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Naomi: Honestly, the thought of being locked down with my boss and his billionaire bestie isn’t exactly unappealing. All I have to do is keep my video game habit a secret for a few weeks, and keep my snarky sense of humor under control. Not talking for a few weeks ought to be easy. With Cash’s incessant teasing, though, it’s impossible to stay silent. Now my boss has seen a side of me that I’d rather keep hidden…
Zane: Spending weeks alone with my funny, nerdy employee, Naomi, and my old friend Cash, would be perfect under any other circumstances. But my best friend’s life is in danger. Naomi’s supposed to be helping me keep him secret and safe. Instead, she’s acting like the life of the party – and I can’t decide whether to be amused or alarmed. Either way, I can’t resist her.
Cash: The day I sold my tech company was the the worst day of my life. An enviable problem to have, I know. Now, the buyers have me on lockdown for thirty days. I have nowhere to go, no access to the internet, and two babysitters to make sure I can’t flee my gilded cage. Seducing my female guard starts as a challenge…but it might end up becoming much more.
To my great surprise, Cash turns out to be a pretty decent guy.
“Don’t be fooled,” Zane warns me. But it’s not often that a man actually tries to talk to me, and I find myself susceptible to his flattery.
It starts casually enough. He sits on the bed behind me, watching me fight goblins in a dungeon. I am leaning against the foot. There isn’t much else to do—the DVD selection here at the hotel is crap, and we aren’t allowed to use streaming services because of the no-internet stipulation—so once he’s recovered from the hangover, Cash spends hours with his knee in my peripheral vision while I slash and hack my way through a confusing and violent digital world. Video games beat the real world by a mile, if you ask me; piles of bills and the slow decay of age are unbeatable bosses. At least in games I can fight and my way to victory.
“How’d you wind up working for Zane?” Cash asks on the second afternoon. It’s the first truly personal question he’s ventured.
“Needed money.” I don’t look away from my console. “I like fighting, too.”
Let him make of that what he will. If he doesn’t know I’m also a martial arts expert, I’m not going to be the one to enlighten him.
Despite my standoffishness, Cash sticks around. He peppers me with questions from time to time, about the game, or about my life. Once in a while, he drops a compliment. For example: “You’re really good with that double-bladed axe. Took that fucker’s head right off.”
Hours pass in this fashion. I have no idea what Zane is doing. Boring business shit, probably. Billing people, managing his other security contractors, I don’t even know what all goes into running an enterprise like his. Even though he has an administrative assistant, I know how hard he works. Babysitting Cash is easy. Since Zane, my friend, seems to need the space, I’m happy to take point.
“You married?” asks Cash after a while. Time has ceased to have meaning. I’ll know it’s time to order dinner when Zane emerges from wherever he’s hiding to turn on the evening news. I don’t really understand it. He claims to be a skeptic with regard to the virus yet every night he’s glued to the TV in the main sitting area. The numbers are daunting. There are reports of bodies rotting in funeral homes.
Me, I’m happy to keep my head in another world. In this world, I worry about my mother. I hired someone to prepare meals for her and check in, but there’s no changing the fact that I left her alone for an entire month. The isolation won’t be good for her. But we needed the money from this job. I couldn’t afford to turn it down. She’ll just have to deal.
So long has passed since he asked that I’m pretty sure Cash had forgotten his question. But he responds immediately, as though he’d been waiting for me to respond. “What happened?”
I pause the game and look up. He’s on his stomach, unshaven chin propped in his palms, watching me. I don’t know what to make of this.
“Nothing good.” I should go back to killing monsters and solving puzzles but I don’t. I just sit there like a lump, unable to figure out what to do with this this beautiful man’s attention. I can’t understand why I have it. He’s rich, smart, and physically fit. What the hell would he see in me?
He traces the curve of my shoulder with the back of his hand.
When my gaze flicks to meet his, I swear I see a glint of lust in his eyes.
A familiar ache blooms in my chest. Hope and desire, two feelings I don’t trust because they never lead anywhere good. Not for me. Besides, my heart belongs to Zane. He’s a good man. Trustworthy. Not the kind of person who berates you for quitting a job that drives you to depression, or scolds you for wasting your potential when you decide to take contract work and support your ailing mother. No, if Zane and I ever got together, I know I could count on him through thick and thin. This is why I don’t dare to make a move. I’d rather have him in my life as a friend than risk losing him for good if a romantic relationship goes bad—and for me, they always do.
I pick up the controller and resume my game. A few minutes later, the news kicks on. My stomach gurgles loud enough for Cash to hear.
“We’d better order dinner,” I say, saving the game and turning it off without looking at him. I feel his presence at my back as we rejoin Zane.
Later, when we are alone, my friend tries to warn me off. “Cash is playing with you, Naomi. I know how you get around men.”
“Oh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
He chuckles softly, and butterflies explode in my midsection. Ugh. He really does know me too well. “You don’t look before you leap. Every time, you fling yourself at some poor guy thinking he’ll be the solution to all your problems.”
His censure does absolutely nothing to convince me that I’m on the wrong path. “Gee. Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“I just don’t need some romantic blow-up in the middle of a job, okay? If you absolutely must, hook up with Cash when we get out of here. Until then, I don’t want to see it.”
There’s a catch in his voice when he says that, which gives me pause. “So, it’s not that it bothers you to see me hook up with him, it’s that you don’t want to be left out? Is that it?”
He casts me this cocky half-grin. “Kinky, Naomi. Didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”
I take this as a challenge. “What? You think I couldn’t handle two men?”
He laughs at that. “Girl. You can’t even handle one.”
That comment makes me mad. Hurt bursts in my chest. It spreads outward through my abdomen in fiery streaks of anger. “Are you going to fire me if I try?”
Zane’s laughter stops cold. “You’re not serious.”
He shakes his head in apparent disbelief. “I’m going to catch some sleep before the night watch. Stay on your guard, Naomi, Cash has no intention of making your job easy for you. I guarantee he’ll try to slip past you at some point, when he thinks you least expect it. He’s been online ever since figured out what a computer was. The withdrawal has to be fierce.” Zane pulls himself out of the chair, stands tall, and looks down at me. “If he escapes, Naomi, I absolutely will fire you. On the spot.”
I swallow past a lump in my throat. “Won’t be necessary, Zane. I promise.”
“Good.” He pats me on the shoulder and leaves me to finish my noodles, alone.
Cash doesn’t give up easily, I’ll grant him that. For days after our conversation, I am deliberately cold toward him. He still hangs around but gradually he stops making little nudges with his knee and brushing the backs of my hands when I hand him an object.
I miss physical contact.
I miss feeling desirable. Despite what Zane told me about Cash’s probable intentions, I wanted Cash to flirt with me. I liked the attention.
Besides, every day, the news left me with a sick feeling that if any of us caught this virus, it could mean drawing our last breaths alone. The last man I had sex with was my husband, before our marriage imploded and we parted ways acrimoniously. I moved in with my mother, which isn’t exactly conducive to finding your next romantic partner. Dating apps seemed more like a frightening risk than an entertaining way to meet someone; with the pandemic, they’re not really an option anyway.
What I absolutely do not want is to go to my grave without some kind of marital palate cleanser. I needed a rebound. My options were my friend and boss, or the surprisingly winsome tech bro we’re babysitting for the month.
I probably ought to like him less than I do. It is surely a measure of my spectacularly terrible taste in men.
Although, that doesn’t explain my longstanding crush on Zane. He is definitely a good man. Better than I deserve, which is why the chances that I will ever make a move are practically nonexistent. I need him in my life, in whatever way I can have him.
Which leaves Cash.
Fine. Twist my arm.
Even with his scruffy beard – especially with his scruffy beard – he’s an extremely attractive man. High cheekbones, two dark slashes of eyebrows, a mouth that would be pretty on a woman. Granted, it’s usually ticked up at the corners in a sarcastic grimace, but who am I to object?
My standards are low, anyway. He doesn’t need to be good to me. Just good enough in bed to create a few new, happier memories.
On the first day of our second week in lockdown, I tilt my head to look at him. Cash is lying on his stomach, chin propped in one hand. He’s bored. We’re all bored. Nothing about that is going to change unless I screw up my courage.
So, I do. I pause the game, stretch my aching wrist, and roll up onto my hip. Twisted like this, I press a soft kiss to his scruffy cheek. Then, I sit down and resume my game.
When I glance up again, Cash cocks an eyebrow and looks at me. “What was that about?”
“Nothing.” Yes. This is my idea of seducing a man. I know. It’s a miracle I ever got married in the first place. “I like having you around.”
He smirks faintly at that.
Then his finger traces the curve of my shoulder beneath the cap sleeve of my t-shirt, and a shiver runs up my spine.
Oh, hell. What have I gotten myself into?
Find out on 5/11/21. Preorder Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: Naomi wherever eBooks are sold.