I’m trying the Block Editor again. Had a very helpful chat this morning with a WP expert who explained the new editing method, convincing me to give it a chance. So here we go.
NOTE: I haven’t yet figured out how to change the color of a small section of text such as a book title, using the block editor.
Today I’m sharing chapter five of Rescuing Lara with you. In this chapter, Lara and Conn take a longer motorcycle ride around Ireland’s famous, scenic Ring of Kerry. But not all is beauty and romance. Lara’s psychic power proves all too true.
Two days later, Conn cajoled Lara into going on another, longer motorcycle ride. They got an early start, leaving right after breakfast because he planned to follow the scenic Ring of Kerry, a drive he’d taken by himself shortly after arriving in Ireland. Lara had never had that pleasure. He wanted her to experience it, but they’d need to take it in stages, stopping often along the way so as not to tire her too much.
Catching N71, he zigzagged southwest from Killarney past bogs and mountains, taking it slow on the narrow, twisting road, giving his passenger plenty of time to soak up the sights. She cried out in wonder more than once and shrieked in his ear the first time they came to a hairpin turn and had to veer out of the way of oncoming traffic.
“Easy, honey, we’re fine. No need to scream,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but that was awfully close.”
“Nah, we had plenty of room. Next time just close your eyes. We’ll be okay, I promise.” Taking his advice on the next sharp turn, she not only closed her eyes but hid her face against his shoulder and hugged him tight, making him smile at the feel of her breasts molded to his back.
They spent several minutes at Ladies View, overlooking Killarney National Park, where a nearby sign read, “Ladies View gets its name from the pleasure expressed by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting on their visit in 1861 to this spot.”
“It’s breathtaking with the lakes and mountains fading off in the distance,” Lara murmured, snapping photos of the vista with Conn’s cell phone. She had left hers behind when fleeing Louisiana, she’d told him, fearing to used it lest the Hellhounds trace it to her location. “Ireland really is as green and beautiful as people claim.”
“It is that.” With the wind tinting her cheeks pink and her smile as bright as the Irish morning, he thought her the most beautiful thing in sight.
Moving on, they crossed over Moll’s Gap and headed down toward the coast, stopping again at a sheep farm to watch the owner’s dogs work a herd of woolies. Conn carried Lara over to the wire fence enclosing the pasture and lowered her carefully onto her good foot. Steadying her with an arm around her, he smiled to himself when she pressed to his side and clung tightly to his waist. Having carried her in his arms a number of times, it felt odd for her to stand next to him, but not unpleasant. Her head reached barely to his shoulder and the curve of her hip bumped his upper thigh. No, definitely not unpleasant.
If she thought about their new situation, she gave no sign of it. But then, she was too enthralled by the sheepdogs and the show they were putting on to notice anything else.
“They’re so smart!” she said in awe. “The man whistles a certain way and they know exactly what to do. It’s amazing.”
“Yup, he’s got ’em well trained.” Enjoying her excitement, Conn was tempted to kiss her but settled for giving her a squeeze. Then he waved to the farmer, who’d caught sight of them. The man returned the gesture but kept working, and after a few minutes Conn convinced Lara it was time to ride on.
A short time later, she oohed and ahhed over the brightly painted buildings in Kenmare, a pretty town at the head of Kenmare Bay, and begged him to stop several times as they traveled along the long, narrow bay so she could take more pictures. They passed through other colorful towns, rounded the end of the Iveragh Peninsula and paused to gaze at the blue water of the North Atlantic, watching waves crash against the rocky shore.
After turning northeast on the final leg of their ride, they stopped near Cahersiveen to eat at the Thatched Cottage Restaurant. A tour bus was parked out front, meaning the place must be packed.
“You can’t carry me in there. It’s too crowded,” Lara said flatly.
“You’re tired and you need to eat.”
“I don’t care, I won’t be carried through a crowd of people like a helpless child.” She crossed her arms, tossed her head and glared at him.
Conn didn’t know whether to laugh at the stubborn set of her jaw or curse. Scraping a hand through his hair, he paced off a few steps, muttering under his breath, wishing he’d taken her car and brought the damned wheelchair along. Swinging around, he studied her, thinking.
“You can put weight on your left foot.”
“Yes, but –”
“Okay, hop on it and I’ll support your other side like I did at the sheep farm.” He grinned. “I’ll be your crutch.”
She frowned at his feeble attempt at humor. After a tense moment she said, “All right, but the doctor said I’m not to put weight on my shattered leg until x-rays show it’s healed. You must promise to keep me steady no matter what.”
He winked. “Don’t worry, darlin’, I’ll hold you steady as a rock.”
Helping her off the bike, he moved to her right, wrapped his arm around her waist and molded her slender curves to his side. She glanced up and gave him a nervous little smile, giving hope that she was as aware of him as he was of her. Taking it slow, he assisted her to the restaurant entrance and eased through the doorway. The place was as packed as he’d expected. Cooking aromas filled the warm air, making Conn’s stomach rumble while he scanned the noisy room for an empty table. He didn’t see a single one, but in the far corner a middle-aged couple sat by themselves at a table for four.
“Come on,” he said. Maneuvering between tables, he led Lara toward the couple.
The gray-haired man noticed them and said something to his blonde companion. She glanced up and gave them a welcoming smile as they neared the table.
“Do you mind if we join you?” Conn asked.
“Please do,” the man said, rising and pulling out a chair for Lara. “We’ll welcome the company.”
“Thanks.” Conn lowered Lara onto the chair and took the one opposite her.
“I’m Mike Hanson,” the man said, extending his hand, “and this is my wife Penny.”
Once the introductions were complete, Penny Hanson spoke up. “You two weren’t on our bus, were you? I’m sure I’d remember you if you were.”
Seeing Lara stiffen, Conn knew what was going through her mind. She thought the other woman meant she’d remember Lara’s scar. She was way too self-conscious about it.
“No, ma’am, we’re by ourselves,” he told the inquisitive blonde, whose hair color had to come from a bottle judging by her lined face.
“Well, you’re obviously from the States same as us,” Mike said, “and unless I miss my guess you’re from the south.”
Conn smiled. “You guessed right. I hail from Texas, but Lara here comes from up north.”
“Oh, where do you call home, dear?” Penny asked.
Lara lowered her gaze and shrugged. “I’ve moved around a lot.”
“Really? Aren’t you lucky. This is the first time Mike and I have ever traveled more than fifty miles from home. We’re from Iowa, by the way.” The woman chattered on about how much she and her husband were enjoying their tour of Ireland. She paused briefly when the waitress came to take their order then resumed her gushing. Mike nodded agreeably now and then, managing to squeeze in a comment or two.
Conn said a silent thank you when their food and drinks arrived. The shepherd’s pie he and Lara had ordered was delicious, and his frosty glass of Guinness hit the spot. Making it even more enjoyable, Penny remarked on how tasty her bowl of Irish stew was and stopped talking a mile a minute. Mike shot an amused glance across the table as he tucked into his own bowl, letting Conn know he was well aware of how his chatterbox wife affected other people. It was also clear he adored her.
* * *
Lara sipped her Guinness as she ate. She’d never tasted it before, not being very fond of beer, but she had to admit she kind of liked this spicy reddish-brown stout. The more she drank the more relaxed she became. When Penny finished her stew and started running on again about the sights she and Mike had seen on their journey, about their family and their Iowa home, Lara didn’t mind. She even laughed a time or two, maybe three, at the woman’s stories.
Was she a bit tipsy from one glass of beer? She must be, or when it came time for the older couple to depart with their tour group, she wouldn’t have felt sad. Ridiculous! She barely knew these people, but they . . . they were so normal. Longing for normalcy in her life, she envied them and wished they didn’t have to leave so soon.
Conn helped her stand and she hugged both Penny and Mike. Leaning on her muscular crutch outside, she watched them climb back on the bus, struggling to control her foolish emotions. She blinked to ease her stinging eyes.
“You okay?” Conn asked, cocking his head to study her.
“Of course. It’s just the wind making my eyes burn.”
“Uh-huh.” He plainly didn’t believe her but he let it pass. “You ready to get going?”
She gave a brisk nod and let him help her back to his bike.
“There’s a special place I want to show you,” he said as they put their helmets on. “I discovered it when I rode through here the first time. It’s a little off the main route, but I think you’ll enjoy the view.”
“All right, as long as it doesn’t take too long. I don’t want to worry Una again.”
“It won’t. Hang on now.” With that, the Harley growled to life. A few miles farther on they reached the village of Glenbeigh, where Conn made a turn to the left that took them along a narrow road. It led to a view that caused Lara to cry out in wonder.
She stared, speechless, at the wide expanse of sea breaking on a beautiful golden beach that ran along a narrow spit of land sticking out across the water.
‘This is Rossbeigh Beach. It juts out a mile or more into Dingle Bay,” Conn said, pointing to the deep blue water. “Across the bay is Inch Beach, or strand as it’s called. And behind us on the other side of the sand dunes, is Castlemain Bay.”
“It’s spectacular,” Lara murmured, thinking she was going to run out of superlatives before this day was done. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Want me to drive down there?”
He drove on slowly while she took in the scene. A few people strolled along the beach, some walking dogs. A couple with three young children had spread a blanket on the sand and were having a picnic, evidently oblivious to a vigorous wind blowing in off the sea. Most astonishing of all were several surfers riding small waves into shore or paddling out to catch another cresting wave. Two had donned wetsuits, but the others wore only regular swimwear. Looking at them made Lara shiver.
Stopping, Conn switched off the motorcycle, dismounted and lowered the kickstand. “Let’s get closer,” he said, motioning for her to swing her right leg across the bike so he could pick her up.
She complied, eyeing him uncertainly. “Can you manage me on the loose sand?”
“Oh, I reckon I can.” With a crook of his lips, he lifted her into his arms, sending her pulse spiraling upward as it always did when he held her. “See those boulders along the base of the dunes?” He angled his chin toward the large, dark colored rocks.
“Yes,” she replied, enjoying the feel of his strong arms beneath her and the unyielding wall of muscles she rested against.
“How about we sit on that biggest one?”
“Fine.” She looked this way and that, engrossed in their surroundings as he trudged through the sand. When he stepped in a low spot, causing him to jerk sideways, she yelped in fright and clamped both arms around his neck.
“Easy, darlin’, I’m not gonna drop you,” he said in her ear.
“I’m sorry.” She loosened her hold on him, embarrassed by her overreaction, but she didn’t fully relax until he set her down on the massive black boulder. He seated himself beside her and they watched the surfers, the gulls diving for fish, and the sea glistening in the sun, rolling on to the horizon.
“Those surfers are mad. The water must be frigid, this far north.”
“Un-uh, the gulf stream flows past here. The water is actually pretty warm.”
“And how would you know that?” She angled a skeptical glance at him.
He grinned. “I went wading the first time I stopped here.”
“Oh.” Lara gazed at the water wistfully. “I wish I could do that.”
“No reason you can’t, with a little help.”
She frowned impatiently. “Don’t be absurd. I told you I can’t put weight on my right foot yet.” If ever, she added to herself.
“Yeah, but the docs didn’t say you can’t get it wet, did they?”
“No, but . . . .” She stared at him. “What are you suggesting?”
“Simple. I’m your crutch, remember? Take your shoes off.”
She opened her mouth to refuse but excitement burst through her, stilling her tongue. Could he hold her steady in the lapping waves? Was it worth the risk? Watching him bend to remove his boots, she decided it was. She untied the homely black oxfords she was forced to wear and kicked them off, but when it came to removing her brace, she hesitated. She’d never taken it off in front of anyone except Una. Shy of letting Conn see her do it, much less someone walking along the beach, she had second thoughts about her crazy impulse to go wading.
“There’s nobody close enough to see,” Conn said, seeming to read her mind. “And you don’t have to worry about it bothering me. I’ve watched my mother and sister take off their AFOs plenty of times.” He held her gaze with his gray eyes, smiling encouragement.
“Very well.” Reaching down, she gathered up the leg of her corduroy pants and undid the wide Velcro strap that bound the brace to her calf, just below her knee. Laying it beside her shoes, she peeled off her long white cotton socks that not only provided warmth but also prevented the plastic brace from sticking to her skin and causing irritation. By the time she rolled up both pant legs, Conn was standing, waiting, also barefoot and bare legged up to his knees.
“I’ll carry you to the water. It’ll be quicker.”
Nodding, she looped her arms around his neck again, loosely this time. When they reached the water’s edge, he let her down gently and kept one arm firmly around her as she balanced on her left foot. She twined her own arm around his waist and caught hold of his leather jacket with her other hand.
“Ready?” he asked.
“As much as I’ll ever be.”
Step by slow hopping step, he led her into the water. It was surprisingly warm, as he’d said. Loving the touch of the low waves lapping around her ankle and calf, she lowered her left foot enough to glide it through the silky liquid. It felt soothing.
“It’s wonderful!” She laughed in delight, looking up at Conn.
“Yeah, it is,” he said in a husky voice, watching her. “You want to keep going?”
Pulse leaping at the smoldering fire in his gray eyes, she nodded, unable to speak as a surge of heat sizzled her nerve endings. She quickly looked away but couldn’t shut out the desire she’d read in his burning gaze. He really did want her, scar and all, it appeared.
Brushing aside such thoughts, she focused on enjoying the soft, silky feel of the water caressing her skin as Conn waded along at a slow pace, cautious of her safety. Finally, with regret, she signaled him to stop.
“My left leg hasn’t gotten this much exercise in months. It’s starting to ache. I guess we’d better quit.”
“No problem. We’ll come back another day.” Scooping her up, he carried her back to their boulder. “Stay put. I’ll get something to dry our feet.”
She watched him hike over to the motorcycle, admiring his fluid gait, his long legs and muscular flanks. The man was hot with a capital H! With that body he could drive a woman wild in bed. He dug in one of the Harley’s saddlebags, found what he wanted and started back to her. Embarrassed by her lusty thoughts, she told herself not to get dangerous ideas about him. He might stir long buried yearnings, but she wasn’t about to trust him with her heart.
“This will have to do,” he said, showing her the torn black t-shirt he’d come up with. He squatted in front of her and began wiping her feet and legs. Sparks shot upward at his touch, making her want to squirm on her rocky perch.
“I can do that,” she said hoarsely.
“I don’t mind . . . unless, am I hurting your injured leg?” He looked up, concern knitting his brows.
“No, no, but you don’t have to –”
“But I want to.” He winked then returned to his self-appointed task. “Your feet are cold.”
“Uh-huh,” she muttered, fighting the fiery sensations that shot up her legs. Not trusting herself to say any more, she watched, entranced as he slipped her socks on, smoothing them up over her calves to just below her knees. When he reached for her brace, though, the trance broke.
“I’ll put it on,” she said, attempting to snatch it from him.
He refused to let go. “Lara, you don’t need to be self-conscious with me. Let me do this for you.” He held her gaze and she gave in, reluctantly.
He fitted the brace around her leg and fastened the strap, being careful not to make it too tight. She realized he was right; she should stop being so self-conscious around him and around others too. If anyone didn’t like the way she looked, they could look elsewhere.
As Conn carefully slipped her foot and the bottom of the AFO into her shoe, she studied his bent head, watching the breeze ruffle his dark hair. Fisting her hands in her lap, she resisted an urge to run her fingers through those coffee-brown waves. Wrapped up in her wayward yearning, she didn’t notice he’d finished tying her shoes until he looked up and caught her staring at him.
His nostrils flared and his gray eyes grew molten hot. She caught her breath as he rose to sit beside her on the boulder, never releasing her gaze. When he reached out to draw her close, her heart hammered with anticipation.
“Lara,” he whispered thickly. Then his lips captured hers. Sliding between her parted lips, his tongue danced over hers coaxing a response she couldn’t deny him. She twined her arms around his neck and pressed against him, ablaze with his blistering kiss and the feel of his hands traveling over her.
Terror struck like a gong resounding in her head. She broke off the kiss with a petrified gasp and clutched Conn’s shoulders as cold, clammy fingers of fear crawled down her spine, freezing her blood, nearly making her pass out.
“Lara, what’s wrong?” Conn demanded. His alarmed voice penetrated the fog of fear.
“They’re here! The evil ones, I feel them.”
He glanced sharply right and left. “Where? I don’t see anyone except that jogger with his dog.”
“Not here!” She shook her head violently. “At the cottage! They’re there, I’m certain. Oh my God! Una!” she cried in a panic.
Conn hastily toweled sand from his feet and jammed them into his boots, not wasting time with socks or words. He stood, hoisted her into his arms and ran for his bike, surefooted stride trouncing the sandy ground.
“Put your helmet on,” he said, depositing her on the Harley. He did likewise and a moment later they were speeding up the narrow road to the village.
Clinging to his waist, Lara uttered not a word as he raced through the hamlet, narrowly missing cars and pedestrians. All she could think of was Una alone at the cottage, facing those devils who’d come for her, not the Irishwoman. She should have warned her of the approaching danger, but she’d been afraid Una might think her crazy and quit. How she would get along without her help, Lara didn’t know, but she had no right to endanger the poor woman. If anything happened to her, she would never forgive herself.
Although the distance to the cottage was relatively short, the ride seemed to go on forever. By the time they finally arrived, Lara was sick with worry for Una. Conn drove through the open gate, which they’d left closed, straight to the cottage. He stopped outside the front door.
“Stay put,” he ordered. He’d barely stepped off the Harley and dropped the kickstand when the door flew open, slamming back on its hinges. Una stood there, looking pale and terrified.
“Thank the saints ye’re back!” she cried, hands ringing the folds of her apron.
“Did they hurt you?” Lara blurted.
“Nay, but . . . ye know about them?” Una stared at her incredulously.
“Yes. I’m so sorry,” she said, deeply regretting the fright the older woman had suffered. “I should have warned you. I came here to escape –”
“You can explain later,” Conn said. Turning to Una, he asked, “How many were there?”
“Two. They asked was me mistress home. I said no and did they wish ta leave a message. Their answer was ta shove me out o’ the way and march in as if they owned the place. I shouted for them to get out, but one, a cold-eyed bligeard with hair the color o’ dirty snow, ordered me ta shut me gob or he’d shut it for me.”
Una bent her graying head. “I feared ta try and stop them, mum.”
“You were right not to antagonize them. I wouldn’t want you to be hurt.”
“But, mum, they made a terrible wreck o’ the house. They seemed ta be lookin’ for somethin’.” The older woman gave her a questioning stare.
Lara looked away, not knowing how to reply.
“Let’s get inside,” Conn said abruptly, much to her relief. Lifting her off the motorcycle, he carried her into the house. He stopped in the hall by the parlor, and she gasped at the state of the room. It was a shambles of overturned furniture, broken nick-nacks and torn upholstery.
“Mr. McCracken isn’t going to be happy about this,” she muttered, thinking aloud.
“Who’s Mr. McCracken?”
“The owner of the cottage.”
“I thought you owned the place.”
“No, I’m only renting it. Where’s my wheelchair, Una?”
“I pushed it inta yer office, mum, so I could sweep the hallway. ’Twas just before they came. The wicked devils pulled it apart, I’m sorry ta say.”
“Oh no! Please take me in there, Conn.”
He did as she requested and her already throbbing headache pounded harder at the sight of the chair lying in pieces on the floor. The ‘wicked devils’ had pulled apart the metal frame, obviously thinking she might have hidden the precious scroll inside one of the cylindrical parts. They’d thought wrong. Luckily, they hadn’t torn the upholstered seat and back rest, and Conn was able to put the chair back together in a matter of minutes. When she was settled in it, Lara asked Una to help her into the bathroom attached to her bedroom. After that necessity had been met, she excused herself, saying she needed to lie down for a while.
That was true enough but once her bedroom door closed, she maneuvered through clothes and personal items strewn across the floor, to her secret hiding place. Desperate to see if the scroll and code book were safe, she sagged in relief when she found both items undisturbed. The Hounds had left empty-handed, thank God.
Una, bless her heart, had already put the bed to rights. Undoing her braid, Lara shook out her hair and swallowed two aspirin from a bottle the fiends had left untouched. Then she collapsed on the bed and closed her eyes, giving the aspirin a chance to dull her throbbing headache. It had struck on the way from Rossbeigh Beach, triggered by her frantic worry for Una. She didn’t expect to sleep, but amazingly, she awoke some time later to a knock on her door.
“Yes?” she called, sitting up.
“It’s me. We need to talk,” Conn said, deep voice muffled by the stout wooden barrier.
“Come in. I’m decent.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed and raked back her tousled hair as he stepped into the room.
He paused to study her then walked over to the bed. “You mind if I sit?” he asked, indicating a spot next to her.
She shook her head, but her stomach fluttered when he sat down, so close that she felt the heat of his body. His rugged masculinity called out to her even now when she ought to think only of how to keep the scroll safe.
A sudden, loud clatter rang out, making her jump.
“It’s all right,” Conn said, patting her knee. “That’s just Una straightening up the mess in the kitchen.” Perhaps seeing her stare at his big, warm hand, he removed it and cleared his throat. “I checked upstairs. They went through my stuff too. They know there’s a man here with you.” When she nodded uncertainly, he continued. “I parked my bike out of sight in the shed and brought this in.” Reaching behind him, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and showed it to her.
Lara caught her breath. “You’ve had that the whole time?”
“Yeah. I stash it under the car seat or in one of the Harley’s saddlebags when we go out, and I keep it handy at night in case of trouble. Could be I’ll need it tonight.”
“You . . . you think they’ll come back?”
“Did they find what they were after?” He stared into her eyes, waiting for an answer.
“No,” she admitted, unable to hold his gaze. Bound by her sacred oath to never reveal anything about the scroll to outsiders, she didn’t dare say more, even though she longed to share her burden with him.
Conn sighed heavily. “Then yeah, I reckon they’ll come back.”
A cold chill slithered down Lara’s spine. Wrapping her arms around herself, she asked, “What will we do?”
“We’ll eat whatever Una can salvage for supper. Then the two of you are gonna hole up in here. I’ll keep watch, after I set up a few surprises for our friends.”
“I should have gotten those motion detectors you suggested, but Mr. McCracken didn’t like the idea when I spoke to him about it. He thought the neighbors might grow alarmed if they saw the equipment being installed. I didn’t argue. Now I wish I had.”
“No problem. I’ll rig some old fashioned alarms.” Tunneling under her hair, he gently massaged her neck, bent close and kissed her. He kept it short and light but still made her tingle all the way to her toes.