A Stark Novel
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J. Kenner comes a new story in her Stark series…
I am Damien Stark. From the outside, I have a perfect life. A billionaire with a beautiful family. But if you could see inside my head, you’d know I’m as f-ed up as a person can be. Now more than ever.
I’m driven, relentless, and successful, but all of that means nothing without my wife and daughters. They’re my entire world, and I failed them. Now I can barely look at them without drowning in an abyss of self-recrimination.
Only one thing keeps me sane—losing myself in my wife’s silken caresses where I can pour all my pain into the one thing I know I can give her. Pleasure.
But the threats against my family are real, and I won’t let anything happen to them ever again. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe—pay any price, embrace any darkness. They are mine.
I am Damien Stark. Do you want to see inside my head? Careful what you wish for.
Damien is Story # 6 in the Stark Saga - Damien & Nikki series.
Damien - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 01/08/2019 Story Type Book Primary Characters Damien Stark Nichole "Nikki" Fairchild (Stark) Series Stark Saga - Damien & Nikki Place in Series Story #6 Genre Contemporary Romance
They surrounded him. Their lips glossy, their evening dresses tight. Curvaceous bodies, coiffed hair, manicured nails, painted faces. He was drowning in a sea of stunning women, and not one had the power to save him.
Where the hell had that come from? He was twenty-four years old, already a sports legend with his name on goddamn cereal boxes, and fast on his way to becoming one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the country. Country? Fuck that, he was shooting for the world.
Ambitious, maybe. But he’d never thought of ambition as a dirty word. On the contrary, it was what kept him alive. Like the air he breathed, the food he ate. Competition, too. The salty, almost bitter taste of it. The euphoria of success. The dark pit of failure.
He’d learned early how much strength was needed to pull himself out of the pit. More than that, he’d learned how much sacrifice—how much sweat and blood—was required to tame the beast.
And, yeah, maybe he was fucked up. Considering the life he’d led—the past he’d survived—it would be a miracle if he wasn’t. But he’d learned a long time ago that the only one who could save him was himself. And he was doing just fine on that score, thank you very much.
And yet, there was that woman…
Frowning, he scanned the room one more time, his gaze lingering on every conversational cluster. Every group surrounding a bar. Every guest hesitating over the buffet table. As the celebrity judge for the Miss Tri-County Texas Pageant, he was expected to make an appearance at events such as this. But it wasn’t etiquette that had brought him here. He’d come to the mid-pageant reception for a singular, selfish reason. To find the blond whose presence on stage had stolen his breath and whose words in her interview had touched his soul.
She’d spoken of ambition and education. Of science and skill. There was nothing canned in her words. Nothing designed to impress. Nothing fake or false or manipulative.
She’d stood on that stage in her pale blue evening gown, and he’d thought she was the most alive woman he’d ever seen.
And now he’d lost her even before he’d—
“You’re Damien Stark!”
At the sound of his name, he turned, his body responding to the wish even though his mind knew that the voice didn’t belong to her. Instead, the speaker was a slender redhead sporting a seductive smile. He’d seen her on the stage earlier in the pageant. And damned if he could remember a single detail about her.
“It’s so amazing to meet you in person.” She stepped closer, so that Damien caught the hint of bergamot in her perfume. “I’m Delancy. I’ve been a fan since you won your first match. I mean, you’re the reason I started watching tennis at all. And now. Your business career. I mean, like wow, right? I read that profile in People Magazine. So impressive, but I wasn’t surprised by your success. Not at all. I could always tell that there was so much more to you than being an athlete.”
“I’m glad you think so.” He smiled politely, wondering at her definition of so much more. As far as he recalled, that particular article had featured three photos of him on the court, another of him pulling up to an event in a 1969 Jaguar Type E, and a two-hundred word sidebar explaining that he’d rebuilt the car himself in his scarce spare time. There’d also been a reference to his rapidly increasing net worth. They’d called him a money machine, with absolutely no reference to the actual work he did to make the machine hum.
“It’s just…well…” She raked her gaze over him, slowing when she dipped below his belt. “You’re so much more…impressive…in person.” Boldly, she met his eyes, hers flush with the kind of silent invitation that had long ago become routine—and which Damien routinely refused.
Not that he was a monk. God forbid. But as far as he was concerned there were only two reasons to have a woman in his bed. Entertainment or escape. And he didn’t see this woman providing either.
Besides, he’d come to Dallas with Carmela D’Amato, his most recent entertainment. And he was quite certain that the stunning Italian cover model wasn’t the type who would share a man with another woman.
“I appreciate the compliment,” he said, holding his ground as the redhead took a single step toward him. “But I’m going to have to decline your kind invitation.”
Her mouth opened as the heat faded into panic. “Oh, no, I wasn’t—”
“You were, and it’s fine. I’m flattered. But no.”
This time when she bit her lip, there was nothing seductive about it. “You won’t tell—”
“Your secret’s safe with me.” The pageant rules were strict, and though she hadn’t overtly crossed a line, it was clear that all he’d had to do was crook his finger to have her not just breaking the rules but completely decimating them. “But be careful, Delancy,” he added with a hint of a smile. “And try to be good.”
He left her staring after him as he started across the room toward the exit. The reception was being held in the green room, which also happened to be the smallest ballroom in one of Dallas’s finest hotels. Damien had a suite, and since he’d done his duty by making the circuit, that’s where he was headed now for a fast fuck to take the edge off. And, of course, to keep Carmela from complaining about the hours she was spending alone, dropping her most recent modeling fee at Northpark Mall.
After that, he’d review the schematics that damn well better have hit his in-box by then. He had an exhibition game in the morning and the conclusion of the pageant in the afternoon. With the two-hour time difference, his Los Angeles team would hate him for scheduling a conference call before the game, but he hired good people and paid them well. They’d deal. And once they’d put the final tweaks on the prototype … well, that would be one hell of a good day for everyone.
He checked his watch and picked up his pace. The evening was getting away from him. At least he knew that Carmela wouldn’t mind ordering room service.
And then he saw her.
He’d stopped looking. Had assumed she’d simply stayed in her room. But there she was, the most stunning woman at the reception, and not because she was the most beautiful. Oh, she was pretty, no question there. He could have stood there all night, simply getting lost in the sensuality she projected, getting burned by the heat of her.
But she wasn’t a classic beauty. More like the homecoming queen. Or a pageant princess. Her allure wasn’t an ethereal aloofness with cheekbones as sharp as glass. On the contrary, her cheeks were round, her plump lips begging to be kissed. Hell, to be fucked.
And she had the long, golden blonde hair of an angel.
She was thin, but still boasted curves, and his fingers longed to follow the shape of her body. Right then, her eyes were cast down as she examined the table, but that didn’t matter. He’d memorized the color earlier. Blue, but with a hint of green that flashed like a gemstone in the stage lights. Her eyes were vibrant, as deep and changing as the sea, and oh, how he wanted to dive in.
It had been a long time since he’d truly craved a woman. He loved women, no denying that. And he’d never allow a woman to leave his bed unsatisfied. But most women were mere distractions. Either that or a balm. And when he invited them into his bed, it was always with the knowledge that they’d be leaving. Maybe the next morning, maybe the next month. But it would end. How could it not? There was nothing real between them, after all.
This woman, though…
Something about her intrigued him. Called to him. She seemed both strong and vulnerable at the same time, and when she finally looked up, he saw the flash of an unguarded expression in those sensual eyes. Longing. Almost immediately, she shuttered the emotion, a smile finding its way to her lips. She was a contestant, and she’d slipped the pageant mask back on as easily as another woman might slip on a shoe.
But in that brief, unmasked moment, he’d seen a reflection of himself in her eyes. A craving. A need. A future.
He had a sudden fantasy of pulling her close. Of kissing her. Tasting her. Of ripping that damn gown off of her so he could see the real woman underneath.
He didn’t understand it; he damn sure wasn’t going to let himself analyze it. And before he could talk himself out of it, he walked up to where she was eyeing the tiny cheesecakes, as if they were something dangerous that was about to explode.
Without hesitating, he took two and popped them in his mouth, then grinned at her. She said nothing, only stared at him, a polite smile plastered across her face.
For the briefest of instants, his gut did a somersault, which was ridiculous, because he didn’t get nervous. Nerves destroyed his edge, and if he lost his edge, he’d lose everything. Hadn’t every one of his coaches told him that?
He squared his shoulders, then caught her eye. “I think we’re kindred spirits, Miss Fairchild.”
“I’m sorry?” She glanced down at the cheesecake, clearly confused.
“Neither of us wants to be here.” He nodded his head to indicate the emergency exit, fighting the almost overwhelming urge to grab her hand and whisk her away to a dark room. He longed to touch her. To kiss her. To get lost in the feel of her and the sound of her moans when he thrust his cock deep inside her. He wanted to hear her scream his name and beg for more, and he wanted to hold her close and kiss her tenderly after she’d shattered in his arms.
He took a step back, the craving for her so intense he was certain that she could smell the scent of his desire.
“I-oh.” Her eyes were locked on his, and in that moment Damien didn’t care if he never moved again.
“Nikki.” The name came fast and hard. She dipped her head, then licked her lips. “I go by Nikki.” She looked back up at him. “Not that.”
“Nikki.” He felt his lips pull into a smile. “It suits you.”
He swallowed, then opened his mouth to speak, though he really wasn’t certain what he intended to say. Not that it mattered, as he didn’t get the chance to say anything at all. Because that’s when Carmela decided to show up, apparently bored with shopping and the suite’s amenities.
“Damie, darling.” Her accent was thick and as sensual as her pouty lips and mass of dark waves. “Come. We should go, yes?”
He wanted to tell her no, not yes. He wanted to tell Carmela that things had changed. That he was putting her on a plane. That it had been fun, but he knew now what—no, who—he wanted.
But he didn’t say that. How could he? He knew a few things about Nikki Fairchild. He’d read her contestant’s bio. He knew she’d just started college. That she was pursuing a double major. And he knew from her interview that she was ambitious.
She was starting out. He was breaking out.
This wasn’t their time. Not yet.
But he’d move heaven and earth to find her in the future. And between now and then, he’d do whatever it took to make sure that he had the means to build that lever.
In the meantime, he’d watch and he’d wait. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a little less fucked up knowing that a woman like Nikki was out there—and that one day she would be his.
He took Carmela’s hand and met Nikki’s eyes. “Miss Fairchild,” he said with a parting nod.
Then he turned to escort Carmela back to their room, knowing full well that when he had her naked beneath him—when he buried his cock deep inside her—it would be the thought of Nikki Fairchild making him hard.