I write cross genre fiction: western historical romance and romantic suspense novels with paranormal elements. All my books feature psychic characters with various special powers. I also try to convey a message of cultural acceptance without cramming it down a reader’s throat.
In addition, my Romancing the Guardians (RTG) series contains a pre-apocalyptic theme. Each book has a happy-for-now ending but clearly leads into the next one. The series culminates in A Mighty Chieftain with a battle between good and evil – and a startling epilogue.
Recently, I published two box sets on Amazon with four books in each of the RTG series. Now, to whet your appetite, I’m going to share the first few chapters of book one, Rescuing Lara, one chapter per day here on my website.
If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read all of these books for free. I hope you will give them a try and let me know what you think. If you have time, I would greatly appreciate your review on Amazon.
Please, please, stay safe and pray for an end to the Covid epidemic.
And now here’s chapter one of Rescuing Lara.
A loud bang and the smashing of glass made Lara jump. Dear Lord! Had the Hellhounds found her? Were they breaking in? Heart hammering violently, she stared at the locked door of her study, all that stood between her and capture. It wouldn’t keep out the demons.
Clutching the small metal tube she’d just retrieved from its hiding place, she pressed it to her breast. She must protect it! Frantic, she spun her wheelchair around and started back into her adjoining bedroom. She stopped when she heard footsteps rushing from the back of the house.
“Och! Look what ye’ve done, ye wee hooligan!” cried a familiar Irish voice.
Lara sagged in relief. The voice belonged to Una, her cook and housekeeper. The ‘wee hooligan’ had to be Penguin, the black and white cat she’d found huddled on her back stoop in the middle of a rainstorm. Touched by his pitiful meowing, she’d let him in, against Una’s stern advice.
Dreading to learn what the little dickens had done, Lara tucked the bluish metal tube under the folds of her long skirt and wheeled over to the study door. She unlocked and opened it and maneuvered partway into the hall. Seeing Una shoo Penguin out the front door with angry swipes of her matronly bib apron, she grimaced at the jumble of red fuchsia, broken green vase and spilled water littering the oak floor near the entrance. Amid the destruction lay a small overturned table upon which the vase of flowers had rested.
“Oh dear!” she said in chagrin.
Una glanced at her, frizzy gray hair framing a scowl. “Your cat made a foin mess.”
“I see that.”
“I warned ye he’d be nothin’ but trouble, but ye’d no listen.”
“I’m sorry he’s caused you more work.” Lara bit back a sharper reply, reminding herself she didn’t want the woman to get really angry and quit. She’d interviewed at least half a dozen candidates for the job right after arriving in County Kerry from the States and renting this cottage. Sent by an employment agency in Killarney, Una was the only one willing to take on the responsibility of working for a cripple, with all the extra, sometimes very personal, work that entailed. Besides, the Irishwoman might be cranky but she was also goodhearted.
Una sighed. “Aye, well, I’ll fetch a broom and mop.” Stepping around the mess, she added, “There’s a lot o’ glass. Ye’d best stay away from here until I clear it up.”
“I will. Thank you.” Receiving a grumbled response from the older woman as she hurried after cleaning supplies, Lara backed into the study, closed and locked the door again, as she always did when working. She’d told Una she was a writer and didn’t want anyone to see what she was working on, the only excuse she could think of for her secretive behavior.
Crossing to the scarred table she used as a desk, she uncapped the metal tube and removed its contents. She gently unfurled the ancient scroll, spread it across the tabletop and set crystal weights on the corners to hold it flat. Thanks to the protective container, whose magical properties remained strong even after thousands of years, the parchment document was as fresh as the day it had first been placed in the tube.
Despite many hours of memorizing the Old Ones’ pictographic alphabet under her uncle’s tutelage, Lara had found deciphering the ancient text a slow process. Making it more difficult, she didn’t dare write down the words as she translated them for fear they might fall into the wrong hands. If only Uncle Malcolm had told her what the scroll said before he died, but that was not the way of things, he’d insisted. Each new High Guardian must receive the Word of Danu direct from the scroll.
She might have finished this task months ago, but the car accident that killed her beloved uncle had also left her badly injured and sick with grief. Then, even more devastating, her twin sister Sara had been abducted by the Hellhounds. They’d threatened to kill her if Lara didn’t give them the scroll, but how could she? She’d sworn a sacred oath to protect the precious artifact. Although desperate to free her twin from the Hounds’ clutches, she’d made the most painful decision of her life and fled their Louisiana home, abandoning Sara to her fate.
Burdened by grief and guilt, she hadn’t been able to even think about translating the scroll until finding a small measure of peace in this out-of-the-way Irish cottage. During the past few weeks she’d finally felt secure enough to begin the translation, but now she sensed the Hellhounds closing in. She feared she would not be safe here much longer.
Bent over the document, she reviewed the portion she’d already translated, reading the same fear expressed by the long dead oracle whose message had been handed from one High Guardian to the next through the long centuries.
The Milesians draw near. They have destroyed my people, the Tuatha Dé Danann. Only I, Aodhfin, bearer of the white fire, and my council of mages remain above ground with a small force of protectors. Soon, we will join our brethren in the netherworld. Before I go, I must record one final prophesy.
Our laws forbid the Word of Danu to be written down. Yet, I was appointed to commit this sacrilege in order to preserve the Truth. She who taught me the Word entrusted me with this duty upon her deathbed, for she knew our race would not long endure above ground. At her direction, I have recorded our six greatest prophesies.
That was all Lara had so far deciphered. Anxious to know the final, ruling prophesy, she called upon Malcolm’s spirit to guide her as she focused on the next group of symbols. Their meaning slowly revealed itself. By early afternoon, following a short lunch break, she was able to read an additional sentence plus part of another.
This, my own vision of the distant future, brings that number to seven. Each scroll shall be carried into hiding by one of . . . .
A knock on the study door broke her concentration. Frowning, she glanced over her shoulder. “What is it, Una?”
“Mum, the man who telephoned yesterday has arrived.”
“Oh! Um, one moment please.” Engrossed in the task at hand, Lara had forgotten her appointment with the man who’d answered her ad in the The Kerryman, the local newspaper. Scolding herself for letting such a crucial matter slip her mind, she quickly rolled up the scroll, slipped it back into its tube and dropped the container in her knitting basket under the table. She nudged it beneath skeins of yarn with her good foot, making sure it was well hidden, then wheeled to the door and unlocked it.
“Come in,” she called, opening the door and backing away.
Una stepped into the room with a rolling pin gripped in one hand and flour dusting her apron. She partially closed the door behind her.
“Mum, he looks a bad un,” she whispered, worry lines creasing her brow. “Ye oughtn’t to be alone with him.”
Lara hesitated briefly then put the warning down to melodramatics. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. Please show him in, Una.”
“But mum, he’s –”
“Show him in,” Lara gently insisted, raising her hand to stave off further argument.
The Irishwoman issued a mournful sigh and nodded. “Aye, mum, as ye wish.”
While she went to fetch the man, Lara smoothed her long skirt and fingered the jagged scar running from her right cheekbone down almost to her jaw. She considered standing to create a stronger first impression but dismissed the idea. Her injured leg wasn’t strong enough to bear weight yet, if it ever would, and standing on one foot she’d risk losing her balance.
A man’s heavy tread accompanied Una’s footsteps up the hall. The door opened again and the plump Irishwoman warily ushered in a tall stranger. He halted just over the threshold to stare at Lara, obviously unprepared for her appearance. She stiffened self-consciously and gulped at the sight of him. Six-foot-two or three, he had shaggy coffee-brown hair, and several days’ growth of beard shaded his square jaw. A slight bump marred the bridge of his Roman nose, revealing it had once been broken. Clothed in faded jeans, a dark blue shirt, black leather jacket and boots, with studded leather gloves protruding from the jacket pockets, he looked like he belonged in a motorcycle gang.
“Mum, this is Mr. O’Shea,” Una said tightly, eyeing the man with a disapproving scowl.
Lara forced a smile. “Thank you for coming, Mr. O’Shea. I’m Lara Spenser.” Receiving a silent nod from him, she glanced at her housekeeper. “That’s all for now, Una. I’ll ring if I need you.”
Sticking out her chin, the woman appeared ready to argue but evidently thought better of it. “Aye, mum. Excuse me,” she snapped at O’Shea, who finally stepped farther into the room.
As the door closed behind him, he cleared his throat. “Sorry for staring. I wasn’t expecting . . . .” He pointed at her wheelchair.
“You needn’t apologize. Perhaps I should have mentioned this when we spoke.” She tapped her fingers on an arm of the chair, thinking he was probably more shocked by her scarred face. She’d deliberately not told him about her infirmities when he phoned yesterday. He was a complete stranger and in her situation it didn’t pay to give out too much information. Besides, his southern drawl had rattled her, causing her to stammer like a tongue-tied adolescent.
“Maybe so, ma’am, but my mama would have my hide for my bad manners,” he said in those deep, familiar tones – Texan, she thought. He added a genial smile that softened his rugged features. However, the smile didn’t reach his steel-gray eyes, eyes that watched her intently, causing her skin to prickle and her hands to sweat. Maybe she should have listened to Una.
Don’t be a goose, she scolded herself. You need a tough, strong man like him.
“Yes, well, please sit down,” she invited, indicating the chintz covered lounge chair where she often rested in the afternoon. Primly folding her hands in her lap, she watched him amble over to the chair, push the matching ottoman out of the way, and gingerly lower his large frame onto the seat, which creaked under his weight. Lara coughed to smother her amusement at the sight of his masculine figure against the dainty flowered fabric.
“Now then, as I stated in my ad, I’m in need of a driver who’s also physically strong.” She couldn’t say more than that in the ad, fearing it might draw her enemies to her.
“Yes, ma’am, and when I called, you promised to explain that last part once we met, but I can see the reason for myself. You’ll need the man you hire to lift you in and out of the car and push your chair when you go into Killarney, right?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “Right, but there’s more to it than that.”
He arched his brows and waited for her to explain.
Looking away, she toyed with the silver pendant dangling on a fine chain at her throat, tracing the Celtic knot pattern engraved upon it with her fingertip. “You see, I believe I’m being pursued by someone with a grudge against my family. We . . . we have something he wants. I came to Ireland to escape him and his . . . friends, but I’m afraid they will find me.”
She met O’Shea’s steely gaze. “I’m terrified of them. They’ve killed one person I loved, possibly two. If they capture me, I fear I’m as good as dead.” She paused, allowing him to absorb what she’d said before adding, “Confined to this chair, with no way to protect myself, I need someone to keep an eye out for suspicious strangers and to be here in the house at night. In short, I need a bodyguard.”
Frowning, he studied her for a moment then leaned forward, hands loosely clasped and elbows resting on his knees. “Ma’am, I agree you need protection, but I’m not the man for you.”
“What! W-why not?” She couldn’t believe he was refusing the job before she’d actually offered it to him.
He bent his head and raked a hand through his wavy dark hair. “It’s like this. I’m foreman for a crew of oil and gas well firefighters. We just finished capping a blowout in the North Sea. I’m here on a sort of extended vacation for a couple months. Then I’m due back home in Texas, where the company I work for is based.”
Lara stared at him, dumfounded. “But if you knew you weren’t going to be staying here long, why did you answer my ad?”
“I got curious, a bad habit. I figured I’d just call and find out why an Irish lady needed a strong chauffeur. Never planned on interviewing for the job. Then I phoned and realized you’re an American, but you wouldn’t explain things over the phone. That made me even more curious, so I decided to come see what the big mystery was.” He gave a lopsided grin, revealing one dimple. “And the truth is I wanted to meet the woman with that sexy voice.”
Lara’s jaw dropped. Was he serious? “Sir, I am in fear for my life, and you came here to, to flirt with me?” She narrowed her eyes. “Or are you joking at my expense?”
Grin fading, he sat up straight “No, ma’am, I’m not. I really wanted to meet you, and I agree you need a bodyguard, but it wouldn’t be fair of me to take the job for such a short time. You need someone who’ll stick around. You must have had plenty of replies to that ad of yours. I’m sure the right man will turn up soon if he hasn’t already.”
“You’re wrong! I’ve only had two other calls. One man offered to demonstrate his strength ‘up close and personal’. The other one slurred his words so badly, I knew he was drunk. I wouldn’t trust either of them to protect me. Now, since you refuse the job, I don’t know what I’ll do.” She stared at her hands, clenched together in her lap.
“I live in constant fear and I . . . I’ve been having terrible nightmares,” she admitted, hoarse with emotion. Her eyes burned and her lips trembled, but she refused to cry in front of the infernal man.
“Ah, hell!” O’Shea muttered. Unfolding himself from the too small chair, he strode over to her, crouched and patted her shoulder. “Easy now, there’s no need to get upset.”
“No need? Don’t you tell me there’s no need!” she glared at him, blood suddenly boiling. “You have no idea what it’s like to be terrified day and night.”
“Calm down and stop yelling.”
“I’m not yelling!” she protested, unwillingly aware of his masculine scent and the heat of his body.
“Yeah, you are. And if you don’t quit it, that old woman who showed me in here will storm back in with her rolling pin raised.”
Lara pictured Una beating him over the head with her trusty rolling pin, and a bubble of laughter burst from her throat. It was so ridiculous, she couldn’t stop laughing, and O’Shea joined in, his craggy features taking on a youthful, almost boyish appearance. She hadn’t laughed in such a long time. It felt wonderful, bringing tears of mirth to her eyes.
O’Shea controlled himself first. Digging in his back pocket, he brought out a man’s handkerchief and thrust it into her hand. “Here, you need this.”
Accepting the rag, which appeared clean if wrinkled, she swallowed another laugh, hiccupped and mopped her eyes. “Pl-please, Mr. O’Shea, help me, even if it’s only for a few weeks.” She gave him a pleading smile.
Frowning, he pushed to his feet. “You haven’t even asked for references. How do you know you can trust me?”
She held his probing gaze and shook her head. “I’m a good judge of people. You won’t do anything to hurt me.” She didn’t mention her special ability to sense approaching danger or the fact that he hadn’t set off her built-in warning signal. “What do you say? Will you be my bodyguard and rescue me from my fears?”
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair again. “Okay, I’ll take the job temporarily. I’m not due back home for another seven weeks. That oughta give you time enough to find somebody else.”
Clutching his wadded-up handkerchief to her breast, she drew a shaky breath. “Thank you, Mr. O’Shea. I’ll be forever grateful to you.”
He waved aside her gratitude. “One thing. Drop the Mr. O’Shea. Call me Connor, or just plain Conn.”
* * *
“Glad I am that man is gone,” Una declared a short while later as she helped Lara shift from her wheelchair onto the lounge chair where Connor O’Shea had so recently sat.
Lara relaxed against the cushioned back as the older woman adjusted the ottoman under her legs. “He’ll be back in the morning,” she replied.
Una straightened abruptly. “Sure now, ye don’t mean to say ye hired the man, do ye?”
Lara smiled. “Sure now, I mean exactly that.”
“Are ye daft? He’s a bad un, I tell ye. Could ye not see that?”
“I saw a tall, strong man who can easily manage both me and the chair when I wish to go into town, a man who can protect me from . . . any unpleasantness that might arise.”
“Unpleasantness, is it? I’m thinkin’ ye’ll know nothin’ but trouble with him around.”
Tired of the woman’s dire warnings, Lara leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I’d like to nap for a while before supper.”
“Humph!” With that, Una marched out, closing the door none too gently.
Left alone with her thoughts, Lara realized she hadn’t asked O’Shea – Connor – why he’d chosen County Kerry for his vacation. With his Irish name, perhaps he had family hereabout. Was she taking him away from loved ones by begging him to be her protector? Uncomfortable with the possibility, she told herself he was probably just another American tourist wanting to visit the old country and see the sights.
He’d called Texas home, as she’d already guessed, but he must have seen a lot of the world with his job. What was it like, working in an inhospitable place like the North Sea, fighting a ferocious oil or gas fire? It was obviously a dangerous occupation, requiring tough, courageous men, and Connor was a foreman, a leader of such men. That said a lot about him. He ought to be capable of standing up to her enemies, she assured herself.
It dawned on her that she hadn’t warned him he could be putting his life on the line by accepting the job, but surely he must have gathered that from what she’d told him about the devils who were after her. Hadn’t he?
* * *
Connor lay awake in his rented room, hands crossed under his head, staring into the darkness above and thinking of Lara Spenser. Her shimmering, golden-brown eyes and delicate features kept appearing in his mind’s eye. What had happened to put her in a wheelchair and leave that scar on her cheek, he wondered.
Her voice also haunted him. He hadn’t lied about wanting to meet her because of that voice. Soft and sweet, except when she got mad, it was like a siren’s song calling to him. He’d found it impossible to refuse her plea for help, even though it meant abandoning the plans he’d made for his stay in Ireland.
Damn, he hated to break his promise to his mother. What was he to tell her? That he hadn’t had time to hunt for their distant relatives here in County Kerry because he let a woman distract him? He sighed. To be fair, the lady’s fear was very real. His mother would understand when he explained Miss Spenser’s situation – he assumed she was a Miss – with no one to guard her from danger except a cranky old lady with a rolling pin.
He grinned at the memory of the Irishwoman scowling at him, letting him know she’d like to kick him out the front door. Nope, she sure didn’t cotton to him. Maybe if he packed away his leathers tomorrow, she wouldn’t act so bitchy. But he didn’t like riding his bike without his jacket, gloves and boots. If it were colder he’d add his leather pants. Boy, what’s her name would really take after him with her rolling pin then.
Chuckling, he flipped onto his belly, punched his pillow a couple times and settled down. Lara Spenser’s laughing image beckoned him toward sleep.
* * *
Lara rubbed her tired eyes. She ought to quit for the night, but she was so close to finishing the most important part of the translation, the Oracle’s final prophesy. She couldn’t stop now. Shifting in her chair to ease her aching back, she focused on the scroll once more and re-read the last few sentences she’d deciphered.
Each scroll shall be carried into hiding by one of my faithful Drui to be passed on to their children and their children’s children through ages to come. For this I have foreseen – Beyond a long darkness, from the west shall arise a mighty chieftain . . . .
Studying the next few symbols, Lara painstakingly put together their meaning, continually double-checking to make sure she got it right. The wall clock chimed midnight before she completed the task. Satisfied at last, she read the conclusion of the prophesy.
Beyond a long darkness, from the west shall arise a mighty chieftain who will bring forth the Great Joining and open a path unto the future.
Lara whispered the baffling words to herself once, twice, three times. Was the mighty chieftain from the west a political figure, an American president perhaps, or a religious leader, a teacher? And what had the Oracle meant by “the Great Joining?” Did it refer to a merging of nations, a meeting of world leaders or brilliant scholars? Would she live long enough to learn the answers? Not likely. None of the other Guardians had.
Disappointment swept over her. She’d expected the ancient prophesy to be a great revelation, not a vague vision of some far off future event. Selfishly, she’d also hoped it might somehow give her the power to locate her sister. Now that hope faded, leaving her desolate.
Fighting off tears, she returned the scroll to its container, laid it in her lap and turned the desk lamp down, leaving just enough light to wheel herself into the bedroom. She rolled to the room’s only window, eased aside a loose framing board, and placed the metal tube in a niche behind the board. She’d found the opening shortly after moving into the cottage, while gazing out the window one misty morning. Spying the loose board, she’d nudged it aside to reveal an empty pocket for an old-fashioned window weight, like the ones in her uncle’s house. This weight had no doubt been removed when the modern double-hung window was installed. Recognizing the space as a perfect hiding place, she’d stored the scroll there ever since.
With the relic safely concealed, she prepared for bed, but once snug under a warm comforter, she found sleep slow to come despite her exhaustion. She couldn’t stop rehashing the nebulous prophesy and wondering why the Hellhounds were so determined to get their hands on the scroll. Did they expect it to bring them wealth and power? If so, they were wasting their time.
Another worry plagued her. Did the Hounds know about the other six scrolls? Had they already captured her fellow Guardians? She would never know unless she learned how to contact the others, information her uncle hadn’t shared before his life was cut short.
By the Goddess, she would locate the six. If she lived long enough.
Connor O’Shea came to mind. He would keep her safe, she felt certain. In his profession, he had to be tough and incredibly brave. And those steely eyes of his . . . they could bore holes in a person if he grew angry. Lara shivered, never wanting to see them aimed at her in anger.
Then she pictured him sitting in her flowery lounger and giggled. A man like him needed a big, sturdy leather chair. There was such a chair in the parlor, she recalled, making a face. The room was stuffed with furniture and bric-a-brac, so much that she didn’t dare go in there with her wheelchair for fear of breaking something. But perhaps Connor could move that leather chair into the study and keep her company now and then.
The second that foolish thought entered her head, she dashed it to bits. Why would he or any man want to keep company with her? She was ugly!
Turning her ruined cheek to the pillow, Lara reached out with her mind, seeking solace from her sister, but like so many times before, she felt nothing. The bond they’d shared since birth was broken. Giving in to heartbreak, she wept until sleep finally claimed her.