“It’s lovely,” Jackson says, still looking at the portrait. “You should be very proud of it.”

“I am,” she says. “I always was. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t pissed off when the press took my secrets and ran with them.”

“I understand exactly what you mean,” Jackson says, and I know that he is thinking about the movie. “I’d love to meet the artist.”

“That’s Blaine.” I look at Nikki. “Is he here with Evelyn?”

“He’s not. He’s up in Vancouver for a show. But I’m sure he’d love to talk to you when he gets back. Wyatt’s here, though. I forgot to mention him earlier.”

“Our photographer,” I tell Jackson. “I’ve got a portfolio of images of the island to show you. I want to include them in a marketing brochure, and I thought they’d also make cool artwork for the public areas, maybe the individual rooms. I haven’t chosen a designer yet. But I’d like your thoughts on that. I want to make sure that we hire someone who knows how to work with your design and not against it.”

He meets my eyes. “Absolutely.”

I nod, satisfied and, I realize, happy. Because it’s not just our personal relationship that’s come together, it’s our professional one, too. And the idea of working with someone as talented as Jackson Steele thrills me even more than working with a man like Damien. Not that I don’t love my job and think that Damien is freaking brilliant at what he does, but it’s what Jackson does—designing buildings, changing the face of the world—that has always been my passion. And now to be able to share that core of him—well, the thought makes me a little bit giddy.

His smile widens, and I am absolutely certain he knows what I am thinking.

“Come on,” I say with a smirk. “Let’s go say hello to Damien.”

“Actually, he asked if I’d apologize to you,” Nikki said. “There’s been a crisis at one of his production facilities in Malaysia. He had to take the call. In the meantime, let’s get you both a drink and make the introductions. Wine or something harder?” she asks Jackson as she leads us toward the kitchen area tucked away behind a stone wall on the opposite side of the floor.

As far as this house is concerned, it’s a small kitchen designed to service parties. In fact, it puts most residential kitchens to shame, and the main kitchen for this ten-thousand-square-foot Malibu dream house is on the first floor, decked out with more commercial appliances than most five-star restaurants.

What impresses me most isn’t the setup or the luxury, it’s that Nikki and Damien haven’t hired any help for the party. Even Damien’s valet, Gregory, who doubles as a sort of butler, is nowhere to be seen. Because despite Damien’s billions and the helipad in the backyard, at the core these two people are pretty down-to-earth.

I know that Jackson has issues with Damien, but I don’t understand them. And I hope that whatever is at the heart of them can be resolved, because I both like and respect my boss, and I truly value the friendship I’ve developed with Nikki.

Once Jackson and I are armed with scotch for him and wine for me, we head back into the main area to do the mingle thing. I’m a little nervous in light of our new arrangement. And for the first fifteen or so minutes I feel jittery and on edge, afraid—and, yes, hoping—that he’ll pull me aside and slide his hand under my skirt.

He doesn’t, and I’m not sure if I’m disappointed that he hasn’t tried to push my boundaries here, or pleased that he’s in full-on professional mode.

And he is, too. Jackson is cool and confident with everyone he meets. He greets Aiden enthusiastically and once again thanks him for the opportunity to work on such a cutting-edge project. He compliments my skill as a project manager and elicits effusive praise from Aiden on my behalf, which is a perk of having Jackson at my side that I hadn’t anticipated.

“She fits right in with the team on twenty-seven. We’re hoping we can steal her permanently off Damien’s desk, aren’t we, Trent?” Aiden glances at Trent Leiter, who nods enthusiastically.

“Absolutely,” he says.

“And what’s your role?” Jackson asks Trent. “International development? You’re in charge of the Bahamas development, aren’t you?”

“Actually, I oversee Southern California. That project was something of a one-off for me. Right now my attention is primarily on a new office and retail complex we’re building in Century City.” Jackson looks between me and Trent. “So the chain I follow is Sylvia, you, Aiden, and then Mr. Stark?”

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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