think. I can walk away right now, and save myself the pain of my memories. The misery of being with a man who wants only to punish me for our past.

I can walk—and I can lose the resort, which is the only thing that has truly mattered to me in years.

I look at him, struck hard by the irony. Because five years ago, Jackson mattered to me. He’d bent time with me, cramming what felt like a lifetime of emotion into just a few short days.

But that’s the past, and the resort is my present. And I cannot risk losing it if I have the chance to save it.

And so I do as he asks. This was the deal I made, after all. And, yes, I cannot deny that despite the memories that I fear will creep back into my dreams, I want what he has promised. I want the release. And, god help me, I want to shatter against this man again even though it is not real, and even though in the end, I know that I will get hurt.

“Good girl,” he says once my head is on the pillows. “Now stretch out your arms.”

I do, though I’m not sure what he’s planning. I find out soon enough, though, because he steps into the bathroom, then comes back with the white cotton sashes from two hotel robes.

I shake my head, feeling panic rising. “No,” I say, but he doesn’t stop. He simply takes my wrist and knots one end of a sash around it. The other end he ties to a lamp that is fastened to the wall right at the side of the headboard.

“Jackson …”

My protest seems to echo in the room, but he does not heed it. Instead, he moves around the bed and repeats the process with my other arm.

I lick my lips, not liking how vulnerable I feel. I squeeze my thighs together, then whimper when he shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “Wide. I want to see how wet you are. I want to see how much you want me.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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