Home > Charmed By You (Stark Security #7.5)

Charmed By You (Stark Security #7.5)
Author: J. Kenner

 


One Thousand and One Dark Nights


Once upon a time, in the future…

 

I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.

I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and

the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast

library at my father’s home and collected thousands

of volumes of fantastic tales.

 

I learned all about ancient races and bygone

times. About myths and legends and dreams of all

people through the millennium. And the more I read

the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered

that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually

become part of them.

 

I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher

and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I

would not be telling you this tale now.

But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off

with bravery.

 

One afternoon, curious about the myth of the

Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to

see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar

(Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then

sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written

and I had read that by the time he met Scheherazade,

the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand

women.

 

Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived

in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged

places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had

never occurred before and that still to this day, I

cannot explain.

 

Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have

taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can

protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to

protect herself and stay alive.

 

Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.

And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a

point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.

And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that

he might hear the rest of my dark tale.

 

As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new

one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before

you now.

 

 

Prologue


I never believed in love. Why would I when the only love I ever saw was pretend?

I’d watched my parents pretending, and I’d known it wasn’t real.

I stood under hot lights in front of a camera, faking emotions from the time I was five.

I screamed in fury, kissed with passion, and burned with the need for revenge.

I loved deeply. Rapturously.

Jealously flowed through my veins along with need and longing and violent lust.

But it was never real. Not under those lights with the cameras running and the crew standing silently nearby.

And certainly not in the world outside the sound stage where I drew men close, wanting to lose myself in the forgetfulness of lust and passion, but never wanting them to know me, much less love me.

I was hollow. Alone.

Then he came along, all strength and icy determination. As bold and brash as a leading man. He promised to keep me safe. And though there’s no denying the attraction between us, he told me to keep my distance.

I tell myself I don’t want him.

I know that I can’t love him.

But, oh, how I wish that I could.

 

 

Chapter One


Get a grip, Frannie. You’ve got this.

I stand in my kitchen and draw in a breath, determined to listen to my own pep talk. Yes, it’s a threat. But that doesn’t mean I have to be scared.

And even if I am scared, that doesn’t mean I have to show it.

I’m a good actress, after all. I know this. Hell, everyone knows it. I’ve been in front of the camera my whole life—literally. My little tush was filmed on many a changing table for diaper commercials, and I was the baby or toddler in so many Law & Order-type shows I can’t even remember them all.

Granted, that was more like modeling, not acting. But I’ve been doing the real thing—stepping into another persona, acting the part—since I was six and landed my first soap opera. At nine, my character died in a tragic helicopter crash, but that was okay. I’d been noticed, and after that, I’d played the perky elementary-age daughter in many a big-screen rom com, then the best friend, then the love interest.

And, of course, there’s Bright Eyes, the family sitcom that centered around the Bright family with the single dad and seven darling kids who were more than a handful. I was ten when I landed the role of Kelly Bright, the second youngest daughter. That show ran for a decade, and even though so much of it was hell, the bottom line is that I kicked serious acting ass, even parlaying that part into bigger movie roles.

Basically, I worked my tail off. I listened to my directors, took classes, and honed my craft. I’ve won Emmys and Academy Awards and raves from critics all over the globe.

Bottom line? I know how to act. More important, I know how to fake it.

And yet here I am standing in my very own house with absolutely no idea of the part I should be playing.

I draw a deep breath, then look around the kitchen. I’d supposedly come in here to top off my orange juice, but that had just been the best excuse I could come up with in the moment.

The real reason was to get away from the cabal forming in my dining area—the slew of friends and security specialists sitting around my dining table as they bang out ideas for how to keep me alive.

Alive.

Someone is trying to kill me, and the blow or the bullet or the poison or whatever could come from anywhere at any time. I’ll have no warning. No control. And that team in there is supposed to protect me, but I’m not running that show either. They’re just taking over, doing all the things to keep me safe. To keep me managed.

I shudder, but whether it’s because of fear from the cryptic note or the hard memory of my father’s controlling hand, I really don’t know. I gasp, suddenly lost in the past, and the glass I’m holding slips through my fingers and breaks on the Italian marble floor.

I gape at the mess of glass and OJ at my feet, then jump when one of the Stark Security guys bursts through the door. He’s tall and muscular, with thick honey-blond hair and green eyes with the kind of glorious lashes I pay a small fortune for. I can’t recall his name, though it’s on the tip of my tongue.

He’s not as hot as some of the men I’ve been cast opposite, but I wouldn’t kick him out of my bed. Of course, as far as every ridiculous tabloid-style website is concerned, I never kick anyone out of my bed.

“Careful,” I say, nodding to the mess. “The tiles are slippery when they get wet.”

“Especially in those shoes,” he says, glancing at my feet. I’m wearing silk slacks, a tank, and a matching jacket. A semi-casual power outfit designed to convey that I’m in charge. And, naturally, I’ve paired it with my favorite heels. I look elegant and in control.

Unfortunately, he’s absolutely right. Slip on the OJ, and I’ll look like a fool, not like a confident woman who’s taking control of a bad situation by hiring a bodyguard.

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