Howdy, howdy, I hope your week is off to a great start whether you’re at work or at home, or maybe both. Please join me in praying for those suffering from covid, as well as the millions of folks affected by the terrible fires in California, Oregon and Washington.
Chapter Six of Rescuing Lara is on the menu today, and it’s the last I will share with you here. This is a pivotal point in Lara’s story. Conn proves himself against her enemies and they set off on a new leg of her desperate journey. To learn how that turns out, purchase the book on Amazon or read it for free on Kindle Unlimited.
I hope you will also read the other Romancing the Guardians books. Along with adventure and sensual romance, they offer scary predictions. See Links below
Hunkered down in a corner of the dark parlor, Conn guessed it must be close to midnight. He shifted quietly on the floor, easing stiff muscles, and scrubbed a hand over his face to ward off sleep. With his other hand he loosely gripped the Glock lying on his thigh. So far there’d been no sign of the men who’d ransacked the house and frightened Una, but he’d bet his last buck they would show up before the night was over.
The two women were locked in Lara’s study with orders not to come out until he said it was safe. Toward dusk he’d rigged a couple trip wires outside, one across the front entry and one across the back. Not high-tech, but they ought to give him a few seconds’ warning when the Hounds returned. He’d also loosened every light bulb in the house and had directed Una to sweep broken whatnots from the parlor into the hall around the front entry. That plus the unlocked door ought to tell the bastards they were walking into a trap. Maybe they’d have second thoughts, although he doubted it from the way they’d stormed in here and bullied Una.
Were they really after some family heirloom or was it something more? He respected Lara’s reluctance to break her promise of secrecy to her uncle, but refused to believe anything could be worth her life. It also irked him knowing she didn’t fully trust him. Oh, she claimed to, but she’d proved otherwise, not letting him see what was in that package from New York.
Did it matter? He’d be gone in a few more weeks. He couldn’t stay here forever, playing Sir Galahad for the damsel in distress. He had a job waiting back home and there was also his mother to consider. Her health had deteriorated to a point where it wasn’t safe for her to live alone. He’d finally convinced her to hire a live-in companion and the woman had worked out well, but Conn made a point of dropping in every so often to ensure his mother was getting good care. It was time to pay her another visit and share the results of his search for their Irish kin.
He smiled, thinking of his O’Shea cousins and Granny Kate. Meeting them was a pleasure, more so with Lara’s company. Without her prodding, he wasn’t sure he would have accepted Jocelyn O’Shea’s invitation. His boss lady could be mighty convincing.
Had she gotten any more responses to her ad for a chauffeur and bodyguard? He’d asked her once, about a week after moving in here. She’d said no and he hadn’t brought up the subject again. What if somebody did come along who wanted the job? His gut roiled at the thought. For sure, he’d do a background check on the guy, the way Lara should have done on him, even if he hadn’t set off her inner alarm bell. Any applicant for the job would also have to prove he could handle trouble, or Conn wasn’t about to trust him with Lara’s safety. With her life.
The truth was he didn’t want anyone guarding her but himself. He clenched his teeth imagining another man lifting her in and out of the car, holding her in his arms, spending nights close to her in this house. But he had to return home in a few weeks. He had no choice.
Should he take her with him? Would she go?
A heavy thud on the front stoop brought him to instant alert. It was followed by muttered curses. Lara’s unwanted guests had arrived and one had fallen over the trip wire. Pushing into a crouch on the balls of his feet, Conn released the safety on his Glock and prepared to greet them.
The front door opened with a creak and they walked in. Broken glass and pottery crunched under their shoes, drawing more cursing – in Cajun French, Conn recognized. They gave up trying to be quiet.
“We know you’re there, salaud!” one said in a high-pitched voice. “Come out and maybe we don’t kill you, eh?”
Conn waited, not making a sound. He heard them feel around in the hall for a light switch. When they flipped it without producing any light, another round of foul words made him grin in satisfaction. After a whispered exchange, one man headed down the hall toward the back of the house. Hearing him pause to try the locked study door along the way, Conn held his breath.
“The putain’s door is locked,” the thug called out.
“We’ll get ’er open. Check the kitchen first,” his partner ordered, crossing to the parlor with crushed breakables telegraphing his approach. He stepped over the threshold and banged his leg on the edge of a low table Conn had placed there.
“Merde!” he snarled in his nasal voice. “I’m gonna make you pay for dat, fucker!”
Tense as a coiled rattlesnake, Conn didn’t move while his prey maneuvered through a maze of furniture set up to draw him close. When he stepped on pieces of a broken vase lying directly in his path, Conn lunged, driving into his midsection. A shrill cry exploded from him and he toppled backward. His gun went off when he hit the floor, the bullet going wide by a country mile. Managing to grab his wrist, Conn prevented him from getting off another shot and clouted him on the head with his Glock. The guy went limp as his pal came running.
“Louis, you all right?” he called from the hall.
Conn kept still, struggling to quiet his rapid breathing.
“Louis? Answer me!” When the punk got no reply he muttered something and dashed to the front door, pulverizing what was left of the broken mess in the hall. He was obviously more interested in saving his own skin than Louis’s.
Hearing the door bang shut, Conn scrambled to his feet, stepped over his unconscious foe and started after the runner, determined not to let him get away. He made it into the hall then halted at the sound of Lara’s door opening.
“Conn?” she whispered.
“I’m here. Get back in there and lock the door.” He didn’t wait to see if she obeyed, slamming out of the house in pursuit of his quarry.
* * *
“Ye’d best do as Mr. Connor says, Mum,” Una urged. “’Tisn’t safe to go out there until he gives the word.”
Lara gathered from the repeated slamming of the front door that at least one of the villains had run out and Conn had gone after him. She wheeled partway into the hall, desperate to know if he’d been shot, but there was no way to tell until he returned.
“Come back in here, Mum, please. One o’ the bligeards could still be in the house.”
Reluctantly, Lara backed her chair into the study and locked the door again. She didn’t believe Conn would go off and leave them in danger if one of the Hounds was still a threat, but there was no sense in arguing with the older woman.
They waited in tense silence for what seemed like forever. Finally, there came the sound of the front door opening and closing followed by footsteps moving up the hall. Una grabbed Lara’s hand, holding on tight.
“Ladies, it’s okay, you can come out now,” Conn announced.
Both of them exhaled in relief. Reclaiming her hand from Una, Lara went to unlock the door and draw it open. Conn had tightened the bulbs in the hall sconces, making her blink fast until her eyes adjusted to the bright light. Hearing him move about in the parlor, she maneuvered in that direction, stopping short of the broken glass and ceramic for fear of getting shards stuck in the chair’s rubber tires and possibly cutting her hands.
Conn had also restored light to the parlor and now knelt on one knee, binding the wrists of a Hellhound who lay sprawled face down on the floor. The man groaned and uttered a groggy protest.
“Shut up or I’ll clock you again,” Conn barked.
“Are you all right?” Lara asked when he glanced at her.
“Yeah, I’m fine. This guy won’t give you anymore trouble, but the other one got away. They had a car parked up the road and he took off before I could stop him.” Frowning in obvious disgust, he finished his task and pushed to his feet.
“Shall I phone the Garda, Mr. Connor?” Una offered, standing beside Lara. “Uh, the Garda are our police. D’ye want them to come and take that feckin’ swine away?”
Lara gaped at the older woman, shocked by her language.
Conn’s lips twitched. “I sure do, Miz Una. Go ahead and give ’em a call.”
With a nod, Una marched down the hall to the kitchen, where a wall phone was located. Watching her, Lara jumped when Conn whispered next to her ear.
“Did she just say what I think she said?”
Turning her head, she encountered his laughing gaze and couldn’t stifle a giggle. “She certainly did.”
Two hours later, the Garda had come and gone, hauling away the “feckin’ swine” in handcuffs. Before their arrival, the man had resisted Conn’s rough questioning, not even giving his name. Lara doubted the police would have any better luck when they got him back to their station. He’d blustered that they didn’t scare him, his Cajun accent reminding her painfully of home. When he said he would rather rot in jail than be a dead man, she’d realized he was scared of the one who’d sent him and the other Hellhound after her. Who that shadowy figure might be, Lara had given up trying to guess.
After telling Una to let the mess sit until morning and get some sleep, she wanted only to take her own advice, but when she wheeled into the study, intending to continue into the adjoining bedroom, Conn followed her. Closing and locking the study door behind him, he leaned against it, arms crossed, as she pivoted to face him.
He leveled a hard glare at her. “The family heirloom those men were after must be all-fired important. First, they kill your uncle and nearly kill you in a staged accident. Then they kidnap your sister and come hunting you with guns. What are they really so determined to get their hands on, Lara?”
She refused to flinch before his fierce gaze. “Conn, I told you it’s something I’ve been entrusted to guard, with my life if necessary.” Her statement was met with tense silence. Then he crossed the small space between them in two long strides, making her catch her breath.
Leaning down, he gripped the arms of her chair and brought his face so close to hers that she jerked her head back in reaction. “You still don’t trust me with your precious secret. Even after I risked my neck to save you from those bastards?” he demanded, voice rough with anger.
“No! I do trust you, Conn,” she insisted, “but the . . . object has been in my family’s keeping for many, many years, centuries in fact. I swore to my uncle I would never reveal its existence to anyone when he appointed me to guard it.” She bent her head. “I’ve already told you too much. Would you have me break my vow completely?”
He expelled a heavy sigh, straightened and began to pace back and forth across the room, lips compressed in a frown as he rubbed his neck and stared at the faded oriental rug covering the floor. She gnawed her bottom lip, watching him and thinking. She couldn’t tell him about the scroll, but perhaps she could ask him to help her find the other Guardians.
“There’s something I want to show you,” she said, mind made up. “Will you wait here while I get it? Please.”
He raised his eyebrows, shrugged and crossed his arms. “All right.”
With a nod, she pushed herself into the bedroom, closed the door and maneuvered to her hiding place. Pushing the loose board aside, she withdrew the code book she’d stuffed into the opening with the scroll. After securing the board in place, she rejoined Conn in the study, wheeled over to him and held up the small leather-bound book.
“Take a look at this and see if you can make any sense of it.”
Thankfully, his anger had dissipated. Giving her a quizzical look, he brushed her palm with his fingertips as she handed over the code book, setting her whole arm atingle. She drew in her breath sharply. His slow, knowing grin made her cheeks catch fire.
“I like touching you, Lara,” he said. “Don’t be embarrassed because you like it too.”
She smiled, conceding he was right. She had no cause for embarrassment. He was the first man to make her feel feminine and desirable since the accident. Why shouldn’t she enjoy his attentions?
Focusing on the book, he examined the front and back carefully, his large hands making it appear even smaller. Then he opened the cover and lifted out the note from Gordon Jacobs. She’d forgotten it was there.
“That’s from Uncle Malcolm’s attorney. He sent me the book.”
“Mind if I read it?”
“No. Go ahead.”
He perused the short message, handed it to her and slowly turned the pages of the book, brow furrowed in concentration. She waited for him to comment, growing impatient with his silence.
“It’s some kind of code, isn’t it?”
“Can you decipher it? I thought perhaps you learned how in the Army.”
He shook his head, still studying the pages. “No. I’m not a code breaker.”
Lara sagged in her chair, weighted down with defeat. It was hopeless; she’d never find the other Guardians.
“But I know someone who was.”
She straightened instantly, heart doing jumping jacks. “You do? Who is he? Where is he?”
“His name is Dev Medina. We served together in Afghanistan and got to be friends. He’s a member of my crew now, or he was.” Frowning, Conn tapped the book against his thigh and avoided her eyes. “He got hurt on our last job and was sent home to recuperate. I expect he’s still there.”
“Where’s home?” she asked, hearing sadness and something else, possibly regret, in his subdued tone.
“He lives in Houston, same as me.” His gray eyes snapped to hers and he held up the little book. “Is this what the Hellhounds are after?”
“No, I don’t think they know about it. At least I hope they don’t. If you counted, you know there are only six pages of letters in the book. I believe each page holds the location of a person I must find if I’m to . . . to carry out my uncle’s wishes.”
“Why didn’t he just tell you where they are?”
She’d expected this question and decided to reveal as much as she dared. “Each of those six people guards an object similar to the one in my keeping. The Hellhounds aren’t the first who’ve tried to steal our inheritance. Over the years there have been many attempts, forcing the group to disperse and hide their whereabouts from each other, except from their leader, who was my uncle.”
“Now you’re the leader?”
Nodding, she asked, “Do you think your friend would decode the pages for me? And can he be trusted to keep it confidential?”
“Dev handled sensitive information in the Special Forces. He knows how to keep his mouth shut.”
“Good. Will you take me to him so I can ask for his help?”
Conn crossed his arms, still gripping the book, and strolled over to the table she used as a desk, leaving her in suspense while he considered her request. Finally, he turned to face her, cocking one hip on the table. “I don’t know whether Dev would agree to do it or not. He might not even talk to you if you’re with me.”
Lara shook her head in confusion. “I don’t understand. You said you’re friends.”
“We were, but he doesn’t consider me a friend anymore.” Rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger, he explained, “He blames me for the accident that laid him up, figures it wouldn’t have happened if I’d let him try to cap the fire when he wanted to.”
“Is he right?”
“Hell no! The damn fool would’ve gotten himself killed.” Jaw bunched in anger again, Conn glared at her for a moment then heaved a tired sigh. “Sorry. I’ve got no call to snarl at you.” Straightening from the desk, he crossed to her and handed back the book. “I need to grab a couple hours sleep. So should you. I’ll wake you at first light and we’ll get ready to leave.”
Lara’s pulse leapt with hope. “You mean you’ll take me to him, to Mr. Medina?”
“You’re no longer safe here, are you.” It wasn’t a question. “You persuaded me to be your bodyguard; maybe you can persuade Dev to decode the book. If he refuses, we can’t go to my place, but Houston’s a big city. We’ll find somewhere to lie low while we figure out what to do.”
“Why can’t we go to your place?”
Frowning, he said, “When the thugs searched my things, they took a letter with my name and address on it.”
“Oh, no! They’ll come after you, Conn. I’m so sorry for dragging you into this.” Overcome by guilt, Lara buried her face in her hands.
“Hey, you didn’t drag me into it.” Coming to crouch before her, he gently eased her hands down, making her look at him. “I’m here with you because I want to be, and I’m not worried about the Hounds knowing my identity. All I care about is protecting you. Got that?”
She nodded, giving him a wobbly smile.
“Okay.” Rising, he caught her chin, tilted her face up and bent to kiss her. She parted her lips in welcome and for a brief moment forgot everything but him. All too soon, he drew away. “Now get some shuteye, darlin’. That’s an order.”
* * *
Conn woke Lara shortly after daybreak as he’d promised, hating to disturb her. She’d been deeply asleep, exhausted from their long day and even longer night, but they had to get a move on. He wanted to be long gone before more unwelcome visitors showed up. Telling her to dress quickly, he next tapped on Una’s door, figuring Lara would need her help. Besides, he wasn’t about to go off and leave the old girl here by herself.
After her fright yesterday, Una gave him no argument. At his urging, she called her son, Riley, who didn’t live far away, and told him to come get her and the rental car. He’d have to hike over but promised to make it within an hour. Meanwhile, Una insisted on rustling up a hasty breakfast, saying they had to eat before starting their journey. Conn gave her credit for not asking where they planned to go. What she didn’t know couldn’t hurt them, or her, he hoped.
There was a difficult moment as they finished eating, when Penquin the cat yowled outside the back door. Lara gasped at the sound.
“Oh! I’d forgotten about him. How could I?” she said in a distraught tone as Conn rose to let in the cat, who made a beeline for his food dish.
“The poor dear was terrified o’ those two maggots yesterday,” Una said. “I let him out when they started bollixin’ up the house.”
Lara turned to Conn. “I have to find him a home before we leave. I can’t go until I do.”
Scowling, he laid his fork on his empty plate. “Lara, we have to go. Today. You can’t wait around for more trouble, all for the sake of a cat. I won’t let you.”
She stiffened and glared at him. “Is that so? We’ll just see about –”
“Don’t be gettin’ in a kerfluffle,” Una said, pushing back her chair and gathering up their dirty plates. “I’ll take the wee beggar with me to Riley’s.”
Conn could have kissed her. Breathing a sigh of relief, he gave her a broad smile. “Thank you, Ms.Una. You saved the day.”
“Are you sure, Una?” Lara asked. “Will Riley allow him in?”
“Och, he won’t mind. He likes animals or he wouldn’t ha’ taken over the farm when his da passed on. Not to mention the place is still mine under the law until I turn up me heels, so I’ll be doin’ as I please.” She nodded firmly and carried the dishes to the sink.
With Penguin’s future settled, they set about preparing to leave. By the time Riley arrived, out of breath from his hurried walk, Lara had packed a few clothes and personal items in a backpack. When she handed Conn the bag and her small laptop computer to stow in one of the Harley’s storage compartments, he found the backpack unusually heavy and guessed she must have secreted her precious family heirloom among her belongings.
For himself, he stuffed one change of clothes and his shaver in the small duffle bag he’d used for his trip to Ireland. His Glock was strapped to his ankle for now, but he’d have to pack it with his clothes later and check the duffle bag at the airport. With Riley’s assistance, he bundled the rest of his and Lara’s things into the back of her rented blue Toyota.
“I’ll see it all go to those in need,” Una promised, “and Riley will return the auto to the agency in Killarney. Won’t ye, son.”
“’Twill be my pleasure.” The fair-haired young man nodded with a gleam in his eyes.
“Please drive carefully, Riley,” Lara admonished. “I wouldn’t want you or the car to be harmed.”
“Not to worry, mum. I’ll deliver the blue beauty without a scratch on her, or on meself.” He grinned roguishly.
Looking skeptical and refusing to let the matter drop, she asked, “But how will you get home? It’s a long walk.”
“Simple, I’ll ask one o’ me mates to follow me into town and give me a lift back. Don’t be worryin’ your head about me.”
“All right then. Thank you, Riley,” she said, finally satisfied. Giving him a quick buss on his cheek, she turned to his mother and pressed an envelope into her hand. “Give this to Mr. McCracken with my sincere apologies for the damage to his property. I hope it’s enough.”
Una peeked into the envelope. “More than enough, I should think.”
“And this is to thank you for taking such good care of me.”
Waving away the second envelope, Una shook her head. “Nay, nay, ye’ve paid me well. I can’t take anything more.”
“I couldn’t have lived here without you, Una. Beside, you’ll need it to feed Penquin. Take it, I insist.” When the older woman still hesitated, Lara added, “Please.”
Una reluctantly accepted the envelope. “Thank ye, mum. ’Tis most kind of ye,” she said, voice uncharacteristically gruff.
Conn wondered how Lara came by so much cash, though of course she couldn’t use a credit card or write a check while on the run from the Hellhounds. Smart girl for thinking of that. He’d also guessed Lara Spenser was an alias. Would she ever tell him her real name? Another secret she was keeping.
His watch read ten past eight when they said goodbye to Una and Riley, with the two women sniffling and wiping their eyes. Lifting Lara from her chair, which would also have to stay behind, he deposited her on the motorcycle’s pillion seat, threw a leg over and settled in front of her. With a wink and a grin at Una, who he’d grown genuinely fond of, he ordered Lara to hold on, gave the bike some gas and rolled out, tires spitting gravel behind them.
“I hope they’ll be all right,” she said, leaning close to make herself heard. “What if the Hellhounds somehow locate them?”
“Riley can handle them,” he half shouted. “He’s a member of the Irish Reserve Defense Forces and he told me he keeps a gun at his place.”
“No! Riley? I can’t believe it,” she cried.
He chuckled. “Believe it. He’s not as airheaded as he puts on.”
“You couldn’t prove it by his driving,” she said in a dry tone before changing the subject. “Are we going to Shannon Airport? You didn’t say.”
“Yeah, it’s the closest. We’ll take the ferry across the river.”
“I flew into Shannon from the States and hired a driver who brought me the long way around to Killarney. He overcharged me, I’m quite sure.”
“That’s the route I took, too, but Riley told me the ferry’s quicker.”
“And the quicker we get out of the country, the better.”
“Exactly.” They reached the main road, he picked up speed and they spoke little after that. He stopped once to ask directions. Otherwise, they road straight through to Tarbert, where they boarded a ferry that carried them across the Shannon Estuary to Killimer in County Clair. From there, he drove to the agency where he’d rented the Harley. Seating Lara on a bench by the entrance, he left her to guard their belongings while he turned in the bike and had the agent call them a taxi to take them to the airport.
On the way there, he stowed his handgun in his duffle bag. When he checked it, Lara also checked her backpack – with great reluctance – cueing Conn to the fact that the object she was hiding would be spotted by the security scanner if she tried to carry it on. Logically, he figured it must be made of metal but couldn’t guess what it was.
The afternoon sun was dropping toward the western sea when they at last buckled into their seats on a plane bound for home. Within moments, Lara began yawning and Conn noticed how she struggled to keep her eyes open. She was wiped out and he wasn’t much better off.
“Sleep,” he said, gently pressing her head to his shoulder.
She mumbled a protest but didn’t move away. Within moments, she went out like a snuffed candle. He managed to stay awake until the plane took off; then, finally able to relax, he let sleep overtake him. At first his dreams were peopled by dark figures pointing guns at him and by Lara’s face, her eyes wide with terror. Later came the familiar nightmare with his crewman Ray Douglas lying dead beneath a pile of twisted metal and Dev screaming in agony.