Guarded by the Hero - Audiobook
Guarded by the Hero - Audiobook
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His job is to protect her, not to fall in love with her.
Heroes of Freedom Ridge Series Book 7.
Listen to Sample:
Narrated by Lorana Hoopes.
6 hours and 1 minute.
- Bodyguard Romance
- Christmas Romance
- Fierce Protector
His job is to protect her, not to fall in love with her.
Heath Mitchell learned his security skills during his time in the US Marine Corps. After spending his first few years in the civilian world as the head of security for the Freedom Ridge Resort, he’s ready to branch out and help form a security firm. Things are just getting off the ground when he meets his sister’s friend. When a hit-and-run breaks into their meeting, she becomes his first client instead of his girlfriend.
Claire Odom has grown accustomed to a quiet life in the small town of Freedom. The perils of her past seem long gone until they resurface when she meets Heath. Determined to protect her, he becomes her full-time bodyguard. His good looks and the security he brings make it hard for her to remember he's only there because she hired him.
Heath and Claire grow closer as they fight to outrun their unknown enemies. Loyalties are broken, and unlikely alliances are formed as the quiet town of Freedom bands together to protect their friends this Christmas season. But is their newfound love just a reaction to the fear, or was it always meant to be?
Return to Freedom, Colorado, and enjoy the faith, friendships, and forever-afters of the Heroes of Freedom Ridge in this Christian Christmas romance.
Read Chapter One
Read Chapter One
Heath lowered the pistol in his hands and turned to Jeremiah, giving him a thumbs up.
Jeremiah jerked his head toward the exit, and Heath followed his business partner out of the indoor firing range and into the Freedom Tactical Firearms shop.
Heath removed his ear protection and safety glasses. “I think this is the one.”
Jeremiah reached for the pistol and turned it over in his hands. “It’s a good weight.” He adjusted his hand on the grip before handing the firearm back to Heath. They had similar training and often shared weapon preferences. “I’ll have to test this one out next time. I need to run if I’m going to see Miah before bed. It’s a school night.”
Heath accepted the firearm from his business partner and holstered it. He’d been eying the piece for weeks, and he was about to take the leap and get the new weapon. “Tell Shrimp I said her feet smell.” Heath never missed a chance to play around with Miah. Jeremiah’s daughter was at the fun age when she liked to tease and be teased.
“No way. She’ll get all riled up and pester me until I call you so she can tell you off.”
Heath laughed. “That’s the fun part.”
“Not when Haven wants her calming down for bedtime. I may tell her first thing in the morning so you can get that bossy wakeup call.”
“Bring it on. See you tomorrow.”
Adam walked in and greeted Jeremiah on his way out. Heath, Adam, and Jeremiah worked together at Got Your Six Security, but they usually met every other week after work for firearms training.
With three decades of military training between them, target practice was more for sport than honing the skill. Thankfully, personal security agents rarely needed firearm intervention. Their job serving as bodyguards was to protect and shield, not retaliate.
Adam greeted Heath with a fist bump. “You heading out too?”
“Nah, Jeremiah just had to get Miah to bed.” Heath jerked his chin toward the exit. “I’ll hang around for a little bit.”
“Ready for a round?” Adam asked.
“Always.” Heath adjusted his headphones and glasses before heading back into the range and readying his stance.
“Winner takes all?” Adam yelled to be heard above the shots and through the noise-canceling headphones.
Heath nodded once and raised the pistol to eye level. His focus was sharp and accurate as the targets moved on rails around the room. One after the other, his shot found its mark. It had taken him years to adopt this self-assured attitude toward firearms, and training had become relaxing and therapeutic.
Heath was on a roll when a flash of movement waved across the periphery of his vision. Adam was signaling that he had something to say.
Heath stepped out of the range and back into the shop.
Adam pulled his headphones down to rest around his neck. “Dude, that thing is wicked.”
Heath handed over the new pistol. “Try it out.”
A range employee joined them and started answering Adam’s questions about the 9mm, and Heath pulled his phone from the cargo pocket of his pants.
One voicemail from Mr. Hawkins and two texts from his sister, Tessa. Heath listened to the voicemail and stepped away from Adam and the employee to return the call.
Mr. Hawkins answered on the second ring. “You working late?” the older man asked in greeting. He’d been one of Heath’s biggest clients at Got Your Six Security since the beginning.
Heath pulled his Bluetooth earpiece out of his pocket and connected it. “Always working. Tell me about the New Hope Gala.”
“I sent you the specs in an email. I really just wanted to catch up.”
Heath pulled up the email and scanned. The event would be massive, and Heath wanted the security contract. Mr. Hawkins talked as if Got Your Six already had the job. “How’s the fam?” Heath asked.
“Driving me crazy. My youngest granddaughter wants a car for her birthday, but that child is the worst driver I’ve seen in my seventy years.”
Heath chuckled. “Give her time, and maybe stay off the roads when you know she’s out.”
“She’ll be the death of me. I know it.”
“I’m reading your email. Tell me what you’re looking for at the gala.”
“I want a lot of feet on the ground, but I don’t want an army. I don’t want a bunch of barrel-chested men intimidating the donors.”
Mr. Hawkins was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and Heath appreciated that quality. It made his job easier.
“Yes, sir. I’m putting my partner in charge of this event. I just sent you the specs on Jeremiah Gilbert. You met him last May in Albuquerque. He’s your man.”
“I’ll check it out. I remember Mr. Gilbert.”
Heath leaned back against a wall between the shop and range. “Ten years in the Army, a few more as in-house security for NeoGene, and he was with the local PD before he came to Got Your Six full time. He’s my partner for a reason.”
“Can you spare a few men for live video surveillance?” Mr. Hawkins asked.
Heath typed the note into New Hope’s file on his phone. “I’ll make sure Jeremiah factors that in when he’s putting together the team.”
“You can email me the quote. Tomorrow. It’s after seven in the evening where you are, son.”
“Yes, sir,” Heath said as he shot off a message to Jeremiah. “You’ll have it in the morning.”
“I appreciate it. We should get together once this is over. You play golf?” Mr. Hawkins asked.
Heath and the owner of the New Hope Foundation had gotten to know each other well over the course of planning the charity’s last few high-profile events, but they lived on opposite sides of the States.
“I can’t say I do, sir. Freedom’s courses were buried beneath snow nine months of the year.”
Mr. Hawkins chuckled. “A smart man knows his strengths and weaknesses.”
“How do you feel about deep-sea fishing?” Heath asked.
“Now you’re talkin’,” Mr. Hawkins shouted. The man’s raspy voice was always booming, but it was more friendly than assertive.
“I’ll charter a boat for January. Have your assistant send me some dates when we can sneak off to the coast for a few days.”
“Sure thing, son.”
Heath touched the button on his earpiece to disconnect the call and made a note to send the quote in the morning. With so many wealthy investors, Mr. Hawkins spared no expense when it came to security at his charity events.
They’d met at the Freedom Ridge Resort last December when Mr. Hawkins visited with his family. Heath had been the head of security at the resort then, and he’d run into the retired millionaire by happenstance. Within two weeks, the two had bonded over their shared history with the United States Marine Corps.
Heath’s career path had always been predestined. He came from a long line of Marines, and he’d stepped up and into his place. He hadn’t let anything stand in his way until he accomplished that goal.
Too bad his life-long career ended too soon. He hadn’t planned for civilian life, at least not before his fifties. Yet, the merge into security had been as close to seamless as he could have hoped. He was still able to do what he loved, but his days in a permanent office looked a lot different from the temporary bases he’d constructed with the Marines.
Heath checked the time on his watch. It was 19:47, and he knew better than to call Jeremiah tonight.
Heath’s phone rang in his hand, and Tessa’s name lit up the screen along with a photo. She had her arm slung over his shoulders, and her tongue stuck out one side of her mouth.
He pressed the button on his Bluetooth to answer the call. “Hey, sis.”
“Dinner?” Tessa asked.
There was a lilt in her tone at the end of the word that implied a question, but it was clear she expected him to say yes. Fortunately, he had three strong sisters who knew what they wanted and knew how to get it.
At the mention of food, Heath’s stomach let out a rumble. He’d forgotten to eat dinner. “Where?”
“Valentino’s. Hold on a sec.” Tessa’s voice was muffled as if she’d pulled the phone away from her face as she asked, “You like pizza?”
“Are you with someone?” Heath questioned.
Of course she was with someone. Tessa was everyone’s best friend.
“My friend, Claire. She’s eating with us.”
“Where are you?” Heath asked. “Do I need to pick you up?”
“No, we’ll walk. We just got out of our stained glass class at the civic center. I have got to show you my lantern! I’m entering it in the art display at the Tree Lighting Ceremony tomorrow.”
“That’s awesome. Can’t wait to see it.” Heath could hear a muffled voice in the background on Tessa’s end of the call.
“See you in a jiffy.”
“Be there lickety-split,” Heath replied.
He’d been nine years old when his youngest sister was born, and they’d always had an unlikely bond centered around Tessa’s quirky personality. “Normal” was not a word in Tessa’s vocabulary.
When he disconnected the call, he joined Adam in the shop. “Hey, I’m gonna run. See you in the morning.”
“You got it, Boss.”
Before meeting his sister, Heath stopped by the security headquarters and checked the off-site security footage for any alerts and made his rounds through the small office locking up. He’d probably be back after dinner, but he never left an easy entry at the office. He housed too much sensitive information to be negligent.
Got Your Six Security had become his driving force since well before he actually opened the doors. Heath never did anything halfway, and security had been his life since he’d established a career in communication with the Marines.
There were certain parts of his life where complete control was necessary—the business, his finances, and awareness of his surroundings. He’d put too much into the security firm to accept anything but success, and he intended to work hard to see it thrive.
The constant mental push reminded him a lot of boot camp. Not because it was physically demanding, but because he was always looking for the smartest avenue. He was competing with himself. Be better today than yesterday. Push harder. Work smarter. Get through this trial so you can get through the next one.
He stepped out onto the dimly lit sidewalk along Jefferson Avenue and looked both ways before turning to lock the door and engage the alarm.
The cool mountain air hit the bare skin of his neck and sent a chill down his spine. Maybe getting his business off the ground wasn’t so much like boot camp after all. San Diego had been sixty degrees hotter than the Colorado Rockies, and no one was shouting orders at him here.
Ten minutes later, he parked in the small lot on 2nd Street. Valentino’s was directly across from the courthouse and was notorious for limited parking. Thankfully, there were only a few vehicles still dotting the street this late in the evening.
A faint dusting of snow covered the Freedom square in a white sheet. Preparations for the Tree Lighting Ceremony were underway. Food carts were pulling in, volunteers stood on ladders to check the myriad of colorful lights around the square, and half a dozen builders erected a temporary stage in front of the courthouse.
Heath stepped out onto the sidewalk and slowly scanned his surroundings. It was difficult to differentiate one thing from another when everything was white on white, but it wasn’t as bad as the tan on tan of the Middle East. Even back home in Freedom, he took his time, noting every face and every shop that still had their interior lit.
He spotted Tessa and her friend at the corner of the next block and headed toward them. They were facing each other talking, and he took the moment before they spotted him to observe the interaction.
His sister sported her usual friendly smile, but her friend, Claire, looked troubled. She wore an oversized gray coat and heavy boots that were more functional than fashionable. Her brown hair was pulled back in a low ponytail that hung over one shoulder and disappeared into the collar of her coat.
As he got closer, he noticed Claire was frowning. A deep crease was etched on her forehead just above the bridge of her glasses.
“Come on. I promise you’ll have fun,” Tessa prodded.
“I don’t know,” Claire began. “I really should—”
Her head whipped toward him, slinging her ponytail into an arc behind her. She took two steps away from Heath and hunched her shoulders forward, tucking her arms around her middle.
The look of terror on her face stopped Heath in his tracks, and he held up his hands in surrender.
Good grief, the woman looked like a cornered animal. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“Heath!” Tessa squealed as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She was a good foot shorter than him, but her personality was big enough to make up for what she lacked in height. No one would make the mistake of overlooking Tessa Mitchell.
Except Heath wasn’t concerned with his sister right now. Claire had loosened the tension in her shoulders, and the fearful look on her face was beginning to dissipate.
She was definitely a natural beauty. With her hair pulled back, he could clearly see the outline of her heart-shaped face, though her pointed chin stayed tucked close to her chest. He’d barely gotten a look at her eyes before her attention moved to the ground, then left and right. She looked everywhere except at him.
Heath made a point of assessing everyone he met. You could tell a lot about someone by their handshake, clothes, reactions, and body language. Unfortunately, the label on this package didn’t reveal what was inside.
Tessa released him from her bubbly greeting hug and grabbed Claire’s hand. “This is Claire. She’s a little shy, but I told her you’re just a big teddy bear. Nothing to be afraid of.”
The fact that his sister had needed to assure Claire that he wasn’t anyone to fear before they’d even met set off a few alarms in Heath’s brain. Everything about her expression and posture said to tread carefully. She looked like she’d spook faster than a deer in open season.
“Heath Mitchell.” He extended his hand to her, fully prepared to be left hanging judging from her initial wariness.
He waited one extra second before she slid her hand from where it had been smothered by her coat and tentatively grasped his. “Claire Odom.”
Her hand was warm and soft like her voice. She pulled it away before the actual shake, only making contact with his skin for a split-second, if that.
Tessa bounced on her toes and gave a cheerleader clap. “Now that we all know each other, we can eat!”
Heath gestured for Claire and his sister to lead the way, and Claire seemed to have a hard time keeping her gaze on the sidewalk ahead of her.
He wasn’t sure what to think of Claire’s unease, but as she cast a glance at him over her shoulder, he knew it wasn’t him she was afraid of.