Indulge Me - J. Kenner

Indulge Me


Stark Ever After Novella

Despite everything I have suffered, I never truly understood darkness until my family was in danger. Those desperate hours came close to breaking both Damien and me, but together we found the strength to survive and hold our family together.

Even so, my wounds are deep, and wispy shadows still linger. But Damien is my rock. My hero against the dark and violence.

And when dark memories threaten to consume me, he whisks me away, knowing that in order to conquer my fears he must take control. Demand my submission. Claim me completely. Because if I am going to find my center again, I must hold tight to Damien and draw deep from the wellspring of our shared passion.

**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you’ll enjoy each one as much as we do.**

Indulge Me
Indulge Me is Story # 6.1 in the

About this Story

Publication Date 07/09/2019 Story Type Novella Primary Characters Damien Stark Nichole "Nikki" Fairchild (Stark) Series Stark Saga - Damien & Nikki Place in Series Story #6.1 Genre Contemporary Romance


Chapter One

Damien watched from the bungalow’s back porch as his daughters chased the surf. The waves rolled in relentlessly, and the girls—giggling and happy—scampered forward and back with the joyful determination of children.

A few feet away, Nikki sat on a blanket sipping from a bottle of water, her eyes fixed on their kids. Her blond hair gleamed in the island sun, and her skin had turned a golden brown in the five days they’d been at the resort. She hugged her knees, and though he could only see her in profile, there was no missing the beatific smile on her lovely face.

The sight warmed him, and he felt his entire body relax. It had been almost three months since his family had been freed of the nightmare surrounding Anne’s kidnapping. Though, of course, they’d never be truly free. He saw that reality reflected back at him every day when he looked in Nikki’s eyes and glimpsed the shadows there. The remnants of pain, the residue of defeat. And, most of all, the lingering fear that clouded her face and poisoned her happiness.

In the days immediately following the ordeal, it had been Nikki who’d brought him back from his own grim descent into guilt and pain, and once he’d pulled himself together, he’d been so damn cocksure that the bond between them had once again beat back the horror that the world had thrust upon them.

And for a time, maybe it had.

But in the last week, he’d watched as dark shadows returned to his wife’s eyes. He’d felt helpless, and that wasn’t a sensation he endured easily. He’d needed to act. To do. To help. And so he’d brought her here as an escape against a world that had turned dark and dangerous. An isolated island world that he had built.

Conceived by Damien’s sister-in-law, Sylvia, and designed by his brother, Jackson Steele, The Resort at Cortez was a high-end vacation property that had finally come to fruition via a route of scandal, vandalism, and even murder. It had shed that horrific past, though, and now it was a place of healing. A second home where, Damien hoped, Nikki could find both peace and escape.

Now he stood on the patio of their bungalow in the private owners’ section of the island. Other than his wife and daughters, the beach was empty as far as he could see in both directions, and on this side of the island, there was no view of the California coastline. They were alone, just the four of them in this sun-swept world.

And that, he thought, was what Nikki had needed.

But it wasn’t enough.

He closed his eyes, not wanting to hear the small voice in his head. The voice that knew that the calm and beauty of this island was only a Band-Aid against a much larger wound. A wound that, so far, Damien had been helpless to staunch.

Frustrated, he clutched the patio rail, wishing he had the strength to shatter the wood beneath his hands, because then maybe he could find the strength to help his wife. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—fail her. But, dammit, he still hadn’t found the key that could lock away her pain.

Indulge Me

Frustration warred with need, and he took a step toward the stairs, intending to go to her, but the sharp chirp of his phone stopped him.

That ringtone was the one assigned to Ryan Hunter, his closest friend and the Chief of Security for Stark International. Technically, Ryan still held that title, but he’d recently delegated the day-to-day management of all Stark-related corporate security, thus freeing him up for his role as the head of the newly formed Stark Security Agency.

“How’s Nikki?” Ryan asked without preamble.

“Good,” Damien said automatically, then, “Why are you—”

“Jamie’s worried about her, too.” Jamie Archer—now Jamie Hunter—had been Nikki’s best friend since before Damien knew either of them. Beautiful, brash, reckless, and outspoken, Jamie was like a force of nature. There was also no one he trusted more where Nikki was concerned.

“What’s she said?” Damien asked.

“It was odd, actually. This morning she mentioned that Nikki had been doing so well, between time passing and you and counseling.”


“That’s what was odd. Then she said that damn car spoiled everything.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“That’s what I asked, but Jamie said it was a BFF confidence, which I’d normally respect, but with Nikki and everything that happened, I decided to push.”

Damien’s chest tightened. He knew Ryan was referring to Nikki’s cutting. She hadn’t cut for years, not since before she and Damien got together. At least not until Anne’s kidnapping. Then she’d taken a blade to her skin. Only once, and not deep. But she’d done it.

She’d worked with a counselor, publicly talked about it, and even started volunteering with troubled teens, but Damien still worried that the hated scalpel had opened not just her skin, but a door to the shadows that now seemed to haunt his wife.

“And? So what did Jamie say?”

“Nothing. I pressed, and I think she would have told me, but then Jeffery got sand in his eye—we were babysitting for Syl and Jackson at the playground this morning—and before I had the chance to ask what she meant, she and the kids were heading off to meet Syl. You’ll probably see her before I do, but I can call and ask if you want.”

“No, that’s okay.” Jamie was coming to the island that evening so that Nikki would have company over the next few days while Damien was in Paris on business. Sylvia and Jackson were already on site, along with their son and daughter. “I’ll either ask her in the morning or find out from Nikki.”

“Nik hasn’t said anything to you?”

Damien frowned. “No. Maybe that means it’s nothing at all.”

“Maybe,” Ryan said, but Damien could tell his friend didn’t believe that any more than Damien did.

“While I appreciate your concern about my wife, I’m assuming that wasn’t the primary purpose of this call?”

“I wanted to update you,” Ryan said, his voice now firmly professional.  “Denise has moved fully over to Stark Security, although I still can’t get her to do field work. Even so, she’s one hell of an asset in tech.”

Indulge Me

“Keep pushing,” Damien said, thinking of the competent blonde with the sharp green eyes. When her husband had disappeared during a covert government mission, she’d left her own intelligence job for a position at Stark International. Damien understood her desire to avoid the field, hiding herself away behind a keyboard. But he’d also seen the dossier Ryan had put together, compiled through both legitimate and not-so-legitimate means. The woman had talent. Stark Security would take her any way it could have her, but Damien wanted her in the field where she could be the most use.

Created after Anne’s kidnapping, Stark Security was the tangible manifestation of Damien’s need to not only protect his family, but to help others in similar positions. To fight against those who oppressed the innocent, and fill the gap between what the authorities could do, and what needed to be done. It was Damien’s passion project, and it was his current mission to populate it with the most talented people he could find.

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep on Denny. And Liam’s in,” Ryan added. “Not much of a surprise there. He made noises about retiring, but I never believed him.”

“Liam Foster is an asset,” Damien agreed. “Good work.”

“Hey, you’re the one with the relationship to Deliverance,” Ryan pointed out, referring to the now-defunct vigilante group to which Liam had once belonged.

“And Quincy?” Damien asked, referring to another former Deliverance operative who had helped out with the investigation into Anne’s kidnapping.

“He’s still dragging his feet. But I think he’s leaning toward signing on. That’s the main reason I called. To tell you to give him a shout. Maybe even make a stop in London before you head on to Paris.”

“I’ll give him a call and see if he’s available. He’s still working for MI6, so he could be anywhere.”

Ryan chuckled. “Maybe he’s visiting Antonio in Paris.”

“That would be convenient.” Damien was primarily traveling to Paris for a series of meetings with the head of the development team at the French division of Stark Applied Technology. But while he was there, he intended to meet with Antonio Santos, another former member of Deliverance, and a man with the kind of skills, experience, and hard edges that would make him an asset at Stark Security.

“Daddy! Daddy!” Lara’s high-pitched voice caught his attention and he looked up to see that Nikki had joined the girls in the surf. Now his four-year-old daughter jumped and clapped as Nikki held Anne, their two-year-old, under her arms, and was swinging her up and down so that Anne’s little feet skimmed the waves as they rolled in.

“Come do me, Daddy!” Lara demanded. “Come do me!”

“In a minute, baby,” Damien called back, basking in the wide smile that Nikki tossed his way. A smile that flashed as bright and pure as the sky above. A smile that made it seem as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Indulge Me

Damien knew better.

“I’ll call him now,” Damien said, driven by the sudden urge to get Stark Security fully staffed. He wanted the SSA to be out there in the world, fighting anything that put a shadow on his wife’s face and destroying the kind of evil that had stepped inside the perimeter of Damien’s life and laid a hand on his child and her nanny.

Quincy answered on the first ring. “Radcliffe.”

“It’s Damien. Are you in London?”

“Malta, actually. Then I’m on to Prague, Milan, and Copenhagen.” His voice was crisp, his British accent pronounced. “It’s a bloody tour of Europe, and not one I signed on for.”

Damien chuckled. “Considering the laundry list of locations, I take it this isn’t a covert operation. Because if it is, I’m going to have to rethink our offer to bring you on at Stark Security.”

“Stick with tennis and science, Mr. Stark. Comedy isn’t your thing.”

“A diplomatic tour? When will you be back in London?”

“I’m on the road for a month. It’s a bloody nightmare. And, no, I’m not going through Paris, so meeting there isn’t an option.”

“Ryan mentioned my itinerary to you,” Damien said. “To me, he mentioned that you’re considering our offer.”

“I am. I have been since we spoke in Malibu. It’s a good offer, Stark. But I also told you I was thinking about retiring.”

“And now you’re thinking about staying in.”

“True. But thinking and doing aren’t the same thing. And if I stay in this business, I can’t go on serving two masters.” In what Damien assumed was a rare arrangement, Quincy had been an MI6 agent even while working with Deliverance. “I assume you know that, too,” Quincy continued. “Or guessed it.  And that you want to have a sit-down to push me over the line toward Stark Security and away from MI6.”

“But it looks like I’ll have to settle for this phone call.”

Damien could almost hear the smile in Quincy’s voice when he said, “I’m listening.”

Damien drew in a breath, letting the sight of Nikki and the girls focus his thoughts.  “I need to make this happen. Stark Security. I need it to be more than just another entity under the Stark umbrella. I need it to be formidable. Hell, I need it to be dangerous. I need it to be the line in the sand between the kind of world that should exist, and a world filled with monsters disguised as humans. I need it, Quincy, because I have to know that I’m making a difference. For my family. For the world. And that means I need good people. People who’ve seen a world where the monstrous has taken root and have vowed to do something about it.” He drew a breath. “I think you’re one of those people.”

“Maybe I am. Maybe I’ve already done my share. More than my share.”

“I don’t doubt that you have.” His eyes were fixed on Nikki, but his mind was remembering the moment he’d learned that Anne had been taken. The icy horror that had enveloped him, and the way the entire world had turned black, blotted out by rage and despair.  “I don’t doubt it,” he repeated softly. “But I hope you’ll do more.”

Indulge Me

He needed Quincy. Needed Ryan and Denise and Liam and Antonio all the rest. He needed them because he couldn’t do it alone.

Couldn’t wave his arm and make the world over the way he wanted.

Couldn’t wipe away the dangers and destroy all the monsters.

Hell, he couldn’t even wipe the fear from his wife’s eyes.

But Stark Security? That, he could do.

And it was a damn good start.


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