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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

-- [ Page 26 ] --

Spank me,” I murmured, “because you know you want to. And because, dammit, I want to feel you come.” He groaned in response to my words, a pure, sensual sound full of need and longing. And just when I was afraid that he was going to ignore my demand, I felt the sweet sting of his palm against my rear. I cried out, the sound silenced when he captured my mouth with his.

“Now,” he demanded, when he broke the kiss, then landed another sweet spank to my ass, making my body arch up in a way that not only teased my clit, but forced his cock deeper inside me.

“Come for me now, Catalina.” And then, because I was his and knew that I always would be, I gave myself over to him, let myself go, and shattered in the arms of this man who had claimed me.

eighteen “I don’t have to tell you how much I appreciate you squeezing us in today,” Cole said to the positively gorgeous man who sat across the table from us, his stunning wife at his side.

Of course I’d recognized both of them the moment the waiter had led us through the cozy Malibu restaurant to the patio dining area. Not only was Damien Stark a former tennis star turned billionaire entrepreneur, but he’d also been all over the news not that long ago. Sex, scandal, murder. The kind of stuff that the tabloids ate up— especially when you were as photogenic as Stark and his now-wife, Nikki Fairchild Stark.

I’d gotten over my awe quickly enough, though.

Damien was casual and friendly and completely down to earth in a plain T-shirt and black jeans. And when Nikki insisted she and I share an order of cheese fries—which is so not the usual fare for model-beautiful LA women, I’d developed a little bit of a girl crush.

“Today’s no trouble at all,” Nikki said in response to Cole’s comment. “Our flight’s not scheduled until much later tonight, so this is the perfect pre-trip dinner.” “And the gallery’s right next door,” Damien added.

“We can swing by there after we’re done.” “I’d like that,” Cole said.

“This trip isn’t about checking up on any of the Knight Holdings properties, but if we can squeeze in a quick run-through, that would be great.” “An art gallery?” I asked, confused. Cole had yet to explain to me how this trip to LA was supposed to help my dad, and I was doubly confused now that we were dining with Damien Stark. If an art gallery was now involved, I was starting to get a little nervous. Not that I didn’t trust Cole, but this was beginning to feel like he was setting up a long con in order to get out from under a short one.

Cole squeezed my hand.

“Nothing to do with the casino property,” he said, apparently reading my mind.

His words also told me that whatever he was planning here in LA centered around the land at the heart of Daddy’s problem. And that it wasn’t a secret—or at least not much of one. Otherwise, he’d be keeping quiet about the land around Damien.

“I never did learn how you two know each other,” I asked.

“I’ve known Cole for years,” Damien said. “We met through one of his business partners, Evan Black, and then got to know each other better in the last year or so.” “Evan bought a few galleries from Damien about a year ago,” Cole added. “He transferred them to Knight Holdings, and I’ve been overseeing their operation for the last six months.” Our meal arrived, and the conversation shifted to the kind of random tidbits that people talk about on a beautiful spring evening.

Plans for the next day, for the summer. Movies, cars, the absolutely incredible cheeseburger the waitress had put in front of me.

I’d finished off my dinner and was debating between apple pie or the slightly more sane bowl of berries, when a messenger arrived at our table. He delivered a package to Damien, who took a quick look at it, then passed it to Cole. “I think you were expecting this.” The envelope was thin, with the exception of some bulk in the middle. He reached inside, pulled out a smaller padded envelope and tucked that into the leather backpack he’d brought with him. Then he pulled out a sheaf of papers. “For you,” he said, then handed them to me.

I glanced down, confused at first, then a little giddy when I saw what they were.

“My closing documents?” “I arranged to have them scanned and sent to Damien’s office.” “And I’ll get them returned tonight by courier so that you’ll have access to your house tomorrow,” Damien said.

“Congratulations, by the way.” “Oh my god,” I said, looking between the two men.

“Thank you.” Cole squeezed my hand.

“It’s your first house. It’s important.” “Your first?” Nikki repeated, and I nodded, foolishly teary-eyed, and not even caring. “Then we need to make a toast,” she said, then lifted her half-empty glass of wine. “To your new home. May it always be filled with love and happiness.” “Thank you,” I said, as we all clinked glasses.





There was some more general discussion about the house, and I probably bored Nikki to death with my musings about where I was going to put my furniture.

She was, however, polite enough to look interested.

And considering she made a few suggestions, maybe she genuinely was.

“Now that Katrina’s signed her papers,” Damien said, turning toward Cole, “I should tell you that all of the documents you’ll need to sign will be ready in the morning.

I’m sorry I’ll be out of town, but Charles will meet you at my office, and he’ll push everything through. And then Nikki and I will see you in Chicago for the wedding.” “Looking forward to it,” Cole said. “And I appreciate you going out on a limb like this.” “I’m not,” Damien said.

“It’s a good investment, albeit a bit tricky in the details.” Nikki rolled her eyes.

“Next he’s going to say that’s what makes it fun.” Damien shrugged. “Well, it is.” He stroked his fingers over her shoulder, but spoke to Cole. “I’ll check in from Tokyo. But if you need anything, Charles will take care of it,” he added, referring again to his attorney.

“Tokyo?” I said.

“Business?” “As a matter of fact, yes, but not mine.” “It’s my first international trade show for my software development company,” Nikki said. “Thank goodness Damien’s going to be there to hold my hand.” They had, I noticed, been holding hands or otherwise touching throughout the evening.

It had made me happy to see it. For that matter, it had made me want that, too. But even as I was wishing for that very thing, I realized that Cole had held my hand most of the afternoon. And now, his fingertips were resting on my thigh. During the meal, he’d brushed his thumb over my lip to catch a bit of mustard. And more than once he’d fed me a bite of dessert off his fork.

I reached over and took his hand, then met his eyes.

What? he mouthed.

But I just smiled, thinking of how much I already had, and how lucky I felt simply being with this man. And how, at least for the moment, everything was right with the world.

When Cole suggested that we take a quick stroll through the gallery, I’d expected to see colorful paintings that featured the sea. Wylandstyle images that were so often popular in coastal communities.

What I saw instead, was me.

Not just me, of course.

But there was an entire wall featuring portraits similar to the ones that I’d seen at the Chicago gallery. All anonymous, true, but now that I knew the subject of the portraits, it was easy enough to recognize myself.

“I had no idea,” I said, taking Cole’s hand. “How many of these have you painted?” His mouth quirked up.

“How many hours have I lost watching you?” “Lost?” I teased.

“Invested,” he said.

“Treasured. Enjoyed.” I leaned in close and kissed him. “Better,” I said.

“And I really am flattered.

Awed.” I shook my head, not quite able to find the words.

“Each time I see myself on a canvas and know that it was your brushstrokes that put me there—I don’t know, Cole. It makes me feel warm inside. It makes me feel special.” “That’s because you are,” he said. “That’s because I can’t see you any other way.” Nikki and Damien had come with us, and though Damien had moved to the far side of the room to admire some colorful glass sculptures, Nikki was close enough to have overheard our conversation. When Cole kissed my cheek, then headed across the room to join Damien, she moved to my side.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” Nikki said, “but I couldn’t help but overhear.” “It’s okay,” I said. “I love these images. I fell in love with the first one I saw even before I realized it was me.” “Really?” She lifted a brow. “And when you realized that Cole had painted it?” I pressed my lips together.

“It’s like what I told him—it made me feel special.” What I didn’t add—what I still couldn’t say out loud—was that it made me feel loved.

Beside me, Nikki nodded, and I saw understanding on her face.

“Damien didn’t paint your portrait,” I said. “But I’m guessing you felt the same way.” “You know about that?” I lifted a shoulder. “It was kind of all over the news.” Damien Stark had paid a million dollars for a nude, erotic portrait of Nikki. She’d been anonymous in the portrait—her face hidden. But when her identity had been revealed—along with the fact that she and Damien were a couple—the press had gone on a feeding frenzy.

I’d felt bad for her at the time. Now, knowing her, I despised the press even more.

“That must have been hell,” I added. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” “So am I,” she said. “But I survived it. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, but in the end I think it made me stronger. It sounds clichéd, but I really mean it. And one absolutely good thing came out of it.” “What’s that?” “Damien, of course. We came through it, and we came through it together. And when we did, we proved to the world what we already knew.” “What’s that?” “We fit each other.” She shrugged. “Simple, but true.” She smiled then, broad and happy. “I look at you and Cole and that’s what I see.

Am I right?” I glanced across the gallery to where he stood with Damien, two gorgeous men who outshone all of the art that hung around them.

“Yeah,” I said. “I think we do fit.” And I could only hope that Cole thought so, too.

nineteen “You’re sure you don’t want a night on the town?” Cole asked as we stood in front of the Beverly Wilshire hotel and watched Damien’s driver, Edward, pull the limo back into traffic. “Los Angeles. A limo. That’s a lot of potential to pass up.” “The only potential I want is you,” I said. “In our room.

Preferably without clothes.” He grinned. “Well, when you put it that way...” He took my arm and led me inside the hotel that, though I’d never been in it before, seemed so familiar from all the times I’d watched and rewatched Pretty Woman as a teen. At the time, I’d been more interested in the musical shopping montage than in the romance plot. But I did remember that in the end, Vivian had gotten both the clothes and the man, though there’d been a few moments when it had looked like he and his issues were going to blow it for them.

I looked at the man on my arm, and couldn’t help but smile. I hadn’t seen it coming, but I couldn’t deny that I wanted the fairy-tale ending, too. And I was going to do whatever it took to make that happen.

“What?” Cole asked, catching me eyeing him.

“Just thinking about this hotel,” I said, as we moved through the exquisitely appointed lobby to the bank of elevators. “A lot of celebrities come through here. Some pretty hot men, too.” His brows rose ever so slightly. “Planning to snare yourself a movie star?” “Hardly.” I linked my arm through his. “I was just thinking that the man on my arm is so much hotter.” “Funny,” he said, pulling me to a stop and kissing me fast and hard and deep. “I was thinking the same thing about the woman on mine.” We’d registered before having Edward drive us to Malibu for dinner, so now we headed straight to our room on the eighth floor.

“You still haven’t asked me what we’re doing here,” Cole said as the elevator opened onto our floor.

“About what the plan is for your dad.” “No,” I said lightly, as I walked a few steps in front of him. “I haven’t.” He caught up with me at the door, then stilled my hand before I could put the key in.



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