Shattered With You (Stark Security Book 1)J. Kenner
Shattered With You
About Shattered With You
The Stark Saga
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Shattered With You
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Shattered With You
With his lethal skills and criminal connections, former British agent Quincy Radcliffe has fast become a key asset at the newly formed Stark Security. But Quincy isn’t the man he appears to be.
When the woman whose body he once worshipped and whose heart he broke pleads for his help, Quincy knows he must either turn his back on her or risk revealing his dark secrets to the one woman who can—and will—tear open his old wounds.
For years, struggling actress Eliza Tucker has tried to forget the decadent weeks she shared with Quincy Radcliffe. His smoldering good looks had drawn her in, while his British charm had enchanted her. But it was the wildness of his seduction and the ferocity of his passion that captured her. She’d given herself to him—and he’d shattered her like glass when he’d walked away.
Now, he’s the only person who can help find her missing sister. She’ll use him because she has too. She’ll pay any sensual price he demands. But she won’t fall for him again.
Charismatic. Dangerous. Sexy as hell.
Meet the men of Stark Security.
Shattered With You
Broken With You
Ruined With You
Shattered With You is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously; they are not real, and any resemblance to events, establishments or persons (living or dead or undead) is entirely coincidental.
Shattered With You © 2019 by Julie Kenner
Cover design by Michele Catalano, Catalano Creative
Cover image by Annie Ray/Passion Pages
Published by Martini & Olive Books
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or establishments is solely coincidental.
I know I shouldn’t want him.
I wish I didn’t crave him.
With every day that passes, I pray that the sweet throb of yearning will dim. And yet it doesn’t.
Awake, I can feed the pain. Can fall back into those memories that cut as deep as a knife. Passion erased. Love eradicated.
Before, there’d been a man who wanted me. After, only a scorch mark remained, like a shadow burned into the ground from a nuclear explosion.
Awake, I can hold onto my anger.
But in my dreams, I always surrender.
I tell myself I’m better off without him. But I need him. His skills. His help.
I have no options left. He is the place where desire and fear meet. And all I can do is pray that I don’t shatter like glass under the weight of my regrets.
Built in 1931, the historic Hollywood Terrace Hotel once reigned supreme as the place to see and be seen along the famous boulevard. But time wreaked its revenge, and like the fading beauty of Golden Age starlets, the Art Deco palace fell into disrepair as flappers gave way to hippies and Baby Boomers, all of whom were overrun by Millennials who watched as the twentieth century rolled inexorably into the twenty-first.
For the first decade of the new millennium, the once majestic icon stood faded and broken. The exterior stucco dulled to a lifeless gray. Windows soiled and cracked. The famous gardens overrun with vermin and weeds.
The interior fared no better. Mold grew around leaky pipes. Rats scurried the halls, surrendering only to the feral cats who claimed the dark spaces as their own. Carpets rotted. Wallpaper peeled. And a fine dust covered every surface like a blanket of neglect.
With the determination of a beleaguered prizefighter, the building fought to stay upright despite the repeated blows of weather, earthquakes, and the monotonous parade of progress marked by shiny new storefronts. When yellow tape emblazoned with Condemned and Do Not Cross appeared across the etched glass doors, the locals were certain that the final blow had been landed.
Then Scott Lassiter rode to the rescue, and it turned out that the story of the Hollywood Terrace wasn’t a boxing movie after all. It was a makeover. My Fair Lady for the bedraggled hotel.
The international real estate developer pulled out all the stops, remaking The Hollywood Terrace into the gem it had been almost a century before. He turned the mezzanine conference rooms into his private suite of offices, and claimed the entire top floor as his stunning penthouse residence, complete with an indoor pool and a formal ballroom.
Everyone who was anyone attended the grand re-opening five years ago, and Lassiter was feted by the town’s movers and shakers as a hero. A miracle worker. A true citizen, devoted to preserving the history that had put this corner of Southern California on the map when those first pioneers with cameras had hustled to the land of manna and sunshine.
That party had made headlines across the globe, the Hollywood connection and the many stars on the guest list making the story too delicious to ignore.
Tonight’s party was even more lush. Dozens upon dozens of guests filled the meticulously restored Art Deco ballroom with its bold colors and geometric designs. The combined incomes of the well-heeled, international guests made a Hollywood star’s bankroll look like a teenager’s allowance. Rare champagne vintages flowed in fountains of pure silver. The women glided over the marble floors in formal gowns designed to accentuate assets of the non-gemstone variety. And any man in a suit that cost less than twenty-five grand was obviously a poser.
And yet despite the beautiful people floating on clouds of money-soaked power, there was no press in the ballroom for this soirée. No photographers clicking away for sexy images to post on Page Six or Instagram. On the contrary, this party was an intimate affair conducted in Lassiter’s own private fiefdom.
And only a very select and very exclusive clientele had been invited.
Stark Security operative Quincy Radcliffe was not on the guest list. Not officially, anyway. That, however, didn’t stop him from signaling a passing waiter and snagging a scotch and soda.
He sipped it slowly, his dispassionate gaze studying the cadre of tailored men and coi
ffed women who moved in and out of Lassiter’s orbit, as if they were coming to pay tribute to a god.
All they saw was Lassiter’s money and power. They had no idea that their host’s hefty bank account had been generated less by his real estate portfolio and more by the percentage he took from money laundering and protection schemes.
Scott Lassiter was a manipulative prick whose sharp talons reached deep into the criminal underground. And someday it would be Quince’s pleasure to pull the rug firmly out from under the feckless tosser, then ensure that Lassiter abandoned his plush penthouse for a different view. The kind with dozens of iron bars.
That, however, wasn’t on tonight’s agenda. For the time being, Lassiter was the lesser of two evils, and if everything went as planned, the pathetic wanker would be an unknowing conduit to the sex-trafficking, sub-human monster who was at the core of tonight’s mission: Corbu. Marius Corbu.
“Incredible, isn’t he?”
The breathy voice came from a brown-eyed blonde with long, straight hair that hung to the middle of her back and a soft fringe of bangs that brushed her perfectly arched brows. She wore a filmy gold dress and make-up so expertly applied it seemed invisible except for the dark liner that shaped her wide eyes and lipstick so red he couldn’t help think of ripe cherries.
“You’re referring to our host, Mr. Lassiter?”
She giggled and sloshed her champagne as she struggled to clap her hands. “O.M.G.,”—she actually said O.M.G.—“You’re British.”
“Bloody hell. Am I really?”
She laughed again. “And funny, too. No. What’s that word? Droll. You’re very droll.” She cocked her head, studying him. He knew what she saw. Dark hair, a lean face, and deep-set gray eyes. He wore an Ermenegildo Zegna bespoke suit that cost more than his car, and according to his partner Denise, he looked “fabulously fuckable.”
The blonde apparently agreed, because he saw the exact moment that her gaze shifted from amused to predatory. “I like a funny man.” Her voice was low. Sultry. “A man who laughs probably does other interesting things with his mouth, too.” She tilted her head provocatively. “I’m Desiree. What’s your name?”
“Canton,” he said, giving her his mission alias as a hedge fund manager based in Hong Kong. “Robert Canton.”
She eased toward him, the dress shifting from opaque to sheer as she stepped into a puddle of light. She was entirely bare under the flimsy gown, and he felt his body tighten in reflex, but not desire. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the lapel of his jacket, then continued the downward motion until she was cupping his cock, hard now because, after all, he wasn’t dead. Nor was he surprised. This party was about sex, after all. Paid, kinky, anonymous sex. And God knew he wasn’t immune to the charms of a beautiful woman.
She pressed her free hand to his shoulder as she leaned in to whisper. “Well, I’m all yours, Mr. Canton. However you want me, all the way until the sun comes up.” She nipped at his earlobe, and he thought how easy it would be. She’d be willing to do bloody well anything—that was the point of tonight’s little meet-and-greet. And damned if he didn’t need to take the edge off.
Some operations were harder than others, and this one was a right pisser. It had gotten into his head. Worse, it had gotten into his blood. And it burned there like a slow poison. Or more accurately like a fuse. Let it burn too long, and he’d explode. The dark memories would win out, the monster would grab control, and–
“Oooh, I think that’s a yes.” She started to slowly stroke him. “I’ve never fucked an English guy, and I promise you I’m worth it. Please tell me you haven’t given some other girl your key.”
He produced a thin smile, then slowly moved her hand off his crotch. “Sorry, love. I’m sure you’d give me a right proper ride, but my key’s already spoken for.”
“Maybe not,” the female voice said into his ear. It was Denise, and she was currently on the roof across the street. And also in his ear. Listening to absolutely everything since their coms were on VOX. “I can’t get the transmitter arm to lock in place. I’m going to have to stay up here and position it manually.”
“What?” Desiree asked.
“It’s just a pisser that you won’t be in my bed tonight. But rules are rules.” And the rules of this party mirrored the old suburban key parties of the sixties and seventies. Bottom line—a man claimed a woman with a key, she went to his room, and he spent the night enjoying her, as Desiree had said, any way he wanted until the sun came up.
The beauty of the party from the perspective of the men was that every woman was a sure thing because each and every female was a high class call girl who was well-paid by Lassiter to attend. Denise included, although to be fair, it was her alias—Candy—who was getting that nice pay day.
As for the men, they each paid Lassiter a hefty sum, supposedly for a room at the hotel. In reality, the payment assured the privilege of finding a Miss Right willing to satisfy any and all kinks, fetishes, and predilections. As a bonus, they each enjoyed the smug satisfaction of buying sex without actually paying for sex.
Quince didn’t need a woman in his room. He needed a partner to act as a lookout and keep the small signal booster in perfect alignment with both the transmitter and Lassiter’s computer. The transmitter that Denny was battling on the nearby roof wouldn’t do a damn bit of good if the signal wasn’t captured in his room on the fourth floor, then boosted down to where Quince would be hacking Lassiter’s computer on the mezzanine level.
And while Desiree might be willing to fulfill his every kinky fantasy, he doubted that she would regard helping him hack into Lassiter’s system as a genuine fetish. Besides, she’d already wandered off in search of another key master.
Easy come, easy go.
“You realize this is a problem,” he murmured, lifting his glass to hide the slight movement of his lips, then taking a long swallow because he damn sure needed it.
“No, really? I’m so glad you’re here to explain things to me.”
He swallowed a laugh. “Temper, temper.”
“You can’t tell, but I’m flipping you off.”
“I’d expect nothing less.” He crossed to the window so that he could talk more easily, keeping an eye on the guests in the reflection as he pretended to study Hollywood below. Denny was out there, perched atop an old department store that had been converted to office space.
“Fuck it. I’m going to use a strip of duct tape to get as close to dead-on perfect as I can. I can get back pronto. You need me in that room.”
He did, dammit. But they also needed certainty with regard to the transmission. This mission was the pivotal point in a joint EU and Spanish task force operation to take down Corbu and his international sex-trafficking operation. Stark Security had been hired to handle this one critical piece of the puzzle. A single, limited mission to get in, obtain and decrypt Lassiter’s contact files, then pass along the contact protocol for Corbu to the task force.
Fail and Stark Security would lose its growing reputation in the international intelligence community. More important, thousands of innocent lives were at stake, and the window of opportunity was tight. As they said at America’s NASA, failure was not an option.
“I’m coming to you.” He knew damn well she was more than competent, but he had to try. “Maybe I can secure the arm.”
“There’s not enough time. I have to capture the signal in fifteen minutes and you need to be in position in twenty. Blow the window and we’re fucked.”
He pulled out the antique Patek Philippe pocket watch that had once belonged to the father he’d barely known. Exceptionally crafted, it still kept perfect time, though its accuracy had little to do with why Quince wore it religiously. Almost superstitiously.
The Patek Philippe was a reminder of the past, a warning against the future.
It would never lead him astray, and right then it told him that Denny
“All right,” he said. “Get over here.” It was a huge risk, but the powerful transmitter was designed to allow for the transmission and reception of the massive data packets necessary for the cutting edge decryption software hosted back at the SSA. With luck, Denny’s rigged up anchor would allow the transmitter to capture and relay enough of the signal to the booster in Quincy’s hotel room. That device worked much like a WiFi router, and it would send the signal out into the interior of the hotel, where it would hit the tech that Quince would be using to hack into Lassiter’s system.
For that to work, however, the transmitter’s signal had to hit the booster with dead-on accuracy. Anything less, and the booster would be relaying garbage to Quince, not the high-end hacking software created by Stark Applied Technology. Not an ideal situation, but they had no choice.
He turned back to face the room. He needed to know where Lassiter was so that he could slip down to his assigned room on the fourth floor without being noticed. There.
Lassiter was standing in a group of five men and two women, his hand low on a slim brunette’s back. Reddish-brown hair fell down to her shoulders, her smooth skin revealed in the low-cut dress that came close to revealing the crack of her perfect, heart-shaped ass. There was something so familiar about her…