The Guardian
Linda Winstead Jones

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The Guardian
Linda Winstead Jones

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….

“I’m not going to stay,” Dante said bluntly. He wouldn’t be less than honest with her.

“I know,” Sara whispered.

“I’m not going to change my life or who I am, not for you or anyone else.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to.”

“We’re just two unattached adults looking for a little fun. That’s it.”

“If you say so.” She grabbed his belt with one hand and held on.

“Nothing is going to—”

Sara interrupted him with a laugh. “Dammit, Dante, why don’t you just shut up and kiss me?”

Dear Reader,

In many ways, it’s easier to write about a character who’s appeared in a couple of previous stories. You already know him and can avoid the sometimes lengthy process of discovering those wonderful and annoying traits that make him unique.

But I have discovered a flip side. Dante Mangino has been a favorite character of mine for years now. He’s made an appearance in several other stories that featured investigators from the Benning Agency. But after his secondary story line in One Major Distraction, I had a very difficult time finding a woman for him. Maybe he was still grieving for the love he lost, or maybe I simply couldn’t find a woman worthy of him. In any case, he was very, very stubborn. Still, I knew he deserved his happy ending, and I was determined to give it to him.

Eventually the story came together, and this is it. Dante had to rebuild his life, and rediscover joy. Along came Sara, the girl who had gotten away from a teenage Dante many years ago. I hope you enjoy their story.



The Guardian

Linda Winstead Jones (


has written more than fifty romance books in several subgenres: historical, fairy tale, paranormal, and of course romantic suspense. She’s won the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence twice, is a three time RITA

Award finalist and (writing as Linda Fallon) was winner of the 2004 RITA

Award for paranormal romance.

Linda lives in North Alabama with her husband of thirty-four years. She can be reached via or her own Web site,


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13


Chapter 1

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 clichéd 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.
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