Say my name, p.10
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       Say My Name, p.10

         Part #1 of Stark International Trilogy series by J. Kenner
 
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  I was shameless, standing there with this man on his knees in front of me, his mouth so violently tormenting me. And yet all I wanted was more. All I craved was everything.

  "Please," I begged, when I was certain that I could take it no more. "Please, Jackson."

  "Tell me what you want," he whispered, pulling his mouth away just long enough to murmur the words against my skin.

  "You. Oh, god, please. I want you."

  "At your service," he said as he stood and drew me to the couch. With casual ease, he tossed off his shirt, then took off his jeans. He wore briefs, and before he removed them I could see the hard, thick bulge of his erection. And when he did take them off, I drew in a breath, awed by the sheer perfection of this man's body. A man who'd surely been carved by the gods on a particularly good day. He'd taken a condom packet out of his pocket, and I watched, mesmerized, as he rolled the condom on.

  Then he sat on the couch and held out his hand. I went eagerly, then straddled him, feeling the hard, enticing heat of him at my core. "I want to watch your face when you come," he said. "And I want you to take what you need."

  I licked my lips, realizing that he wanted me to be in charge. To thrust myself down on him. To ride him. To bring us both to the peak.

  And oh, dear god, I wanted that, too.

  It was familiar territory, being the one in control. Except with Jackson, I knew damn well that he'd never truly relinquished his hold.

  And in his arms, I really didn't care.

  "That's it, baby," he said, as I moved over him. Teasing both of us with the tip of his cock.

  He took my mouth then, kissing me rough and deep, and I thrust downward, so wet that it was easy to take all of him, and then to rise up on my legs and then ease my body down again. Slowly. Torturously. Letting the pleasure--and the anticipation--build.

  I met his eyes and saw understanding. "You're a tease."

  "No," I countered. "I just want it to last."

  But neither of us could hold out, and soon he took my hips and guided my motions. "I thought I was in charge," I gasped.

  "To hell with that," he said. "I want to feel you explode."

  Harder and harder, deeper and deeper. I impaled myself over and over on him, taking everything, wanting everything. His touch, his passion, the explosion that was about to ricochet through both of us.

  And when it did--when my whole body clenched around his cock and the world spun full of color and light--I screamed his name, just as he'd said I would.

  "I don't think I'll ever move again," I whispered as I fell forward against him, my arms around his neck.

  "You will." He shifted us both, then picked me up and carried me naked to the bedroom. And he was right. When he slid on top of me--when he kissed and caressed me--when he made love to me softly and sweetly, I moved again just fine.

  And then I snuggled close and thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd actually won.

  But that wasn't true.

  I hadn't won at all.

  And when the dark gray fingers came to me in dreams, I realized for the first time how much I'd truly lost, and how much my past had cost me.

  seven

  I stare at the gray stucco building with the gray steel door, then cringe as it pulses red.

  I turn in the car to look at my father, sure that he has seen it, too. Certain that he won't make me go in there again. Because it's bad, like a horror movie. And I don't want to be the girl in the horror movie who walks right into the scary place.

  "Daddy ..."

  "Go on, Elle," he says. "You're going to be late."

  "It's Sylvia now." I am Eleanor Sylvia Brooks, and I've gone by Elle for all of my life. Until Bob started calling me that. Now, at fourteen, I hate my name. Now, I go by Sylvia.

  "I know," my dad says. "I know everything that goes on in there. I'm the one who arranged this, after all."

  "You know?" My brow creases. "You really know?"

  "He told you so, didn't he?"

  I think about what Bob had said last week when he had his fingers in my panties. About how he'd made this arrangement with my dad. About how we were getting good money. A lot more than a silly picture is worth, especially when he doesn't even sell all of the pictures he takes. "You're pretty, Elle, but do you really think you'll grow up to be a model?"

  I shake my head.

  "So ask yourself what it is I'm paying your dad for."

  "He wouldn't do that," I say, but maybe he would. Because we need this money.

  Suddenly, my brother, Ethan, is in the backseat of the car. "It's okay because you love me. And if you stop and I die, it'll be all your fault."

  My mother appears beside him. "What teenager wouldn't want to be a model? You're so, so lucky. And already you're in an ad!"

  She holds up the back-to-school ad for a local store. I'm confused for a moment because we haven't shot that ad yet, but then I remember that this is a dream, and when I remember that, my mom and my brother disappear.

  "Time to go in," my dad says, and now I'm inside the building, leaning against a wall. Across the room, I see myself.

  The other me is leaning against a fake Roman column. Bob is in front of me. He's a photographer who does a lot of stock photo work that he sells to advertisers, graphic designers, and the like. His name is Cabot, but I'm supposed to call him Bob.

  I have no idea how old he is, but I think probably in his early thirties. He's clean shaven with silky dark hair that brushes his shoulders, and which he ties back with a leather band sometimes when he's working. When I first met him, I thought he was cute. Now, seeing him makes me want to throw up.

  I glance around the studio to see if anyone else is here. Bob has interns and a few assistants. Even a woman who comes in with a wardrobe rack. But there is no one today.

  And I know why.

  "Okay, Elle," he says. "That's good, but not quite there."

  He moves in front of me and turns on a fan. My hair--still long, still wavy--starts to flutter in the soft wind.

  "Oh, yeah. That's awesome. Seriously perfect for this shot."

  My stomach clenches.

  "The dress, though ..."

  He moves to me, and even though I am standing in the shadows of the far side of the room, I can feel the brush of his fingers as he adjusts the other me's dress. It's pale blue and short, with buttons down the front and a fitted waist. The material is thin enough to have been caught by the manufactured breeze, and it flutters against my thighs.

  "That's better," he says after he's unfastened the top two buttons. "But your face. Come on, Elle, I'm going for a certain look. A softness. A sensuality. Can you give me that?"

  I watch as my mouth tightens into a firm line. I say nothing.

  "Put your arms above you," he says. "Hold on to the column."

  I do.

  "Good girl. And what a nice clean line that makes." He trails his finger down my arm, then over the swell of my breast. He stops there, cupping my breast. I watch as the other me closes her eyes.

  "Actually," he says, "that's not bad. The young and nubile female against the Roman pillar. It's almost like a mythological theme. Almost like you're Aphrodite." He starts to unbutton my dress.

  "No!" I say from my place in the shadows.

  "Don't," I say at the column.

  "Who's in charge here?" he asks. "What am I paying for? While you're here, you're mine, remember? You have to trust me. It's my job to make you look good, right?"

  He pulls open the dress front, revealing my breasts, tight in the too-small bra.

  I see myself squeeze my eyes tighter.

  "Not gonna be a good shot if you don't relax. But don't worry, Elle. That's part of my job. To make sure you look right on camera. To make sure you relax completely."

  As he talks, he's undoing the rest of the buttons. I watch as he strokes me, as he touches me. I remember all the things he's done--all the things he's doing right now. Where his hands are. Where his mouth is.

  I don't watch hi
m--I can't. The world around me is turning gray and all I want to do is escape from these memories, but how can I leave when I would still be trapped here, that other me, angry and scared and so, so ashamed.

  I hear Bob's words, raw and needy, and grit my teeth. I keep my eyes locked on the other me's face. That me is still standing, arms still above her head. And Bob is on his knees in front of me. He isn't talking now.

  I scream for the other me to push him away. To slam her hands down and crack his head. To thrust a knee up and break his jaw.

  But she doesn't. The opposite in fact, as she slowly loses control.

  Her clenched jaw loosens. Her lips part. Her skin flushes. I see her body writhe. Her little gasps.

  And then there is that building pressure. The sense of an impending explosion. It's filling her--me--us. And oh, fuck, it feels good. And it's getting bigger and bigger and I look down, but it's not Bob who's touching us. Using us.

  It's Jackson.

  And that's when it hits. A fierce orgasm rocks through me, and I realize that there is no other me. There's just Elle. Just Sylvia.

  Just shame. And confusion. And the cold, deep fear that if I keep breaking like this, I'll never manage to put myself together.

  The sound of my scream yanks me from both the nightmare and the memory.

  I glance around, afraid that people have heard me. But I only screamed in my head.

  I stand still and draw in one breath and then another, trying to shake the nightmare as I get my bearings. I'm in Los Angeles. I'm on Hollywood Boulevard. I'm standing on the sidewalk by the entrance to the Hollywood and Vine subway station, and I'm holding on tight to a signpost.

  Atlanta is gone.

  The past is gone.

  But the dream still lingers. And Jackson--the man I could have loved, the man I brutally left--lingers as well.

  I drag my fingers through my hair. I'd been so lost in my memories--so wrapped up in Jackson--that I hadn't been paying attention. I've walked several blocks--a solid fifteen minute walk--without even realizing what I was doing.

  "Shit."

  I bite out the curse, more scared than angry, because it's been a long time since I've disappeared into myself like that. I tell myself that it's okay. I'm just edgy and unsteady. But as I stand there, fighting the memories and the fear and the horrible nausea, I know that I have to get my shit together.

  I glance around once again, but more for show than to actually get my bearings. I know where I am. More than that, I know what I want. What I need.

  I'm practically vibrating with pent-up energy, and I need to burn it. Need to take control, be the one in charge.

  And I know exactly how to manage that.

  I turn off Hollywood Boulevard and head up Vine. In front of me, the cylindrical Capitol Records Building rises into the night sky, as if lighting my way. I'm not going that far, though. Instead, I'm heading for Avalon, an iconic Hollywood hotspot that's been around in various incarnations since the twenties. Currently, it's a popular dance club with excellent DJs and pretty fine techno music on Fridays. More importantly, it's got a stellar dance floor and guaranteed crowds. I know, because this is where I used to come to lose myself in the days before Jackson.

  I still come to dance or cut loose when I've had a crappy day. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. But that's all about the beat. Getting lost in the music.

  That's not why I'm here now.

  Tonight, I'm broken. And I'm willing to fix myself the only way I know how.

  As usual, there's a line, but it moves fast, and soon enough I'm through the doors, trading the traffic sounds and Hollywood lights for a raucous techno-beat and the violent pop of purple, white, and blue lights shifting and changing over a dance floor full of writhing, throbbing bodies. There, I think, and start to edge myself through the crowd.

  I scan faces as I go, searching for the right one. Because this isn't about dancing. It's about shaking off this entire fucking day. It's about erasing my memories and my nightmares.

  Mostly, it's about proving that I'm no longer some weak little girl to be intimidated and frightened.

  It's more than that, too, and I damn well know it. This is about Jackson. About the way he blew me off. About the way he touched me. And about the goddamn devil's bargain he tried to toss at me.

  A bargain that I know damn well I can't take, because didn't I run from him once already?

  I'm on the dance floor, hands in the air and my hips moving in time with the music when I see him. Not Jackson--not even close, really. But he's tall and he's dark and right then, that's good enough. He's standing by the stage, not dancing, but bouncing a little. He's holding a highball glass with what looks like watered down whiskey, and every few moments, he takes a sip. I dance my way over to him, getting up close and personal with a few other candidates in the process, then pause in front of the one I picked.

  "You're doing it all wrong," I say.

  He cups his hand by his ear. "What?"

  I lean close so that my lips are almost brushing his temple. "I said, you're doing it all wrong."

  "Doing what?"

  I take the glass out of his hand and set it on a nearby speaker. "Dancing," I say, as I grab both of his hands with my own. "I'll show you how to do it right."

  I lead him out onto the floor, not giving him a chance to protest. We slide in among other sweaty, pulsing couples. Touching, flirting, getting dangerously close and then pulling away. The mating dance of the young and single, and this man and I are going at it in full force. Building and building, hands to hands, hips to hips. And when I look at his face and see that he wants me, I know it's time for step two.

  Breathing hard, I move in close and hook my arms around his neck. "So, what's your name?"

  "Louis Dale. What's yours?"

  I shake my head. "Nope, that's not the way we play this game, Louis."

  "What game?"

  But all I do is smile and give him my hand. "Do you have a car nearby?"

  "I--oh, yeah. Yeah, I sure do."

  I let him lead me out of the club, then across the street to a pay-to-park lot. He stops in front of a sporty gray Lexus. "Nice ride," I say, easing in so that his back is against the car. My palms are flat against his chest. "What else have you got for me that's nice?"

  I press close, reveling in that rush of satisfaction when I feel him hard against me. I don't want him--not really--but I do want this. The control. The power. The knowing that whatever I give or take tonight is because I'm giving or I'm taking. It's been years since I've needed to feel that so tangibly, but dammit all to hell, I need it tonight.

  "I think we need a hotel, Louis, don't you?"

  "Hell yes," he says, then pushes me back and spins me around so that it is my back against the car and he's crushed up against me. He's breathing hard, leaning in for a kiss, but I only turn my head.

  "Not just yet," I say, because I'm the one in control tonight. But then I gasp as Louis is ripped away from me, the look of shock on his face almost comic as he stumbles backward, then lands on his ass a good two yards away.

  "Not just yet?" Jackson growls. "Try not ever." He grabs my hand and yanks me to him with such force that I fall against him. His arm goes immediately around my waist and despite my shock and anger--despite my embarrassment--I can't help the wash of both relief and longing that crashes over me like a wave.

  But I don't want to be relieved, and so I shove violently back from him, burying the depth of my discomfort under the force of my words. "What the hell? What the hell do you think you're doing?"

  He ignores me, but aims his finger at Louis. "You. Get the fuck out of here."

  Louis's eyes dart sideways--not to me so much as to the car. Then he sort of crab-walks backward before stumbling to his feet and holding his hands up in supplication. "Hey, man, she--"

  "Go," Jackson says.

  Louis obeys, racing across to the far side of the parking lot.

  As soon as he disappears into the shadows, J
ackson grabs my arms. He yanks me toward him, so close we are breathing each other's air. He is vibrating with fury, and for a moment I can't tell if he wants to kiss me or hit me.

  He does neither.

  I see the struggle play out on his face, and then he slams me backward against Louis's car. "What the fuck are you doing?" he demands. "You want danger? Try me, Sylvia, because you have no idea how dangerous I can be." He tightens his grip on my arms. "Or maybe you want anonymous? Me again--because if you think you know me, princess, I promise you don't."

  "Jackson--"

  "No." He releases one hand long enough to run his fingers through his hair, then pushes roughly back from me, breaking our connection completely. I press my hands against the side of the car, forcing myself to stay put, to stay still. Because goddamn me all to hell, in that moment I truly don't know if I want to slap the shit out of him or wrap myself in his arms.

  "You really think you can come back after all this time and bat your lashes and have me fall backward over myself to help you out?"

  "It's not like that. I--"

  "And for him--for Damien Fucking Stark? We're done, princess," he says, lifting a finger toward my face. "You told me to leave, sweetheart. And five years later you fall back into my life. And pretty goddamn dramatically, too."

  I lick my lips. "It's just business."

  "The hell it is." I hear the sharp edge of emotion in his voice, as dangerous as a well-honed blade. The fight is obvious on his face, as well, and I press back against the car, wishing I could disappear through the metal. He's fire and fury, and I have no idea what he is going to do. All I know is that all that passion is directed toward me, and that no matter what happens, I won't leave this parking lot unscathed.

  I see it in his eyes first--a quick flash of wildness before his hand lashes out and his palm slams hard against the Lexus. Then he pulls me close, and I don't even have time to think before his mouth closes over mine.

  The kiss is violent. Wild and desperate. And when I gasp, he takes advantage, thrusting his tongue into my mouth as one hand holds my head and the other slides up my chest to cup my breast. He deepens the kiss, claiming me with such intensity that I know I would not be standing were it not for his hands upon me.

  The thin material of my dress does little to hide the heat of his hand, and even less to hide my arousal. My breast is heavy and with every stroke of his thumb against my painfully erect nipple, I want to beg him to just pull the damn dress down and let me feel skin on skin.

 
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