“You tracked your car.”

“I’ve got a Lexus, too,” he says. “You ran out on me in one car, I followed you in another.”

“To make sure your Porsche was safe?” I ask, unable to keep the challenge out of my voice.

“No.” He brushes his thumb over my cheek. “I wasn’t worried about my car.”

“But you didn’t get out. You just sat there.”

“I thought you wanted to be alone.”

“You’re here now,” I say.

“I thought you’d been alone long enough.”

I actually smile, which feels pretty good. Then I push myself up, so that I’m sitting instead of lounging. “How did you get in?”

“You left your front door wide open,” he says. “Good thing this is a security building and nobody can get through the gate.”

“You’re still not going to tell me how you managed that?”

“A magician never shares his secrets.” He’s been kneeling beside me, but now he stands up. “You’re better now?” he asks, and when I nod, he steps back into the apartment.

I fight a sharp pang of panic as I shift on the lounger so that I can look inside, then sag with relief when I see that he isn’t leaving but getting something out of my refrigerator.

“Corkscrew?” he asks, then immediately answers himself. “Got it. Never mind.”

A moment later, he returns with two glasses of white wine. He hands one to me, then uses his free hand to pull over the metal folding chair that Cass brought out here the last time she was over.

He sits, then puts his glass on the concrete next to him. He leans forward, his elbows resting on his knees. He looks completely casual and totally in control, and every ounce of his attention is focused on me.

“We’re done, Sylvia,” he says, and I jolt bolt upright.

“What? No! You told Damien, and I—I agreed to—you know. Dammit, Jackson, you can’t just quit. You can’t—” I am starting to rise, but he takes my arm and tugs me back down.

“Not the resort,” he says calmly. “I’ll design a magnificent resort for you. But this,” he says, gesturing between the two of us.

I shake my head, not understanding. Because surely after everything, he isn’t tossing away all of his demands and ultimatums.

Is he?

He reaches for his glass, then stands and walks to the railing. He stops there, so that he is silhouetted against the now-gray sky. “You fucked me up, Sylvia, it doesn’t get more basic than that. I said this was about revenge, and it is. It was. I wanted to punish you for leaving me. For leaving me for him—for Damien, I thought—and god, how I wanted to punish you.”

“But I didn’t. Not like that. I told you.”

“And I believe you. But that wasn’t all of it. Because I still wanted to make you pay for hurting me. Hell, for hurting both of us,” he says, and I can’t help but wince, because what he says is true.

“But it wasn’t all about punishment.” He takes a sip of wine, then sets the glass down. “Do you need to hear it plainly? I’ll say it. I want you, Sylvia. As intensely as I wanted you in Atlanta. And the moment I saw you in the theater, I knew that I was willing to make any deal I had to in order to get you close.”

His words are punctuated by each step he takes toward me. “Did I want your submission? Did I want you naked and willing beneath me? Hell, yes. I still do. But that’s not the whole of it. I want to make you feel. To make you laugh. I want to see that fire that burns in you. I want you to look at me the way you did five years ago. And, Sylvia? I want you to stay.”

My chest is tight, and I am having a hard time breathing.

“But I want none of that if the cost is hurting you.”

He reaches down and cups my chin in his hand, his expression so tender it makes my heart squeeze. “So there will be no deal. No game. No conditions put on my agreement to work on the resort. I will still do my best to seduce you,” he adds with a tender smile. “But I can’t be the one who brings you more pain.”

I open my mouth to speak, but I cannot. I can only shake my head, wanting to deny what he has so obviously seen.

His takes my hand, and though it is only our fingers that are touching, it feels as though his strength is running through me. “I’ve seen the lock, the tattoo, and I can guess what it means. I should have guessed in Atlanta.”

I look away, unable to meet his eyes.

“You shouldn’t have to bear that kind of burden. And if I added to the weight of it, I am so damn sorry.”

I look at him now, my throat thick and my eyes burning. “You didn’t,” I say. “Not really. Oh, god.” I draw in a breath and raise my hand to my mouth, then bite down on the soft flesh at the base of my thumb. “I want to cry—I really, really want to cry right now. I’m full up with tears,” I say, feeling almost like I’m drowning in my own emotions.


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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