Home > Hidden With You (Stark Security #7)

Hidden With You (Stark Security #7)
Author: J. Kenner

 

Prologue

 

 

I’m no stranger to being alone. To being surrounded by people, but entirely by myself. Wrapped in darkness, yet hiding it with bright smiles and bubbly laughter. Faking a life in the hope it will become real but knowing that won’t ever happen.

Then he entered my world, stepping past the walls that surround me. Filling the dark, small place in which I hide with light and hope.

He’s here and he’s real. He’s sunshine and joy. Light and love.

But that is only an illusion. The truth is he belongs in the darkness. It feeds him. Fuels him.

He’s horrible.

A monster. A bastard.

I look at him and know that’s what I should think now that I know what he planned. What he wanted.

And yet there’s warmth under his icy exterior. There’s hope in his eyes.

I see it. I crave it. And somehow the monster turns beautiful in my sight.

But the more his heat engulfs me, the more I am afraid.

Because I know better than anyone that fire destroys everything, and all I can hope is that love can still bloom from the ashes of those flames.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Jasper Kent sat on the bottom step of Jamie and Ryan Hunter’s back porch, his toes in the sand as he watched the sun slip away. A few clouds hung low in the sky, now illuminated in vibrant shades of purple and orange as Mother Nature painted yet another masterpiece on the Malibu horizon.

This was what he’d dreamed of so many years ago. A home outside of London with a beautiful view where he could grow old with Sandra. A house where Bonnie could grow up, huge and roomy and ready to be filled with sisters and brothers for her. A fairytale life wherein he and Sandra would sit on the porch and watch their children play and laugh and grow. The world would continue to turn with its horrors and tragedies, but his family would stay warm and safe in the protective bubble of a loving home.

And how much of a crock had that turned out to be?

Instead of London, he was living in Los Angeles.

Instead of a family, he was all alone.

Instead of a home, he had a hotel room.

Instead of a life, he’d become a ghost.

No. Not a ghost. A hunter. For ten years, he’d been chasing the monster who’d murdered his family. That was his quest. His mission. That was why he’d left MI6 and gone freelance, sliding into a dark world where he killed for both money and information, taking out evil as he pursued his own vendetta.

For ten years, he’d chased lead after lead, but his efforts had led nowhere. Now, though, he had another. Thin, true, but it was all he had, and he would tug on this thread to the end.

That was why he’d come back to the States. Why he’d accepted the offer from Stark Security. He needed access to the well-funded agency’s databases. He needed resources. Because with a decade of misses piled up behind him, he knew damn well that this was his last shot at finding the bastard who’d ripped Sandra and Bonnie from him. Screw this up and there’d be no retribution. No closure.

They’d be gone. Finally and truly gone.

Then he really would be a ghost. A haunted man, moving through the world, stripped of purpose and desire.

But not yet, dammit. Not quite yet.

He stiffened at the footsteps behind him, his training kicking in, then immediately relaxed as he recognized the gait. Ryan Hunter, the director of Stark Security and his new boss.

“You have an incredible house,” Jasper said without turning around.

Ryan chuckled, then sat beside him. “And that’s why we hired you. A man with eyes in the back of his head is handy in our business.”

Jasper glanced over his shoulder and met the other man’s piercing blue eyes. “And here I thought it was my good looks and sharp humor.”

“That and Quincy’s recommendation,” Ryan retorted. Quincy Radcliffe, a former colleague from MI6, had left the service years ago. Jasper had heard rumors that he’d been involved in a vigilante group founded by billionaire playboy Dallas Sykes, but that seemed so unlike Quincy that Jasper had discounted the intel. Then again, the world was full of strange things—Jasper himself was proof of that— so maybe it was true. All he knew for sure was that Quincy was one of the first agents recruited to Stark Security by its founder, billionaire Damien Stark.

So when the possible trails to his family’s killer petered down to one narrow path leading to the States, Jasper had made a call. Quincy had introduced him to Damien and Ryan, and just like that, Jasper had a solid base in the States from where he could run his own operation. While doing the job they paid him for, too, of course.

“We don’t have sunsets like that in London,” Jasper said, gesturing at the pyrotechnics that were wrapping up in front of them, seemingly lighting the ocean on fire. Soon, darkness would fall completely, and the only illumination would come from the upper patio where the party was starting to ramp up as more and more guests arrived.

“We ordered it especially for you,” Ryan said. “Wanted you to feel good about accepting this job.”

“You certainly know how to roll out the red carpet.” He turned to face his boss. “Seriously, thank you. It was time to leave London. Time for a change.” That had been his excuse. The well-rehearsed explanation that after so many years, he needed to leave the memories behind. He could hardly tell his new boss that not only would his attention be split, but that he also intended to covertly utilize his new employer’s tech to follow that precious, single lead.

Ryan nodded, his expression compassionate. “Come on. You already met Jamie, but Zelda’s just arrived. And this party’s just as much about her.”

“Sounds good.” He stood at the same time Ryan did, then shrugged into his jacket before bending down for his shoes. He slipped them on, then glanced once more at the infinite ocean. The light was gone, and the world hung in shades of gray. The same gray that had enveloped him since Sandra’s and Bonnie’s light had been stolen from him. His wife had been thirty. Their daughter only five. Two entire lives gone, and he’d never get them back.

But somehow, someday, he would avenge them.

He turned his back to the gray, then followed Ryan up the wood and stone staircase that led toward the twinkling fairy-style lights that illuminated the upper levels of the huge back patio, and with each step he told himself he was getting closer to his goal.

 

 

“We’re so glad you could make it,” Jamie Archer Hunter said as she squeezed his hand and flashed a very camera-ready smile. She was the kind of woman the camera loved, with her sculptured face, wide mouth, and thick, dark hair. He knew she’d worked as an entertainment reporter and part-time actress before finally landing solid roles, including the lead in the upcoming Intercontinental, a thriller based on a book written by the other guest of honor, Zelda Clayton.

They were on the top level of decking by the infinity pool. The house was designed with four levels of decks, the top one partially covered with huge glass doors that could be fully opened. During the day, the view must be incredible. At night, the stars twinkled above, the house far enough away from its neighbors to welcome the darkness and invite starlight, making this outdoor living space warm and inviting and beautiful. Jasper could only assume the interior of the home was equally remarkable.

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