Play My Game (Stark Trilogy, #3.7)

Written By: J. Kenner

Play My Game (Stark Trilogy, #3.7)
by J. Kenner




Chapter 1


Sunlight pours into the kitchen from the east-facing windows, and through the open glass doors on the west side of the house, I can hear the rhythmic pounding of the Pacific as it batters the Malibu shore. It is just past seven on a Sunday morning in February, and though I had awakened with both a smile and a plan, the smile is fading and my plan is floundering. I fear that it is time to face the terrible, horrible, inescapable truth—I can’t cook my way out of a paper bag. And my plan to treat my husband to breakfast in bed is crashing and burning.

Or maybe just burning, I amend, as I realize that my waffles are doing just that.

I use the built-in handle to flip the waffle iron over, then open the top with the tines of a fork. The thing inside doesn’t resemble any food product I’ve ever seen. It’s black and bumpy and looks vaguely like the underside of a hiking shoe.

“Well, shit,” I say, then add on an even more colorful string of curses when I realize that the eggs are burning and that smoke from the bacon is going to set off the fire alarms any second now.

I lunge sideways toward the stove and hit the button for the vent, then narrow my eyes toward the ceiling, daring the alarm to start screeching. Because even if breakfast consists of black coffee and dry toast, I am going to manage it. And nothing—not a smoke alarm, not the scent of burning batter, not even my muttered cursing—is going to roust my husband of almost three weeks out of bed before I am ready to surprise him.

A heartbeat later, I know just how wrong I am.

I have not yet turned around, but I don’t have to. I know that he is awake, and I know that he is standing behind me. I didn’t hear him approach. I didn’t catch his scent. There is nothing tangible to announce his presence to me. But that doesn’t matter.

I simply know.

Maybe it’s a shift in the density of the air.

Maybe it’s the way that the heat from his body makes the molecules around him spin faster.

Maybe it is the simple fact that he is Damien Stark, my husband, my love, and I could no more be unaware of his presence than I am of my own body.

For a moment, I simply stand there, my back still to him. I had wanted to surprise him, and so I will admit to a small tingle of disappointment. But that is quickly conquered by the desire to see him. To savor him. To let the image of him that fills my mind now fill my reality.

I turn slowly to find him leaning against the wall that separates the third floor kitchen from the open area. He is wearing a pair of thin gray sweatpants tied loosely at his hips and absolutely nothing else. His athlete’s body glows with a lingering tan, courtesy of the island that was the last stop of our honeymoon, and the light on his burnished skin highlights the sculpted planes of his chest and abdomen.

Damien’s prowess in business came after his fame as a professional tennis player, and looking at him, it is easy to see how he excelled at both. He is power and strength and beauty combined, and I stand like an idiot, absorbing the sight of him, then sigh with the same kind of full, sensual pleasure brought on by a sunset or a symphony or the stars filling a country sky. Damien Stark is a feast for the eyes, a concerto for the senses. And though I know him intimately—though he is mine, and I am his—I still go weak at the sight of him.

“This is an exceptionally nice scene to wake up to.” His eyes skim over my inappropriate cooking attire. Bare feet, one of his dress shirts, and a white apron with a rather unoriginal Kiss the Cook logo.

“Funny. I was just thinking the same thing.” That’s an exaggeration, because the truth is that I’m having a hard time thinking at all. Or, rather, my thoughts are all primal in nature. Need. Want. Take.

He closes the distance between us in three long strides, then slides his arms around my waist. His grin warms me like sunshine, but when he pulls me to him and closes his mouth over mine, I am warmed by a much more dangerous kind of heat. “Good morning, wife.”

My lips tingle from the intensity of his greeting, but I respond in kind, loving the way these words sound. “Good morning, husband.”

He trails his fingertip along my jawline. “You have batter on your face,” he says, before slipping his finger in his mouth. “Tasty.”

I roll my eyes as he leans in to kiss my ear.

“And flour in your hair.”

“I would have managed eventually,” I say. “You’re the one who got out of bed and spoiled my surprise.”

He glances behind me at the brick of a waffle. “Believe me, I’m surprised.”

“Careful, mister,” I say, but I’m laughing. We both know that my cooking skills are nonexistent.

“It’s the thought that counts,” Damien says. “And I like this thought very, very much.”

He pulls me in for another long, slow kiss. The kind that makes me think that getting up early on a Sunday morning was really not one of my more stellar ideas.

“I know how to fix this,” Damien says.

“Does it involve getting naked and going back to bed, and you assuring me that you didn’t marry me for my culinary skills?”

“Actually, no, though I think that should definitely be added to the day’s activities.”

“Oh, really?” I lean closer, relishing the way his arms tighten around me, pulling me against him so that I can feel him hot and hard and close. “And what else is on the agenda?”