Stark Ever After Novella 7
From New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner comes a sensually seductive novella starring fan favorites Damien Stark and his wife, Nikki Fairchild.
Includes a special preview of Anchor Me, the highly anticipated fourth full-length novel featuring Nikki & Damien as they begin the next chapter in their life together.
I didn’t understand passion until I met Damien, the man who turned my world upside down and swept me off my feet.
And though our life together feels perfect, we can’t escape our secrets–and the danger that continually threatens to surface.
But for one night, I seek a respite. A birthday wish for my husband, my lover, my friend—one absolutely perfect night.
It is my most ardent wish.
And I only hope that it will come true…
Entice Me is Story # 3.7 in the Stark Saga - Damien & Nikki series.
Entice Me - Buy Now
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About this StoryPublication Date 01/17/2017 Story Type Novella Primary Characters Damien Stark Nichole "Nikki" Fairchild (Stark) Series Stark Saga - Damien & Nikki Place in Series Story #3.7 Genre Contemporary Romance
“Dinner and a movie just isn’t going to cut it,” I say to Rachel Peters, my husband’s executive assistant. We’re on the fifty-seventh floor of Stark Tower, which is divided in half between the residence and the penthouse office suite. I’d been working in the apartment living room on my laptop while Damien took a phone call, but I’d slipped over to the office side specifically to enlist Rachel’s help.
Her mouth twists, and she glances down at the print-out of Damien’s agenda that shows both his personal and professional appointments. “Considering you’re planning Mr. Stark’s birthday, I’m going to assume that movie is a euphemism for something much more entertaining.”
I roll my eyes. Yes, Rachel has become a good friend over the last few months. And, yes, I’ve become comfortable using corporate resources such as the limo without going through Damien. But that doesn’t mean I think that having Rachel help me plan a night of unbridled sex with her boss would be a fair use of corporate resources. “Assume whatever you want,” I say. “But what I need help pulling off doesn’t involve that kind of entertainment.” I bat my eyes innocently. “Believe me. I have the extracurricular part of the equation covered.”
She presses her lips together in what I can only assume is an attempt to hold back a full-on laugh. “I bet you do,” she finally says. “Okay, so just tell me what you need and I’ll make it happen. But tell me fast. His car’s going to be downstairs soon.”
“We should have at least five more minutes,” I say. “He was still packing his overnight bag when I left.” Damien’s flying to New York tonight, hitting a couple of meetings about Stark International’s acquisition of a biomedical research facility in the morning, then returning to LA tomorrow just in time for cocktails with a tech genius he’s been courting to head up a new division of Stark Applied Technology.
Damien had suggested that I join him on the trip, offering to reschedule the cocktails so that we could spend a long weekend in Manhattan. I turned him down, reminding him that I’m in the thick of putting together a key proposal for a corporate account.
That’s not entirely a lie. I do have a corporate proposal on my desk. I’ve been working my tail off to build my web and mobile app development business, and if I win this new client, my clout in the industry will grow exponentially. So Damien knows I’ve been working almost non-stop on it.
What he doesn’t know is that I’m taking a little break from it while I plan Damien’s birthday extravaganza.
“A surprise party?” Rachel repeats when I tell her what I have in mind. “Are you sure?”
“You don’t like it?”
“Are you kidding? I love it. I just don’t see how you’ll be able to keep it a secret. I mean, I have a few friends who wouldn’t have a problem at all because their husbands are basically clueless. But Mr. Stark notices everything. And where you’re concerned, he notices everything and then some. You really think you can do it?”
“Absolutely,” I say, though I’m not sure at all, because the truth is, Rachel’s right. But I want to do this. It feels right. And certainly more meaningful than a gift, because what the hell can you get a man who can buy anything he wants on a whim?
I tell Rachel as much, and she nods. “It’s a good point. I mean, the man bought you an island, didn’t he? It’s kind of hard to top that.”
“I did buy a really fancy watch that I had engraved, but that’s just so meh. I’m going to put it in his Christmas stocking.”
“It’s a nice gift, though.”
“I suppose. But what I want to give him is a celebration. Not just of his birthday, but of everything we have together.”
When we’d said “I do,” we’d both believed that we were setting out on the journey alone. After all, his father is a reprehensible man whom Damien disowned, and my mother is a controlling self-centered bitch whom I try to keep out of my head at all times. As far as we were concerned, our family consisted of exactly two people—me and Damien.
But nothing ever goes the way you expect it, and now Damien is close with Jackson Steele, the half-brother he never knew he had, and Jackson’s wife Sylvia is not only Damien’s former assistant, but has become one of my closest friends. They have two adorable kids, and Damien and I couldn’t be happier spoiling our niece and nephew. In other words, in the blink of an eye, our family portrait went from two to six.
And if that wasn’t enough, my father is now in the mix. I was a little dubious about his motives when he first stepped back into my life—and Damien was more so—but we’ve gotten to know each other over the last few months, and while I’m not sure I’ll ever truly think of Frank as my father, he’s definitely part of my family.
And of course we have our friends. Jamie and Ryan and Ollie and Evelyn and Blaine and Wyatt and Cass and Siobhan and Lisa and Preston and Rachel and on and on and on.
For a girl whose only family was once the mother she despised, I’ve grown into a woman surrounded by an extended, boisterous, loving family made up of relatives and friends—and I owe most of that to Damien.
So that’s what I want to celebrate on his birthday—the family we’ve made together.
“I can’t pull it off without your help,” I tell Rachel.
“I’m not sure you can pull it off with my help,” she counters. “His birthday is next Friday. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Thursday. That gives us just a little over a week to plan. That’s hardly any time at all.”
“No, this is good. Less time for him to see that we’re up to something.”
“It’ll work,” I say firmly, as much to convince her as myself. “But I need you to keep his calendar clear and help me with some of the logistics.”
She scrunches up her nose. “I’ll do whatever you need, but honestly, Nikki, come on. We both know you’re never going to manage to pull it off.”
“Pull what off?” The surprising sound of Damien’s voice makes me jump, and I fight the urge to cringe as I meet Rachel’s apologetic eyes before I quickly turn around to face my husband.
He’s just a few feet away, his overnight bag slung over his shoulder. He’s dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved linen button down. It’s a simple, casual look, but so damn compelling. I want to reach out and touch him. I want to feel his arms around me, his lips brushing mine. I want to get lost with him—and I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be a time when I’ll no longer have such a deep, sensual, visceral reaction to nothing more than the sight of him.
Mentally, I shake myself, then hurry toward him. “I thought you were still in the apartment.” I slide my arms around his waist. “Is your car here already?”
“It is,” he says, nodding at Rachel. “Tell Edward I’ll be right down.”
“Of course, Mr. Stark.”
“I just want to hear what my wife is going to pull off before I go.” The corner of his mouth twitches as he speaks, and I narrow my eyes at him. Of course, I’d thought I’d distracted him. And, of course, he hadn’t been distracted at all.
“I was trying to convince Rachel to secretly reschedule your cocktails with Noah tomorrow for next week so that I could show up at the airport in your limo and, you know, take you out for an evening of dinner and debauchery.” I lift a shoulder and give him a seductive smile. “But there’s no point now that you know about it.”
“And I told her she’d never pull it off anyway,” Rachel adds. “Because first of all, if I rescheduled Noah, you might fire me, and that would totally suck. And second, surprising you takes a minor miracle.” She waves her hand, indicating Damien standing right there, then looks at me. “I rest my case.”
I sigh heavily. “Well, it was a worth a shot.” I point a finger at Damien. “Just remember when you’re having drinks with Noah what you could have been doing instead.” I press my mouth to his, kissing him long and hard and so deep, I feel it all the way down to my toes.
When I pull away, I’m breathless. And though he’s doing a damn good job of staying professional in front of Rachel, I see the banked heat in his eyes and the restraint in his body. He’s like a spring—and right now he’s held together by a single tight wire. Let it go, though, and he’ll have me pressed against a wall and naked before I even have time to take a breath.
The thought makes me shiver—and makes me anticipate his return home all the more.
“Until tomorrow, Mrs. Stark,” he says, clearly following my thoughts.
“I’ll be waiting,” I say, then watch as Rachel hands him an itinerary. He tucks it his briefcase, kisses me once more, then heads toward his private elevator.
I don’t exhale until the doors close behind him, then I sag with relief and watch as Rachel does the same.
“I take it back,” she says. “That was one hell of a good performance. You might just manage this after all.”
“Are you kidding?” Jamie says. “You’re never going to pull that off. Rachel’s insane. And frankly, I’m a little concerned about your mental health, too.”
“Very funny,” I say, as Lady Meow-Meow, Jamie’s fluffy white cat, kneads my skirt with her claws and purrs as loud as a lawn mower. “Yes,” I say, running my hand over her head, “I miss you, too.”
We’re in Jamie’s condo, which hasn’t changed that much since I used to live here with her. It’s still decorated in Early American Garage Sale, but she’s added more movie posters to the wall.
My old bedroom is now an office, although when I was in there earlier, I noticed that she’s stopped using the closet as a giant filing cabinet. Now, it holds a full wardrobe of men’s clothes.
“So where’s Ryan?” I ask, referring to Jamie’s boyfriend, Ryan Hunter, who also happens to be the Security Chief for Stark International.
“Oh, he’s at his place today.”
I frown. “His place? I saw the closet and assumed he moved in with you.”
She lifts a shoulder, then pulls her legs up under her, yoga-style. She’s in the rattiest clothes she owns, isn’t wearing a bit of make-up, and still manages to look glamorous enough she could be mistaken for an A-list star. “Well, he’s here most of the time,” she says, “but it’s not a one-hundred percent thing. I mean, a girl needs her space, right?”
I shift on the sofa so that I can see her better, and in the process disturb Lady Meow-Meow, who nips the back of my hand, then hisses lazily before jumping down to the carpet. “Is something going on with you two? I mean, you’re okay, right?”
“Of course we’re okay. In case you missed the memo, I’m head over heels, one-hundred percent in love with Ryan.”
“Actually, I got that memo.” My best friend—who used to approach sex as if it was a hobby—is now devoted to just one man. Or, I’d been assuming she was. Now, though, I’m getting a weird vibe.
“James,” I say, calling her by the familiar nickname. “What’s going on?”
I cross my arms. “Tell.”
She sighs heavily. “Honestly, Nicholas, it’s no big deal. He just started up with the wedding talk and…” She trails off with a shrug.
“Really?” I couldn’t be happier. “I’ve been wondering when I could go shopping for a matron of honor dress.”
Jamie shakes her head violently. “No, no, no. That conversation is way off limits. I can love him without marrying him.”
“No,” she says adamantly. “Conversation over. Done. Fini. End of story.”
“Fine.” I hold up my hands, because I know better than to push. Despite the fact that her parents are amazing and have been happily, blissfully married for decades, Jamie reviles the institution of marriage. “Not yours,” she once told me. “You and Damien were absolutely right to get married. It fits you perfectly. But me? Not so much.”
I don’t know why she feels that way, but I do know that I’m afraid for her and Ryan. She adores him, and he’s mad for her. But if he pushes too hard, he may end up pushing her away.
And since I don’t want to accidentally contribute to that possible rift, I back quickly and firmly away from the topic. “Just as well, because you and Ryan are so not my problem. I need to figure out where to have the party and how to keep it a secret.”
“Like I already said, the secret’s gonna take a miracle,” Jamie says. “As for the location, I figured you were having it at your Malibu house. But you could have it at the apartment. He wouldn’t expect a party in Stark Tower.”
She has a point, but neither of the ideas thrill me. “I want something different. Something unexpected.”
“We go to the resort all the time,” I say, referring to The Resort at Cortez, a Stark Vacation project that’s also all in the family considering Sylvia was the project manager and Jackson the architect.
“Not that island. I’m talking about the one out in the Caribbean. The island he bought you after your honeymoon.”
“Oh!” I consider that. We’d been hounded by paparazzi on our honeymoon, and in order to get truly, completely, one-hundred percent away, Damien had bought a small island. As one does. If one happens to have billions of dollars tucked away, anyway.
“That would be great,” I say, “except there’s just a tiny house with only one bathroom. Somehow I don’t think that’s the kind of destination party our friends would appreciate.”
“Are you saying we’re all too prissy?”
“You got that right.” She stretches her legs out so that they rest on the coffee table, then pats her lap, trying to urge the cat back up. No luck. “Sophistication and class, then. Okay. So, um, what about Starfire?”
It’s not a bad suggestion—the Starfire Resort & Casino in Vegas—also a Stark property—is one of the most opulent hotels west of the Mississippi. But it’s not really what I had in mind.
“Well, why not?” Jamie asks, when I tell her as much.
“One, it’s Vegas. And Vegas just doesn’t scream classy to me, even if the hotel itself is amazing. Two, we were there not that long ago. Three, I was thinking it would be a relaxing weekend with friends. Vegas is a loud, all-night kind of place.”
“For some of us, loud and all-night is relaxing.”
“Yes, but the only one of us that applies to is you.”
Jamie pouts. “Are you saying Damien’s birthday isn’t all about me?”
I whack her with the pillow, and Lady Meow-Meow—who’d been considering leaping back up to the couch after all—lifts her tail straight up, turns around, and heads for the kitchen.
“Think,” I order as I reach for my phone, which has just pinged with an incoming text.
I grab it, assuming it’s Marge, the receptionist at my office suite.
It’s not. It’s Damien.
Miss you already. Dinner under the stars when I get home? I’ll keep cocktails with Noah short. If I tell him you’re waiting for me, I’m sure he’ll understand.
I bite my lower lip, fighting an almost painfully broad smile.
When have I ever said no?
His response is almost immediate.
And I do so like that about you.
I laugh out loud, and Jamie, who’s been watching me, shakes her head with mock disapproval.
“Get a room, you two.”
I lift a brow as I type out another response. “That’s kind of what I’m planning.”
Looking forward to tomorrow night. And to the stars.
There’s a brief pause, and then one final text.
Me, too. Until then, imagine me, touching you.
I sigh and look up at Jamie.
“Don’t get all gooey on me. You’re supposed to be focusing.”
“I have a date,” I say. “Dinner under the stars tomorrow night. I presume he means at home, but if he’s going to take me out, all the better.” Or not, I think. Because at home provides another level entirely of sensual possibilities.
“Where can you eat on the roof, anyway?” Jamie asks.
“Le Caquelon,” I say, referring to our friend Alaine’s restaurant. “Although we always eat in one of the private booths on the inside. When we first got together, Damien took me to the Pearl Hotel. We ate outside on the terrace.”
That had been a magical day. At the time, I barely knew him, and I’d stormed to his office to chew him out about a work fiasco. He’d calmed me down and invited me to lunch. I’d expected a restaurant downtown. Instead, he’d flown me to Santa Barbara.
“Actually, what about that?” I say, my mind suddenly whirring.
“What about what?”
“Damien owns the Santa Barbara Pearl Hotel. And we could use the jet to ferry anyone there who doesn’t want to drive.”
“That’s kind of a great idea.”
“It is, isn’t it?” I’m completely pleased with myself. “Now I just have to get it arranged with the hotel, invite everyone, figure out the decorations, and at least eight thousand other things I’m forgetting. All within a week. And keep Damien from clueing in.” I frown at Jamie. “I can do it, right? Tell me I can do it.”
“Oh, totally,” she says dryly. “No problem at all.”