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Tease Me: A Stark International Security Novel

J. Kenner

  Tease Me

  A Stark International Security Novel

  By J. Kenner

  Tease Me

  A Stark International Security Novel

  By J. Kenner

  Copyright 2020 Julie Kenner

  ISBN: 978-1-951812-08-9

  Published by Blue Box Press, an imprint of Evil Eye Concepts, Incorporated

  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.

  Book Description

  Tease Me

  A Stark International Novel

  By J. Kenner

  From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J. Kenner comes a new story in her Stark International Security series…

  Entertainment reporter Jamie Archer knew it would be hard when her husband, Stark Security Chief Ryan Hunter, was called away for a long-term project in London. The distance is difficult to endure, but Jamie trusts the deep and passionate love that has always burned between them. At least until a mysterious woman from Ryan’s past shows up at his doorstep, her very presence threatening to destroy everything that Jamie holds dear.

  Ryan never expected to see Felicia Randall again, a woman with whom he shared a dark past and a dangerous secret. The first and only woman he ever truly failed.

  Desperate and on the run, Felicia’s come to plead for his help. But while Ryan knows that helping her is the only way to heal old wounds, he also knows that the mission will not only endanger the life of the woman he holds most dear, but will brutally test the deep trust that binds Jamie and Ryan together.

  About J. Kenner

  J. Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and #1 International bestselling author of over one-hundred novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.

  JK has been praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations” and by RT Bookclub for having “cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.” A six-time finalist for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award, JK took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance in 2014 for her novel, Claim Me (book 2 of her Stark Saga) and in 2018 for her novel Wicked Dirty.

  In her previous career as an attorney, JK worked as a lawyer in Southern California and Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and two rather spastic cats.

  Visit JK online at

  Subscribe to JK’s Newsletter

  Text JKenner to 21000 to subscribe to JK’s text alerts



  Facebook Page

  Facebook Fan Group

  Also From J. Kenner

  Click to purchase

  Click here for an updated Printable Booklist

  Stark Security

  Shattered With You

  Broken With You

  Ruined With You

  The Stark Saga:

  Release Me

  Claim Me

  Complete Me

  Anchor Me

  Lost With Me


  Stark Ever After:

  Take Me

  Have Me

  Play My Game

  Seduce Me

  Unwrap Me

  Deepest Kiss

  Entice Me

  Hold Me

  Please Me

  Indulge Me

  Delight Me

  Stark International

  Steele Trilogy:

  Say My Name

  On My Knees

  Under My Skin

  Take My Dare (novella, includes bonus short story: Steal My Heart)

  Stark World Standalone Stories:

  Justify Me (part of the Lexi Blake Crossover Collection)

  Jamie & Ryan Novellas:

  Tame Me

  Tempt Me

  Dallas & Jane (S.I.N. Trilogy):

  Dirtiest Secret

  Hottest Mess

  Sweetest Taboo

  Most Wanted:




  Wicked Nights:

  Wicked Grind

  Wicked Dirty

  Wicked Torture

  Man of the Month:

  Down On Me

  Hold On Tight

  Need You Now

  Start Me Up

  Get It On

  In Your Eyes

  Turn Me On

  Shake It Up

  All Night Long

  In Too Deep

  Light My Fire

  Walk The Line

  Bar Bites: A Man of the Month Cookbook


  Lovely Little Liar

  Pretty Little Player

  Sexy Little Sinner

  Tempting Little Tease

  Also by Julie Kenner

  Click here for an updated Printable Booklist

  Demon Hunting Soccer Mom Series:

  Carpe Demon

  California Demon

  Demons Are Forever

  Deja Demon

  The Demon You Know

  Demon Ex Machina

  Pax Demonica

  The Dark Pleasures Series:

  Caress of Darkness

  Find Me in Darkness

  Find Me in Pleasure

  Find Me in Passion

  Caress of Pleasure

  Rising Storm:

  Tempest Rising

  Quiet Storm

  Acknowledgments from the Author

  To the J. Kenner Krew, my awesome Facebook reader group, to all my newsletter subscribers, and to Liz Berry for suggesting that I turn much shorter bonus content into this full novel!

  This story started out as bonus content in my newsletter, with a chapter appearing every month in its raw, unedited, straight-from-my-computer-with-no-plan form. Readers and I had such fun with the story that I ended up cleaning it up and significantly expanding it into this book for 1001 Dark Nights after chatting with Liz about it at a conference last year.

  So thanks to all of you! And I’m onto another story in my newsletter now! Subscribe so that you don’t miss a thing!

  Join JK’s Facebook group!

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  As a bonus, all subscribers can download FIVE FREE exclusive books!

  Table of Contents

  Book Description

  About J. Kenner

  Also from J. Kenner

  Acknowledgments from the Author


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen
r />   Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Discover 1001 Dark Nights Collection Seven

  Discover More J. Kenner

  Discover the World of 1001 Dark Nights

  Special Thanks


  Ryan Hunter watched the young woman he’d been hired to protect absently spin the gold ring on her finger. He doubted she even realized what she was doing. Instead, she was absorbed by the view outside the train’s window. The moonlit sand. The craggy mountains beyond. And the danger hiding in the moon-cast shadows.


  She jumped, then turned to face him, her brown eyes bloodshot and puffy. An apologetic smile touched her lips as she pushed a lock of midnight-black hair off of her face, the dark curl in contrast to her pale skin, paler now that all of her makeup had sloughed off during their escape.

  She seemed to look right through him, and he imagined she was looking back at the bomb-shattered buildings. The bodies scattered in the streets. They might be miles away now, but he was certain she could still see them. God knew he could.

  With a sigh, she turned back to the window. “It looks so peaceful,” she said, her soft British accent contrasting with the hard reality that surrounded them. “I can barely wrap my head around the reality that there’s a coup going on. An actual coup. And that we’re right in the middle of it.” She bit her lower lip, then pulled the shade down, obscuring the view.

  For a moment, she simply sat there, staring at the now-blocked window. Then she turned to face him, her expressionless eyes meeting his as she asked, very simply, “Are we going to get out of this alive?” She looked calm. As if the world of military coups and midnight escapes was old hat to her. Only the slight quiver in her voice gave away her simmering terror.

  He took her hands, planning to spew all the platitudes that he knew she wanted to hear. Of course they were going to get out. Of course they would be just fine. That was why her father had hired a security firm. That’s why the firm had sent Ryan. That’s why they were moving quickly and carefully.

  But he didn’t say any of that. She deserved the truth. More than that, she was smart enough to already know it. “We’re damn well going to try.”

  For a moment, she just held tight to him, as if he truly had the power to ensure her safety. Then she pulled her hands free, crossed her arms over her chest, and tucked her hands into her armpits as she hugged herself tight. Her thin shoulders rose and fell, and she nodded slowly, as if absorbing his words. “I hate myself for being so stupid.”

  “You aren’t stupid.”

  She cocked her head, looking ridiculously young. “I followed a man I barely knew to an unstable country in the Middle East. A country I’m not even sure existed a month ago, and I’m pretty sure won’t exist next week. If it’s even still a country right now, and not just a bombed-out hole in the ground.”

  Ryan bit back a grimace. She wasn’t wrong. They were deep inside disputed territory, peaceful only days ago, but now a hotbed of militant activity. And, yes, all the signs that the region was unstable had been there from the moment that Felicia had left London. One glance at a newspaper or one search on the Internet would have revealed the nature of the conflict and the danger of traveling to this part of the globe. Maybe she’d still have come and maybe she wouldn’t have, but there would have been no denying the red flags.

  But she’d done none of that. She’d met a man and fallen hard. She’d wanted him, and Felicia Cartwright was used to getting what she wanted.

  So when Mikal Safar had invited her back to meet his wealthy and politically powerful family, she’d gone without hesitation. But never once did she expect that dissidents would rise up. And she certainly never anticipated that they would murder Mikal and his father, thus inciting a rebellion that threatened the life of everyone with any sort of connection to Mikal’s father or the other government leaders.

  In fairness, after reading the pre-mission dossier, Ryan understood how Felicia had gotten herself mixed up in the mess. Felicia had grown up like a princess herself, her royal blood of the kind that was bestowed by generations of wealth, not birth. Her mother had died in childbirth, and Randall Cartwright had doted on his little girl, showering her with love, affection, and as many toys and luxuries as the London-based millionaire could afford. Which, as far as Ryan could tell, meant all of them.

  Felicia was completely spoiled, used to getting her own way, and stubborn as hell. But despite all that, Ryan liked her. The girl had spunk, that was for sure. And she was an intriguing mixture of hard edges and soft personality. Like cotton candy encased in steel.

  As if to prove the point, she cocked her head, staring him down. “See? You know I’m right. You’re just afraid that if you admit that I’m an idiot, Daddy won’t pay your fee.”

  He chuckled, her self-deprecating comment settling them both. “Your father knows you’re not an idiot. But he also knows you are impulsive. And sometimes that looks like the same thing.”

  “Either way, we get to the same point. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t have followed Mikal. And the day he disappeared, I should have headed straight for the border. Thank goodness the old lady—”

  She broke off, choking back a sob. One of the servants in the Safar household had warned her that Mikal’s disappearance wasn’t because he’d been trying to escape before the coup—rudely not taking her with him—but that he’d been captured and beheaded. And then, with Felicia still reeling with shock, she’d warned the girl to do whatever she could to escape before she was also killed by the dissidents—or worse.

  Ryan leaned forward, then used a finger to lift her chin, making a point to meet her chocolate brown eyes straight on. “You made an impulsive decision to follow a man you cared about, that’s true. But it’s also an age-old story. Don’t beat yourself up for underestimating what you were getting yourself into. This isn’t your world. You had no point of reference. And even if you’d paid attention and knew that the area was unstable, you trusted Mikal.”

  She sniffled and nodded. “I did. I know I probably shouldn’t have—not after only knowing him such a short time—but I really and truly did.”

  “And from what I know of him, he was an upstanding man. Look at me,” he demanded when she cast her eyes down. “You were sharp enough to trust that woman, and you called for help immediately. You didn’t cry or hesitate. Despite your grief, you acted.”

  She rolled her eyes. “I did what I always do. I called my daddy. And he called you. So much for bravery.”

  “Don’t you dare denigrate your actions. It wasn’t as easy as pushing speed dial, and we both know it.” The rebels had shut down cellular service, and she’d had to sneak into an occupied office building to find an outgoing landline. It had been that single act of cunning and bravery that made Ryan certain that she could handle whatever they would face during this escape.

  Unfortunately, not breaking down into tears and self-pity wasn’t the same thing as surviving. And as Mikal’s guest, she was on the dissidents’ radar. That made this whole thing a much more dangerous ordeal.

  He drew a breath. “You’re smart. You’re resourceful. And you did the right thing. Don’t go soft on me now.”

  “I’m sorry, you know.”

  “About what?”

  She rolled her eyes. “All of this. It’s my fault that you’re stuck in the middle of the danger with me.”

  “Well, that’s my job. I think we can give you a pass on that, okay?”

  Her smile quivered a bit, but she nodded. She had a thin blanket, and she pulled it up over her stained white blouse.

  “Try to get some sleep,” he said. “We both need it, and so long as the train’s moving, we’re safe.”

  “Okay,” she said, her heavy lids already drooping. A few moments later, her breathing became even, and he knew that she�
��d drifted off despite her fears. Not surprising. They’d been on the run for three days, working their way desperately toward the river—and the border that ran right down the middle of those deep, churning waters.

  All they had to do was make it over the bridge and past the checkpoint, and they’d be home free.

  The checkpoint.

  That was going to be the tricky part. But hopefully it would go seamlessly. It had to, as he had no one he could call on for backup. Not now. He was on his own until he crossed that line. No allies, no resources. But once they were past the checkpoint, he could radio for support. He’d have air transport, backup.

  He’d have the means to get her safe and home.

  Three hundred miles.

  They’d come so far already. Surely, he could take her that much further.

  He leaned back, closed his eyes, and let the rumble of the train against his back soothe him into sleep.

  * * * *

  “What’s happening?”

  “We’re slowing. I’m not sure why.” His tense words seemed to underscore the cha-cha-chunk of the train, a harsh reminder that although they were moving, their destination remained elusive.

  He’d awakened before Felicia, as soon as the rhythm of the wheels on the track had slowed. He’d sat quietly, studying the gray landscape, growing darker as the moon set behind the distant mountains. Now he turned his attention to her, forcing a smile in the hopes of keeping her calm as the hours wore on. He took her hand, his thumb brushing the gold ring on her finger. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of you.”

  Even in the dim light, he could see the blush rise up her neck to settle on her cheeks. She pressed her lips together, then nodded. “Ryan,” she said, then cleared her throat. “Do you think it’s us? Do they know we’re on board?”