Say My Name
The thwump-thwump of the helicopter’s rotors fills my head like a whisper, a secret message that I cannot escape. Not him, not now. Not him, not now.
But I know damn well that my plea is futile, my words flat. I can’t run. I can’t hide. I can only continue as I am—hurtling at over a hundred miles per hour on a collision course with a destiny I thought I had escaped five years ago. And with the man I’d left behind.
A man I tell myself I no longer want—but can’t deny that I desperately need.
I clutch my fingers tighter around the copy of Architectural Digest in my lap. I do not need to look down to see the man on the cover. He is as vivid in my mind today as he was back then. His hair a glossy black, with just the slightest hint of copper when the sun hits it just so. His eyes so blue and deep you could drown in them.
On the magazine, he sits casually on the corner of a desk, his dark gray trousers perfectly creased. His white shirt pressed. His cuff links gleaming. Behind him, the Manhattan skyline rises, framed in a wall of glass. He exudes determination and confidence, but in my mind’s eye, I see even more.
I see sensuality and sin. Power and seduction. I see a man with his shirt collar open, his tie hanging loose. A man completely at home in his own skin, who commands a room simply by entering it.
I see the man who wanted me.
I see the man who terrified me.
I remember the way his skin felt as it brushed mine. I even remember his scent, wood and musk and a hint of something smoky.
Most of all, I remember the way his words seduced me. The way he made me feel. And now, here above the Pacific, I can’t deny the current of excitement that runs through me, simply from the prospect of seeing him again.
And that, of course, is what scares me.
As if to emphasize that thought, the helicopter banks sharply, sending my stomach lurching. I reach out to steady myself, pressing my hand against the window as I look out at the deep indigo of the Pacific below me and the jagged Los Angeles coastline receding in the distance.
“We’re on our approach, Ms. Brooks,” the pilot says a short while later, his voice crystal clear through my headphones. “Just a few more minutes.”
I don’t like air travel, and I especially don’t like helicopters. Perhaps I have an overactive imagination, but I can’t seem to shake the mental image of dozens of absolutely essential screws and wires getting wiggled loose by the persistent motion of these constantly vibrating machines.
I’ve come to accept that I can’t avoid the occasional trip by plane or helicopter. When you work as the executive assistant to one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men, air travel is just part of the package. But while I’ve resigned myself to that reality—and even managed to become somewhat Zen about the whole thing—I still get all twisted up during takeoff and landing. There’s something horribly unnatural about the way the earth rises up to meet you, even while you are simultaneously careening toward the ground.
Not that I can actually see any ground. As far as I can tell, we’re still entirely over water, and I am just about to point out that little fact when a slice of the island appears in my window. My island. Just seeing it makes me smile, and I draw in one breath and then another until I actually feel reasonably calm and somewhat put together.
Of course, the island isn’t really mine. It belongs to my boss, Damien Stark. Or, more specifically, it belongs to Stark Vacation Properties, which is a division of Stark Real Estate Development, which is an arm of Stark Holdings, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Stark International, which is one of the most profitable companies in the world, which is owned by one of the most powerful men in the world.
In my mind, though, Santa Cortez island is mine. The island, the project, and all the potential that goes with it.
Santa Cortez is one of the smaller Channel Islands that run up the coast of California. Located a little behind Catalina, it was used for many years as a naval facility, along with San Clemente Island. Unlike San Clemente, which is still operated by the military and sports an army base, barracks, and various other signs of civilization, Santa Cortez lacks any development at all; it was used for hand-to-hand combat and weapons training. At least, that’s what I was told. The navy is not known for being forthright about its activities.
Several months ago, I’d noticed a small article in the Los Angeles Times discussing the military’s presence in California. The article mentioned both islands, but noted that the military was ceasing operations on Santa Cortez. There wasn’t any other information, but I’d taken the article to Stark.