Release Me hits the shelves TODAY!!!!! But I’m sharing one last excerpt!
Today’s excerpt starts right after yesterday’s left off! You can find all the posted excerpts by going to the Release Me Page Reveal category of the blog!
I want to respond, but I’ve lost the power of speech. Damien Stark wants me. More than that, he wants to peel back the layers and learn my secrets.
The idea is terrifying, and yet also strangely appealing.
Discomfited, I take another backward step up toward the balcony, then wince. Immediately, Stark is at my side. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Something sharp on the step.”
He looks down at my still-bare feet.
Sheepishly, I hold out the strappy sandals with the three-inch heels.
“Very nice,” he says. “Perhaps you should put them on.”
“Nice?” I repeat. “They aren’t nice. They’re astounding. They cup my foot, show off my pedicure, slim my leg, and lift my ass just enough to make it look damn hot in this dress.”
The corner of his mouth twitches with amusement. “I recall. Truly, they are amazing shoes.”
“They also happen to be my first and only purchase from my frivolous Los Angeles shopping splurge.”
“Well worth the damage to your checking account, I’m sure.”
“Totally. But they are an absolute bitch to walk in. And now that I’ve taken them off I really don’t know if I can get them back on again. No, correction. I don’t know if I can get them on again and actually walk.”
“I see your dilemma. Fortunately, I’ve made a career out of coming up with solutions to such knotty problems.”
“Is that so? Well, please. Enlighten me.”
“You can stay here on the steps. You can go inside barefoot. You can put the shoes back on and suffer.”
“Somehow I expected something better from the great Damien Stark. If that’s all the brainpower it takes to become the head of a corporate empire, I should have jumped all over that a long time ago.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“Staying here won’t work,” I say. “For one thing, it’s cold. For another, I want to say good
–bye to Evelyn.”
“Mmm.” He nods and frowns. “You’re so right. Clearly I didn’t fully examine the conundrum.”
“That’s what makes it a conundrum,” I say. “As for going barefoot, Elizabeth Fairchild’s daughter does not go barefoot at social events, no matter how much she might want to. I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic trait.”
“Then your choice is clear. You’re going to have to wear the shoes.”
“And suffer? No thank you. I don’t do pain.”
My words are flippant and not entirely true. He stares at me long and hard, and for some reason, Ollie’s parting words come back to me: Be careful. Then his face clears and he’s looking at me with amusement once again. I about melt with relief.
“There is one more option.”
“Ah, see? You were holding out on me.”
“I can pick you up and carry you into the party.”
“Right,” I say. “I’m just going to slip these puppies back on and suffer.” I sit down on the step and slide my feet into the sandals. It’s not pleasant. The shoes aren’t broken in, and my feet are in full protest mode. I enjoyed the walk on the beach, but I should have known that everything comes with a price.
I stand up, wince a little, and continue up the stairs. Stark is behind me, and when we reach the balcony he moves to my side and takes my arm. Then he leans in so close I feel his breath on my ear. “Some things are worth the pain. I’m glad you understand that.”
I turn sharply to look. “What?”
“I’m simply saying that I’m glad you decided to put the shoes back on.”
“Even though that meant I rejected your offer to throw me over your shoulder caveman style and cart me around the party?”
“I don’t recall mentioning a caveman carry, though the idea is undeniably intriguing.” He pulls out his iPhone and starts to type something.
“What are you doing?”
“Making a note,” he says.
I laugh and shake my head. “I’ll say this, Mr. Stark. Whatever else you are, you’re always a surprise.” I look him up and down. “I don’t suppose you have a pair of black flip-flops hidden on your person? Because that would be the kind of surprise I could really use.”
“I’m afraid not,” he says. “But in the future I may have to carry a pair just to be safe. I never realized what valuable currency a comfortable pair of shoes can be.”
It occurs to me that I’m in full flirt-mode with Damien Stark. The man who has been hot and cold all night. The man who bleeds power and commands an empire and could snap his fingers and have any woman he wants. Right now, that woman is me.
It’s a bewildering realization, but also flattering and, yes, exciting.
“The truth is I know exactly how you feel,” he says.
I gape at him, wondering if he’s been reading my thoughts.
“I’ve always hated tennis shoes. I used to practice in my bare feet. It made my coach crazy.”
“Really?” I find this tidbit into Stark’s real life fascinating. “But didn’t you endorse a brand?”
“The only brand I could stand.”
“That’s a nice little rhyme. They could have used it as the tag-line.”
“It’s a pity they didn’t have you on their marketing team.” He reaches out and brushes his thumb along the line of my jaw. My stomach quivers and I exhale, a single soft moan. His eyes go to my mouth and I think that he’s going to kiss me and I absolutely do not want him to kiss me and, dammit, why isn’t he kissing me yet?
Then the balcony door opens, and a couple emerges, arm in arm. Damien pulls his hand back and the spell is shattered. I want to scream at the couple, and not just because I’ve been left feeling hot and needy. No, something’s been lost. I’m liking the Damien Stark who laughs and teases in the dark. Who flirts so softly and yet so intently. Who looks at me with eyes that let me see.
But our moment is gone. And if we go inside, I’m certain his mask will go back on. I’m even more certain my own will.
I almost suggest we go back down the stairs to the beach, but he’s holding the door open for me, and his face is all hard lines and angles again. I step past him into the room, something tight and sad knotting inside me.
The party is still going strong. Possibly even stronger now that the guests are on their second, third or fourth drink. The room is stuffy, almost claustrophobic, and I slip out of Stark’s jacket and hand it back to him. He runs his palm over the silk lining. “You’re warm,” he says, then slips it on, the movement entirely normal and inexplicably erotic.
A waitress materializes beside me, her tray full of sparkling wine. I take a flute and gulp it back. Before she can edge away, I replace my empty glass and take a fresh one.
“For medicinal purposes,” I say to Stark, who has also taken a glass, but has yet to take a sip. I am not so hesitant, and I down half of my glass in one long swallow. The bubbles seem to rise straight to my head, making me a little bit giddy. It’s a nice feeling, and one I’m not used to. I drink, sure. But not champagne, and not very often. But I feel vulnerable tonight. Vulnerable and needy. With any luck, the alcohol will quench the ache. Either that, or it will give me the courage to act on it.
I hope you enjoyed! I would say come back tomorrow, but that’s the end of the page reveals. Why? Because the book’s on sale now!!!!! Woot!
Yes, folks, today is Release Day for Release Me! I hope you want to continue following Nikki and Damien’s story! You can get your very own copy of Release Me from your favorite on-line retailer or your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore!
And my holiday contest is over, too! The winner will be announced in another blog post today!