On my knees, p.25
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       On My Knees, p.25

         Part #2 of Stark International Trilogy series by J. Kenner
 
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Jackson winced. He’d completely forgotten about the Halloween party. “You think she’s still coming?”

  “Sylvia’s not one to disappoint a friend. ” Damien pressed a supportive hand to Jackson’s shoulder as he passed. “She’ll be there. Whether or not she’ll talk to you—well, that’s a different story. ”

  And it would be a very public one. If that was his last resort, so be it. But first he was going to search every nook and cranny of this office. And when he found her, he’d let her know that hiding from him was counterproductive to getting anything done on the resort. Because right now, he couldn’t concentrate on design if his life depended on it.

  He needed Sylvia.

  And he was determined.

  He headed to the gym next, following up Damien’s suggestion, and although the girl at the check-in desk told him that Sylvia was running on the treadmill, by the time he got back there, she was gone.

  He couldn’t prove it, but he had a feeling she’d seen him coming.

  Fuck.

  He debated whether continuing to play chase all over the building was worth it, and decided it wasn’t.

  No, time for a new strategy.

  Time to call in the big guns. And as far as Jackson was concerned, that meant Cass.

  He headed back to twenty-six, told Lauren he was gone for the day, and beat a path to Venice Beach.

  He hadn’t yet been to Totally Tattoo, but he found it easily enough. He parked on the street, then went inside, and was greeted by a woman with short, spiky hair, at least a dozen piercings, and a wide, bright smile. “Hey, I’m Joy. Is this your first time to Totally Tattoo?”

  “It is. ”

  “Are you looking for a tat? Piercing? You’d look hot with an eyebrow piercing, you know. It would totally rock that scar. ”

  “I actually want to see Cass. Is she around?”

  “Oh, sure. ” She sucked in a breath, then bellowed, “Cass! You’ve got a walk-in!”

  Jackson kept his lips pressed tightly together, trying to hold back a grin. As soon as Cass appeared, however, he lost it. “Like your front desk girl,” he said as he followed her back to her table. “I think she’ll give me a break on a piercing. ”

  “Are you trying to be funny?”

  “Trying,” he admitted. “Apparently I’m not succeeding. ”

  “Dude, you screwed up so bad you’re going to need Black & Decker to fix the damage. ”

  “Shit. ” He dragged his fingers through his hair. “Do you think I don’t know that? Do you think I haven’t been kicking myself every single minute since I laid into her dad?”

  “Honestly, Jackson, I don’t know what the fuck you were thinking. ”

  He drew in a breath, and in that moment he felt as broken as he’d ever felt. “I can’t not be with her, Cass. ”

  She cocked her head and studied his face. “Then you need to get your act together. Because you’re going to lose her if you don’t give it a rest. ”

  “Have I lost her?” Just asking the question burned a hole in his gut. “Can I fix this?”

  “I don’t know. ” She sighed. “Look, she loves you. I know that. But you know that song? Love is all you need?” He nodded. “Well, it’s bullshit. Love isn’t all you need. You need love and respect and communication and—”

  Jackson couldn’t help it. He pulled her close and kissed her cheek. “Christ, Cassidy. She is so damn lucky to have you. ”

  “Hell, yeah, she is. ” She plunked herself down on her stool and studied him. “So what are you going to do?”

  “Whatever I have to. I fucked up, and I’m going to make it right. I can’t lose her, Cass. I love her. ”

  Cass’s smile spread wide. “Good answer. But I’m not the one you need to be saying that to. ”

  “No,” he said, “you’re not. ” He checked his watch. “Jamie’s party’s in a few hours. She’s still going, right?”

  “Yup. Siobhan and I are picking her up at eight. ”

  “Good. That leaves us just enough time. ”

  “For what?” she asked.

  He met her eyes. “There’s something I need you to do for me. ”

  twenty-six

  I’m not wearing the biker jacket—I tried, but all it did was make me long for Jackson. All it did was confuse me, because I want him beside me—I’m craving his touch. I miss talking with him. I miss being with him. Page 100

  And despite the way he fucked up, I miss the way that he understands me.

  But at the same time I want to push him away. To scream and yell and demand that he tell me how he could have done this. How he could have taken everything good between us and turned it so horribly, terribly around.

  How he could have screwed me over like he did.

  Him. The man who knows me so well. Or, at least, who I thought knew me so well.

  “Did you come to the party as you?”

  I look up to see Nikki smiling at me, looking fabulous in a Native American princess outfit. We’re in the kitchen of Jamie’s condo. I’d come here to hide from the crowd that fills this small apartment and has overflowed to the pool area downstairs.

  “What?” I say stupidly.

  “Your costume. Or lack thereof. ”

  “Oh. No, I’m an alien. ” I grin, then indicate my pink T-shirt and pleated white skirt. “I’m from a planet far, far away and I’m blending in seamlessly with the local population. ” After I abandoned the biker idea, I didn’t have the heart to wear anything else. So I just wore my regular clothes. So far, everyone who asks likes my answer.

  Nikki doesn’t look fooled, though. “I saw Cass. I’m sorry. ”

  “What did she tell you?”

  “Nasty fight. Possible pending reconciliation, but the jury is still out. ”

  I grimace. “Yeah, that’s pretty much the sum of it. ”

  “It’s nice you came. Jamie would have understood if you skipped out. ”

  I lift a shoulder. “I didn’t want to blow her off. But I am feeling a little … I don’t know … unfestive. ”

  “Like I said, I think you have license to leave. But if you just need time to get a grip, you can use my old bedroom. ” She points to the two steps that lead up to the condo’s two bedrooms. “Jamie uses it as an office now. So there’s a couch. I’m pretty sure it’s unlocked, but if you want I’ll ask and grab you the key. ”

  I shake my head. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine. ”

  “Men fuck up, you know. Except for Damien,” she adds with a completely straight face. “He’s perfectly perfect. ”

  She manages to hold it together for a minute, and then we both laugh.

  “You’re telling me I should forgive him?”

  She lifts a shoulder. “I don’t know what he did, so I can’t really say. But I do know how the two of you are together, and I hate to see you both hurting. That’s all. ”

  Behind us, Cass and Siobhan and Jamie step into the kitchen. It’s galley style, and with the five of us, it’s a little crowded.

  “Are we gossiping?” Jamie asks.

  “Always,” Nikki says.

  “Cool,” Jamie says. “What about?”

  “Boyfriend drama,” Cass says. “See, this is why I’m a lesbian. ”

  “I thought you were a lesbian because I’m so good in bed,” Siobhan snaps back, making us all laugh.

  “This is the Jackson thing, right?” Jamie asks. She points at me before I can answer. “See, your problem is that you guys have been in bliss. So it’s confusing. ”

  “Um, what is?” She’s right. I’m very confused.

  “Fighting. You have a fight and you think it’s the end of the world. ”

  “It wasn’t exactly a fight,” I say. “He did something—”

  “Boneheaded,” Cass says.

  “And that’s breaking news?” Jamie asks. “He’s a guy, right? He’s got a dick and all the parts?”

  “Last
I checked,” I say wryly.

  “And this is your first big fight?”

  I think about that. And realize that it is. We’ve butted heads about secrets before—Damien, Ronnie—but this is different. This isn’t a secret, this is a fuckup. And I don’t do well with fuckups.

  “Yeah,” I admit. “I guess it is. ” I frown, thinking about what they’ve said. About being used to bliss and not knowing how to handle a fuckup.

  And the truth is, as mad as Jackson made me, at the end of the day, I have two choices. I can walk away. Or we can move forward.

  I ended it once before, and it just about killed me. I can’t do that again. Not if I can put this relationship back together.

  At the very least, I have to try.

  I take a step toward the living room.

  “Where are you going?”

  “The marina,” I say. “I need to go see about a guy. ”

  “You don’t have to,” Jamie says.

  “No. I really do. ”

  “I mean he just got here. He was walking toward the pool as I was coming up the stairs. ” Page 101

  “Oh. ” My stomach turns over a few times. I want to see him, yes. But I thought I’d have a long drive to get myself ready. “Right. Here goes. ”

  With my friends wishing me luck, I head toward the open front door, then through the crush of people lingering near the threshold. I turn left, intending to take the stairs that go directly down to the pool, and end up walking right into him.

  “Jackson!”

  “How did you know?” he says. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt and a black mask, much like the Lone Ranger.

  I can’t help but smile. “I’d know you anywhere. ”

  He reaches out as if to touch me, then pulls his hand away, and his tentativeness twists my heart. Yes, I think, it’s time to get past this.

  “You didn’t wear the biker jacket,” I say.

  “My heart wasn’t in it without my old lady. ”

  I swallow. “Yeah. Well. ”

  He points to the mask. “But I thought if it wasn’t actually me, then maybe we could talk. We need to talk, Syl. ”

  “You screwed up, Jackson,” I say, which is not what I was planning to say at all. But it popped out, and behind the black mask, I see his eyes go wide.

  In for a penny and all that. I press ahead. “You screwed up, and you hurt me. A lot. You were so concerned about protecting me that you forgot to see me. ”

  “You’re right. You are. ” He takes my arm and tugs me to the side, out of the flow of traffic. The touch is simple and innocent, and yet it is electric. It’s a connection. And god help me, I have missed it.

  “I screwed up on a massive scale. And I’m goddamn terrified that I screwed up beyond all repair. I should never have gotten between you and your dad. I should never have taken that decision—that choice—out of your hands. I was so full up with my own shit about what a father should do to protect his child that I lost sight of the fact that the decision was yours. The choice was yours. I stole it, and I’m sorry. ”

  “Oh. ”

  I feel weirdly anticlimactic. He’s saying everything that I wanted to force him to admit.

  “I love you, Syl. I love you, and I fucked up, and I will do whatever it takes for you to forgive me. ”

  I draw in a breath, then take a step back. “Come with me. ”

  I turn and head for Jamie’s condo, and I don’t look back to make sure he’s following. I pass through the crowd in the door, then glance toward the kitchen as I head for the two steps that lead up to the bedrooms. Nikki and Cass and the gang are gone, and that’s okay. I don’t need moral support anymore.

  Right now, I know exactly what I need.

  I try the door on the right, and breathe a sigh of relief to find it unlocked. I open it, and step inside.

  Jackson enters right behind me, and I close the door, then lock it.

  “You hurt me,” I say.

  “I know. ”

  I press my lips together to fight back tears.

  His back is against the door and he’s looking at me warily. “Are we okay? Syl, I need to know if we’re going to be okay. ”

  I hesitate. And then, very slowly, I nod. “Yes. ”

  For a moment, his face is simply blank. Then I see the relief flood it, so profound and powerful that it seems to propel him across the room. And then he is there, his arms around me and his mouth on mine.

  The kiss is wild, hard. With teeth and tongues, as if we are trying to devour each other.

  I pull away, gasping, then grab the hem of his T-shirt and pull it out of his jeans, then struggle with the button of his jeans.

  “Here? Are you sure?”

  “God, yes,” I say. “Please, Jackson. I need you inside me. ” I need to feel his hands. His touch. I need that physical connection that is so rare and special between us.

  I need to know that I am his and that he is mine, and that despite losing our bliss for a little bit, everything is back to normal.

  “Now,” I say as I tug his shirt over his head, pulling the mask off with it. I pause for only a moment, looking at the man I’ve revealed. The man that I love. Then I turn my attention back to his jeans, unzipping them, tugging them down, and then gasping at the mark on his pelvic bone, nestled into the triangle formed by his thigh and pubic hair.

  SB—right there, and freshly tattooed.

  I look up at him, my breath catching in my throat.

  “Cass did it earlier today. I needed to be close to you. ”

  I make a small noise that does nothing to reflect how much that simple act has moved me. I try again. “Jackson,” I say, and that is all that I manage before the heat that has been flaring in his eyes seems to explode out.

  “Baby, I can’t wait. ” Page 102

  I start to tell him not to, but before I can say a word, he’s spun me around and pushed my skirt up. We’re by a bookshelf, and I grab hold for balance as he tugs his briefs down, then pushes my panties aside. He strokes me, then slides his fingers inside me as I moan with pleasure. “Now,” I demand. “Please, Jackson, now. ”

  I need it hard and fast. I need to feel him.

  And, thankfully, he doesn’t disappoint. He takes me from behind, his fingers finding my clit as his other hand clasps my breast and he pounds relentlessly in me, as if he knows that for both of us this fuck is a way to work it out. To pound the past out of our systems. To move forward together, and find each other once again.

  I close my eyes, letting the sensations take me. Letting his touch tease me higher and higher, as pleasure builds and his body claims mine, making me his. Making me whole.

  And then, right when I’m at the edge, his voice washes over me, low and hard and commanding. “Come for me,” he says. “Dammit, Sylvia, you come for me now. ”

  I do—exploding into a thousand sparks that scatter and hum and sizzle before coming back to earth and restoring me to life.

  “Wow,” I say as he uses a tissue to clean us both up and then adjusts my clothes. “Wow. ”

  His expression looks pretty wow, too, and I snuggle close as he carries me to the couch. I curl up next to him, exhausted, and yet energized all at the same time.

  “I love you,” he says, and I sigh with contentment.

  “That’s convenient,” I say. “Because I love you, too. ”

  I lean against him, simply breathing, until I get my head back. I know we should get out of here, but I really don’t want to move. This room is safety and fantasy and reconciliation.

  Out there is the real world, where bad things can happen. And though we’ve gotten past our hurdle, the bigger problem still looms. “What are we going to do?” I ask. “The photos. Either I’m screwed or you are. ”

  “I’m going to let them make the movie. ” His voice is flat. The words completely unexpected.

  “What?” I shift on the couch, sittin
g up so that I’m facing him directly. “You can’t. Ronnie’s completely innocent, and no matter how we look at it, I bear some of the responsibility for those horrible photos. We can get the police involved. Extortion. ”

  “You’ll be dragged through the muck,” he says.

  “I don’t care. ”

  “I do. ”

  “Fine. I care, too. But it’s the best thing. That little girl. Your little girl. ”

  For a moment, he just sits there. Then he scrubs his face with his hands and stands. “I want to do right by her,” he says. “I don’t want to be the father I had, and I don’t want her lost in scandal. But the truth is I don’t think I can stop that movie no matter what I do. I wish I could, and god knows I’ve tried, but I can’t even file a defamation action. The things they want to say are true. ”

  “It will be horrible. ”

  He nods, looking miserable. “But if you have people around you who love you, it’s bearable. ”

  “Is it?”

  “Look at Nikki and Damien. ”

  I frown, but have to concede the point. They’ve survived all sorts of shit. I rise, then go to him. “So what do you want to do now?” I lean in close, my body thrumming with the beat of his heart.

  “I’m going to see Ronnie. I want my attorney to set a court date. I want my daughter, Sylvia. And I want to bring her home. ”

  He bends his head and kisses the top of my head. “I’m hiring Evelyn and however many PR people she thinks I need. If the movie gets made, we’ll deal with it. But as soon as there’s even the slightest hint that it’s been green-lit, I want to get in front of it. Minimal focus on Ronnie. And whatever we have to do to keep the sensationalism down. This is her life, not a circus. And I’ll pay whatever it takes to keep it from spinning out of control. ”

  I nod my head, my eyes closed. I know that he wants all those things, and I understand now how deeply he feels about Ronnie—about being a dad—and I’m just a little bit in awe about how much he’s put her first. About how he’s preparing for the worst, essentially building a little citadel of paternal protection around the child.

  “When are you going?”

  “Tomorrow,” he says. “I talked to Damien. He’s letting me have the use of one of the jets. ”

  “Oh. ” I feel guilty for feeling sad, but we’ve only just gotten back together, and already he’s leaving. “Well, I think that’s great,” I say brightly. “How long will you be gone?” Page 103

  “Just a few days. I’ll have to go back once the hearing is set, but in the meantime, Ronnie can come here with me. I should probably see about renting a house. I don’t suppose the boat is particularly childproofed. ”

  “I can look for you,” I say. “I don’t mind. ”

  He frowns at me, and my stomach twists. I want to be involved, and if he’s uncomfortable with me helping him look for a rental, how comfortable will he be with me in Ronnie’s life?

  “Won’t that be hard?” he says.

  I cock my head. “Um, why?”

  “Long distance, I mean. From Santa Fe. ” His brow furrows. “You’re going with me, aren’t you? For the weekend at least. And Monday if you can work from the road. ”

  The relief that sweeps over me is warm and sweet.

  “Sylvia?” He brushes my cheek. “Why are you crying?”

  “Sorry. ” I wipe away a tear. “I’m just—I guess I hadn’t thought that you’d want me there. ”

  He pulls me close and holds me tight. “Sweetheart, I will always want you. More than that, I need you. ”

 
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