Read an excerpt from Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: Naomi

Coming 5/11/21

Available wherever eBooks are soldPreorder to receive special .99 release-week pricing.

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.

Naomi

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.” 

“Thanks.” 

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.

“I was.”

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.  

Holy shit. 

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.” 

“Dead 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.

Read a preview from Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: Caitlyn

In just 12 days, you’ll be able to read this hot, enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity menage novella. I am so excited for you to meet Cait, Rhett and Ryan on 3/17 – just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!

I am sharing a chapter that really gets to the heart of the conflict between these three characters. You’ll also hear from Caitlyn’s identical twin sister, Gwen. (No, she won’t be getting a story; she is happily married.)

Caitlyn is a sports commentator who has been targeted by a stalker. To keep the network’s prize asset safe from harm, Caitlyn Falk’s boss decides to take her to a secure hideout, over her strenuous objections.

But Rhett and Caitlyn are a volatile combination. Can Ryan help smooth the way between them?

Find out in Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: CaitlynPreorder wherever eBooks are sold. .99 release week only!

CHAPTER FOUR:

ALONE, I shrug out of my coat and hang it in the spacious closet. I’m too rattled by the evening’s strange turn of events to sleep, so I spend the next hour hanging my collection of tailored jewel-toned sheath dresses—my signature look—so they don’t wrinkle. I check in with my sister while setting up my makeup on the counter. 

“How’s Frankie?” I ask. “Does he miss me?” 

Instead of responding, Gwen holds the phone close enough to my pet for me to hear his unmistakable grumbly purr. 

“Traitor,” I complain.

She laughs. “He’s fine. We’re old friends. I gave him a long session with the feather teaser, a little catnip, and some kitty treats. Now I’m having a glass of whisky and watching X-Men.”

“Sounds like a nice night. Better than mine.”

“How’s the secure location working out?” Gwen asks. The sympathy in her voice makes my eyes sting with tears. 

“Fine. Better than fine, really. Based on the car Ryan was driving I figured we were headed for some deer-heads-and-antlers-quality digs, but this place is more like a multimillionaire’s vacation home.” I dig through the pockets of my suitcase and discover a lump that might be my hair dryer. Instead, I extract my personal massage device.

Oh, excellent. That will make it much easier not to do something stupid like hook up with Ryan or worse, my boss.

I set it aside.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you. I didn’t have a lot of warning myself,” Gwen says. “Rhett did basically the same thing to me that he did to you—called me up, gave me half an hour to pack, and told me to get in the car. I wouldn’t have gone along with it if it hadn’t been for the timing.”

“The timing?” 

“The switch had to be this evening because Vance is being transported. There was no way for him to be watching you, and the press wasn’t on the hunt for you yet. Now I’m here, nice and cozy, with your attack kitty to keep my safe. As long as I never leave your apartment, no one will know I’m here as a decoy.”

“That’s going to be insanely boring.”

“Taking one for the team, Cait. Hope you appreciate it.” Her voice softens. “You know I’ll do anything to help.”

I swallow. “I know. I’d do the same for you.”

The vibrator dangles from my fingers. We disconnect, and I press the switch. It jumps into motion. I smile to think of the last time I used it, a little over a week ago. I had traveled to Florida to work the last game between Tampa’s Buccaneers and the Seahawks. It’s surreal how fast everything closed down. Events are so fresh that the device still carries a charge.

I lay on the bed and stare up at the ceiling of my unfamiliar room. I place my favorite attachment on the wand and kick off my pants, the loose top and my sports bra.

Hands. I imagine strong hands on my body, covering my breasts. Hot kisses trailing down my neck. Up my inner thighs. I think of strong male bodies with stiff cocks and moan. 

The vibrator’s silicone tip does its job efficiently. I’m used to taking care of this myself. It’s easier than trying to date, but I miss the slow build of true desire. I fantasize about Ryan’s rock-hard body on mine. But when the climax hits me, it’s Rhett’s silver eyes I see.

#

 I pad downstairs at seven the next morning to inspect my prison.

What a backward situation, that I am confined here while my tormentor is technically free. Resentment chokes me.

“Sleep well?”

Startled, I spill the hot water I’m using to make my tea. “Great, Mr. Everett.”

He saunters into the kitchen wearing only a loose pair of sweatpants. With a flash of heated embarrassment, I realize I am staring at the impeccably sculpted wall of his abdomen and pectorals. I force myself to look anywhere but at him. The stove burners become instantly fascinating.

“I thought I’d make pancakes for breakfast.”

He leans back against the countertop, watching me.

“Sounds great. I’m good with this, though. No need to make an effort on my behalf.” I raise my mug and smile. I feel naked without makeup. It feels as though we’re having the morning after awkwardness from a one-night-stand, without the benefit of having had sex.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” He shrugs. “You might want to check out the pool. It’s in the back.”

“I didn’t bring a suit,” I blurt out. Damn and double-damn. Why did I say that, to him, of all people?

Rhett’s too smart not to pick up on the fact that his nakedness has put me off-balance. He opens the refrigerator and starts taking things out. A stick of butter. Eggs. Milk. Orange Juice. With each turn and shift I get a fresh angle of his mouthwatering torso. Casually, he glances over his shoulder and smirks. “You can always swim naked. I won’t look.”

My face flames. I grip my mug in both hands, ignoring the searing heat on my palms. “Uh-huh,” I mumble before moving into the dining room to the side of the kitchen. The bank of windows gives an unimpeded view of the mountainside. I stare blankly at the gorgeous vista, but my boss’ body is burned into my retinas.

I close my eyes. Memories of his lanky motions reel through my mind. A confusing flutter in my midsection indicates that my feelings toward Rhett Martens are more complicated than I like to admit.

Under different circumstances, being holed up with these two men would be ideal. But now? the presence of two extremely attractive men is nothing but torture. I just hope my wand is up to the task of getting me through this ordeal.

A whiff of chlorine touches my senses and a blast of cool air wafts over me. My eyes snap open and I turn to find Ryan coming around the corner.

“Hi,” I say. Ryan has a towel wrapped around his waist and another flipped around his neck. The sight of this does things to my stomach. “Um…Mr. Everett is making pancakes.”

He grins. “That should be interesting.”

“Interesting?” I repeat. I am preoccupied with trying to keep my eyes where they belong, which is not lingering over his naked torso. But the smile that ghosts over his mouth stops me cold.

“Rhett’s not known for his culinary skills,” Ryan informs me.

As if on cue, there comes an ear-splitting blare from the smoke alarm system. The smell of burning food touches my senses, and muttered curses follow. I press a fist to my lips to prevent from smiling—or at least, to keep Ryan from seeing my amusement.

They’re friends, I realize with a flash of disappointment. Which means that the bodyguard isn’t likely to welcome my advances. Not with the tension simmering between me and Rhett. I can’t ignore the fact that my boss clearly has designs on me. 

The commotion in the kitchen quiets. I imagine Rhett waving a towel like a deranged, shirtless matador, and smile. Ryan catches my eye.

“Try to act impressed,” he says, and pats me on the shoulder in a gesture I recognize from the rival-friend bro world of football. “I don’t think Rhett has ever cooked for a woman before.”

“I’ll be gentle,” I promise. “Sounds as though you ought to go and bail him out before he burns the place down, though. Mind if I check out the pool?”

He hesitates. I wonder how secure this location really is. If anything were to happen to the men who brought me here, I’d be on my own in the woods, far from any other source of assistance. But then he shrugs and says, “Go ahead. I’ll make sure Rhett produces something edible for breakfast. We won’t bother you until it’s time to eat.”

I make my way down the hallway past a powder room and out a wood-and-glass door into a heated side room. It’s cooler here than it was in the main house, but still warm enough to tempt me. There’s an artfully placed arrangement of potted plants near one window that makes the pool feel as though it’s part of the outdoors.

I hold the handrail and step onto the top stair. Water caresses my ankles. 

“What the hell,” I mutter. Rhett invited me to swim naked, so strip off my clothes and do a few laps. I can only do five or six strokes each crossing but I enjoy the rhythm and the calming submersion.

For the first time in weeks, I relax. The situation with Eddie Vance has weighed heavily on my mind. It’s better than it was right after his stolen videos started appearing on the internet, but I still carry a lot of anger and resentment for the way he’s upended my life. Which is why, when I come up for air at the end of one lap and see him standing outside the window, I shriek my lungs out.

Copyright Jordana Pearce, 2021. All rights reserved.

Double Cover Reveal: Caitlyn & Naomi

The final two covers for the CONFINED series are here! First: Caitlyn.

She is a sports commentator who has been targeted by a stalker. To keep the network’s prize asset safe from harm, Caitlyn Falk’s boss decides to take her to a secure hideout.

One problem: she and her boss, Everett Martens, have clashed since the day they met. She thinks he’s a playboy looking for a conquest. He thinks she’s an ice queen.

The truth is more complicated.

Rhett brings his friend, Ryan, along to act as bodyguard. He’ll protect Caitlyn from physical harm but there is nothing he can do to prevent them from butting heads – and he hates being stuck in the middle.

Can the trio work out their differences and find happiness together? Find out in Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: Caitlyn. Preorder wherever eBooks are sold. .99 release week only!

Second cover reveal: Naomi

Naomi is an introverted gamer with a longstanding crush on her partner, Zane. He’s her best friend and colleague. Neither of them wants to admit to their attraction lest they mess up the best relationships they’ve ever had.

But when they’re assigned to babysit – er, guard – a roguish tech CEO for thirty days, Cash throws their comfortable working relationship into disarray.

Seducing Cash is one way Naomi can get Zane’s attention…but will it backfire and cost her everything?

Find out in Confined with the CEO and the Bodyguard: Naomi. Preorder wherever eBooks are sold. .99 release week only!

Read an excerpt from Confined with the CEO & the Bodyguard: Sadie

Before the world went on lockdown – almost a *year* ago, which, ugh, so depressing – my family had plans to visit family in New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment cast a spell over me as a kid, and I wanted to share it with my own children.

Alas, like so many other people, we were forced to cancel the trip. While eagerly awaiting the time when travel is safe again, I was able to visit the southwest in my imagination by writing this story.

You can take a tour of property that inspired The Black Diamond Ranch, the setting for Sadie’s story, here. It’s just a *wee* bit out of my budget at almost $2 million list – but looking is free, right?

Speaking of looking…the inspiration for Dakota’s character is Star Wars actor John Boyega. An intrepid Twitter user captured stills from his recent film project last October. I took one look and knew I had to write about them!

Sadie and Beau took a little longer to come together, figuratively and literally. Once Sadie started talking to me, I knew this story had to take place in New Mexico.

I can’t wait for you to meet these three on 2/3/21. Make sure you preorder CONFINED WITH THE CEO AND THE BODYGUARD: SADIE to get the special release-week price of just .99c/.99p (all local currencies converted).

Without further ado, meet our heroine, Sadie.

Chapter One: Sadie 

“Damn it!” I kick a pebble against the curb. It promptly bounces back to hit me in the shin. “Double damn,” I mutter, rubbing it through my jeans. Ain’t that some kind of metaphor. 

My stomach growls. It’s been six hours since I ate my last stale protein bar. 

I’m used to hardship. But this pandemic has kicked away every bit of hard-won progress I’ve made as surely as if a malevolent god had chopped down a ladder I was climbing. If I don’t find a way to get out of this spiral…Well, it’s not like things could get much worse. I can always— 

Not going to happen

My mind shuts down the thought before I can even finish it. I won’t go back to stripping. I’ve left that behind, now. I just need to find a perch, a ledge, any toehold to latch onto so I can survive the next few weeks. 

At least, I hope the pandemic shutdown will only last a few weeks. I don’t know what I’ll do if we can’t get it under control. I can’t afford not to work, and I also can’t catch this thing. It’s not like I have health insurance. Getting sick would be a calamity for me. 

Sunlight on silver metal spears me in the eyes. I wince and blink. My sunglasses are scratched but I pull them down over my face. The mask steams the lenses. I snatch them off again and scowl.  

“Face it, Sadie Banes. You’re up Schitt Creek without a paddle,” I say to myself.  

Ten minutes ago, I had an appointment with the benefits office in which a harried, masked clerk behind a plexiglass barrier informed me that because I worked part-time as a contractor, I am ineligible for unemployment. All I have to get through this out-of-control pandemic is one beat-up, gas-guzzling van that doubles as my home, nineteen crumpled dollar bills in my pocket, and a freshly-printed massage therapist’s license that I suddenly can’t use.  

Who in their right mind wants to get a massage in the midst of a pandemic? Nobody, that’s who. 

Which means everything I’ve worked toward for the past two years has gone poof

The license I trained to obtain? Worthless.  

The table I bought new, even though I couldn’t afford my own studio to set up in? Useless. 

My ambition to rent a live-work space so I can stop living out of my van? On hold—permanently. 

I’d cry if I had any tears left, but hardship wrung those out of me years ago. I’ve been kicked around New Mexico’s foster care system since I was a baby. My mother was estranged from her family due to her spiraling drug addiction. When I was twelve, her sister finally agreed to let me live with them—but by then I’d already been kicked around the foster care system for a decade. 

Still, they gave me a taste of a life I want so badly. One with stability, where I am not constantly scrambling to pay bills and my stomach is never hollow with hunger. 

I tried; I really did. I had goals. Dreams. I wanted to be a nurse, because I like helping people and staying healthy is important to me.  

But when I was seventeen, I made a mistake. A big one.  

On some level, I can’t really blame my aunt and uncle for throwing me out when they discovered I was working as a teen cam girl—though I still think they could have held a little closer to their religious convictions, especially the part about forgiveness. But I can see why they didn’t want me corrupting their real kids. 

Yes, that’s what they called my cousins. To my face. 

When they showed me the door, I was determined to prove that they’d been wrong about me by pure force of will. I graduated early from high school and enrolled in college, but even though I worked two and three jobs, tuition kept going up, while my grades started going down. 

I did the sensible thing and gave up cam work for stripping. Dancing paid better, and I’d rather gyrate on a stage wearing nothing but heels and a thong than juggle a bunch of minimum-wage jobs. 

But then, my boyfriend found out how I was paying half of the rent and he, too, threw me out. Hence, the van. It’s not much of a home, but no one can take it away from me. 

I always intended to go back to school. I needed a quick degree, and settled on massage therapy. It’s not nursing, but it’s still health-related, and the training was fast and relatively affordable.  

Then I graduated into a pandemic—ain’t that just my luck.  

Now, I can’t even rely on my fallback career. 

I kick another rock at the curb. “Triple damn it.” 

There has to be an option. My mind races. Dancing is out of the question. While there are men who would absolutely pay to watch a woman in a mask dance next to naked on a stage, I am not willing to contract a deadly disease for the sake of a few bucks. I can’t exactly go back to cam work, either—not while living in a van with no internet access apart from a battered cell phone. 

I need a job—any job. 

My stomach rumbles. I am light-headed. I’ll think better with a bit of food in me. 

I’m parked across the street from a funky-looking café, the kind that looks like it’s frequented by students from the University of New Mexico. I quickly decide this is the likeliest opportunity for me in a bleak employment landscape. Maybe the fact that I found a parking spot with another forty minutes on the meter right across the street from it is a sign. 

I dodge cars to cross the street with my black hair flying behind me like a wind-ripped pirate’s flag. Even before the pandemic started, I didn’t like spending money to have it cut. Before I set foot inside, I pull it back into a bun. My mask is a bandana secured over my nose and mouth with a hair tie. 

I refuse to let this situation grind me down. There is always a path forward. I just have to keep trying until I find it. 

“What can I get you?” asks the barista. He’s about my age, with a scruffy beard sticking out around his mask and a black band T-shirt covered by a gray apron. I could fit in here, I think. 

“Do you have any day-old pastries?” I ask. I’m not sure I can deal with another rejection on an empty stomach, so I pay for my stale croissant and small cup of coffee and take them into the courtyard. I eat in small bites, trying to make a snack into a meal. I have no weight to lose. I am five-foot-seven and a hundred and ten pounds. My breasts and hips have become suggestions with skin over them. The coffee helps to quell my hunger. 

Now that I’ve eaten, my financial wherewithal is down to $16.32. I toss my paper bag and empty cup into the trash and return to the counter, where I drop the thirty-two cents into the tip jar. It isn’t much but, I know I’m not the only person suffering financially. Even small amounts add up over the course of a shift, so I contribute what little I can. 

“Excuse me,” I ask the guy working there. “Are you hiring?” 

He looks me up and down. I am wearing a black tank top and cutoff jeans. A tattoo is visible on my exposed arm. On my feet are secondhand black boots that are a half-size too large. I stand straight and try to look reliable. 

“Hang on.” He gives me a form to fill out. I stick it inside a printed circular to keep the breeze from bending it and take it out to my vehicle, where I know I have a pen. I fish one out of my backpack and start writing. 

In the address line, I put the street number of the local community center. It’s where I bathe and get water every day—close enough. Hopefully they won’t recognize it until I have a chance to get hired and impress them. 

Under references, I list my last employer. The owner of an upscale salon claimed she was doing me a service by giving me a “paid” internship—one that required me to spend eight hours a day on-site. She charged clients a hundred and twenty dollars an hour for each massage, paid me a dollar more than minimum wage plus tips, and still expected me to fold towels or wash people’s hair without compensation during my so-called downtime. On a good day, I’d go home to my van, exhausted, with a whopping ninety bucks in my pocket. 

When the pandemic hit, she fired me immediately. That bitch had the nerve to tell me about how she was terrified she wouldn’t be able to keep her vacation home if she didn’t cut costs.  

As a homeless person, I was not exactly sympathetic. 

But she didn’t know that about me. She didn’t know about my plans, nor would she have cared if I’d bothered to tell her anything about my struggles. I kept quiet and tried to file for unemployment, only to find that she’d screwed me that way, too, by classifying me as a contractor. 

Lesson learned—dreaming big is for people with things like families and houses and college degrees. Not for me. 

I return the neatly completed, uncreased application to the counter and stand there flipping through the circular while he takes it to the manager in the back. I know there’s almost no chance that I’ll be offered an interview on the spot, but I wait anyway. Hope is a persistent little weed, and hard to root out no matter how many times you’re disappointed. Besides, I don’t mind taking the opportunity to juice up my phone and sit in the air conditioning.  

I spend several minutes circling potential jobs before I spot one that stops me cold. 

Live-in massage therapist wanted. Must be certified & provide own supplies. Housing and stipend paid. 555-555-5555. 

It’s a better deal than the rich bitch offered me at her spa. Maybe it isn’t much to hope for, but like I said—hope is hard to kill. 

I compose a message on my cracked phone, hoping I don’t misspell anything. I can’t see half the words through the spider web of broken glass. At least it still works, mostly. 

“Thanks,” the counter clerk says. “The manager will give you a call if there’s any jobs.” 

If there’s any jobs. Of course, there won’t be an opening. The state is going into lockdown at midnight. He must have thought I was a complete fool. 

I want my thirty-two cents back. 

“Could’ve saved me the trouble of filling it out,” I mutter to myself. I unplug my phone and head back to my van. There’s a bench seat that folds flat so I can sleep at night and a sunroof for ventilation. I have a camp stove, matches, and a five-gallon stash of water. It’s gotten me through four months of homelessness while working full-time, but it’s no way to quarantine. I rip off my bandana mask and toss it on the console. 

My butt vibrates before I can sit down. 

If you’re interested in the job, send me your resume and a copy of your license. 

Hm. It’s probably another scam like the place I just got fired by. Pays less than minimum wage, keeps the profits as “overhead.” I don’t know how it’s legal, but it is, and I refuse to get caught in that arrangement again. 

I work on commission, I write back. From now on, I want a proper cut of the pay. 

There’s no clients right now. Pandemic, remember? Right now, the only assignment is daily massages for two. We’re offering three hundred bucks a week and you’ll have your own room. We expect you to quarantine before you start—IF we hire you. 

I stare at the barely legible message in disbelief. 

I can interview today, if you tell me where to go. 

There’s a long pause before the person on the other end texts me an address. I punch it into my phone and roar out of the parking spot, pumping my fist. 

I’m halfway to The Black Diamond Ranch before I realize that I don’t even know who I’m on my way to meet with. All I know is that by the end of today, I’m either going to be dead or sleeping in a proper bed for once—and to me, a night in a bed is worth the risk. 

My name is Sadie Banes. I have the world’s worst luck, but I am no fool. I have just enough money to get enough gas to drive out to the address he texts to me next. I had better get this job, because I won’t have enough cash or fuel to get back to Albuquerque if they don’t. 

Preorder CONFINED WITH THE CEO AND THE BODYGUARD: SADIE – available wherever eBooks are sold.

2/3/2021 release

Cover Reveal: Sadie

I’m so excited to share this gorgeous cover reveal with you!

On 2/3/21, you’ll get to meet Sadie, Dakota and Beau. All Sadie wants is to move beyond her troubled past, but life keeps getting in the way. A job opportunity at the upscale Black Diamond Ranch is the chance she needs to reinvent herself – if she can resist the sexy temptations of Dakota, the ranch’s CEO, and his bodyguard, Beau.

Spoiler: Sadie does not resist for very long. 😉

As always, there is a heartfelt HEA and plenty of steam.

Cover for CONFINED WITH THE CEO AND THE BODYGUARD: SADIE. 2/3/21 release

Preorder on Amazon or wherever eBooks are sold to get .99 special release week pricing. Sign up for my newsletter to read a sneak peek!

Meet Max from Confined with the CEO & The Bodyguard: Gabriela

I’m excited to bring you the next installment in the CEO & THE BODYGUARD series! This book drops on 1/3/2021. Let’s start the year off right with a lot steam and a whole lot of heart.

Gabriela is a former model turned CEO who went through an early, abusive marriage and subsequent divorce. Thanks to the pandemic, her violent ex-husband has been released from prison. Fearing for her safety, she hires two bodyguards to protect her from him.

Max is a strong, silent softie who just wants to take care of Gabi. Ari left the Israeli Special Forces to move to the United States. He falls in love with Gabriela, but he knows he can’t be happy staying in one place. Will they find a solution to make the three of them happy forever? (Is that really a question?!)

Scroll down to read an excerpt.

Confined with the CEO & the Bodyguard: Gabriela

Preorder now to get special .99 release-week pricing.

The CEO and the Bodyguard is a luxury erotic romance series. Each story features a CEO, a bodyguard, and the woman who brings them to their knees. If you like low-angst and high heat, these MFM contemporary romance fantasies will leave you smiling…despite our locked-down reality. Content Warning: references to domestic violence.

Chapter One: Max

There are worse places to ride out a pandemic. That’s my first thought. 

My new assignment is nowhere to be seen. Fifteen minutes ago, I entered a code on the gate and then a second set of numbers to get through the front door. Good security—I spotted cameras peeping out at me along the short drive up to the main house. 

Inside, everything is white and gray with blue accents that are the same color as the ocean where I took my ex-wife on our honeymoon. It was fifteen years ago, now, but even though we didn’t last, the bright color makes me happy to see it. All the fixtures are gold. The effect is glamorous and feminine. You can tell immediately that she lives alone. No kids. No husband. 

I set my serviceable black duffle bag on the tiled foyer beside a flimsy-looking brass-and-marble console table. On it is a tree hung with masks. Nice touch, I think, as I look around for the owner of the house. 

Gabriela Ramirez. I recognize her name. She’s like the Latina Kim Kardashian—runs a makeup company, Gabi Beauty. But that isn’t why I know her. She used to be a model or something. 

Although, isn’t that true of everybody in this town? Even though I live in Los Angeles, I don’t really keep up with the celebrity scene. It seems like everyone here is either an actor, an ex-actor, or trying to break into showbiz. 

Except me. I’m just dumb old Max, good for punching the shit out of people who deserve it and not much else. 

“Hello?” I call. My accented voice bounces off the marble and echoes up a big, curved stairway. In the center of the foyer is a huge crystal light fixture. It is not lit, but it sparkles anyway. I head into the next room, a living room with a large window overlooking the ocean. Wow. 

There’s no place to sit down. The furniture is made of bent sticks. I think it’s called wicker. It looks too delicate to hold up the ass of a giant like me. I’m six-foot-three and two hundred pounds. I crush skulls for a living. 

Okay, not really. Mostly, security work is boring— 

“You must be Max,” a woman’s voice says behind me. I whirl. A decorative gold basket full of glass balls goes flying onto the rug. None break, to my relief. I gather them awkwardly, stick them back on the coffee table, and tug my suit straight as I go to meet my temporary employer, who then says, “Or are you Ari?” 

“Max,” I say gruffly. “Ari will be here as soon as his COVID-19 test results come back.” 

I look up. My heart stops. 

Gabriela is barefoot. She stands at the bottom of a stairway wearing nothing but a silky pink robe over matching pajama pants. Her blond hair is piled casually on top of her head. A couple of tendrils spill out over her shoulders. There’s a half-inch of dark hair at the roots—it’s clearly dyed, but I don’t care. I’m a sucker for brown-eyed blondes, and Ms. Ramirez is gorgeous. Her skin glows like polished amber and her light caramel eyes are lined with deep ocher and heavy mascara. 

“Excellent. I am in the middle of a conference call. We’re taking a five-minute break. I’ll show you to your room and you can settle in.” Her mouth might be plump and soft but the words coming out of it are wary and businesslike. It’s at odds with the generous curves of her breasts and hips. “Bring your bag.” 

I hoist my belongings and follow her, feeling like a cold black shadow haunting her house of light and warmth. “I can sleep in the hallway on a cot, if it makes you feel safer.” 

I’d sleep at the foot of her bed like a dog, if she asked me to. 

She doesn’t smile, although there is quiet humor in her gaze when Ms. Ramirez does glance at me. “Thanks for the offer, but it shouldn’t be necessary. When you’re off-duty, you should take advantage of the amenities. There’s a pool out back, and a full gym in the basement. Under ordinary circumstances I work out there four days a week with my personal trainer, but now, well…” She sighs. “Nothing is normal anymore.” 

“No, ma’am.” 

This makes her chuckle. “Where are you from, Max?” 

“Ukraine.” I’ve been in the United States for twenty years. My English is fine, but with my accent I sound like the villain in a Bond movie. I don’t like to talk much. I figure the world doesn’t need to hear my thoughts. 

But it doesn’t mean I don’t have them. 

Right now, I’m thinking about how Ms. Ramirez’s glorious curves would feel under my palms. It’s not often that I meet a woman I don’t feel as though I’d break in bed—especially not here, in Los Angles, where so many women starve themselves thin. Just my luck, this incredible woman is off-limits. 

It’s not like she’s in my league, anyway. That doesn’t stop my cock from trying to salute her as she shows me into a nice-sized guest room, though. 

“This is where you’ll stay for the next six weeks.” The term of my contract, and Ari’s. Ms. Ramirez licks her lips. Up close, her skin is so soft and perfect. The thought of touching her zaps through me like an electric jolt. Not that I’ll ever be so lucky. I put my bag on the pristine bench at the end of the bed. This room is done in muted grays. The furniture is driftwood-gray, the curtains storm clouds held back with lighter ties—a more masculine, but still very decorated, version of the aesthetic downstairs. 

“It’s nice,” I say, admiringly. It’s probably the nicest place I’ve ever been offered to sleep in. Better than any hotel, and I’ve been put up in some fancy digs as part of my job as bodyguard for hire. If I can avoid breathing for the next six weeks, I might even get through this without breaking every delicate, useless display item in her very expensive house. I am strong. I am not coordinated, which makes me a bull in this fucking China shop. Between trying to navigate through her decorations and keeping my hands and eyes where they belong—meaning off her body—the next six weeks are going to be a special kind of hell. I stick my hands in my pockets. 

“I should get back to my call,” says Ms. Ramirez. 

“Thank you, it’s nice,” I say again, inanely. Peeking out the window, I see why she gave me this room. It has a view of the gate and every vehicle coming or going. “Mind if I get the lay of the land while you’re working?” 

She nods once. “You’re the expert.” Her tongue makes a brief appearance between her lips. It’s a crazy thing to want, but how incredible would it be to see her lipstick disappearing bit by bit as she sucked me down her throat? Imagining it, I almost miss what she says next. “If you see my ex-husband, I want you to kill him on sight.” 

“Sure,” I say. “No problem.” 

Ms. Ramirez looks startled, as though she can’t tell whether I’m serious. 

It really isn’t. I’ll cheerfully dispatch her ex if he shows up. It’s why she hired me. 

I continue my inspection of the room, expecting her to go. Oh, there’s a private bathroom, too. Very nice, indeed. 

“I mean it,” Ms. Ramirez says vehemently. “He was released from prison early because of this pandemic. It’s been ten years, but I don’t trust him not to come straight here and finish the war he tried to start the day I left him.” 

She unties the robe and drops half of it open. My greedy gaze skims down her full breasts. She is wearing some sort of lacy bralette underneath. I imagine I can see a hint of her nipple and have to remind myself not to look. Then, my eyes lock on what she’s trying a to show me. 

A scar. 

My blood turns molten with fury. I know scars. I speak their language. 

Ms. Ramirez’s ex-husband tried to kill her. Judging from the placement, he came damn near sliding a knife between her ribs, tearing through her right lung and up into her heart. I curse in my native tongue. 

“Ten years ago, my husband promised me that the day he got out of prison he would come back and finish the job,” she says stoically. “Last week, he was released on good behavior because of the pandemic. He has an ankle monitor, but I don’t trust that to keep him away from me. That’s why you and Ari are here.” 

The look she gives me is sorrow inflected with fear. 

How dare her ex-husband hurt this incredible woman? I’ll give my life to protect her from harm. In that moment, the job changes from a simple assignment to a mission. 

But I’m no good with words. I say again, “Sure. No problem.” 

I hope she understands my meaning. My ex-wife said being married to me was like being shackled to a horny, uncommunicative rock. 

Ms. Ramirez covers her luscious body. “I’m counting on you and your partner, Max. I need to get through the next six weeks alive. If he comes here, I can prove my ex is still a danger and have Carl put away forever. If he doesn’t, I’ll believe he’s changed and can live my life freely. Either way, I need you and Ari to keep him from coming within fifty yards of me. I hired you to keep me safe.” She chuckles sadly. “Even though now, none of us are really safe, are we?” 

I shake my head. “No.” 

We won’t be, not for a long time. I’m not a scientist but if I were smarter, and if I’d had different opportunities in life, I might have trained to be a doctor. Or, maybe a nurse. I like helping people. But I’m not smart. Only strong. 

That is the service I sell. My body. My life to protect yours. 

I can’t pound a particle into non-existence. But I can try to deny it a path to reproduce. I’ll take every precaution to keep from infecting her, or anyone else, for that matter. 

And I can damn well kill Ms. Ramirez’s ex-husband with my bare hands if he dares to show his face in this beautiful home. 

“I’ll let you settle in,” says Ms. Ramirez. “I need to get back.” 

She pads away down the hallway to a double door, opens them, and closes both doors behind her. 

As I say, there are worse places to ride out a pandemic than in the mansion of a gorgeous CEO. But there might be easier locations to keep my sanity in check. 

Preorder now for special .99 release week pricing.

Read an excerpt from Confined with the CEO & the Bodyguard: Kelsey

I’ll be honest – I spent all spring blocked. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I’d try new books and abandon them. I kept getting jerked out of the story by people doing normal things. You know…

Going to work. Shaking hands. Standing close together. In my head I kept yelling at them to be more careful.

I needed a story that acknowledged our locked-down reality without being too heavy on the day-to-day reality. And what’s a better distraction that a little sexytime? 😉

On 11/25, you get to meet Kelsey, the first heroine in Confined with the CEO & the Bodyguard luxury romance series. This book is $2.99 on all platforms.

Need a hot, quick read to get you through Thanksgiving? I’ve got you covered…

Remember this Dior Homme ad from a few years ago? Well-dressed CEO-looking type meets a blond woman in an elevator. A quick fantasy takes place, but it’s all in her head. Voila! I had my inspiration to write the book I needed to read.

I wrote it. Then I wrote four more stories. Watch for Gabriela’s book coming on December 20th!

Now you can enjoy an excerpt from this 1st POV, steamy MFM contemporary romance.

Kelsey

The email came through late on Thursday afternoon. Starting Monday, Harden Real Estate’s offices were closed indefinitely due to a virus that was rampaging through Manhattan. It had started elsewhere in the world and spread, unnoticed, for months. Hospitals were on the verge of being overrun with sick patients. 

When there’s a military ship moored in the harbor, it’s hard to deny that your country feels like it’s two heartbeats away from a George Romano movie.

My in-person audition for a lead role in an upcoming film is probably canceled, but until I have formal notice, do you think I’m giving up on my dream? 

No way in hell.

Top secret, the production assistant had insisted. I can’t send you a digital copy. This is a confidential project. I’d rolled my eyes, then rolled over, because this could finally be my breakthrough role. Even if I have to audition by video conference, I want it bad. 

I’ll make it in showbiz no matter what. There’s nothing I love more than sinking into a character and making an audience feel. Tears. Anger. Hatred. 

Yet I’m always being cast as the “Trophy Wife” or “Sister.”

This script is different. I had tingles when my agent described it to me. It could be my big break—the result of years of scrimping, saving, and working my way up the agent and acting ladder. 

First, there had been small roles in minor theater productions. Then, I landed a couple of commercials. When those were dropped from circulation I lost the residual earnings I had relied on to pay rent. 

I came so close to giving up once. I won’t do it again. 

Since waiting tables isn’t really my speed—I don’t do perky and social—I got licensed as a real estate agent. My revenue is feast-or-famine, but my schedule is my own. Leasing overpriced Manhattan shoeboxes to recent transplants is my specialty. I work mostly weekends and on commission—or did, until the virus took out my income overnight. 

If I have to quarantine on a movie set for weeks to land this part, so be it. But first, I have to show the director and producer that I can play it better than anyone.

That’s why I’m here, batting my eyelashes at the security guard. A beard pokes out from beneath a makeshift mask. I peer at his name badge and say, “Phil, it’ll take five minutes. I print the documents I need and I come straight back down. Promise.”

He scowls. His eyes dart to the discreet display of cleavage visible between the plackets of my cream silk blouse. I had rushed over from a showing. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a balcony and a doorman for the bargain price of just five thousand dollars a month. They took it on the spot, fearing to risk seeing any other apartments. I have a check in my pocket which, after handing over my split to Harden, will cover my bills long enough to rehearse during lockdown. It was worth the effort of jamming my feet into the heels which are killing my arches and zipping up the pencil skirt that hugs my ass and shortens my stride.

“Technically the building isn’t closed until Monday,” I point out.

Phil stares me down. I briefly contemplate offering to suck his dick, but I am not sunk that low—yet. Besides, the idea doesn’t appeal. I like giving head, just not to random men. 

I really do need that script though.

“Five minutes, Ms. James,” Phil huffs, but he scans his pass card to let me through the gate. All employee IDs have been disabled in an attempt to control the number of people coming in and out of the building.

“Thanks, Phil. I owe you.” I hustle through and blow him a kiss, forgetting about my own mask until I touch it. Not being stupid, I hit the up arrow with my elbow. My heavy purse falls down my shoulder. I hike it up with a grunt.

The elevator deposits me on the third floor. It’s where the executives are housed, including the CEO, Sam Harden. My desk is near his secretary’s. According to her, the only thing bigger than his cock is the size of his ego. I guess he’s earned it though, because Harden Real Estate has seen exponential growth over the past several years. She has no discretion at all, so I hear more than I should.

Like how he prefers young women. According to Brenda he’s a predator, but then, as far as I can tell, she thinks any attractive man is a threat. The one time I saw Sam he was on his way out of the building. Broad shoulders. Dark hair curling over the collar of his jacket. Bodyguard four inches behind him, max. 

The bodyguard is the one who captivated me. I think about him from time to time—not innocently.

But men are not my primary concern as I exit the elevator and bypass my desk, though. Assuming I’m alone, I remove my mask and put it in my bag as I wobble on high heels to the mailroom. 

The script package is sitting in my mail cubby. A sigh gusts out of me. I tear into the manila envelope before I get out of the hallway. 

A hard object rams into me like a linebacker, before I can even glimpse the title.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” a rough male voice declares. My heart hammers in my chest. I try to jerk away but the two big hands wrapped around my upper arms prevent me from moving an inch. Slabs of muscle beneath my palms. His masculine voice cuts through the fog of my obsession with the script.

“Neither are you,” I snap before I look up.

Blue eyes bore into mine. His hands are manacles on my upper arms. Transfixed, I shove the paper back into its envelope. Slowly, he releases his grip. I take a step back. My middle finger touches the bridge of my glasses to nudge them up my nose.

His brows knit together as though he thinks I’m giving him the finger, which maybe I am, a little.

Then, he gives me a slow smile. I am dazed by the rush of desire that courses through me. 

Forget the bodyguard. The man who ran into me is sex on stilts. 

My knees go weak. I almost collapse. If I were to fall, there’s a high chance I’d unzip his trousers—and I don’t even know his name. 

He smirks, and I feel it in my solar plexus. Heat scorches my innards and renders me hollow. As I said, I don’t give random men blowjobs, but I’d make an exception for this one.

“I’m Kelsey James. KJ to my friends. I work for Harden Real Estate Group,” I say formally. My shoulder bag fell on the floor when we crashed into one another. My personal effects are scattered across the floor. They include a collection of Harden-branded pens, the glossy printed floor plans from today’s showing fanned out next to my lipstick, spare nail polish, and a makeup bag.

“Nice to run into you, KJ.” says the stranger in a deliberate drawl. The hair on the back of my neck prickles. I feel his voice like velvet stroked over my shoulders. It’s weird. I’ve never felt this before.

“KJ to my friends,” I shoot back. I don’t know why I’m being so scratchy. This man threw me off-kilter within seconds, and I’m unsure why. I don’t normally antagonize hot men on purpose.

“I’m not your friend,” he says flatly.

“No. So you can call me Kelsey until further notice,” I say.

“Ms. James,” he begins, and recognition crashes through me.

This is the CEO. 

I’m so shocked that I lose my grip on the manila envelope. It slips out of my hands. I glance down and find my precious script on the floor. I crouch to retrieve it. He meets me at eye level, three feet from the industrial carpet.

Warily, I avoid his gaze while I check my script’s integrity. It’s safe. But I am starting to think I’m not. “Yes?”

He gives me a peculiar grin, as though he knows I’m figuring it out. “I’m Sam Harden. This is my company. You work for me. The city has been ordered into lockdown. I don’t like the idea of sheltering alone in my penthouse. It’s too big. I’d be…lonely.”

His gaze flicks to my cleavage. Unlike when Phil did the same thing, a current of excitement races over my skin. 

I think of my crappy little studio apartment and how much I don’t want to spend weeks there by myself. My family is in Arkansas—too far to go without giving up on the life I’ve built here. Besides, I wouldn’t want to bring this damn virus with me. 

“What exactly are you proposing?” I ask, my pulse thready. I brush my long, dark hair back and nearly fall over. He grasps my arm again to steady me.

“Quarantine with me,” he half-asks, half-orders. Transfixed by his blue eyes, I freeze. 

“And do what?” I demand. But I don’t try to pull away. I let him hang onto me because I like the firmness of his hold. The smirk etches deeper lines into his face. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of saying yes, but the prospect of being alone for an indefinite amount of time makes me weak. I’d rather have company, too. Especially if it’s the kind I think he’s offering. The only obstacle is that I have the audition of my life to prepare for. I can’t afford a sexy distraction like Harden.

“Anything you want, Ms. James,” he says in that voice like smoked sin. “Anything at all, and nothing you don’t want to do.”

I shift on my aching feet. My gaze falls away from his, drifting down the expensively cut shirt buttoned to his throat. The insane need to grasp his tie and pull his face close to mine almost overwhelms me. I resist. Barely. 

Should’ve kept that mask on. 

At the front of his trousers is a ridge the length of my forearm, I swear. It’s pointed toward his left hip bone. My eyes widen.

Here’s the thing. I love sex more than anything except acting. It’s been a problem in my few relationships. In my senior year of high school and the first two years of college, I had a boyfriend whose sex drive matched mine. He dumped me when he decided he was going to flunk out if he didn’t find a less-physical girlfriend.

I know. What an idiot, right? Well, it didn’t feel that way at the time. I was utterly devastated. 

Things got worse as I tried dating after graduation. Men said I moved too fast or wanted too much from my partners. I’m actually a very relationship-oriented person but after a couple of breakups it was easier to take care of my needs with porn and an ever-growing collection of toys. Maybe I didn’t get a lot of satisfaction, but I avoided the emotional scars of constant rejection.

So the sight of a mind-numbingly sexy man with a partial erection offering me anything is much more appealing than weeks of loneliness. I am actually salivating. Still, I hesitate.

“You’d have your own room with a working lock.” He raises his hands, palms out, shoulder-height. “If I do anything to annoy you, you’ll still have access to the private jacuzzi on the terrace, the chef’s kitchen and the in-apartment gym.”

“Well, that beats my little nest,” I mumble. “But I have a personal project to work on over the next few weeks. I’ll need time to focus.”

“You’ll have it,” Harden agrees, too easily. Why does he want me there so badly? Sure, apparently he likes my tits, but I could be a raging bitch for all he knows. Anyone who wants to be quarantined with a complete stranger in a pandemic is asking for trouble. 

So why am I considering this?

Sensing my hesitation, Harden adds, “I don’t like to be alone. I need to have people to talk to. Not over screens. Of course, if you wanted more…” He grins. My breath catches. 

I’ve seen a lot of charismatic and handsome men in my acting career but no one like Sam Harden, who gestures almost apologetically in the general direction of his crotch. “We could always Netflix and chill.”

I feel an answering smile stretch my mouth upward at the corners. I don’t want it to, but there’s nothing keeping me at my home. No pets, no roommates, not even a houseplant to water. “Okay.”

I suck in air, my lungs tight. He stills. 

“Really?”

“Yeah. Unless you’re taking back your offer?” I fix him with a meaningful stare.

“No, not at all. I’m just surprised you’d accept.” He relaxes visibly. “And grateful. I, uh, should tell you that there’s someone else who’ll be with us.”

“Someone else?” I ask skeptically, mentally preparing to renege on this agreement.

“Hugh. My bodyguard. I’ve had a little trouble over a business deal gone wrong in Moscow.” Sam grimaces, but before I can protest his hand presses lightly against the small of my back. “We’re both safe. I don’t like to take up test kits in these circumstances, but because we had traveled recently we took tests yesterday afternoon. The results were clear this morning. We’re not infected.”

“I’ve been taking every precaution possible,” I say, which is true. Mashed in between those floor plans in my purse are boxes of disposable masks and gloves. They’re as precious as gold.

Besides, if Hugh is the bodyguard who has haunted my fantasies for months, then I am definitely down to Netflix and chill for a few weeks.

“Come on, then. My car is in the garage,” says Sam. 

“Mine is, too. I’ll follow you.”

“No.” Harden’s reaction is forceful and commanding. I stiffen. I don’t like being deprived of my independence—in this case, my twelve-year-old secondhand Lexus. It’s my baby. Part of my carefully crafted image, which is upscale and discreet. No one needs to know I’m as poor as a church mouse.

“You’ll ride with me,” he declares. “Your car will be safe here.” 

And like that, it’s decided. I want to protest but I know I shouldn’t. I let Harden swipe his pass on the elevator control panel. Notably, his is still working. We can’t maintain six feet of distance, but that precaution is moot anyway. He’s already touched me. Been close enough to kiss. I click my car open and pop the back door.

“I said, we’re taking my car,” Harden says behind me. I feel his gaze burning through the fabric of my skirt as I shimmy into the back seat. I drag out my gym bag. It’s nothing fancy, but it has a change of clothes I’m going to need. I wiggle out and hold it upright with one hand .

Relief smooths his brow. He’s older than me. I’m guessing thirty-five. I am twenty-six. Getting old to make my acting break, frankly. I push the thought aside and hand my gym bag to him.

“Lead the way,” I say.