Play My Game (Stark Trilogy, #3.7)(11)

I frown, confused. “I thought he was in meetings with you all day.”

“That was the plan. Apparently something came up.” He tilts his head back, as if looking to heaven. “He said he was going to the apartment. Something he had to take care of.”

I feel an unpleasant twisting in my stomach, but tell myself I’m being foolish. Damien handles a dozen crises a day. There’s no reason to think that my crisis has already exploded.

I use my card key to call Damien’s private elevator to take me to the top floor, which is divided between Damien’s penthouse office space and his downtown residence. As soon as the car arrives, I press the button to indicate my destination, ensuring that the elevator doors open onto the apartment side.

It whisks me upward, and I hold on to the rail for both balance and support. Because despite my stern admonition to remain calm, the higher we rise, the more my nerves are fluttering.

I hear voices the moment I step into the foyer. Damien’s, clipped and curt. And another voice, softer but agitated. A woman, perhaps?

It’s hard for me to tell, but I’m not wasting time playing guessing games. I pass the flower arrangement that never seems to wilt, then step into the living room.

I expect the familiar furniture. The vase with a crystal red rose. Damien’s science and business magazines scattered across the coffee table. And, of course, I expect to see the man himself.

I do not expect to see Carmela D’Amato, and when I do it is immediately as if she is the only thing I can see.

Suddenly, I realize what I should have known all along—bitch from hell Carmela has teamed up with uber-bitch Sofia to screw with me and Damien.

Well, f*ck that.

As I rush toward Carmela, I vaguely hear Damien calling my name, but it’s like white noise behind the sound of blood rushing through my head. It’s not until my hand has lashed out and slapped her soundly across the cheek that the world snaps back into focus and my legs go weak.

I’m falling to the ground, but I feel Damien’s arms go around me. As always, he is there to catch me when I fall.

“Do you know what she’s done?” I snarl. “What she’s sent?”

He is behind me, so I cannot see his face. But Carmela is in front of me, and I see the way she looks at him, as if the world is suddenly caving in around her.

I’d braced for her to lash back at me. Instead, she looks soft and a little lost.

And when she drops to the couch and presses her face into her hands, I know that I have stepped into Neverland.


I steady myself, then turn in his arms so that I can see him. He does not look soft. On the contrary, he is angry and tight. He is an explosion waiting to happen, and in that moment I know that the only reason he’s managing to hold it together is because Carmela is in the room with us.

His fingers are tight around my upper arm, almost to the point of hurting. I don’t object, though. I understand that this is his way of keeping me close. Of protecting me from whatever is happening—because whatever’s going on is bigger than one emailed photograph sent to Damien Stark’s new wife by his crazy childhood friend.

“Damien,” I repeat. “What’s happened?”

He doesn’t answer. Instead, he lets go of my arm and then says very slowly and carefully, “Why did you come here?”

At the question, Carmela looks up at me. Her eyes are red, but the softness is fading, and as she awaits my answer, I can see her hard edges clicking back into place.

“I got an email,” I say. I pull out my phone and hand it to him. As I was planning to do that all along, the email is already open on my screen. The note—Mine—and that horrible, sensual, brutally raw image.

“I opened the email thinking it was from you,” I say.

“Son of a bitch.” He smacks his hand hard against the wall, and I’m grateful it’s not the one holding my phone.

“You saw the domain name?” I ask. “When I saw Carmela, I thought she’d teamed up with Sofia.” I no longer think that. Because it’s very clear to me that Carmela isn’t calling the shots here any more than I am.

“She didn’t,” Damien says. “And this email didn’t come from Sofia.”

“You’re sure?” Since I know WiseApps was a domain that she set up, I thought my assumption was pretty damn reasonable.

“She doesn’t own it anymore. Transferred it while we were on the island,” he says, referring to the island getaway he took me to for the last leg of our honeymoon.

“Because of you.”

“Because of me,” he confirms, and I wonder how many lawyers he’d sent swooping down on her after the fiasco in Paris and my mini-meltdown at the thought of being sued.

“She could have transferred it to someone who’s pulling this shit for her,” I say.

“I don’t disagree. But she’s been in tight lockdown since we left Paris. I called to confirm. Just hung up before you got here, actually.”

I nod, taking it all in. “And the reason you called to confirm that was because you got an email, too, didn’t you?” I feel like my brain is mush, but I’m slowly catching up.

Carmela has been silent through our conversation, but now she passes me her phone. It’s open to an email showing the same image, but her message is different. $200,000 by 10 p.m. PST on Feb. 13 or it goes public at dawn on Valentine’s Day. And all the others, too. Wiring instructions to follow. Like my email, this was supposedly sent from Damien.

J. Kenner's Books