Dante Mangino was a man committed to one thing: his job. A top security specialist, he had no ties to anyone, just the way he wanted. Falling for a client was strictly taboo. But his latest assignment was about to remind him that even a man like Dante had a weakness. And her name was Sara Vance. Mayor of her hometown, Sara needed protection against a stalker. But having the man who'd loved her and left her prowling around on guard simply wouldn't do. Dante was too intense. Too...tempting. And that would make her stalker very, very angry....
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April 30, 2008
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Excerpt from The Guardian by Linda Winstead Jones
The doorbell chimed as Sara stepped into a tennis shoe, preparing for her usual evening walk along quiet streets that wound beneath oak trees older than her recently deceased grandfather's grandfather. She muttered an annoyed, "Shoot," and stumbled toward the door with one shoe on and untied and the other clutched in her hand. Opal, invaluable housekeeper, chef and occasional answerer of doorbells, had just left for the day. Didn't that figure?
Sara opened the door, expecting to find a kid selling cookies or band candy, or a neighbor with a complaint or a request, or a Tillman resident with a problem that couldn't wait until morning. From the day she'd agreed to run for office, she'd known being mayor of the small town she'd always called home--in her heart, at least--would be full-time, but she hadn't known exactly how full. The fact that more than half the town felt they knew her well enough to drop in unannounced or call at two in the morning didn't help matters any.
What she found on her front porch was none of the ordinary, boring people she'd expected. For a moment, she was speechless.
They just didn't make men like this anymore, did they? Not in Tillman, not anywhere that she'd ever seen. The man on her front porch was the clich�d tall, dark and handsome, wearing a nicely fitted suit and expensive shoes and sporting a head of thick black hair that was conservatively cut but not buzzed to the scalp. One look at his face, and her stomach dropped out from under her. Her toes tingled. Whatever words she should've spoken got stuck in her throat. She should've been better prepared; she'd known she'd see him sooner or later.
Dante Mangino, the object of a long-ago summer romance she'd never been able to forget, shifted his coat jacket aside to reveal the badge attached to his belt. He obviously hadn't recognized her yet, and with a combination of heartbreak and relief she wondered if he'd forgotten all about her. She'd been so worried about running into him down at city hall, she'd played the possibilities of their first encounter in her mind again and again--and he didn't even remember her.
She shouldn't be surprised. After all, they'd been seventeen last time they'd seen one another, a very long eighteen years ago, and while she'd experienced a real, intense love, at least for a while, she'd never fooled herself into thinking that what Dante had felt had been anything more than raging teenage hormones.
He'd changed, just as she had. He was older, bigger, less pretty and more manly. And he'd cut his hair. Sara tried to convince herself that if she hadn't known Dante was in town, she might not recognize him.
Since he showed no hint of recollection, she decided to play the game that way. She gathered her composure and smiled politely. "You must be Sergeant Mangino."
"That's me," he answered.
"How nice of you to stop by. I heard you were in town, helping out your cousin Chief Edwards during this unfortunate manpower shortage, and I was hoping we'd get a chance to meet." He'd been in town for two weeks, and until now she'd managed to avoid him. Yes, she'd avoided him at the same time she'd fantasized about their first meeting after all these years. Did that mean she was emotionally twelve years old where he was concerned? How embarrassing. Perhaps it was just as well that they get this over with, once and for all.
Sara opened the door wider and invited him into the foyer, where Vance antiques that had been collected over many years indicated money and influence. Decent money and local influence, at least. She'd inherited everything here, and none of it really felt as if it was hers. She was a keeper. A guardian. "It's nice of you to stop by to introduce yourself. I'm so grateful that you agreed to join us until we can rebuild the department. The chief and I both appreciate your time and sacrifice. This is a difficult time for our city, but we'll soon recover and be all the better for it."
Dante looked confused. His eyes narrowed slightly, his nose wrinkled, and she could see the bewilderment on his face. He had always been so easy to read. For her, at least. His eyes gave away so much. "You're..."
"Mayor Vance." Sara offered her hand, the one that didn't continue to clutch a walking shoe. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I was just on my way out for a walk." She sat in a foyer chair, which was upholstered in a striped fabric, where she slipped on her other shoe and then bent to tie them both. It was good to break eye contact for a moment; good to take the opportunity to take a deep, calming breath. Even after all these years, Dante made her nervous. She could swear that the very air in the house had changed, grown thicker and warmer the moment he'd entered.