Outwardly, Noah Carter is riding high as the tech world’s hottest new genius. Inside, he’s still reeling from the abduction of his wife and baby daughter eight years ago, and then the devastating discovery of his child’s body. For years, he kept up hope that his wife was alive, but now that she’s been declared legally dead, he’s thrown himself even more deeply into his work, cutting himself off from emotional ties because they just hurt too damn much.
Then he meets Kiki Porter, an eternal optimist with a killer work ethic and dreams of fronting a band. And everything changes. Even though he tries his damnedest to fight it…
Sexually, they are combustible together. But their true fire is emotional, though it is a slow to burn. But once it lights, it is all consuming. The relationship grows emotionally, the sex is hot, things are good.
But just when it’s looking like they might have a real future together, the past comes back to haunt them. And Noah’s going to have to decide what he’s willing to give up for love …
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I was so not anticipating the emotional torture that the latest book in the Stark World series would bring into my reading experience, but I should have known that J. Kenner’s heroes are about as tortured as they come and her heroines find a way to bring their men as well as readers to their knees, so even if I was ill-prepared, I was able to roll with the punches and embrace this second chance love story for the incredible journey that it is.
The Stark World is one of high risks, which is why each hero in this setting knows what it means to lose big but also what it means to win it all, and while Noah is fairly new to all that Stark Enterprises offers, he knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom, losing his heart and his mind in the process, and he also knows what it means to soar without fear, holding onto the other half of your soul, unafraid of losing yourself in someone else, and it’s those feelings that he wants and quite frankly needs in his life again because for far too long, he’s merely been existing, which only leaves him empty and thinking about what might have been. But the only way he is going to get another shot at happiness is if he proves to Kiki as well as himself that he will not allow anything or anyone to stand in his way of reclaiming the one woman who has always been his, even after he broke her heart…even after everything fell apart.
Readers can’t help but support Noah’s efforts to salvage what’s left of Kiki’s feelings for him and repair the damage that he caused, and while he does go about things in less than desirable ways, at times, every action and reaction is because of the stronghold that Kiki has on him, and he refuses to go without Kiki’s smiles, her laughter, her heart, and her body any longer.
But I have to admit that Noah’s character did feel a little flat…a little static when it came to learning from his mistakes. His decision all those years ago categorically changed not only his life but Kiki’s life as well and that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration when he, once again, has to be make a monumental choice…that left me feeling a little put off and a whole lot frustrated because one would think that clarity would be gained the second time around, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for Noah.
I loved Kiki, but she frustrated me at times as well. Her actions and reactions to Noah made perfect sense given their history and the fact that she’s been left behind by other people than just him, but I wanted to experience more of her quick temper and I needed her to make Noah work for every step he took back into her life after breaking her heart.
Despite my frustrations, though, Wicked Torture is a fabulous addition to J. Kenner’s Stark World series and the pop-ins she allows her previous characters to make in her new characters’ stories make for fantastic catch-ups with old friends.
I don’t know how J. keeps track of all her alpha males in this dynamic setting she’s created, but I, for one, can’t get enough of them or their leading ladies and I hope that she allows readers to remain in this world forever because it’s definitely one delectably hot and sweet escape from reality;)
4.5 Poison Apples
Time to heal.
Somehow, though, he never found the enthusiasm. Or maybe that was just an excuse. Another way of punishing himself for walking away from the woman he loved in favor of the woman he’d owed.
And since he’d never have either of them again, he needed to kick his own ass, pick up the pieces of his life, and start building something real. After all, there wasn’t a tech gadget he couldn’t design, build, or repair. So why was he so clueless when it came to his own damn life?
It was time, and it would be easy. Painless even, because God knew Evie embodied everything he admired in a woman. Strength. Intelligence. Ambition. Humor. Beauty. She was as desirable as Lyle had promised and obviously enthusiastic.
In other words, he was all out of excuses.
He stood up, intending to tell her to lead the way. But the words that came out of his mouth shocked them both. “I’m sorry, Evie,” he said. “You’ve been wonderful, but I have an early meeting, and I should probably get home.”
“Oh.” He’d surprised her as she was rising, and now she teetered awkwardly on her heels, as if his unexpected words would physically topple her.
He reached out a hand to steady her, and for the briefest moment, he considered pulling her close and fighting his way past his hesitation. She was everything he should want in a woman—with the unfortunately insurmountable problem that she wasn’t what he wanted at all. Or, rather, she wasn’t who he wanted.
Goddamn his stupid, unrealistic fantasies.
And while he was at it, goddamn Kiki, too.
He was being an idiot and unfair, and he knew it. An idiot, because he’d made his choice to walk away from Kiki long ago, and he knew damn well that he’d shattered her in the process. Even if he could have seen his way clear to look her up after all these years, he’d forfeited his right to come crawling back.
Unfair, because not ten minutes ago he’d been ready to take the plunge with Evie, and yet here he was, dodging and shifting like a damn coward, trying to swim up out of the deep black ocean of loss and pain. A familiar pain that wrapped him like a blanket, so cloying it was almost comfortable. And he knew damn well that there was only one way to fight it—he needed to take the girl to her room and try to fuck the darkness out of him.
The way he’d done with countless other women.
The way that never worked like it should. That only dulled the sharp edges of his pain, but added no light to the darkness.
That wasn’t what he wanted. Not anymore. One of the reasons he’d moved to Austin was to heal, after all. To heal, and to break bad habits.
Still, it was tempting, and it took more strength than he expected to shake his head again and say very gently, “I really am sorry. I’m not … ready.” She’d been polite enough not to mention the tragedy in his past, but he was certain that Lyle must have at least told her that he’d lost his wife and daughter. Hopefully, that softened the blow of rejection.
She’d regained her footing, and now she stepped back, her forehead creased as her eyes flicked over him, expertly assessing him as she would a witness. “It’s been almost nine years, I’m told.” The sharp edge of her voice sliced his heart. So much for softening the blow. “If you don’t get ready soon, I can’t help but think you’re going to end up sad and alone.”
With a thin, sympathetic smile, she turned and walked away, leaving him to watch her go and wonder at her perceptiveness. Because she was right.
He was going to end up sad and alone.
Hell, he already was.
J. Kenner (aka Julie Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and #1 International bestselling author of over seventy novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.
Known primarily for her award-winning and international bestselling erotic romances (including the Stark and Most Wanted series) that have reached as high as #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, JK has been praised by RT Bookclub for having “cornered the market on sinfully attractive, dominant antiheroes and the women who swoon for them.” A five time finalist for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award, JK took home the first RITA trophy awarded in the category of erotic romance for her novel, Claim Me (book 2 of her Stark Trilogy). Her books have sold over three million copies and are published in over twenty languages.
In her previous career as an attorney, JK worked as a clerk on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and practiced primarily civil, entertainment and First Amendment litigation in Los Angeles and Irvine, California, as well as in Austin, Texas. She currently lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and two rather spastic cats.