Beth pressed the off button on her own phone and made her way back to the kitchen to give Osman an update. He was doing a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table, but looked up eagerly when he saw her.
“Well?” he said.
“They’ll be here as soon as they can,” she replied, taking a seat at the table. “Then we’ll see what they want to do from there.”
Osman nodded and looked back down at his crossword.
Beth couldn’t help herself. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
Osman was by her side in an instant, his arm around her shoulders.
“Beth! What’s wrong? Did he say something to upset you?” he asked, rubbing her arm to comfort her.
Beth could have died of embarrassment. “I’m just so sorry,” she hiccupped.
“Sorry for what?” he said, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
“You hired me to protect you, and now we’re trapped here waiting for the real men to come and save us both, and it’s all my fault!”
Osman’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline again. “Are you being serious right now? Beth, you’ve saved my life twice in two days! So far you have a one hundred percent success rate of keeping me alive. That’s pretty damn great.”
Beth sniffled, and Osman rose to grab her a box of tissues, which he held out to her. She took one, and tried to blow her nose as delicately as possible, wiping her eyes.
“I guess this is why no one hires female protection, huh?” Beth said, making it not quite a question.
Osman frowned. “You have provided better protection than any other guard I’ve hired. Beth, you can’t be so damn hard on yourself all the time. This is a situation that anyone would need help with, regardless of skillset or gender. Stop beating yourself up, please,” he said as another large tear escaped from Beth’s eye. He rubbed a thumb along her cheek, wiping it away.
She gazed up at him. “Thanks,” she said with a watery smile.
Osman returned her smile and jumped up from the table. “You’re welcome. Now that we’ve each finished having our little pity parties, it’s time to have some fun. We might as well enjoy ourselves while we wait for the rest of our team to arrive, don’t you think?”
Beth looked around the room, not seeing any televisions or any entertainment technology of any kind. She lifted an eyebrow. “What do you suggest, Your Highness?”
Osman grinned. “Funny you should ask,” he said as he made his way over to a large dresser and pulled open the door. Inside was an enormous pile of family games.
Beth laughed. “Board games? Really?”
It was Osman’s turn to lift an eyebrow, this time in challenge. “What’s the matter, Beth? Afraid you’ll lose?”
Her competitive drive shot straight up at the challenge, and she gave him a wicked grin.
“This game has got to be rigged,” Beth steamed as the Sheikh announced “checkmate” for the third time.
Osman grinned. “It’s chess, Beth. People have been playing for centuries. If it was rigged, someone would have figured it out by now.”
“But how come you’re so good at it?” she said, frowning.
Osman shrugged. “It was one of the few things my father and I enjoyed doing together. He taught me how to play, and a couple times a week we would have at it. If you think I’m good, that man was impossible to defeat.”
Beth chuckled, even as her king was taken and the game came to an end. She stretched, lacing her fingers together as her arms ached above her head. Osman began resetting the pieces, though Beth wasn’t sure she had another game in her; she didn’t feel like losing again.
“Beth,” Osman said, and she raised an eyebrow. His tone was hesitant. “You never did tell me how you found me in that van,” he said.
Beth took a breath. She supposed honesty was always the best policy. “When you went to go get my scarf for me you left your phone on the side table,” she said, pausing. “I bugged it so I could track you.”
Osman’s eyebrows narrowed briefly before he dashed back to the kitchen and grabbed his phone, unlocking the screen and searching around for any new apps.
“How? Was that something you learned in the military?”
Beth gently took his phone from him and popped it out of its case, turning it so he could see the tiny black dot attached to the back.
He stared at it in amazement. “That tiny little thing can track me?”
Beth nodded. “It’s pretty amazing what nanotechnology can do. We were using technology that won’t be introduced to regular society for at least twenty years.”
“So, like, if I wanted to put one on your phone, so that I can see where you went all the time, that would be no big deal, right?”
“That would be a huge deal. I don’t need to be tracked.”
“And I do?” he said.
“Yes. I’m not the one with people trying to come after me.”
“But you are the one who got attacked in a bathroom because of your association with me. Don’t you think it’s wise to give me the same comfort of being able to find you?”
“And what would you do, if I were taken?”
Osman paused. “Teach me, then,” he said.
Beth lifted an eyebrow. “Teach you what?”
“Basic self-defense. So far, you’ve taken down three men like it was nothing. I want to know how to do that. There has to be some valuable knowledge you can impart so that I’m not helpless every time we end up in a jam. You have to admit, it’s happened enough times now to warrant some training.”
Beth thought about that for a moment. Of course, he had a point.
She rose, moving in a defensive stance. “All right then, up you get.”
Osman rose, and was instantly taken down on the rug, his arms pinned behind his back.
“Rule number one: never let your guard down,” Beth said, releasing his arms and extending a hand to help him back up.
Osman took it, and when she went to pull his arm behind his back again, his hand shot out, holding tightly to her wrist.
When their eyes met, his gaze was victorious.
“Lesson one: check,” he said with a grin.
Beth grinned back, then swiped her leg across his knees, and before he knew it Osman was back on the floor again with his head pinned down.
“This must be what you felt like losing at chess all those times,” he said, his voice muffled as he spoke into the rug. Beth dug her knee into his back for good measure, and he laughed. “All right, all right, I give in! Next lesson.”
They spent the early afternoon doing some basic self-defense training while they waited for their team to arrive. After about an hour of Beth showing Osman just how skilled she was, they were both wiping glistening sweat from their brows.
“Let’s take a break,” Beth suggested, heading to the kitchen to fill two glasses with ice water.
Osman gratefully accepted his, taking a deep sip of the cold liquid.
“So, what else have you done that I don’t know about?” he asked.
Beth took her time thinking about it until Osman laughed.
“Jesus, Beth, have you really been that conniving?”
Beth frowned. “How is trying to protect you conniving?”
“I didn’t mean it like that, but now that we’re talking about it, I wish you could have just told me first. You see how not mad I am about it? If you’d told me you wanted to put a tracker on my phone for protection, I probably wouldn’t have had a problem letting you.”
Beth gave him a sideways glance. “Probably?”
Osman shrugged, grinning. “I mean, I might have been annoyed if you’d done it before I realized there was any need to, but after the attack at the beach, I would have agreed that that was actually a really good idea.”
Beth was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Since we’re confessing things, I should tell you that I’ve spent some time in your storage closet.”
/> “My what?”
“When I first arrived and you told me to explore the grounds, I found a locked door and couldn’t resist picking my way in. Obviously, there was nothing to see there—just some old boxes and toys, and a baby blanket, but that was it.”
Osman stared at her quietly, then mumbled, “I’d forgotten about that closet.” He stared out into space for a moment before focusing back on Beth. “Do you think you could take me there, when we get back?”
Beth laughed. “Sure, if I can find it.”
“You’re very nosey. You know that, right?”
“I’ve been told it’s one of my many flaws,” she agreed, and he frowned.
“You don’t have many flaws that I can see.”
“Well, you don’t know me very well, then.”
Osman’s gaze was penetrating. “Then tell me. Tell me why a beautiful woman like you has no man in her life, and has to ship out all the way to the Middle East just to provide for her mother.”
Beth glanced away, not wanting to have this conversation. Osman sat in silence, waiting for her to answer, so with a sigh, she finally gave it to him.
“I have trouble trusting men. In my experience, all they do is let you down.”
Osman frowned. “Some men will do that. I’d like to take a pounding on the ones who hurt you, though.”
Beth lifted an eyebrow. “And what about you? How many girls did you go to bed with and then never call again?”
Osman’s face burned hot at her words. He thought about the girl he’d been with just days ago. How he’d left her with a large meal, thinking that would suffice for just leaving her there. As he looked into Beth’s eyes, he felt like kicking himself. Had he really been that selfish? Had he truly believed that his actions didn’t cause harm?
“You’re right,” he said, his shoulders slumping. “I’ve not been the kind of person I ought to be. I’ve been selfish, and even though I didn’t act maliciously on purpose, I can see how my actions would be hurtful to