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Tempt Me: A Stark International Novella, Page 2

J. Kenner

  His laugh is low and throaty, and he slips one hand off my hip then slides it around to tease my clit. He's thrusting slower now, and when he takes his other hand from my hip, I bite my lower lip, unsure what he's up to. But then I feel his fingertip stroking from my vagina to my ass, and my body shakes under the onslaught of my coming orgasm, my cunt tightening around his rock-hard cock.

  "That's it, baby. I want to make you crazy."

  I'm desperately wet, and when he teases my anus with his thumb, it's wet and slick with my own desire. Then he presses it inside me, slowly at first, and then faster as I relax, so that his finger fucks my ass as his cock pumps harder and harder, the tempo increasing again until I am reduced to little more than sensation and need and greedy lust.

  His fingertip teases my clit as he thrusts his finger and his cock harder and harder, and I piston my hips, wanting this to continue forever almost as much as I want to explode right this very moment. I want to shatter.

  I want it to never be over.

  I want Hunter.

  "Ryan," I beg. "God, Ryan, please."

  And then, without warning, my muscles clench tight around him, my whole body shot through with electricity, my core milking him as he cries out too as his body explodes inside of me, and I'm twisting and moaning, wanting both to escape from this onslaught of sensation and to experience it fully. I'm lost in a dance of colors so wild, so incredible, so intensely beautiful, that I'm certain this must be what heaven looks like. At least, it's the heaven that Hunter and I made together.

  Slowly, I come back to my senses, and realize that I'm biting down hard on the pillow, as if that was my tether to the earth.

  Ryan has moved beside me, and now he cradles me against the warmth of his body.

  "I think you broke me," I murmur, and though I can't hear his responding laugh, I feel the rumble in his chest.

  "I hope it was worth it."

  I shift so that I'm facing him, our legs intertwined, his semi-erect cock brushing against my sensitive pussy. "Very," I say, then reach down and gently stroke him.

  I see a flare of heat in his eyes and his cock twitches with obvious interest. But while the body is obviously willing, the man shakes his head, and I still my hand. "That was your wake-up call. Good morning," he says, then kisses my nose.

  "If that was a wake-up call, I'm giving up my alarm clock and relying on you every day."

  "I wouldn't protest," he says. And though he'd shaken his head just a moment before, he reaches down and slides my hand over his cock, obviously ordering me to start stroking him again.

  I lift a brow, amused. "Or maybe we should always set an alarm. That way we remember to wake up and fuck."

  "I don't need a reminder to remember to make love to you."

  I grin. "No?"


  I sigh, knowing that's the truth.

  Ryan and I have been together for a couple of years now, and I've never felt happier or more loved. He's truly my knight. A man who, quite literally, rescued me when I tried to run away. From him. From a life that really wasn't working out the way I wanted or had imagined.

  Now, though, I have him, and every day feels like a gift. He's loyal, protective, and sexy as hell. And I've gone from being a girl who went through men as if they were candy--sweet, delicious, but not something good for you--to being a woman who knows that Ryan is the best thing that ever happened to me. He loves me--faults and bad choices and all.

  And that's a damn nice feeling.

  Lord knows he's seen me at my worst. He's the Security Chief at Stark International, and his boss and best friend is Damien Stark, the multi-billionaire who happens to be my best friend's husband. So Ryan has had a bird's-eye view of so many of my bad choices. He's seen me drunk. He's seen me dumped. He's seen a parade of bad choices pass in front of me, and he knew damn well they were passing through my bed.

  And yet all that time, he'd wanted me. Not as a fast fuck, but as something more. And he'd gone after me with singular determination.

  I'd been terrified at first.

  Now, I don't know how I could survive without him beside me.

  Hell, he loves me so much that he wants to marry me--and that's a nice feeling, too. But it's tainted by a black thread of fear. Because while I'm happy with the thought of spending the rest of my life with Ryan, the idea of formalizing it with marriage vows makes me twitchy.

  It's making me twitchy now, just thinking about it. And so, like I often do, I brush the thought from my head and roll over to curl up closer to him. I breathe in his scent and sigh, because he smells like home. "I like having days off," I murmur. "I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it when my weekends were free." I've recently landed a job as a weekend anchor for a local news affiliate. It's a great gig, but I do miss these lazy Sundays.

  "Well, we can't be too lazy. We're meeting Nikki and Damien over at Jackson and Sylvia's place. And," he adds, glancing down at his now steel-hard erection that I'm stroking, "I think we're going to be late as it is."

  "Phhht." I wave my other hand as if brushing away his words. "They have a house. They have kids. They're not going anywhere." I give his shoulder a shove, so that I push him onto his back as I release his cock. In the same movement, I straddle him, nice and low on the hips. Then I start to move, wiggling my ass just a little as I lean forward, sliding my hands slowly up his rock-hard abs, then higher and higher until I'm pretty much doing yoga on the man, as my torso is flat against his, while my legs are still spread across him, and the head of his cock teases my rear.

  And I'm wet--so wet and so turned on all over again. I shimmy a bit, wanting to feel the hair above his cock rough against my sensitive clit. And his cock--oh, yes--I want that bad. I lift my hips in slow, easy movements so that his shaft slides along the crack of my rear.

  I meet his eyes--and I see both amusement and a wild heat reflected back at me. "No more teasing," he says. "Slide that beautiful pussy down and fuck me."

  "Yes, sir," I say, then do exactly as he says, drawing him in so slowly we both are going crazy with need. And then, when he's deep inside me, we rock together in slow, sensual motions.

  "Kiss me," he says, and I close my mouth over his, losing myself in the sensation of being body on body like this, so close I can't tell if the heartbeat I'm feeling belongs to Ryan or me.

  We move slowly at first, but there's no holding back, and soon our motions are frenzied. Soon, he's exploding inside me. Soon, I shatter in his arms.

  "Oh, baby," he murmurs when we're sane again and he's looking at my face with eyes filled with love. "You are so beautiful."

  I bend and kiss him--my heart overflowing. And I can't help but think how different it is with Ryan than the men I'd been with before. Before, when a guy called me beautiful, I'd mentally cringed, at least a little.

  Because the truth is, I am beautiful. It's not an ego thing--it's just an empirical fact. It's useful, and I've definitely traded on it. But it's not who I am. Not the heart of me. And in my life BR--Before Ryan--whenever a guy called me beautiful, I never knew if he cared about me, or if he was just happy to have a pretty piece of ass.

  With Ryan, I know without a doubt that he loves me. And the beauty he sees in me is more than what a camera sees.

  He sees the whole woman. A lover, a friend. He sees a girl he can laugh with. That he can talk to. A woman to spend long, lazy nights with. A woman with hopes and dreams and fears and doubts.

  He sees me. Jamie Archer. And that's a really nice feeling.

  "I love you," I say, those little words just spilling out of me. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

  The moment I say the words, though, I regret them. Not because they aren't true--they are. But because I can see the response on Ryan's face, though he knows enough not to say the words out loud.

  If that's true, then why won't you marry me?

  God knows he understands marriage scares me. And, thankfully, he's patient.

  But the day will come when
understanding won't be enough and when his patience has worn thin.

  He'll want an answer. A solid yes or a solid no.

  And what the hell am I going to do then?

  Chapter Two

  "Again, Miss Jamie! Again!"

  "Again?" I ask, as I come around the swing so that I can look into Ronnie's big blue eyes, so wide and innocent and pleading. "Aren't you tired? Wouldn't you rather play with your brother in the sandbox?"

  Her lips purse as she tilts her head sideways. She's almost six, and she takes every question very seriously. "No," she says after a moment of deep thought. "Wanna swing more. Wanna go higher. Please, Miss Jamie. Please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeeese?"

  As the final plea is still ringing in the air, my BFF and Ronnie's aunt--Nikki Stark--walks by carrying two paper plates. One with a hamburger patty, a few cubes of cheese, and four apple slices. The other with a burger piled so high with cheese and lettuce and tomatoes it makes my mouth water. "You may as well give in," Nikki says to me. "The kid's relentless."

  "I am," Ronnie says eagerly. "I'm rent-less! So push, Miss Jamie. Push me higher. Please, please, pretty please."

  I catch Nikki's eye just long enough to see her smirk before she continues on toward the sandbox, where Ronnie's little brother, Jeffery, is building a castle with the kids' nanny, Stella. Although building is a bit of an exaggeration; he's still baby enough that Stella is doing most of the work, and Jeffery is mostly a destructive, sand-tossing force.

  "Burgers are ready!" Sylvia, the kids' mother, calls to us from the rooftop patio of the amazing house that her husband, the world-renowned architect Jackson Steele, designed. "Ronnie, come get yours, and then you can play with Jeffery and Stella while Jamie takes a break. Otherwise, you're going to wear her out."

  Ronnie nods obediently, but then she tilts her head up to me, her expression earnest. "Please?" This time, the word emerges as a whisper. "Just one time?"

  "One push," I say, fighting a smile. "Then you go get your burger like your mom said."

  She nods eagerly, black curls bouncing, and I move around to give her one big push. Then I surprise her with just one more, and she squeals and kicks her legs and cries out, "I'm flying! I'm flying!"

  "You sure are, rug rat," I say. "And when you come down, you go get your burger, okay?"

  "Yes, ma'am," she answers politely, but her legs are still kicking and she's still pushing toward the sky as I fall in step beside Nikki, who's back from delivering the meals to Stella and Jeffery.

  We walk in silence for a few moments, but as we approach the house, Nikki slows. I match her pace until we end up at a standstill at the base of the outdoor staircase that leads up to the roof.

  I point up to where Syl and the men are waiting for us. "Are we--?"

  "In a minute." Nikki cocks her head, then crosses her arms over her chest. "Well?"

  I shake my head, completely baffled.

  "Don't even," Nikki says. "I know you too well. Something's up." Her eyes narrow. "Did Ryan quit hinting around and finally ask you to marry him?"

  "What? No." I frown. "Why do you think so?"

  "Because you're acting like you have every time he's brought up the subject."

  "I am not," I say, but I'm speaking automatically, and when I actually think about it, I have to agree that she's right.

  "Oh, please," Nikki says, then proceeds to voice what I'm thinking. "You practically jumped at the chance to push Ronnie on the swings."

  "I adore Ronnie," I say truthfully.

  "And," Nikki continues, "instead of dragging Ryan with you like you usually do, you suggested he go help Jackson at the grill."

  "Ryan flips a mean burger," I say, despite the fact that it's a completely lame protest.

  "And you grabbed a chair instead of claiming that double chaise lounge you always take. He noticed, you know."

  I bite my lower lip. "Do you really think he did?"

  She nods. "So what's going on?"

  I drag my fingers through my hair. "Nothing intentional, I promise. I mean, I'm not trying to push him away if that's what you mean. I didn't even realize I was doing any of that. Not until after you said, and--"

  "And I'm right. Yay me. But why? I mean, I get it if he asked you to marry him. Or, rather, I get why you'd be awkward around him. For the record, I don't get why you haven't jumped all over that."

  "He hasn't brought it up since last time. Right before Damien's birthday." My voice is low, almost a whisper.

  "Okay. Fine. But what happened today?"

  I sigh. "I told him I love him. I told him that he's the best thing that ever happened to me."

  Her eyes go wide. "You've never told him you love him?"

  "Oh, sure. Of course, I have. But today--I don't know. It felt different. Like, I don't know..." I trail off with a shrug.

  "Like maybe you actually could marry him?"

  "Well," I say, "now that I think about it, yeah."

  She blinks, and I have the feeling she's trying very hard to organize her thoughts so that she doesn't either laugh or call me a lunatic. "James," she finally says, using the nickname she'd given me ages ago. "I love you. But sometimes I really don't understand you."

  I grimace. "Sometimes, I don't understand me."

  Nikki looks at me but says nothing, so I just keep on talking. "It's just--I don't know. I never thought I could fall in love. I mean, you know me. All sex, no depth. At least until Ryan. And then when he and I got together, I was so scared that I'd lose myself if I became part of a couple. That it would be bliss--but that I'd subjugate my own ambition. I wouldn't go after my dreams because I'd already be living a dream."

  "But you don't think that anymore," Nikki points out. "And Ryan hasn't held you back. You guys are great together and your career is doing amazing and Ryan's your biggest fan."

  "He is," I say. "He really is."

  "How's the present going, by the way?"

  My smile is fast and genuine. "Really great, actually. But I'm going to need your help for a few of the shots later this week." We're talking about a Valentine's Day present for Ryan that I've been working on in my spare time--although with V-Day fast approaching, I need to get moving if I'm going to have it ready by next Saturday, when Ryan and I have impossible-to-get reservations at Bistro 85, the hottest new place in town.

  Valentine's Day is actually just a few days away on Tuesday, but since Ryan has to work on the fourteenth, we're doing our celebration a few days after the rest of the world.

  That's okay by me. I've never been one for following the rules.

  "I'm happy to help," Nikki says. "But what do you need?"

  "Just for you to operate the camera. I need some shots of me with the camera zooming in on my face as I talk. I can't zoom in and out when I shoot from a tripod."

  My new weekend anchor gig is a great stepping stone, but my ambition is to be an on-air reporter covering the entertainment beat. And, after I've gained a following there, I want to host my own entertainment show.

  Ryan knows all that, of course. He more than knows it--he's an ardent champion. He's even gone so far as to arrange meetings for me with network executives he's met through his work. So far, nothing has popped, but that's not for lack of support from the man I love. And so for Valentine's Day, I'm making him a personalized newscast wherein his favorite reporter--me--shares just how amazing he's been in the time we've been together. Amazing in all sorts of ways, including a few that are NC-17. But I'm only recruiting Nikki to help with the PG-13 clips, wherein I tell him just why I'm so madly in love with him.

  Which brings me right back to the central question--if I love him, and he loves me, why the hell am I running?

  "I guess I'm afraid that marriage will mess it all up," I tell Nikki, who doesn't seem at all surprised by my abrupt segue back to the original topic. "That everything is going great now, but that if we get married, we're going to tip the scales and the universe is going to punish us."

  "Do you really believe that?" she as
ks gently. "Did it mess everything up for me and Damien? For Sylvia and Jackson?"

  I lift a shoulder. She's right, of course. Both couples are walking, talking proof that marriage doesn't screw anything up where love is concerned. If anything, it strengthens it. But the difference is that neither Nikki nor Syl were running from love in the first place--they had their issues, and big ones--but they were never afraid of love.

  "I know," I say. "I do. But what if it all goes away? What if I go all in, and then it all shatters under me?"

  She takes my hand, her expression a little sad and a little earnest. "Love's not supposed to be that scary, James."

  "Yeah?" I pull my hand back and shove it in the pocket of my jeans, then look down at the grass. "Then you're doing it wrong. Because I think love's terrifying. Opening your heart like that. Putting yourself on the line."

  I suck in a breath and look up at her, and the thing is that I get it--I really do understand what she's saying. But my heart is refusing to follow where my head's already gone.

  "Right now, everything is great," I continue, trying to put words to this maelstrom of fear and feelings. "Why can't we just stay this way? I mean, if I don't want to get married, why can't he understand and just keep going as is? For me?"

  "But that goes both ways, doesn't it? If you're saying it won't change anything, then why can't you just say yes? For him."

  I scowl at her. "I hate it when you're logical."

  Her smile lights up her face, and in that brief instant, I see again why she won pageant after pageant back when her mother forced her to enter the damn things every fifteen minutes. "All I'm saying is Ryan's a great guy," she says. "And there's nothing wrong with him wanting you as his wife. Wanting a family."

  "He already has me," I say stubbornly. But it's true. I think of the beautiful, silver collar he bought me when we first got serious. I wear it often, though not always. But even so, if that's not proof that he owns me completely, I don't know why a wedding band would make it more real.

  "I know you better than anyone, James, and you know I love you. So trust me when I say this with your best interest at heart--don't let fear screw up the best thing you've got going for you."

  I scowl. But I'm saved from answering by Sylvia's voice calling down from above to Ronnie. Once the little girl leaps from the swing, Sylvia's attention shifts to Nikki and me. "Are you two ever coming up?"