Embrace Me (Stark Ever After Book 7) by J. Kenner

Chapter One

I stand on the bedroom balcony, the doors open behind me as I look out at the morning light glinting on the Pacific. I’m barefoot and fresh from the shower, now wrapped in the extra-large spa-style robe that Damien bought for me when I was pregnant with Anne.

I kept it after she was born even though it swallowed me up because it was so snuggly and comfy. I never expected to actually need it again, but as I press my hand over my very extended belly, I sigh with happiness. Because I do need it again. And this time for a boy. B.B.S. we’re calling him for now, since we still haven’t decided on a name.

Hopefully that will change soon, I think as I rub my hand over my belly. “Because Baby Boy Stark just isn’t the kind of name a young man takes with him to college, is it, precious?”

“That’s my wife,” Damien says, coming up silently and rubbing my neck as I moan with pleasure. “Always bowing to tradition and expectations.”

I laugh. “Good morning, Mr. Stark.”

“Ms. Fairchild,” he says, my name now a term of endearment. Personally, I’ve gone by Stark since our marriage, but my business was started as Fairchild Development—now Fairchild & Partners—and I’ve kept the name simply because I want to grow the business on my own and not because I’m married to a master of the universe.

“And good morning to you, too, B.B.S.,” that master of the universe says, abandoning my neck to reach around and cup my baby bump, which is really more of a baby mound these days.

I turn in his arms, sacrificing the gorgeous view of the ocean for the gorgeous view of my husband. He’s looking down at me with those incredible dual-colored eyes, his amber eye alight with love, the onyx one dark with strength.

He hasn’t shaved yet, and I reach up to brush his cheek, enjoying the feel of his scruff against my palm. His hair is mussed from sleep, as jet black as it was the day we met except for his temples. There’s a hint of silver now, something that I think makes him look all the more powerful and sexy, but which I also know is the reflection of more than just the passing years. It’s a manifestation of his own scars. The trauma of his past, and the trials of his present. Anne’s kidnapping. The death and betrayal of one of his closest friends. Me in danger.

Damien’s always stood as a fortress against the horrors of the world, protecting the people he loves, me and the children most of all. But it’s not an easy battle, and I know better than anyone how much it has cost him.

He brushes a finger lightly over the tip of my nose. “You’re thinking very loudly.”

“Am I?” I raise my brows. “Then tell me what I’m thinking.”

“That you love me. And,” he adds with a smile, “what a coincidence. I’m thinking how much I love you, too.”

“It’s as if you know me,” I trill, moving even closer so he can envelop me in a hug, at least as much as our unborn son’s girth allows. “And I was thinking all that and more,” I admit. “Mostly, I was thinking about what a great dad you are.”

“I can’t wait to meet this little guy.”

I take a step back, grimacing as B.B.S. shifts position, a foot getting me right in the bladder. “You and me both. But maybe it’s good that we still have over two weeks. I think it’ll take us that long to decide on a name.”

I’d suggested Ash, in honor of my sister, but as much as I love and miss Ashley, it doesn’t feel quite right. My best friend, Jamie, had suggested Damien, Jr., but as far as I’m concerned there will only ever be one Damien Stark, and I vetoed that idea.

We’ve poked around on baby naming sites, but so far, no name has clicked the way Lara and Anne, our daughters’ names did. Those, we simply knew.

“We’ll find his name,” Damien says. “I promise you he won’t graduate college as Baby Boy Stark.”

“It would make for interesting press,” I say, making Damien laugh. I force a smile, too, but the reality that the press will inevitably surround our kids is something I do think about, and often. Because no matter what, our children will always be in the spotlight. And as we’re about to bring a third child into our family, I have to hope that we’ll be good enough parents to help them grow up knowing how to deal with that.

I’m about to share my thoughts with Damien, but the patter of little feet and the cry of “Mommy! Daddy! Mr. G made chocolate pancakes!”