After a nasty breakup with an ex that routinely belittled her work as a romance author, Katarina Fisher is sick of men. Rina wants nothing to do with them outside one of her stories. She is less than pleased when her sexy neighbor, to whom she’s been fighting an attraction, “rescues” her from dropping her groceries all over the hallway of their apartment complex.
Alex, the inventor of the popular online role-playing game The Shadow Dagger and CEO of the company founded around his game, is tired of women who show more interest in his money than himself. He’s had a thing for Rina since he first saw her six months ago. When he realizes she has no idea who he is, or how much he’s worth, he figures she’s practically perfect for him.
They share an obsession with The Shadow Dagger. Neither one knows who the other truly is. Will their budding relationship be able to survive the deceit of both parties as well as the beta testing of The Naughty Dagger?
|Publisher:||Liquid Silver Books|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||537 KB|
About the Author
Feather had been writing for as long as she could remember before her husband finally convinced her to see if she could publish in her favorite genre. To her surprise and delight, her first book was accepted. She is already working on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
"I'm not gonna drop it, I'm not gonna drop it, I'm not gonna drop it," became Katarina's personal mantra as she simultaneously held six very full, plastic grocery bags and fished in her purse for the keys to her apartment.
"Hey, you want some help with that?" a voice asked her from behind, sending shivers down her spine and heat pooling in her groin. She recognized the voice instantly. It belonged to Mr. Alexander "call me Alex" Chase, the stud from two doors down. They had talked once or twice, but except for their first meeting, they'd never exchanged more than common courtesies. She'd been deliberately avoiding him since she'd moved in, originally because she got very nervous around strangers, then because of her growing attraction to him. Since the fiasco a few months ago with Jake, she had become very leery of men she was physically attracted to, as she invariably seemed to have bad taste in men. They just couldn't be trusted, but they did make good pack mules.
"Um, yeah, sure, if you could just grab the bag with the spaghetti sauce in it, that would be a big help," Rina said while trying to extricate her hand from the aforementioned bag. She wiggled her hands furiously to get them out of the bag straps, trying to keep the physical contact with Alex to a minimum. When she'd first met him and shook his hand, it had been like a jolt of electricity going up her arm, and she wanted desperately to avoid having that happen again. Instead of taking just the one, Alex took all the bags.
With her hands now free Rina finally managed to find her keys and unlocked the door. She absolutely loved her apartment and the way it was set up. She'dlooked for months before finding it. Some people might not like the way everything was more or less open, but she liked being able to see from the kitchen into the living room or den. Only her bedroom and the bathroom had actual doors on them; the rest of the rooms didn't even have so much as an arch or doorway separating them. They just flowed smoothly from one room into another.
"Where would you like me to put these?" asked Alex, following her into the kitchen.
"Hmm? Oh, just put the bags on the counter. I'll get to them in a sec. Uh, would you like a cup of tea or something?" Rina tried to avoid looking at him while she rummaged in her pantry for the tea. She didn't want to meet his eyes. Something about a man with black hair and ocean-blue eyes just made her want to melt.
Even if he didn't want a cup of tea, she needed one. Her mom had always said a good cup of tea settled the nerves, and hers certainly needed settling.
"Sure, that'd be great." Alex started taking her groceries out of the bags and putting them on the counter.
"Why don't you have a seat in the living room while I put up the groceries and make the tea," she said.
Why did I invite him to stay for a cup of tea? she asked herself. Granted, it was the polite thing to do, but still, she'd been avoiding him for months and now she was inviting him to stick around in her living room and have a cup of tea. She decided her self-inflicted isolation had to be messing with her head; there was no other explanation. Maybe she should invite her best friend Leona over again.
"Wow, that's a really nice setup. Do you know you've got one of the best computer systems on the market?" He sounded impressed. Trust a man to be more impressed with a toy than with the six bookshelves surrounding her computer desk.
"Yes. Actually, a friend of mine told me what to get, although it's mostly wasted on me," she said. "I use it mainly as a word processor and for playing video games. You can have a look at it if you like." As the teakettle started whistling, she walked over to the cabinet to grab two mugs, still trying not to look at him.
"Really? You don't mind?" He sounded just like kid in a candy store who had just been told to pick ten of whatever he wanted. Rina didn't really mind, though. Whenever Leona, who had told her what to get, came over for a visit, she would play on the computer for hours. Her manuscripts, working titles and her business related files were all password protected anyway.
"Really, go ahead," she said. "Do you take milk and sugar?"
"Huh? Oh, for the tea? No milk, but a scoop of sugar, please. You play Shadow Dagger?"
"Yeah, it's my favorite game. I love it. I spend more time on that than actually working." She looked at her computer screen as she handed him his tea, still keeping her eyes on anything but him.
"Me, too. You heard about the new beta, Naughty Dagger? It just came out a few days ago."
"Yeah, I'm one of the testers, just downloaded it yesterday. I don't really see that much of a difference yet, but I only played it for about half an hour earlier today, before I had to go out and get stuff," she said.
"Really? Cool, me, too. How weird is that? Hey, maybe we could play together sometime," he suggested, as he finished his tea.
"That's an idea. If you see me on, I'm Morgan68. Just IM me, and we can join up," she said.
"Anyway, not to be rude or anything, but I've got a lot of work to do tonight..."
"Oh, yeah, sure. So, I guess I'll see you in the Dagger,"
Rina let out a sigh of relief as he carefully put his teacup on the coffee table, got up and left. She hadn't realized he was a computer nerd, not that that was a bad thing, just a bit strange. Most men she'd met in the past that looked as good as he did only knew enough about computers to send email and surf the web, unless their jobs actually required them to use computers. At least that's how her ex-boyfriend, Jake, had been. Then again, Jake was an ass anyway. You wouldn't expect Alex Chase, the stud muffin with the wavy, shoulder length, black hair, rugged good looks and athletic build to be a computer nerd; no one with that kind of muscle tone could possibly be stuck behind a desk all day. Well, not unless he worked out, and the apartment complex did have an impressive fitness center.
Rina finished her data entry work for the week and checked her email to see if her editor had gotten back to her. She'd sent him the revisions for her new novel last week. With that done, she figured she deserved a reward. She went in the kitchen, made a pot of tea, grabbed a bag of pretzel sticks and plopped down in front of her computer, ready to start up a game of Naughty Dagger.
Alex couldn't believe his luck. Not only did he finally a valid excuse to actually talk to Katarina Fisher, from two doors down, but she had even invited him into her apartment. Granted, only because she needed help with her groceries, but still she'd invited him in. Although why she was out grocery shopping at 11 P.M. was a mystery. It was lucky for him he'd been stretching his legs in the hallway, after being glued to his computer for hours keeping an eye on the new beta.
Every time he saw Rina, he wondered how someone like her was still single. Alex assumed she was single; he'd never seen a man enter her apartment. He'd seen a woman come and go regularly, but if she had a boyfriend, he never seemed to visit her at home. On the other hand, the woman might be her girlfriend, for all he knew she preferred women. The first time he'd seen her, he'd been completely blown away. The instant tightening of his groin had surprised him. She'd been rumpled and sweaty but she was still the prettiest woman he'd ever seen. He'd talked to her briefly when she moved in and had a short but interesting conversation with her, but hadn't had a chance to really talk to her since.
The little they had talked left him longing for more. It wasn't often that he met a good-looking, intelligent woman. Most of the women he met nowadays worked for him and he knew better than to start an office romance. Not that he wanted to. He wasn't interested in any of them anyway. For the most part they were very intelligent and some were even decent looking but none had the combination of brains, personality and looks that Rina did. Her being one of the few beta testers for The Naughty Dagger gave him just the opportunity for which he'd been hoping. He couldn't believe he'd been such a dork while he was in her apartment. I should have said something really smart, not gone on and on about her computer system and the game, he thought to himself.
It had been almost 2 years since his original game, The Shadow Dagger, had gone on sale in the stores. It had hit the top seller list quickly. Based loosely on the old Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game he'd loved as a kid, The Shadow Dagger had eliminated many of the problems traditional D and D players had encountered in the past. One no longer had to coordinate schedules and find a Dungeon Master. The game was the DM and, since it was played online, it could be played whenever it was convenient for the player. The players could still get together and play as a group, but unlike the original D and D game the players could also go off on their own whenever they wanted, without having to worry about the impact on the rest of the team. Unfortunately, with competitors coming out with newer and better games all the time, sales had started dropping considerably.
Alex's marketing team at SD Games Inc. had convinced him he needed to come out with an expansion pack. The marketing director had come up with the idea of The Naughty Dagger, after their research team had figured out that about eighty percent of the people playing Dagger were sexually frustrated men. In theory, the game would give them a way to live out sexual situations vicariously through the characters they played. The original format for the game had bordered on porn, but with the revisions he'd made, the game, though still pretty raunchy, was more humorous than pornographic.
He sat down in front of his computer and started accessing the database that contained all the information on the beta testers. Alex was determined to find Rina's character and make up one for himself that complimented hers as much as possible. When he was done, he had an almost perfect match for her Wood Elf Cleric, Morgan. Kael was an elven ranger with the secondary skill of 'Tantric Magic'. Now all he had to do was wait for Rina to log on again, so he could join up with her. After waiting for over an hour, he set up a tracking feature in the network to let him know when she was online and went downstairs to the pool for a swim.
After swimming for a bit and having a really early breakfast, Alex was back online, cursing himself for leaving when he had. His tracker informed him that not ten minutes after he'd left for his swim, Rina had started playing his game. Quickly logging on to the game, he sent Rina an instant message via the private chat feature, asking if he could join her adventure. Almost immediately, she IMed him back, stating her character was getting peeved at her for keeping her all by her lonesome anyway.
"I probably won't be playing that long though, been a long day, gotta get some sleep soon, so a half hour to an hour and I'll have to call it quits for the day," he read off the screen. Half an hour or so, huh? He drummed his fingers on his desk, thoughtfully.
"That's cool. So you wanna go after some trolls?" he typed, knowing trolls were the next challenge in the game.
"Let's do it," she replied.
It was closer to two hours by the time Rina logged off again, and Alex was extremely happy with himself. She had tried to leave a couple of times and he'd managed to talk her into staying for "just one more battle." He hadn't thought he'd actually enjoy playing The Naughty Dagger as much as he did, but then again, it probably depended on who you were playing with. There had been a number of times when the game threw something raunchy at them, but with her unique sense of humor, Rina had always managed to turn it into something more amusing than offensive, like when they'd finally made it into town and been rewarded with a rest at the local brothel. It hadn't been his idea to make the brothels a safe point in the game; he'd considered it to be pushing the limits of good taste too far, but eventually he'd given in. Rina had thought it was funny. She'd even gone so far as to ask how much rest the programmer expected the characters to get, while enjoying themselves in a brothel, before she logged off.
Though regretting the end to their game for the day, Alex was exhausted. He'd been up for close to twenty-six hours, running scans and checking script to make sure they'd worked out most of the bugs. The last thing they needed was for someone to sue the company for inadvertently crashing their computer. He really needed to get some sleep.
Lying in bed, sleep seemed to be the farthest thing from his mind. He kept imagining Rina's long, auburn hair splayed on his pillow with her writhing in passion beneath him. He could just imagine massaging those perfect breasts. Once, he'd glimpsed her coming up from the pool, wearing a tank top over her bathing suit. The damp fabric of her shirt had been clinging to her hard nipples and outlining her breasts. He just knew they'd fit his hands perfectly. The sweatpants she had been wearing hadn't done anything for her figure, but he'd still been able to see a hint of a very nice butt.
He hadn't gotten any sleep that night either. As he finally started to drift off, he realized he had forgotten to tell her Kael was his character. She had no idea it she'd been playing with him. That thought jolted him right back into wakefulness. Well, maybe it's for the best, he thought. That way she wouldn't associate Kael's player with the dork she'd talked to. Obviously she hadn't made the connection between A.J. Chase, the developer and designer of her favorite game and Alex J. Chase her slightly dorky, thoroughly computer mad neighbor. He didn't see this as a bad thing, because now he could get to know her before he told her who he was or she figured it out for herself. Either way, he'd be able to get to know her without having to worry that she was only after his money. With those comforting thoughts, he finally fell asleep.
Rina debated over whether or not to break out the dreaded instant coffee she kept for emergencies. Normally she only drank tea; she'd never really acquired a taste for coffee. In fact, she thought it tasted disgusting. Deciding she wasn't desperate enough for coffee after all, she put on the teakettle, put some pop tarts in the toaster for breakfast and turned her computer on. She couldn't believe she'd stayed up so late playing that silly game. Granted, it was her favorite video game, but she usually only played for an hour or two in the morning before starting work. Kael had just been way too much fun to talk to and he was definitely a good gamer.
Since Rina had already finished her data entry work for the week, she decided to pop in to the realm of The Shadow Dagger to see if either Alex or Kael's player were online. To her surprise, Kael was already there waiting for her. She grinned when she got the first IM from Kael.
"Hey, long time no see. You ready to kick some more butts?"
"Sure, I've got about three hours to kill, as long as this beta program doesn't make my computer go poof again."
"What do you mean, go poof? What's wrong with the beta?"
She was reluctant to tell him, but decided it would only be fair, since if her system did crash, he'd be left alone to deal with whatever the program had thrown at them.
"Well, the first time I played it some of the fight scenes overloaded something in the program, and my comp crashed back to the startup screen. It just died, and when I logged back into SD, I'd lost all my points and everything else, since the last save," she typed.
"That totally blows. Have you checked your virtual memory settings? If you haven't adjusted them for the game parameters, it can screw with your computer."
"Um, no, wouldn't even know how to. I know how to use a computer, and that's about it. For anything more complicated than that, I have a friend of mine come over and mess with it." Rina really didn't understand jack about computers, and usually that wasn't much of a problem. What else was the tech support, for which she'd paid a small fortune, good for?
"I'm not worried about it, I'll just hit the save button a lot. At this level I'm sure you can deal with whatever the game throws at us."
"You know, Rina, I could just come over and take a look at it for you if you like. I am a computer nerd after all. It probably wouldn't take more than a few minutes, then we could get back to the game."
"How did you know my name," she typed in nervously, "and what do you mean come over? You know where I live?" This was kind of creepy; she'd only just met this guy online yesterday and already he knew her name and maybe even where she lived. She was definitely going to have to send an email to SD customer support; after all, they claimed all the players' information was secure.
"What do you mean, "how do I know your name and where you live?" I helped you with your groceries yesterday, Rina ... Oops, guess I forgot to introduce myself when I logged on last night. Sorry. It's Alex, you know, your neighbor."
"Damn, Alex, you nearly gave me a heart attack! Yeah, you did forget to mention that. I thought some stalker weirdo or something had hacked the system." That answered her earlier question of whether or not Alex was going to be online. Damn, if she'd known it was him last night, she wouldn't have talked as much as she had. It was one thing to tell some guy she met online personal things about herself but another thing entirely to tell her sexy neighbor. Not that she'd really said that much during the game, she'd just told him about her data entry job and stuff, it wasn't even that personal.
"No, that's okay. As I said, I'll just hit the save button a lot. It hasn't happened since that first time, so maybe it was just something with the game. Now, let's go kick some ass."
It would have been nice to have someone who knew computers take a look at her system to make sure it wasn't anything she'd done, but she wasn't that comfortable with the idea of having Alex in her apartment again. For that matter, she wasn't comfortable with anyone being in her apartment, even her best friend Leona. It was her sanctuary from the outside world, where nothing could touch her.
"Ok, well, let me know if you change your mind. It's really no trouble for me, but it's up to you. Now let's go kick some ass."
"Okay, I really have to log off this time Alex, I'm going cross eyed from looking at the screen, I really need some food, and I've got some real work to do today, too."
"I guess I shouldn't have talked you into those extra two hours of play, but I can't say I'm sorry. You're really good at this game. Anyway, talk to you later. It was really fun playing with you."
"Don't worry about it. After a cup of tea and some dinner, I'll be fine. The work isn't really that much anyway, just something I have to get done today. Later."
Rina really didn't have any work to do, just a few things that needed doing. After she logged off the game, she went through and paid her bills. Then the only thing left was checking her email. Her editor still hadn't gotten back to her about the revisions, so she sent him an email, just to make sure he'd actually gotten them. When she checked the clock, it was only a little after six in the evening, still way too early for her to go for a swim downstairs.
Terminally self-conscious of working out in front of fit women, Rina tended to avoid the community gym and pool when she thought others might be using them. The one time she'd gone down during the early evening, she'd almost had a panic attack. Large groups of people had a tendency to make her lightheaded and even faint. That time she hadn't even been able to go in the gym.
According to her editor, Frank, her panic attacks were the bane of his existence. He'd been trying for years to get her to at least do another book signing, but after the fiasco of her first and only attempt at a book signing, there was no way. The thought of that many people, all focused on her, was enough to give Rina the chills. She decided to give her best friend Leona a call, since she wasn't likely to be at work that early. Leona worked as an exotic dancer downtown, putting herself through college as a computer science major. She hadn't decided yet what she wanted to do, just that she wanted to work with computers. Rina dialed the number and waited while the phone rang.
"Hey, what's up, chickie?" Rina always thought it was cute the way Leona answered her phone.
"Not much. How you doin'? I've got some time to kill and a computer problem I might want you to come take a look at," she said.
"Oh, so now you only call me when you've got nothing better to do? I see how it is. I'm just not good enough to talk to now. Not unless you need something. Some friend. Just kidding. What's wrong with your system?" You could hear the smile in Leona's voice. She was always like that, pretending to be pissed, just to see what you'd do.
"Well, um, you know that beta testing thing you told me not to do? I did it anyway. It's crashed my online thingy twice. Although Alex, you know, the eye candy from two doors down, said it was probably just something with my online memory. Or was it virtual memory? Not sure. He said it had something to do with my original settings though."
"That's virtual memory, chickie, and he may be right depending on when it's crashing and all, but when did you talk to him? And how would he know how to fix your 'puter? I thought you were avoiding temptation and staying away from him..."
Rina debated telling Leona about her run in with Alex. She knew she'd make a big deal out of it and it wasn't. At least, she didn't think so. Her desire to talk about it won out.
"He helped me with my groceries last night, and he plays Dagger, too. He's a computer nerd. I told him what my 'puter was doing while we were playing earlier, and he offered to come over and fix it. Anyway, can you fix it?" She really didn't like talking to Leona about Dagger. Leona was convinced that Rina was addicted to the game and using it as a substitute for real human interaction. She was half right, but Rina didn't think it was an addiction. Talking to other players did keep her from getting too lonely.
"Sorry, chickie, I would but I'm working. I'll be working my butt off for the next month. I had to cut out a lot of shifts so I could study for finals last month and I have got to make up the money if I'm gonna pay rent and tuition and all that other crap. Why don't you go ahead and let Alex fix it for you. If he knows anything at all about computers, he should be able to do it, and if not you can always call tech support. Anyway, I'll catch ya' later. Gotta start getting ready for work. Loves ya', bye."
"You, too, Leo. Bye." With that, she hung up the phone. There was no way she was going to ask Alex to come fix it for her tonight and she didn't like the idea of tech support knowing she was playing a beta game. Last time she'd done that she had inadvertently downloaded some kind of computer bug, and it had turned out to be cheaper to buy a new computer than paying to get her old one fixed. She'd just wait for Leona to have time to come over and fix it. After all, a month wasn't that long and it hadn't crashed since that first day.