On my knees, p.5
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       On My Knees, p.5

         Part #2 of Stark International Trilogy series by J. Kenner
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“You didn’t give them one. ” His mouth curves up, almost into a smile.

  “Not one damn word. ” Now it’s my turn to grin. “You heard Damien. The official response is ‘no comment. ’”

  “And if there was no official response?”

  I step forward to take his hand. “I’d never say a word to them about you. About anything. ”

  He leans forward, resting his forehead against my chest as he breathes. Just breathes. His skin is hot to the touch, and I have to resist the urge to tilt his head back and check for fever. I already know what is wrong with him. He’s exhausted, mentally and physically. He needs to sleep. But I can also see that he needs to get out whatever is on his mind.

  So I stand there, perfectly still. And I wait.

  “I don’t like my demons pushing up against you. ” He sits up straight so that he can look at me. “I don’t like you having to carry my shit. ”

  “I don’t mind. ”

  A muscle twitches in his cheek. “I do. ”

  “Yeah? Well then you’re an idiot, Jackson Steele. ”

  He lifts a brow in surprise. Frankly, I’m a little surprised myself. But I forge on. “Everything you said to me—about helping me. About being there for me to work through all the baggage that comes with what Reed did to me. All of that is important. And just knowing that you’ve got my back makes me feel good. No, it’s more than that. It makes me stronger. ”

  I kneel on the floor in front of him. I’m still holding his hand, but I put my other one on his knee. “Don’t you get it? I want to be there for you, too. I want to be the one who helps make you stronger. Who helps you carry it all. ”

  As I speak, I realize I’m not even talking about the damn calls from the press anymore. Those were nuisances, nothing more. No, I’m talking about the bruises. The fighting.

  I’m talking about the fact that he ran from me instead of to me.

  And, yes, I know that I was the one who fired him. Intellectually, I get that. Emotionally, I want this man in my arms.

  Very gently, I reach up and brush his cheek, just beneath where the wound has split open again. “When I told you what Bob did to me—when you learned about the nightmares and why I pushed you away in Atlanta and the stories behind all of my tattoos—you asked me if I’d ever seen a therapist. ”

  “You said no. ”

  “And you said that if I wouldn’t talk to someone professional, that you’d be my therapy. ” I take the pad of my thumb and brush it gently over his lower lip, enjoying this soft intimacy. “I want to be your therapy, too. ”

  He makes a scoffing sound. “Baby, I needed to bust something. You can look at me and see the shit I had to get out of my system. Do you really think I’m going to go there with you?”

  I let my gaze drift over him, taking in his perfect body that has been so abused. Lingering on each mark, each scrape, each bruise. I can claim them all, because it was my words that had him lashing out. My words that triggered the explosion.

  “Yes,” I say. And then I lift my eyes to his. “Yes,” I repeat.

  His expression hardens, and he shakes his head. He starts to speak, but I cut him off.

  “I will give you whatever you need, Jackson, that’s a promise. ” My chest feels full, and I’m having to push the words out. I want him to comprehend this. To truly get it. “Do you think I don’t understand going wild? Pushing hard? Have you forgotten about Louis? About all the initials I have inked on my thigh?”

  Slowly—gently—I brush my fingertip over the bruises on his chest. I watch the way his skin shifts and tightens in response to my touch. “These should be mine, Jackson,” I whisper. “Whatever relief you get from pounding away on another man, I should have been the one giving it to you. ” Page 18

  His body stiffens beneath my touch. “I won’t hurt you, Sylvia. Not like that. ”

  “I’m not asking you to. Not exactly. ” I slide my hand down until I’m cupping his cock. I hear his sharp intake of breath. “But I am saying that I’ll give you what you need. Whatever you need. ”

  His cock stiffens beneath my hand, and I bite back a smile of satisfaction.

  “You have no idea what you’re offering. ”

  “I think I do,” I say, though in truth, he may be right. I’ve witnessed his need to fight. For raw violence. To lose himself in complete, primal physicality.

  Translate that to sex, and can I handle it? Do I want to handle it?

  Hell, yes. A tremor of nervous excitement runs through me, culminating between my legs, and I squirm a bit from the simple knowledge that I am wet. Because so long as it is with Jackson, the idea of being taken wildly, brutally, is undeniably exciting.

  “You told me that I get off on submitting, so long as I’m doing it willingly. So long as I’m handing over control. You told me that I like being used so long as I’m the one who sets the ball rolling. ”

  I release his hand, then rise to my feet. “That’s all I’m offering, Jackson, but I’m offering it without reservation or conditions. Use me, Jackson. Use me whenever or however you need. I know you won’t take it too far. I trust you. And I don’t want you to run from me. Not again. Not ever. ”

  I can see that he wants to answer me, but I don’t want to hear it. Not anything. Not yet. So I shake my head and press my fingertips over his mouth. “No. Not now. We’ve said everything that needs to be said for the time being. And right now, I’m going to take care of you another way. Lay back. ”

  He does, and I brush a kiss over his lips, then smooth his hair. “Close your eyes,” I say. “I’m going to go get an ice pack. ”

  “Yes, doctor. ”

  “Role-playing?” I tease. “Well, we can certainly add that to our repertoire. ”

  He chuckles, but his eyes are closed now, and the sound fades as he starts to drift.

  I hurry to the kitchen, then return with a gel pack I use on days when I take yogurt and fruit to work. He flinches a bit when I hold it over the worst of the bruises, but he doesn’t open his eyes.

  I minister to each bruise, holding the cold against them for five minutes each. I don’t know how much help it will be, but my brother, Ethan, got into a lot of fights in school trying to prove he wasn’t weak and sick, and my mom always treated his bruises with ice to keep the swelling down.

  Finally, I decide that there are no more bruises to treat, and that I’ve exhausted my limited first aid skills. I strip off my own clothes, then climb into the other side of the bed. Jackson is dead to the world, and I don’t want to wake him, so I very carefully pull the covers up, then slide in next to him. Since I’m afraid of accidentally prodding one of his injured spots, I don’t spoon against him. Instead, I lay a few inches away, then rest my hand lightly on his hip.

  I don’t like it, though. Even this small space of air between us seems like a barrier that is forcing us apart. And though I close my eyes and will exhaustion to sweep me away, sleep doesn’t come.

  But then Jackson rolls over, his arm going automatically around my waist. He pulls me to him so that my rear is nestled against his crotch and my back is pressed tight against his battered chest. His breath is soft and even near my ear, and as soothing as a lullaby.

  And as slumber finally sweeps me away, my last thought is that I was a fool. Because I should know better than to think that even the most potent pain would keep me out of Jackson’s arms.


  Jackson woke to realize that every part of his body ached.

  His ribs screamed when he breathed.

  His skin felt too tight and too damned sensitive.

  Muscles burned, abrasions stung.

  All in all, he was a fucking mess. And he had no one to blame but himself.

  Himself—and Damien Stark.

  Goddamn the arrogant prick. He’d fired Jackson? What kind of bullshit was that?

  Even now, the memory made him want to put his fist through the wall, and he real
ly should have worked that shit out by now. Lord knows the fifteen large he’d won in the ring last night should have been therapy enough. He’d beaten the crap out of every challenger Sutter had tossed at him, and still the rage bubbled under the surface.

  And not just because of what Damien had done, but because of how he’d done it. Putting it on Sylvia. Making her lay down the gauntlet to Jackson, when Damien knew damn good and well that she wanted Jackson on the project, not to mention that they were dating. Page 19


  The word sounded too thin to hold the depth and power of the emotions he felt for Sylvia. He’d left because he couldn’t stand the thought of losing it in front of her. And he’d returned because, goddammit, he needed her touch to find his way back to himself after the rage had passed. After he was aching and exhausted.

  Christ, she was perfect, and all the more so because of the way she’d given herself so fully to him. Did she even realize what she’d done to him? The way his heart had flipped over when she’d looked at him with those wide, whiskey-colored eyes and told him that she’d submit to whatever he needed? That he could use her however he wanted?

  Now her back was pressed to his chest and he held his arm loose around her waist. The steadiness of her breathing was like a gift, as if she was silently telling him that so long as she was in his arms, all was right with the world. She trusted him, fully and completely. He felt it now, and he’d seen it when she’d so boldly offered herself to him. In her eyes, on her face.

  That trust had both humbled and excited him. Hell, even now his cock—about the only part of him that wasn’t battered and bruised—was as hard as a rock and nestled sweetly against the curve of her ass.

  He knew how much she craved control. He remembered with painful clarity the night when she’d finally told him why. When she’d shared not only the truth about what that fucking asshole Reed had done to her when she was a teen, but also about how she’d reacted.

  How she’d wanted to run but hadn’t been able.

  How she’d wanted to get lost in her head, but had been denied that, too.

  How her body had heated, responded. How Reed had touched her. Teased her. How he’d stroked and played with her.

  He’d taken her to climax—and when she’d gone over, that loss of control had humiliated and mortified her. More than that, it had scarred her. Changed her.

  In the end, it had infused her with a bone-deep need to keep control. Jackson understood that—and so he understood as well just how much of herself she’d offered him tonight.

  And, yes, they had already gone part of the way down this road. Early on, he’d glimpsed the shadows lurking in her past, and had recognized that it wasn’t control she needed, but submission. A safe place where she could surrender to pleasure and not feel ashamed. Where she could give control rather than have it ripped from her.

  He had offered that to her, and she had agreed. So far, though, they’d taken only baby steps.

  But this …

  She’d trusted him openly and completely even though her core makeup was to not trust at all.

  She’d surrendered control even though she didn’t understand how far he might want or need to go.

  But what had really twisted Jackson up was the realization that just saying the words had aroused her. He’d seen that clearly enough in the way her pupils had dilated and in the flush that rose in her cheeks.

  And her excitement had made him hard.

  Hell, just thinking about it now made him harder, though how that was physically possible he really didn’t know. He was so stiff right now he felt like he’d been sculpted from a goddamn slab of marble.

  If he’d had any doubts that Sylvia would go with him as far as he—or she—needed to go, she had soundly erased them. Christ, she’d put herself out there as a proxy for the ring.

  That would never happen, of course; she wasn’t a punching bag, and he would never, ever use her like that. But her offer, made with such sincerity and love, had stolen his breath.

  He’d told her once that he’d taken all the shit from his childhood and turned it around. His anger to fighting and his need for control to sex. All true, yes. But the deeper truth was that the anger stemmed from control as well. From the lack of control, to be specific. From the feeling of being tossed aside by his father who’d had a whole hell of a lot of better shit to do with a hell of a lot better son.

  Sometimes it really was about getting out there and getting bloody. Getting lost in the ring and the rage.

  But more often, all that he truly needed was to release some of the pressure inside him. To fight back against whatever cosmic joke the universe was pulling at that moment and grab control where he could.

  Before Sylvia, that would have been cause to call a few friends like Sutter who were uniquely hooked in. Find out what warehouse was hosting the action that night, and see if he could get a piece of it.

  Now, though, they could fight their demons together. Yin and yang. Control and submission. Pleasure and pain. And on and on and on until they sent each other spiraling over that invisible line where it all became the same. Where pain gave way to pleasure, and control revealed itself to be nothing more than surrender. Page 20

  That was the heart of the truth, wasn’t it? Because no matter what games they might play in bed—no matter how much he professed to be the one in control—in life, Sylvia held Jackson’s heart in her hands, and he was utterly hers.

  Right now, though, she was his. And he was too hard and too eager to decline the pleasure she had offered. Use her? Hell, yes he would. Deeply, intimately, and very, very thoroughly.

  Slowly, he moved his arm from around her waist, trailing his fingers up so that he could gently stroke her perfect skin. So that he could glide over her curves—her hip, her waist, her breast.

  He pressed his palm over her breast, cupping it, feeling his cock twitch as her softness filled his palm. Then he flattened his hand and very lightly stroked her nipple with his palm. She whimpered in sleep, but didn’t wake. Her body, however, was beginning to rouse in response to his ministration, and the nipple he’d been teasing was now taut and tight. He took it between two fingers, rolling it gently but firmly as her areola puckered.

  As he teased her breast, he pressed his lips to the back of her neck, brushing a kiss over the tattoo there. She had so many, all marking her battles and triumphs over her demons. Too many, he thought. And two of them, he knew, were because of him. The flame on her breast, and his initials on her lower back.

  His chest squeezed tight as he pulled down the sheet so that he could see her ink in the afternoon light now streaming through the window. He slid down, pressing his lips to her skin, dancing his tongue along the line of his initials. He heard her soft moan, and stopped briefly, but she hadn’t awakened.


  He knew now what he wanted to take. How he needed to use her, accepting the gift of herself that she’d given him, and returning it with pleasure and with a silent promise that they belonged together.

  Not a hard, pounding fuck. For now, at least, he’d exorcised his demons. But dear god, he did need to be inside her—to claim her fully and control her pleasure completely. To see her face as she awakened with his cock deep within her and her body primed and wet and soft with need.

  He wanted her to realize that he understood the depth of what she had offered him and that he welcomed it. Hell, he craved it.

  Gently, he eased her onto her back and then straddled her. His cock brushed her stomach as he leaned over, and he had to pause to take a breath so that he didn’t come right then.

  He closed his mouth over her breast, teasing her already tight nipple, then slowly stroking his hand down her abdomen as he eased his way down her body. He saw the way her skin tightened in the wake of his touch, and he felt the quickening of her pulse. She writhed a bit, then reached out, her hands fisting in the sheets as her lips parted on
a soft sigh.

  He paused, unsure if he’d awakened her. But she was still asleep—she’d stayed up throughout the night worrying about him, and he knew that exhaustion had swept her away.

  Slowly, he trailed his fingers down between her legs and used two fingers to stroke her cunt, already slick and wet for him. Slowly he eased those fingers inside her, and when she tightened around him in welcome, a fresh wave of desire, so strong it seemed as though it could destroy him, washed over him. He craved her, dammit, as painfully and potently as a drug. And the glory of it was that she was his. Truly his.

  And he didn’t have a clue what he’d done to deserve her.

  Rhythmically, he thrust his fingers inside her, keeping his eyes on her face as the pressure built, watching her eyes move behind her closed lids. She was dreaming, he realized, and he couldn’t help but wonder what those dreams entailed.

  Then her lips parted, and he heard a soft “yes” drift from her lips.

  Right then, that single word was the most erotic—and most powerful—sound he had ever heard. And just in time, too. Because he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to be inside her. Had to have her before the need destroyed him.

  He lowered himself over her, his cock pressing against her slick cunt. She was so wet that he slid into her easily, gratified by the way her hips rose in silent welcome. He thrust in deep, filling her so completely that his balls rubbed against her, and his cock tightened even more inside her. Again and again, and with each thrust he watched her face, bathed in passion even though she was still lost in sleep.

  And then, oh Christ, she murmured his name. Still lost in slumber, but so desperately aroused.

  And so very, very his.


  I am not Sylvia—I am simply pleasure, surging forward like a wave. Pushing up with such force and perfection I am surprised that I can bear it, and at any moment I expect to explode, rendered to ash by the heat and power of these decadent sensations that flow through me. Page 21

  It is the thought of such an explosion that brings me back to myself. That settles awareness over me. My limbs. My breasts.

  The desperate, heated ache between my legs.

  I am motion.

  I am wild.

  I am lost, scattered to the wind by the glorious sensations bursting through me. The pressure filling me. The rhythmic motion of my body. The heat above me, and the musky scent of him that fills my senses and rocks me to my core.

  “Jackson. ”

  It is his name on my lips that wakes me. Not the fact that he is inside me, because that feels right and glorious and real.

  Instinctively, I spread my knees, giving him deeper access even before my conscious brain acknowledges this delicious reality.

  “Harder,” I murmur, and as the mist of sleep starts to dissipate, I arch up, wanting more. I am so close. So alive. So sweetly, wonderfully his. “Please,” I beg as he thrusts harder into me. As I reach for him, my hands on his back pulling him against me, wanting everything that he has to give.

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