Guardian Angel excerpt
Gard circled the apartment and peeped through cracks in windows. “I don’t see anyone, but they could be hiding. Stay behind me until we reach the beach.”
Pulling out his gun, he jerked open the door, peeked out in both directions, then sidled outside, reconnoitering the hallway in both directions, then motioned her toward him.
She closed the door behind her and followed him into the stairwell. His body humming with a hunter’s intensity as he listened, he paused, then crept down the steel steps.
She mimicked his quiet placement of feet, but hers thudded with each step. Stopping at the stairwell’s door, he listened and concentrated again as if his senses were radar, then he stepped into the open. He jolted to a halt, grabbed her in his left arm, and melted into the tiny alcove of the caretaker’s supply room.
Plastered against Gard’s side, she couldn’t see anyone, but she could hear men’s leather-soled shoes where only tennis shoes and bare feet normally trod. They walked from the street parking lot toward them.
Her heart lurched with terror, and she pushed harder against Gard to take up less space. This alcove didn’t really shield one person, let alone two.
His lips touched her forehead in a message of comfort and reassurance, then he seemed to forget her, his radar tuned to the approaching feet. Lifting his gun, he waited.
A man chuckled, the soft amused sound of a cat who’d trapped a mouse and was ready to kill. Her hackles rose as she recognized the cold essence of the ax-faced man.
Gard’s pulse fluttered wildly in his throat, but he remained still. She was supernally aware of him, his woodsy cologne and sweat, the way their bodies meshed perfectly, her breasts against his chest. The distant ocean whispered and surged with Gard’s pulse, the salt air tasted of his skin.
She prayed urgently, “Don’t let us die,” then concentrated on the approaching feet. Miraculously, the gunmen paused before reaching the alcove and turned into the stairwell. They stomped upward, unconcerned about noise.
Her breath caught and trembled, and she fought her desire to bolt. Gard waited thirty seconds then peeked outside. “Now.” He ushered her out of the alcove, his hand clamped on her shoulder as if aware of her panic.
They walked swiftly out of the building. Gard glanced up at the empty balconies, then at the empty walkway to the beach, and urged her forward.
Needing no urging, she kept fast pace with him, her back warm with imagined bullets heading toward it. Her legs shook going down the steps to the beach.
His gaze examining every family, teenager, and dune for an enemy, he sauntered casually toward the edge of the water. “We’re going to jog now back to our car. Slow and easy. We’d be too obvious even from a distance if we run.” He started to jog.
Matching his easy stride by concentrating on not running like a scared bunny and not staring about wildly for enemies, she even managed a smile at a five year old in pigtails who was demolishing the sand castle she’d just finished.
Gard ran four sets of steps past the house where their car was hidden, but she’d learned enough of his methods not to point out his mistake. Slowing to a walk, he trudged in the softer sand to the fifth set of steps, and climbed. Almost at the top, he leaned forward and crawled up onto the walkway.
Belly down, he peered toward the house where they’d stashed their car. He whispered, “There,” and pointed at a dune just beyond the house.
She crept up beside him and studied where he’d pointed. Finally, she saw a man in a white shirt and dark pants hunkered down in the dune, his gaze on their car. She whispered, “One?”
“One. I’ll take care of him. Come.” He slid under the railing and jumped four feet to the dune below. She followed him landing easily in a crouched position. “We’ll get close, then I’ll take him. You stay hidden.”
“You need a diversion. I’ll give it to you.” She picked up a battered welk shell. “I pitch in softball.”
Their eyes met, all arguments silent, but when hers didn’t waver, he nodded as if defeated by her logic and determination. “You provide the diversion then hide. If I go down, you make a run for it. That’s an order.” He gave her the car keys.
Sticking them in her pocket, she nodded meekly and followed him as he began a devious hidden path among the dunes, and under the other walkways toward the gunmen at their car, but she collected considerably more large shells than needed for a diversion.
Halfway up a dune, Gard slid awkwardly in the loose sand to avoid the cutting edges of a stand of sea wheat and hit sand burs instead. She couldn’t hear, but she could feel him swearing as he jerked his hand away. He plucked a burr out of his left palm and sucked the wound. She grimaced with sympathy and slid into the sea wheat. Her bare ankle sliced with tiny blades, she cussed in eloquent silence but kept pace.
Almost at the crest of a dune, he paused, then crept upward on his hands and knees and motioned she follow him. As she crawled upward, the hot sand seared her bare hands and knees. They paused near the top.
Just below them at the crest of a much shorter dune, the gunman waited in ambush. On his stomach, he peered over his own dune at their car just beyond him. Swatting at a fly on his neck, he revealed a pistol in his right hand. Desta recognized him. He was the biggest of the goons from the parking lot the day before. Gard was big, but this man carried sixty pounds and half a foot more on an average gorilla’s frame.
Her heart landed in her stomach at the thought of Gard taking him on in unarmed combat. She was all for shooting him in the back now. It wasn’t sporting by male standards, but it made perfect sense by pragmatic female standards when one of the males was hers. She touched Gard’s arm and mimed shooting the other man.
Gard, bless his fellow pragmatic heart, shook his head no, regretfully, and pointed toward the condos then at his ear as if he feared the other men would hear the shot and come running. He pointed at her then mimed tossing to the left of the gunmen, then motioned to himself and pointed at another dune to the man’s right. When she nodded understanding, he caught her wrist, glanced at her watch and his, then pointed at the next five minute segment past the present 1:10 and mimed tossing again. She nodded again, and gave him a thumbs-up and a big smile for luck.
His eyes flashed with warmth, and he caressed her cheek with his right finger tips, then he was gone.
She shifted her shell ammunition into comfortable range of her right hand and waited. The dunes were miserably hot, the ocean breeze blocked by higher dunes, the sun directly overhead. Sweat streamed down her face and body. She swiped carefully to keep it out of her eyes. The sand flies found her bare legs and ankles. As they bit, she twitched miserably, but fought her desire to swat and glanced at her watch. A minute to go.
Below her, the gunman remained still, patient and comfortable in his role of professional hunter. From Gard’s dune, a large ghost crab sidled toward the gunman, its stalk eyes studying the unmoving hulk as if it were a dead whale washed in by the sea. Its claw reached toward the bare flesh of the man’s arm and pinched. The goon jerked and spun.
Man and crab eyed each other for a long moment. Desta covered her mouth to hold back an hysterical giggle.
Swearing, the gunman smashed at the crab with a massive fist. The crab dodged and took off toward Gard’s hiding place. Bent on revenge, the goon scuttled after him on his knees. He stopped in mid-lurch, his gun aiming, not toward the crab, but higher. He’d seen Gard!
Sitting up, she hefted the welk and threw it against the gunman’s head. Dazed, he touched the blood trickling down his temple.
Gard leapt down onto him. Bashing at each other with fists, they grappled and swayed in the sand, then the gunman swatted Gard’s chest. Gard went down. The goon stood, his foot raised to crush Gard’s face.
Desta beaned him with another shell.
Roaring with fury, he pulled out his gun and aimed it at her chest. She ducked behind the ridge as Gard kicked the semiautomatic out of the man’s hand. When she peeked back over again a few moments later, both men were rolling in the sand at the top of the ridge as each tried to hit the other. Gard had technique and skill, and the gunman didn’t, but with his gorilla size he didn’t need it. He casually took the punishment Gard heaped on him and bashed back.
They fell over the sharp incline of the dune toward the house. She collected her remaining ammunition and charged over the top of her dune, down across the earlier battleground, and up the gunman’s dune.
On their feet Gard and the gorilla circled each other in the smooth sand below the house. The gorilla swung, and Gard dodged. If the massive gunman ever really connected with Gard, he’d go down completely. When Gard punched him, he barely flinched. Heaving like an asthmatic, the goon swung again.
Desta clipped him in the back with a shell. He jumped, and Gard punched him in the jaw. He staggered but didn’t go down. Below, where both men had fallen from the dune, Gard’s automatic rested, its barrel buried in sand.
Gard deserved all the noble, brave words one usually heaped on a fair damsel’s champion, but he seemed to be getting nowhere with King Kong. It was time for the damsel to even up the battle.
Trade Paperback ISBN 1-59705-887-4