July Book of the Month
Complete Me: a peek at J. Kenner's explosive finale
Fear yanks me from a deep sleep, and I sit bolt upright in a room
shrouded with gray, the muted green light from a digital alarm
clock announcing that it is just after midnight. My breath comes
in gasps, and my eyes are wide but unseeing. The last remnant of
an already forgotten nightmare brushes against me like the tattered
hem of a specter's cloak, powerful enough to fill me with
terror, and yet so insubstantial that it evaporates like mist when I
try to grasp it.
I do not know what frightened me. I only know that I am
alone, and that I am scared.
I turn swiftly in bed, shifting my body as I reach out to my
right. But even before my fingers brush the cool, expensive sheets,
I know that he is not there.
I may have fallen asleep in Damienâ€™s arms, but once again, I
have awakened alone.
At least now I know the source of the nightmare. It is the same
fear I have faced every day and every night for weeks. The fear I
try to hide beneath a plastic smile as I sit beside Damien day in
and day out as his attorneys go over his defense in meticulous
detail. As they explain the procedural ins-and-outs of a murder
trial under German law. As they practically beg him to shine a
light into the dark corners of his childhood because they know, as
I do, that those secrets are his salvation.
But Damien remains stubbornly mute, and I am left huddled
against this pervasive fear that I will lose him. That he will be
taken from me.
And not just fear. Iâ€™m also fighting the damnable, overwhelming,
panic-inducing knowledge that there isnâ€™t a goddamn thing
in the world I can do. Nothing except wait and watch and hope.
But I do not like waiting, and I have never put my faith in
hope. It is a cousin of fate, and both are too mercurial for my
taste. What I crave is action, but the only one who can act is
Damien, and he has steadfastly refused.
And that, I think, is the worst cut of all. Because while I understand
the reason for his silence, I canâ€™t quell the selfish spark
of anger. Because at the core of it all, itâ€™s not just himself that
Damien is sacrificing. Itâ€™s me. Hell, itâ€™s us.
We are running out of time. His trial will begin only a few
hours from now, and unless he changes his mind about his defense,
it is very likely that I will lose this man.
I squeeze my eyes shut, forcing the tears to remain at bay. I
can push the fear back, but my anger is like a living thing, and I
am afraid that it will explode no matter how hard I try to quell it.
For that matter, Iâ€™m afraid that suppressing it will make the ultimate
explosion all the more brutal.
When the indictment came through, Damien had tried to
push me away, believing that he was protecting me. But heâ€™d been
wrongâ€”and Iâ€™d flown all the way to Germany to tell him so. Iâ€™ve
been here for over three weeks now, and there has not been a day
when I have regretted coming, and I do not doubt that what he
said when I arrived on his doorstep is trueâ€”he loves me.
But that knowledge doesnâ€™t diminish the sense of foreboding
that has been rising within me. A trepidation that is especially
potent at night when I wake alone and know that he has turned
to solitude and Scotch when I want him in my arms. He loves me,
yes. But at the same time Iâ€™m afraid that he is pushing me away
again. Not in big steps, but in little ones.
Well, screw that.
I peel myself away from the cool comfort of our bed and
stand up. Iâ€™m naked, and I bend to retrieve the white, lush robe
provided by the Hotel Kempinski. Damien brushed it back off my
shoulders after our shower last night, and I left it where it fell, a
soft pile of cotton beside the bed.
The sash is a different story, and I have to dig in the rumpled
sheets to find it. Sex with Damien is always intense, but as the
trial comes closer, it has been wilder, more potent, as if by controlling
me Damien can control the outcome.
Idly, I rub my wrists. They bear no marks, but that is only
because Damien is careful. I canâ€™t say the same about my ass,
which still tingles from the feel of his palm against my skin. I like
itâ€”both this lingering sting and the knowledge that he needs my
submission as much as I need to give myself to him.
I find the sash shoved down near the foot of the bed. Last
night, it had bound my wrists behind my back. Now, I tie it
around my waist and tug it tight, relishing the luxurious comfort
after waking so violently. The room itself is equally soothing,
every detail done to perfection. Every piece of wood polished,
every tiny knickknack and artistic addition thoughtfully arranged.
Right now, however, I am oblivious to the roomâ€™s charms.
I only want to find Damien.
The bedroom connects to an oversized dressing area and a
stunning bathroom. I check briefly in both, though I do not expect
to find him, then continue through to the living area. The
space is large and also well-appointed with comfortable seating
and a round worktable that is now covered with sheafs of papers
and folders representing both the business that Damien continues
to run despite the world collapsing around our ears, and the various
legal documents that his attorney, Charles Maynard, has ordered
Damien to study.
I let the robe drop where I stand and pull on the stunning
trompe lâ€™oeil patterned sheath that Damien cavalierly tossed over
the arm of a chair after peeling it off me last night. Weâ€™ve spent a
few hours escaping reality by shopping on Munichâ€™s famous
Maximilianstrasse, and I have acquired so many shoes and
dresses I could open my own boutique.
I run my fingers through my hair as I cross the room to the
phone by the bar. I force myself not to go into the bathroom to
primp and freshen the makeup that has surely rubbed off. Itâ€™s
more challenging than it sounds; the mantra that a lady doesnâ€™t
go out unfinished has been beaten into my head since birth. But
with Damien at my side I have thumbed my nose at many of the
tribulations of my youth, and right now I am more concerned
with finding him than with applying fresh lipstick.
I pick up the receiver and dial zero. Almost immediately there
is an accented voice on the other end. â€œGood evening, Ms. Fairchild.â€
â€œHeâ€™s in the bar?â€ I do not need to explain who â€œheâ€ is.
â€œHe is. Shall I have a phone brought to his table?â€
â€œNo, thatâ€™s all right. Iâ€™ll come down.â€
â€œSehr gut. Is there anything else I can do for you?â€
â€œNo, thank you.â€ Iâ€™m about to hang up when I realize there
is something. â€œWait!â€ I catch him before he clicks off, then enlist
his help with my plan to distract Damien from his demons.
Despite the age of the building and the elegance of the interior,
the hotel boasts a modern ambiance, and I have come to feel
at home within these walls. I wait impatiently for the elevator,
and then even more impatiently once Iâ€™m in the car. The descent
seems to take forever, and when the doors finally open to reveal
the opulent lobby, I aim myself straight for the Old Englishâ€“style
Though itâ€™s late on a Sunday, the Jahreszeiten Bar is bustling.
A woman stands by the piano softly singing to the gathered
crowd. I barely pay her any heed. I donâ€™t expect to find Damien
among the listeners.
Instead, I wander through the wood and red leather interior,
shaking off the help of a waiter who wants to seat me. I pause for
a moment, standing idly beside a blond woman about my age
who is sipping champagne and laughing with a man who might
be her father, but Iâ€™m betting is not.
I turn slowly, taking in the room around me. Damien is not
with the group at the piano, nor is he sitting at the bar. And he
does not occupy any of the red leather chairs that are evenly
spaced around the tables.
Iâ€™m starting to worry that perhaps he was leaving as I was
coming. Then I take a step to the left and realize that what I
thought was a solid wall is actually an optical illusion created by
a pillar. Now I can see the rest of the room, including the flames
leaping in the fi replace set into the opposite wall. There is a small
love seat and two chairs surrounding the hearth. And, yes, there
I immediately exhale, my relief so intense I almost use the
blondeâ€™s shoulder to steady myself. Damien is seated in one of the
chairs, his back to the room as he faces the flames. His shoulders
are broad and straight, and more than capable of bearing the
weight of the world upon them. I wish, however, that they didnâ€™t
I move toward him, the sound of my approach muffled by
both the thick carpet and the din of conversation. I pause a few
feet behind him, already feeling the familiar pull I experience
whenever I am near Damien. The singer is now crooning â€œSince I
Fell for You,â€ her voice cutting sharp and clear across the room.
Her voice is so mournful that Iâ€™m afraid it is going to unleash a
flood of tears along with all of the stress of the last few weeks.
No. Iâ€™m here to comfort Damien, not the other way around,
and I continue toward him with renewed resolve. When I finally
reach him, I press my hand to his shoulder and bend down, my
lips brushing his ear. â€œIs this a private party, or can anyone join
I hear rather than see his answering smile. â€œThat depends on
whoâ€™s asking.â€ He doesnâ€™t turn to face me, but he lifts his arm so
that his hand is held up in a silent invitation. I close my hand in
his, and he guides me gently around the chair until I am standing
in front of him. I know every line of this manâ€™s face. Every angle,
every curve. I know his lips, his expressions. I can close my own
eyes and picture his, dark with desire, bright with laughter. I have
only to look at his midnight-colored hair to imagine the soft,
thick locks between my fingers. There is nothing about him that
is not intimately familiar to me, and yet every glance at him hits
me like a shock, reverberating through me with enough power to
knock me to my knees.
Empirically, he is gorgeous. But it is not simply his looks that
overwhelm. It is the whole package. The power, the confidence,
the bone-deep sensuality that he couldnâ€™t shake even if he tried.
â€œDamien,â€ I whisper, because I canâ€™t wait any longer to feel
his name on my lips.
That wide, spectacular mouth curves into a slow smile. He
tugs my hand, pulling me onto his lap. His thighs are firm and
athletic, and I settle there eagerly, but I donâ€™t lean against him. I
want to sit back enough that I can see his face.
â€œDo you want to talk about it?â€ I know what his answer will
be, and yet I hold my breath, praying that I am wrong.
â€œNo,â€ he says. â€œI just want to hold you.â€
I smile as if his words are sweetly romantic, refusing to let him
see how much they chill me. I need his touch, yes. But I need the
I stroke his cheek. He hasnâ€™t shaved since yesterday, and the
stubble of his beard is rough against my palm. The shock of our
connection rumbles through me, and my chest feels tight, my
breath uneven. Will there ever come a time when I can be near
him without yearning for him? Without craving the touch of his
skin against my own?
Itâ€™s not even a sexual longingâ€”not entirely, anyway. Instead,
itâ€™s a craving. As if my very survival depends on him. As if we are
two halves of a whole and neither can survive without the other.
With Damien, I am happier than I have ever been. But at the
same time, Iâ€™m more miserable, too. Because now I truly understand
I force a smile, because the one thing I will not do is let
Damien see how terrified I am of losing him. It doesnâ€™t matter;
Damien knows me too well.
â€œYouâ€™re scared,â€ he says, and the sadness that colors his voice
is enough to melt me. â€œYouâ€™re the one person in all the world I
cannot bear to hurt, and yet Iâ€™m the one who put fear in your
â€œNo,â€ I say. â€œIâ€™m not scared at all.â€
â€œLiar,â€ he says gently.
â€œYou forget that Iâ€™ve seen you in action, Damien Stark. Youâ€™re
a goddamn force of nature. They canâ€™t possibly hold you. Maybe
they donâ€™t know it yet, but I do. Youâ€™re going to walk away from
this. Youâ€™re going home a free man. Thereâ€™s no other way that this
can end.â€ I say the words because I need to believe them. But he
is right. I am desperately afraid.
Damien, of course, sees through my bullshit. Gently, he tucks
a strand of hair behind my ear. â€œYou should be scared. This is the
kind of case that has prosecutors salivating.â€
â€œBut you were only fourteen,â€ I say.
â€œWhich is why theyâ€™re not trying me as an adult.â€
I frown because even though he was only fourteen, heâ€™s looking
at a decade in prison.
â€œBut you didnâ€™t kill Merle Richter.â€ That, after all, is the most
His expression darkens. â€œTruth is a malleable thing, and
once I walk into that courtroom, the truth is what the court says
â€œThen you need to make sure the judges know the real truth.
Dammit, Damien, you didnâ€™t kill him. But even if you had, there
were mitigating circumstances.â€ Only recently had Damien told
me what happened. He and Richter fought, and when Richter
fell, Damien held back, refusing to step forward to help the coach
whoâ€™d abused him for so many years.
â€œOh, Nikki.â€ He pulls me against him, his arm swooping
around my waist and shifting me on his lap so quickly that I gasp.
â€œYou know I canâ€™t do what youâ€™re asking.â€
â€œIâ€™m not asking anything,â€ I say, but the words sound brittle,
because of course Iâ€™m asking. Hell, Iâ€™m begging. Damien damn
well knows it, too. And yet he is denying me.
Anger flares within me, but before it explodes, his mouth
crushes against mine. The kiss is deep and raw and all-consuming,
and warm desire blooms within me. It doesnâ€™t erase my anger or
my fear, but it does soothe it, and I shift closer to him, wishing I
never had to leave the safety of his arms.
His body tightens beneath mine, the bulge of his erection
under his jeans teasing my rear as I shift my weight and lean
closer, deepening this kiss and wishing like hell we were in our
suite instead of in a very public bar.
After a moment, I pull back, breathless. â€œI love you,â€ I say.
â€œI know,â€ he says, and though I wait for the reciprocal words
to come, he doesnâ€™t say them back to me.
My heart twists a little, and I force a smile. A pageant-quality
All I Want Is World Peace kind of smile. The kind of smile I show
the public, but not Damien.
I tell myself that heâ€™s just tired, but I donâ€™t believe it. Damien
Stark does nothing without a purpose. And though it is impossible
to truly get inside that head of his, I know him well enough to
guess at his motivations, and I want to jump to my feet and
scream at him. I want to beg him not to push me away. I want to
shout that I get it, that heâ€™s trying to protect me because he knows
that he might lose the trial. That he might be ripped from me. But
goddammit, doesnâ€™t he know that all heâ€™s doing is hurting me?
I believe with all my heart that Damien loves me. What I fear
is that love isnâ€™t enough. Not when heâ€™s determined to push me
away in some misguided attempt to protect me.
So I donâ€™t lash out. Thatâ€™s not a fight I can win, but I can play
the game my own way.
With renewed resolve, I kick the wattage up on my smile and
slide off his lap, my hand extended to him. â€œYou have to be in
court at ten, Mr. Stark. I think youâ€™d better come with me.â€
He stands, his expression wary. â€œAre you going to tell me I
have to get some sleep?â€
His gaze slides over me, and my body quivers in response as if
he had physically touched me. â€œGood,â€ he says, and that one
simple word not only conveys a world of promises but takes the
edge off the chilly fear that has filled me.
I allow the corner of my mouth to quirk up into a hint of a
smile. â€œNot that, either. Not yet, anyway.â€
The confusion on his face brings a genuine smile to my lips,
but he doesnâ€™t have the chance to ask, as the concierge has approached.
â€œEverything is ready, Ms. Fairchild.â€
My smile broadens. â€œThank you. Your timing is perfect.â€
I take the hand of the very confused man that I love and lead
him through the lobby, following the concierge to the front of the
hotel. There, parked on the street beside a very giddy valet, is a
cherry red Lamborghini.
Damien turns to look at me. â€œWhatâ€™s this?â€
â€œA rental. I thought you could use a little fun tonight, and the
A9â€™s just a few miles away. Fast car. German autobahn. It seemed
like a no-brainer to me.â€
â€œBoys and their toys?â€
I lower my voice so that the concierge canâ€™t overhear. â€œSince
we already have some interesting toys in the room, I thought you
might enjoy a change of pace.â€ I lead him closer to where the
valet stands by the open passenger door. â€œI understand sheâ€™s very
responsive, and I know youâ€™ll enjoy having all that power at your
â€œIs she?â€ He looks me up and down, and this time the inspection
is tinged with fire. â€œAs a matter of fact, thatâ€™s exactly what I
like. Responsiveness. Power. Control.â€
â€œI know,â€ I say, and then slide into the passenger seat, letting
more than a little thigh show as I do.
An instant later, Damien is behind the wheel and heâ€™s fired the
â€œDrive fast enough, and itâ€™s almost like sex,â€ I tease. And
then, because I canâ€™t resist, I add, â€œAt the very least, it makes for
â€œIn that case, Ms. Fairchild,â€ he says, with a boyish grin that
makes this all worthwhile, â€œI suggest you hold on tight.â€