Anchor MeJ. Kenner
Copyright (c) 2017 Julie Kenner
Excerpt from Wicked Grind copyright (c) 2017 Julie Kenner Cover photograph (c) Lukas Gojda/ Shutterstock Author photo (c) Kathy Whittaker Photography The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Works has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in this Ebook edition in 2017
by HEADLINE ETERNAL
An imprint of HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library eISBN 978 1 4722 4685 1
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Table of Contents
About the Author
Praise for J. Kenner
By J. Kenner
About the Book
An enticing excerpt from Wicked Grind
The Stark Series
The Stark International Series
The S.I.N Series
Other unforgettable books by J. Kenner
Find out more about Headline Eternal
About the Author
J. Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal, and No. 1 internationally bestselling author of over seventy novels, novellas, and short stories in a variety of genres.
Kenner has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a 'flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations' and by Romantic Times for having 'cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.' A five-time finalist for Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award, Kenner took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance in 2014 for her novel, Claim Me (book two of her Stark Trilogy).
In her previous career as an attorney, Kenner worked as a lawyer in Southern California and Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas with her husband, two daughters and two cats.
Visit J. Kenner online at www.jkenner.com. Or connect with her via Twitter @juliekenner or through www.facebook.com/JKennerBooks.
Just some of the rave reviews for J. Kenner's powerfully sensual and erotic novels:
'Kenner may very well have cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them . . . Her characters' scorching, scandalous affair explores the very nature of attraction and desire, redeeming and changing them beyond measure . . . Fans will no doubt love the games of power, overwhelming passion and self-defining relationship that Kenner has crafted, and come away eager for more' Romantic Times
'The plot is complex, the characters engaging, and J. Kenner's passionate writing brings it all perfectly together' Harlequin Junkie
'In Julie Kenner's typical masterful storytelling, nothing is as it seems. We are taken deeply into the plot twists and the danger of this erotic journey. The chemistry first felt by both Tyler and Sloane during their first encounter roars into an all-consuming fire neither one can put out . . . Take the same journey I did and you will not be disappointed!' As You Wish Reviews
'Wanted is another J. Kenner masterpiece . . . This was an intriguing look at self-discovery and forbidden love all wrapped into a neat little action-suspense package. There was plenty of sexual tension and eventually action. Evan was hot, hot, hot! Together, they were combustible. But can we expect anything less from J. Kenner?' Reading Haven
'Wanted by J. Kenner is the whole package! A toe-curling smokin' hot read, full of incredible characters and a brilliant storyline that you won't be able to get enough of. I can't wait for the next book in this series . . . I'm hooked!' Flirty & Dirty Book Blog
'I loved this story! It had substance, lovable characters, and unexpected discoveries. And the love between Evan and Angelina was passionate, explosive, and utterly wonderful' Part of That World
'J. Kenner's evocative writing thrillingly captures the power of physical attraction, the pull of longing, the universe-altering effect one person can have on another. She masterfully draws out the eroticism between Nikki and Damien . . . Claim Me has the emotional depth to back up the sex . . . Every scene is infused with both erotic tension, and the tension of wondering what lies beneath Damien's veneer -- and how and when it will be revealed' Heroes and Heartbreakers
'Claim Me by J. Kenner is an erotic, sexy and exciting ride. The story between Damien and Nikki is amazing and written beautifully. The intimate and detailed sex scenes will leave you fanning yourself to cool down. With the writing style of Ms Kenner you almost feel like you are there in the story riding along the emotional rollercoaster with Damien and Nikki' Fresh Fiction
'PERFECT for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You. Release Me is a powerful and erotic romance novel that is sure to make adult romance readers sweat, sigh and swoon' Reading, Eating & Dreaming Blog
'Release Me . . . just made the top of my list with Damien and Nikki . . . the way in which J. Kenner tells the story, how vulnerable and real Damien and Nikki feel, makes this story so good, and re-readable many times over' In Love With Romance Blog
'This is deeply sensual and the story packs an emotional punch that I really hadn't expected . . . If you enjoyed Fifty Shades [and] the Crossfire books, you're definitely going to enjoy this one. It's compelling, engaging and I was thoroughly engrossed' Sinfully Sexy Blog
'I will admit, I am in the "I loved Fifty Shades" camp, but after reading Release Me, Mr Grey only scratches the surface compared to Damien Stark' Cocktails and Books Blog
'It is not often when a book is so amazingly well-written that I find it hard to even begin to accurately describe it . . . I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in a passionate love story' Romancebookworm's Reviews
'The story is one that will rank up with the Fifty Shades and Crossfire trilogies' Incubus Publishing Blog
'Release Me gives readers tantalizing pages of sensual delight, leaving us reeling as we journey with this couple and their passions are released. Release Me is a must-read!' Readaholics Anonymous
By J. Kenner
The Stark Series
The Stark Ever After Novellas
Take Me (e-novella) Have Me (e-novella) Play My Game (e-novella) Seduce Me (e-novella) Unwrap Me (e-nov
ella) Deepest Kiss (e-novella) Entice Me (e-novella) The Stark International Series
Say My Name
On My Knees
Under My Skin
Steal My Heart (free short story) Take My Dare (e-novella) The S.I.N. Series
The Most Wanted Series
About the Book
It's a new chapter in the life of Nikki and Damien Stark . . .
Though shadows still haunt us, and ghosts from our past continue to threaten our happiness, my life with Damien is nothing short of perfection. He is my heart and my soul. My past and my future. He is the man who holds me together, and his love fuels my days and enchants my nights.
But when tragedy and challenge from both inside and outside the sanctity of our marriage begin to chip away at our happiness, I am forced to realize that even a perfect life can begin to crack. And if Damien and I are going to win this new battle, it will take all of our strength and love . . .
Find out how it all began for Damien and Nikki Stark in J. Kenner's hot and addictive bestselling Stark series: Release Me, Claim Me, Complete Me, Take Me, Have Me, Play My Game, Seduce Me, Unwrap Me, Deepest Kiss and Entice Me.
Return to the smoking hot Stark world with the Stark International series: Say My Name, On My Knees, Under My Skin and Take My Dare and the sexy S.I.N. series: Dirtiest Secret, Hottest Mess and Sweetest Taboo.
Don't miss J. Kenner's sizzling Most Wanted series of three enigmatic and powerful men, and the striking women who can bring them to their knees: Wanted, Heated and Ignited.
For Isabella, with love.
If you're reading this note before reading the book, be aware that there are spoilers below!
This is a book that is near and dear to my heart. Not only because I'm happy to finally give readers what you've been asking for--a family for Nikki and Damien--but because the story itself is personal. Not true, but personal.
In late October of 2006, my husband and oldest daughter (who turned five during the trip) traveled to China to adopt our youngest child, a sweet little girl born with a cleft lip and palate. She turned three during the adoption trip . . . and as of this writing, she's thirteen. And she and her sister are the light of our lives (and also pretty typical teens!).
Like Nikki and Damien, my husband and I saw her picture on an adoption agency website, and we immediately knew that she was our daughter. That one glimpse began a lifelong journey filled with laughter and love.
While China's adoption program has changed over the years, what hasn't changed is that many "special needs" kids are still needing homes and help. Often, the need is very minor. If you're interested in adopting, I encourage you to contact one of the many agencies that specialize in international adoptions. And if you just want to help, please consider donating to one of the many organizations that help orphans in China. Two I have personal familiarity with are Love Without Boundaries (which provides medical care, including cleft lip and palate repair for Chinese orphans) and Half the Sky (which provides educational services, including services at orphanages such as the one my daughter lived in).
Thank you, and happy reading!
I look out the window at the beautifully manicured yards that line the wide street down which I am traveling in the sumptuous luxury of a classic Rolls Royce Phantom. A car so sleek and magical that I can't help but feel like a princess in a royal coach.
The road is shaded by parallel rows of massive oaks, their branches arcing over the street toward their counterparts to form a leafy canopy. Morning light fights its way between the leaves, creating golden beams in which dust sparkles and dances as if to a celebratory melody, adding to the illusion that we are moving through a fairy tale world.
All in all, it's a picture-perfect moment.
Except it's not. Not really. Or at least not to me.
Because as far as I'm concerned, this is no children's story.
This is Dallas. This is the neighborhood where I grew up. And that means that this isn't a fairy tale. It's a nightmare.
The branches aren't stunning--they're grasping. Reaching out to snare me. To hold me tight. To trap me.
The canopy doesn't mark a royal corridor leading to a castle. It leads to a cell. And it's not The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies that fills the air. It is a requiem for the dead.
The world outside the car is lined with traps, and if I'm not careful, I'll be sucked in. Destroyed by the darkness that hides behind the false facades of these stately houses. Surrounded not by a bright children's tale, but by a horror movie, lured in by the promise of beauty and then trapped forever and slowly destroyed, ripped to pieces by the monsters in the dark.
Breathe, I tell myself. You can do this. You just have to remember to breathe.
Damien's voice startles me back to reality, and I jerk upright, calling upon perfect posture to ward off the ghosts of my memories.
His tone is soft, profoundly gentle, but when I glance toward him, I see that his eyes have dipped to my lap.
For a moment, I'm confused, then I realize that I've inched up my skirt, and my fingertip is slowly tracing the violent scar that mars my inner thigh. A souvenir of the deep, ugly wound that I inflicted upon myself a decade ago when I was desperate to find a way to release all the pent-up anger and fear and pain that swirled inside me like a phalanx of demons.
I yank my hand away, then turn to look out the window, feeling oddly, stupidly ashamed.
He says nothing, but the car moves to the curb and then rolls to a stop. A moment later, Damien's fingers twine with mine. I hold tight, drawing strength, and when I shift to look at him more directly, I see worry etched in the hard angles of that perfect face and reflected in those exceptional, dual-colored eyes.
Worry, yes. But it is the rest of what I see that takes my breath away. Understanding. Support. Respect.
Most of all, I see a love so fierce it has the power to melt me, and I revel in its power to soothe.
He is the biggest miracle of my life, and there are moments when I still can't believe that he is mine.
Damien Stark. My husband, my lover, my best friend. A man who commands an empire with a firm, controlling hand. Who takes orders from no one, and yet today is playing chauffeur so that he can stand beside me while I confront my past.
For a moment, I simply soak him in. His strength, apparent in both his commanding manner and the long, lean lines of his athletic body. His support reflected in those eyes that see me so intimately. That have, over the years, learned all my secrets.
Damien knows every scar on my body, as well as the story behind each. He knows the depth of my pain, and he knows how far I have come. How far his love has helped me come.
Most of all, he knows what it has cost me to return to Texas. To drive these streets. To look out at this neighborhood so full of pain and dark memories.
With a small shiver, I pull my hand free so that I can hug myself.
"Oh, baby." The concern in his voice is so thick I can almost grab hold of it. "Nikki, you don't have to do this."
"I do." My words sound ragged, my throat too clogged with unshed tears to speak normally.
I wait, expecting him to continue, but he's gone silent. I see the tension on his face, as if he's uncertain what to say or how to say it--but Damien Stark is never unsure. Not about business. Not about himself. Not about me.
And yet right now he's hesitating. Treating me like I'm something fragile and breakable.
An unexpected shock of anger cuts through me. Not at him, but at myself. Because, dammit, he's right. In this moment, I'm as fragile as I've ever been, and that's not a pleasant realization. I've fought so hard to be strong, and with Damien at my side, I've succeeded.
nbsp; But here I am, all my hard work shot to hell simply because I've returned to my hometown.
"You think coming here is a mistake." I snap the words at him, but it's not Damien I'm irritated with, it's me.
"No." He doesn't hesitate, and I take some comfort in the speed and certainty of his response. "But I do wonder if now is the right time. Maybe tomorrow would be better. After your meetings."
We've come to Texas not so that I can torture myself by driving through my old neighborhood to visit my estranged mother, but because I'm vying to land a contract with one of the top web development companies in the country. It's looking to roll out a series of apps, both for internal use among its employees and externally for its clients.
I'd submitted a proposal and am now one of only five companies invited to come to Dallas to pitch, and my little company is by far the smallest and the newest. I suspect, of course, that part of the reason I got the invitation is because I'm married to Damien Stark, and because my company has already licensed software to Stark International.
A year ago, that would have bothered me.
Not anymore. I'm damn good at what I do, and if my last name gets me a foot in the door, then so be it. I don't care how the opportunity comes because I know that my work is top-notch, and if I get the job, it will be on the merits of my proposal and my presentation.
It's a huge opportunity, and one I don't want to screw up. Especially since my goal for the next eighteen months is to build up my receivables, hire five employees, and take over the full floor of the building that houses my office condo.
I'd worked on my business plan for months, and was a complete nervous wreck the night I handed it to my master of the universe, brilliantly entrepreneurial husband for review. When he'd given it the Damien Stark seal of approval, I practically collapsed with relief. My plan to grow my business doesn't hinge on me getting this job--but landing it will mean I can bump all my target dates up by six months. More importantly, winning this contract will put my business firmly on the competitive map.
My shoulders sag a bit as I meet his eyes. "You're afraid that seeing Mother is going to throw me off my game. That I'll flub tomorrow's meetings and hurt my chances of landing the contract."
"I want you at your best."
"I know you do," I say sincerely, because Damien has never been anything but supportive. "Don't you get it? That's why we're here. It's like a preemptive strike."