Ignited, p.1

Ignited, page 1

 part  #3 of  Most Wanted Series

 

Ignited



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Ignited


  Copyright (c) 2014 J. Kenner

  The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  First published in this Ebook edition in 2014

  by HEADLINE ETERNAL

  An imprint of HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  Published by arrangement with Bantam Books,

  an imprint of Random House,

  a division of Random House LLC.

  Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library eISBN 978 1 4722 1516 1

  Cover credits:

  Cover photo (c) Johnny Ring

  Cover Design www.isitdesign.co.uk

  HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  An Hachette UK Company

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH

  www.headlineeternal.com

  www.headline.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  About the Author

  By J. Kenner

  Praise for J. Kenner

  About the Book

  Acknowledgments

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Twenty-Five

  The Stark series

  The Most Wanted Series

  Find out more about Headline Eternal

  About the Author

  J. Kenner loves wine, dark chocolate, and books. She lives in Texas with her husband and daughters. Visit her online at www.juliekenner.com to learn more about her and her other pen names, and to get a peek at what she's working on. Or connect with her via Twitter @juliekenner or through www.facebook.com/JulieKenner.

  By J. Kenner

  Most Wanted Series

  Wanted

  Heated

  Ignited

  The Stark Series

  Release Me

  Claim Me

  Complete Me

  Take Me (e-Novella)

  Just some of the rave reviews for J. Kenner's powerfully sensual and erotic novels:

  'Kenner may very well have cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them, and this second installment of her Most Wanted series goes a long way toward solidifying that claim. Her characters' scorching, scandalous affair explores the very nature of attraction and desire, redeeming and changing them beyond measure . . . Fans will no doubt love the games of power, overwhelming passion and self-defining relationship that Kenner has crafted, and come away eager for more' Romantic Times

  'Fans of erotic romance will enjoy Heated. The plot is complex, the characters engaging, and J. Kenner's passionate writing brings it all perfectly together' Harlequin Junkie

  'In Julie Kenner's typical masterful storytelling, nothing is as it seems. We are taken deeply into the plot twists and the danger of this erotic journey. The chemistry first felt by both Tyler and Sloane during their first encounter roars into an all-consuming fire neither one can put out . . . Take the same journey I did and you will not be disappointed!' As You Wish Reviews

  'Wanted is another J. Kenner masterpiece . . . This was an intriguing look at self-discovery and forbidden love all wrapped into a neat little action suspense package. There was plenty of sexual tension and eventually action. Evan was hot, hot, hot! Together, they were combustible. But can we expect anything less from J. Kenner?' Reading Haven

  'Wanted by J. Kenner is the whole package! A toe-curling smokin' hot read, full of incredible characters and a brilliant storyline that you won't be able to get enough of. I can't wait for the next book in this series . . . I'm hooked!' Flirty & Dirty Book Blog

  'I loved this story! It had substance, lovable characters, and unexpected discoveries. And the love between Evan and Angelina was passionate, explosive, and utterly wonderful' Part of That World

  'J. Kenner's evocative writing thrillingly captures the power of physical attraction, the pull of longing, the universe-altering effect one person can have on another. She masterfully draws out the eroticism between Nikki and Damien . . . Claim Me has the emotional depth to back up the sex . . . Every scene is infused with both erotic tension, and the tension of wondering what lies beneath Damien's veneer - and how and when it will be revealed' Heroes and Heartbreakers

  'Claim Me by J. Kenner is an erotic, sexy and exciting ride. The story between Damien and Nikki is amazing and written beautifully. The intimate and detailed sex scenes will leave you fanning yourself to cool down. With the writing style of Ms Kenner you almost feel like you are there in the story riding along the emotional rollercoaster with Damien and Nikki' Fresh Fiction

  'PERFECT for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey and Bared to You. Release Me is a powerful and erotic romance novel that is sure to make adult romance readers sweat, sigh and swoon' Reading, Eating & Dreaming Blog

  'Release Me . . . just made the top of my list with Damien and Nikki . . . the way in which J. Kenner tells the story, how vulnerable and real Damien and Nikki feel, makes this story so good, and re-readable many times over' In Love With Romance Blog

  'This is deeply sensual and the story packs an emotional punch that I really hadn't expected . . . If you enjoyed Fifty Shades [and] the Crossfire Books, you're definitely going to enjoy this one. It's compelling, engaging and I was thoroughly engrossed' Sinfully Sexy Blog

  'I will admit, I am in the "I loved Fifty Shades" camp, but after reading Release Me, Mr Grey only scratches the surface compared to Damien Stark' Cocktails and Books Blog

  'It is not often when a book is so amazingly well-written that I find it hard to even begin to accurately describe it . . . I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in a passionate love story' Romancebookworm's Reviews

  'The story is one that will rank up with the Fifty Shades and Crossfire trilogies. I am impatiently awaiting book two! A definite read for those who enjoyed Fifty Shades and Bared to You' Incubus Publishing Blog

  'Release Me gives readers tantalizing pages of sensual delight, leaving us reeling as we journey with this couple and their passions are released. Release Me is a must read!' Readaholics Anonymous

  About the Book

  He promised to take me as far as I could go - and I wanted to go to the edge.

  My whole life has been a cover, a con, a lie. I was raised on the thrill of playing someone I'm not. As a rule, I never let anyone get too close - until Cole August makes it impossible for me to stay away.

  Cole is tough, sexy, and intensely loyal, yet his secrets are dark and his scars run deep. Not many women can handle his past, or the truth behind his fierce demands. But something about him beckons me - and our desire is a game I must play.

  I know he's dangerous, that even his touch is trouble, but what is passion without a little risk?

  Acknowledgments

&n
bsp; For all the wonderful Stark and Most Wanted fans I've met in person and through social media. Y'all are the best!

  one

  Cons and games, lies and deceit.

  Those aren't just words to me, but a way of life.

  For years, I've tried to escape--to be other than my father's daughter--but time and again I have failed.

  Maybe I haven't tried hard enough. Maybe I didn't want to. I like the rush, after all. The challenge.

  I have more than twenty years of the grift behind me, and I thought I knew it all. Thought I understood risk. Thought I knew the definition of danger.

  Then I saw him.

  Raw and carnal, dark and dangerous.

  I didn't know risk until I met him. Didn't understand danger until I looked into his eyes. Didn't comprehend passion until I felt his touch.

  I should have stayed away, but how could I when he was everything I craved? When I knew that he could fulfill my darkest fantasies?

  I wanted him, plain and simple.

  And so I set out to play the most dangerous game of all. . . .

  I stood in the middle of the newly opened Edge Gallery, my heels planted on the polished wood floor and the brilliant white walls of the main exhibit space coming close to blinding me.

  Around me, politicians mingled with hipsters as they buzzed from one painting to the next like bees around a flower. Male waiters in sharply creased tuxes carried wine-topped trays with purpose, while their similarly attired female counterparts offered tasty morsels that were such works of art themselves it seemed a shame to eat them.

  Tonight's sparkling gala celebrated the opening of this newest addition to Chicago's well-known River North gallery district, and everyone who was anyone was here. And not just because of the art. No, the crowd tonight had come as much to mingle with the owners as to celebrate the opening.

  And why not? Tyler Sharp and Cole August were among Chicago's elite. They, along with their friend and frequent business partner Evan Black, made up the knights--a triangle of power within the Chicago stratosphere. The fact that their power stemmed from both legitimate and illegitimate means only added to their dark, edgy coolness.

  Not that the illegitimate side of the equation was public knowledge, but it did add a sort of mysterious sheen to these deliciously sexy men who made the press drool. I knew the truth because I was best friends with Evan's fiancee, Angelina Raine, and that friendship had spread to include all the knights. At least, that's what Angie and the knights believe. In reality, I'd realized the guys weren't squeaky-clean entrepreneurs within a day of meeting them.

  Like knows like, after all.

  For that matter, like attracts like. At least, that's what I hoped. Because although I truly did want to celebrate the opening, I'd really come here for one purpose, and one purpose only: to finally and completely get Cole August's attention--and then get him in my bed.

  Not that I was progressing like lightning toward that goal. I'd come without a solid plan--something I never do--and after ninety minutes of mingling, I'd spoken only fourteen words to Cole, and that was at the door as I'd entered. I knew there were fourteen words, because I'd played the encounter--I wouldn't go so far as to call it a conversation--over and over in my head. A form of mental torture, I guess, as I wallowed in my own insipidness.

  "I'm so thrilled for you both."

  "Thanks, Kat. We're glad you could make it."

  "Me, too. Well, I'll let you mingle. Later."

  I shook my head at myself. Honestly, if my father had been around to overhear that exchange, he would have disowned me on the spot. Hadn't he taught me the art of making small talk? Of pulling people in? Of getting close so that you can get what you want?

  Planning and focus have always been second nature to me. I'd grown up in the grift, and I'd known the ins and outs of designing a long con even before I knew my multiplication tables.

  Tonight wasn't about a con, though. Tonight was about me.

  And apparently that one little fact was enough to throw me entirely off my game.

  Well, damn.

  I shifted slightly so that I could look at the object of my mission. I found him easily enough--Cole August is not the kind of man who blends. Right then he was working the room, discussing art with both serious buyers and casual friends.

  Art was his passion, and it was easy to see how much tonight meant to him. The two featured artists--a South Side tagger whom Cole had found and pulled out of the ghetto and a world-renowned painter who specialized in hyperrealism--worked the crowd alongside him.

  Cole moved with a raw power and casual arrogance that both suggested his own South Side upbringing and also defied it. I knew that he'd once been entrenched in a gang, but he'd pulled himself out of the muck to become one of the most powerful men in Chicago. As I watched him, it was easy to see the confidence and grace that got him there.

  I stared, a little mesmerized, a little giddy, as Cole continued through the room. He was dressed simply in black jeans that showed off his perfect ass, and a white T-shirt that both accented the dark caramel skin of his mixed-race background, and subtly reminded the guests that Cole hadn't been born to money and privilege. He wore his hair short, in an almost military-style buzz cut, and the style drew attention to the slightly tilted eyes that missed nothing, not to mention the hard planes of his cheekbones and that wide, firm mouth that seemed molded to drive a woman crazy.

  He was sex on a stick--and all I wanted was to taste him.

  I've never played the relationship game, and I've rarely craved men. That bit of self-denial stemmed more from pragmatism than any lack of libido on my part. Why torment them and myself by revealing my sexual quirks, and then suffer the inevitable angst and hurt feelings when they're unable to achieve what a sixty-dollar cylinder of vibrating rubber could manage so easily?

  And to be honest, most of the men who crossed my path were less stimulating--both intellectually and physically--than anything tucked away in my toy drawer.

  Cole, however, was different.

  Somehow, he'd snuck into my thoughts. He'd filled my senses. I'd felt that tug the first time I'd laid eyes on him, and that was years ago. But over the past few months, he'd become an obsession, and I knew that if I wanted to get clear of him, I had to push through.

  I had to have him.

  I'd come here tonight determined to get what I wanted--and now I was more than a little perturbed at myself for not having immediately leaped fully and confidently into the dark waters of seduction.

  I knew why I hadn't, of course. It was because I wasn't certain that my advances would be welcome, and I wasn't a big fan of disappointment.

  Yes, I thought that he was attracted to me--I'd felt that zing when our hands brushed and the trill of electricity in the air when we stood close together.

  At least once or twice when I'd caught his eyes the illusion of friendship had turned to ash--burned away by the heat I'd seen in him. But those moments lasted only a few brief and fluttering seconds. Just enough to whet my appetite, and to make me fervently hope that the heat I saw was real--and not simply the desperate reflection of my own raging desire.

  Because what assurance did I have that it wasn't all me? Maybe I was projecting attraction where none existed and, like a moth, I was going to get singed when I fluttered too close to the flame.

  Still, I'd never know if I didn't go all in and find out. Maybe I'd fumbled the ball with my crappy conversation, but the night was young, and I gave myself a mental pep talk as I wandered the gallery, gliding through the flotsam and jetsam of gossip and business talk. Everything from catty comments about other women's clothing, to speculation as to the best place for a post-gala meal, to praise for the undeniable skill of the various artists represented at the opening.

  A few people I knew casually made eye contact, politely shifting their stance as if to welcome me into their conversation. I pretended not to notice. Right then, I was lost in my own head, trying to wrap my mind around what I wante
d and how I intended to get it.

  The gallery was shaped like a T, with the main exhibit hall--which displayed the work of tonight's two featured artists--being the stem, and the crossbar being the more permanent exhibits. I'd been to the gallery before, so I knew the general layout, and I wandered the length of the room to where the two wings intersected.

  There was a velvet rope blocking guests from entering the permanent area, but I've never paid much attention to rules. I slipped between the wall and the brass post that held the rope secure, then moved to the right so that I would be out of sight of the rest of the guests. After all, I wasn't in the mood for either a lecture on proper party etiquette or company.

  The last time I'd been in this area, the section had still been under construction. The walls had been unpainted and the glass ceiling had been covered with a dark, protective film. The long, narrow room had been gloomy and a little claustrophobic. Now it extended in front of me like a walkway to paradise.

  Tonight, the glass ceiling was transparent. Outside, lights mounted on the roof shone down to provide the illusion of daylight, and all around me the area glowed with artificial sunlight and the bright colors of the various pieces on display.

  Beautifully polished teak benches ran down the center of the room, each separated by bonsai trees, so that both the seating and the decoration were as artistic as the architecture and the contents. And yet there was nothing overpowering about the room. Even tonight, with the hum of voices flowing in from the main gallery, I felt the blissful freedom of solitude.

  With a sigh, I sat on one of the benches, realizing only as I did that I'd chosen this spot for a specific purpose. The image in front of me had caught my eye. No, more than that. It had compelled me. Drawn me in. And now I sat and studied it.

  I knew a little bit about art, though not as much as my father. And certainly not as much as Cole. But it's fair to say that I've paid my dues in the kind of art gallery that caters to clients who embody that perfect trifecta of too much money, too much time, and too much property.

  I couldn't count the number of days I'd spent in high heels and a pencil skirt, extolling the virtues of a particular piece. I'd rave about the astounding deal the buyer could get because our client--"no, no, I can't share his identity, but if you read the European papers, you've surely heard of him"--was desperate to unload an original master that had been in the family for generations. "Hard times," I'd say with a resigned shake of my head. "You understand."

 
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