Unwrap Me (Stark Trilogy #3.9)

by J. Kenner

Chapter 1

“You could get him that,” my best friend, Jamie Archer, says, pointing at a sculpture displayed in the window of one of Rodeo Drive’s most renowned art galleries.

I glance from the sculpture to Jamie and then back to the sculpture. I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be, but with the bronze cylinder thrusting upward from a rounded pewter base, it looks like a giant penis. Considering its resemblance to Jamie’s favorite part of the male anatomy, I’m not surprised it caught her eye. I, however, am not inclined to buy it as a Christmas gift for my husband.

“I don’t think it’s Damien’s style,” I say. “Besides, he’s already got a much better one.”

I say the last dryly, and it takes Jamie a second to get it, then she grins. “Yeah, I don’t need to buy it, either. Ryan’s all set in that department as well.”

“Which makes us both very lucky women,” I say as we turn away from the gallery and fall back in step together. “But it’s not much help with Christmas shopping.”

It’s December 23, and I honestly didn’t mean to leave my shopping to the last minute. But my husband is Damien Stark, a man who pretty much owns one of everything in the known universe, and that makes shopping for him a frustrating, stressful process.

“I thought you bought him a pocket watch,” Jamie says.

“I did. And I think he’ll like it.” It’s an antique gold watch that I had a local watchmaker repair and polish, and then I added a sweet inscription to the inside of the cover. He’s mentioned liking the look of pocket watches before, and I was shocked to realize that he doesn’t own one. Since I think there’s something sexy about a man with a pocket watch, it seemed like the perfect gift. Now, though…

Well, now it just doesn’t feel quite personal enough. And even though the watch is already wrapped and ready to go—disguised somewhat by the giant box I put it in—I’m on a quest for something else. Something more personal, something cleverer.

Something that is not a giant bronze penis.

To be honest, I know that Damien has the same problem. He can buy me the world; coming up with something unique and heartfelt is more difficult.

“Well, duh,” Jamie says when I fill her in on my thinking. “You guys are always getting each other wonderful presents. If you’d just hold off once in a while, you wouldn’t be fresh out of ideas come the holidays.”

I have to laugh—maybe she has a point.

“What about the app you were designing?” she asks.

“Got sidelined,” I admit. I’d come up with the idea for a lovers’ scavenger hunt app when Damien sent me on a romantic Valentine’s Day treasure hunt. “Honestly, it’s Damien’s fault. He’s the one who suggested that I submit a proposal to do the website and apps for The Resort at Cortez.”

The resort is one of many under the Stark International umbrella, and since I’ve always been leery about getting preferential treatment as Damien’s wife, I submitted my proposal blind. I’d been thrilled when Sylvia Brooks, the project manager, selected my company to do the work. The upside has been a lucrative contract which involves working closely with a woman who is both my friend and my sister-in-law.

The downside is that all of my spec projects have been pushed to the side. But the resort officially opened in September, so things have started to calm down on my end.

I still can’t turn my full attention to the scavenger hunt app, though. I’ve been alternating work on the resort with an app design for Sykes Department Stores, which is another gig that I got through Damien, after he introduced me to Dallas Sykes, one of the investors in the resort and a man with a reputation for fucking around. To put it politely.

In fact, now that I think about it, most of my major clients have come to me through some connection to Damien. Even the small app that my friend Evelyn Dodge commissioned to show off her boyfriend Blaine’s art came to me tangentially through my relationship with Damien.

For that matter, his friend Lisa was instrumental in getting me my office space. And I sure can’t forget that even my start-up capital came straight from the million dollars that Damien paid me to pose nude for him, way back when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to fuck him or run from him. Or both.

And, yeah, I know that I’m doing the actual work on my own—and goodness knows I work my tail off—but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I’d ever have managed to get my business off the ground if it weren’t for my husband’s help.