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Release Me page reveal continues + $25 GC Giveaway!

Cover to J. Kenner's Release Me - erotic romance coming January 2013I’m counting down the days until Release Me hits the shelves with a page reveal. Two or three pages daily, in order, from the book!

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—no.” I blurt the answer out, because I can’t let that image linger for longer than a second. Immediately, though, I regret speaking. What I should have done was slap his face. What the hell kind of question is that?

“Good,” he says, so crisply and firmly and with such intensity that any thought I have of verbally bitch-slapping him vanishes completely. My thoughts, in fact, have taken a sharp left turn and I am undeniably, unwelcomely turned on. I glare at the woman in the portrait, hating her even more, and not particularly pleased with Damien Stark or myself. I suppose we have something in common, though. At the moment, we’re both picturing me out of my little black dress.

Shit.

He doesn’t even try to hide his amusement. “I believe I’ve shocked you, Ms. Fairchild.”

“Hell yes, you’ve shocked me. What did you expect?”

He doesn’t answer, just tilts his head back and laughs. It’s as if a mask has slipped away, allowing me a glimpse of the real man hidden beneath. I smile, liking that we have this one small thing in common.

“Can anyone join this party?” It’s Carl, and I want desperately to say no.

“How nice to see you again, Mr. Rosenfeld,” Stark says. The mask is firmly back in place.

Carl glances at me, and I can see the question in his eyes. “Excuse me,” I say. “I need to run to the ladies’ room.”

I escape to the cool elegance of Evelyn’s powder room. She’s thoughtfully provided mouthwash and hairspray and even disposable mascara wands. There is a lavender scented salt scrub on the stone vanity, and I put a spoonful in my hands, then close my eyes and rub, imagining that I’m sloughing off the shell of myself to reveal something bright and shiny and new.

I rinse my hands in warm water, then caress my skin with my fingertips. My hands are soft now. Slick and sensual.

I meet my eyes in the mirror. “No,” I whisper, but my hand slides down to brush the hem of my dress just below my knee. It’s fitted at the bodice and waist, but the skirt is flared, designed to present an enticing little swish when you move.

My fingers dance across my knee, then trail lazily up my inner thigh. I meet my gaze in the mirror, then close my eyes. It’s Stark’s face I want to see. His eyes I imagine watching me from that mirror.

There’s a sensuality in the way my fingers slowly graze my own skin. A lazy eroticism that some other time could build to something hot and explosive. But that’s not where I’m going—that’s what I’m destroying.

I stop when I feel it—the jagged, raised tissue of the five-year-old scar that mars the once-perfect flesh of my inner thigh. I press my fingertips to it, remembering the pain that punctuated that particular wound. That had been the weekend that my sister, Ashley, had died, and I’d just about crumbled under the weight of my grief.

But that’s the past, and I close my eyes tight, my body hot, the scar throbbing beneath my hand.

This time when I open my eyes, all I see is myself. Nikki Fairchild, back in control.

I wrap my restored confidence around me like a blanket and return to the party. Both men look at me as I approach. Stark’s face is unreadable, but Carl isn’t even trying to hide his joy. He looks like a six-year-old on Christmas morning. “Say your goodbyes, Nikki. We’re heading out. Lots to do. Lots to do.”

“What? Now?” I don’t bother to hide my confusion.

“Turns out Mr. Stark’s going to be out of town on Tuesday, so we’re pushing the meeting to tomorrow.”

“Saturday?”

“Is that a problem?” Stark asks me.

“No, of course not, but—”

“He’s attending personally,” Carl says. “Personally,” he repeats, as if I could have missed it the first time.

“Right. I’ll just find Evelyn and say goodnight.” I start to move away, but Stark’s voice draws me back.

“I’d like Ms. Fairchild to stay.”

“What?” Carl speaks, expressing my thought.

“The house I’m building is almost complete. I came here to find a painting for a particular room. I’d like a feminine perspective. I’ll see her home safely, of course.”

“Oh.” Carl looks like he’s going to protest, then thinks better of it. “She’ll be happy to help.”

The hell she will. It’s one thing to wear the dress. It’s another to completely skip the presentation rehearsal because a self-absorbed bazillionaire snaps his fingers and says jump. No matter how hot said bazillionaire might be.

But Carl cuts me off before I can form a coherent reply. “We’ll speak tomorrow morning,” he tells me. “The meeting’s at two.”

And then he’s gone and I’m left seething beside a very smug Damien Stark.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I know exactly who I am, Ms. Fairchild. Do you?”

“Maybe the better question is, who the hell do you think I am?”

“Are you attracted to me?”

“I—what?” I say, verbally stumbling. His words have knocked me off center, and I struggle to regain my balance. “That is so not the issue.”

The corner of his mouth twitches, and I realize I’ve revealed too much.

“I’m Carl’s assistant,” I say firmly and slowly. “Not yours. And my job description does not include decorating your goddamn house.” I’m not shouting, but my voice is as taut as a wire and my body even more so.

Stark, damn him, appears not only perfectly at ease, but also completely amused. “If your job duties include helping your boss find capital, then you may want to reconsider how you play the game. Insulting potential investors is probably not the best approach.”

A cold stab of fear that I’ve screwed this up cuts through me. “Maybe not,” I say. “But if you’re going to withhold your money because I didn’t roll over and flounce my skirts for you, then you’re not the man the press makes you out to be. The Damien Stark I’ve read about invests in quality. Not in friendships or relationships or because he thinks some poor little inventor needs the deal. The Damien Stark I admire focuses on talent and talent alone. Or is that just public relations?”

I stand straight, ready to endure whatever verbal lashes he’ll whip back at me. I’m not prepared for the response I get.

Stark laughs.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m not going to invest in C-Squared because I met Carl at a party any more than I’d invest in it because you’re in my bed.”

“Oh.” Once again, my cheeks heat. Once again, he’s knocked me off balance.

“I do, however, want you.”

My mouth is dry. I have to swallow before I can speak. “To help you pick a painting?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “For now.”

I force myself not to wonder about later. “Why?”

“Because I need an honest opinion. Most women on my arm say what they think will make me happy, not what they actually mean.”

“But I’m not on your arm, Mr. Stark.” I let the words hang for a moment. Then I deliberately turn my back and walk away. I can feel him watching me, but I neither stop nor turn around. Slowly, I smile. I even add a little swing to my step. This is my moment of triumph and I intend to savor it.

Except victory isn’t as delicious as I expected. In fact, it’s a little bitter. Because secretly—oh, so secretly—I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be the girl on Damien Stark’s arm.


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