EXCERPT FROM BODYGUARD BY DAY, EX-HUSBAND BY NIGHT
Loyal. Resilient. Heroic. These were words frequently used by the media and the military to describe Cash Kincaid, former Navy SEAL and recipient of the prestigious Medal of Honor. Cash slung his carry-on bag over his shoulder and rubbed his unshaven jaw. As far as he was concerned, prize chump was the most accurate description of his character. Why else had he cut short his hard-earned vacation and jumped on a plane to pander to his former mother-in-law’s paranoia?
His subconscious supplied the answer. An image of his ex-wife’s face flashed before his eyes, and his heart skipped a beat. Mindy Mann, star of his little sister’s favorite TV show and Cash’s first crush. Mindy, the woman Cash had lost his heart to the instant they’d met in person in a run-down bar in New Orleans. Mindy, the wife who’d destroyed his dreams of living happily ever after. Cash swallowed hard and pushed the images of his ex out of his mind. Agreeing to take the job as Mindy’s bodyguard was a major mistake, but it was too late to back out now.
“Next,” barked a burly airport security guard. “Step up to the counter, sir.”
Cash shuffled to the top of the line at Shannon Airport’s immigration control and slid his passport over the counter.
The man behind the glass partition scanned and scrutinized the document before handing it back with a wide smile. “Welcome to Ireland, Mr. Kincaid. Hope you enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks,” Cash replied in a bone-dry tone and pocketed the passport.
Under other circumstances, he’d have been delighted to visit his great-grandmother’s home country. He pictured rolling green fields dotted with villages, and rugged coastline carved by crashing waves. A far cry from the miles and miles of prairie near his home in Nebraska. If the situation turned out to be a figment of Barbara Mann’s overactive imagination, he’d take a couple of days to explore Ireland before flying home.
Bleary-eyed after catching the red-eye flight from Newark to Shannon, Cash yawned and followed the signs to baggage claim. He’d just reached his flight’s carousel when his phone vibrated in his shirt pocket. He retrieved it and glanced at the name on the display. A grin spread across his face and he pressed the phone to his ear. “What’s a newly married man doing up at two in the morning? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?”
Liam Ryan—Cash’s best friend and second in command at Trident Securities—chuckled. “Who says I haven’t done them already…twice?”
“If you’ve dragged your ass out of the marital bed,” Cash said dryly, “I’m guessing this isn’t a social call. Any new intel?”
“Tobin, the Irish cop I worked with on The Ghost case, replied to my email. He’s getting you a weapon to use while you’re in Ireland and a permit to carry concealed. He’s sending one of his men to meet you in Cork with both the permit and the firearm—I’ll text you his number. A bus from Shannon Airport to Cork City leaves in twenty minutes.”
“Good to know. I’m going to try to hire a car, but if none are available, I’ll take the bus. Did your cop friend have any info on the case?”
“Yeah…” The sound of keyboard clicks echoed down the line. “Barbara Mann was photographed leaving a Cork hotel with a gangster named Michael Rooney.”
Cash frowned. “Barbara? Not my ex?”
“According to the gossip columns, Rooney spent the night with Mindy. Barbara escorted him out of the hotel the next morning.”
Out the front exit for the paparazzi to see? Yeah. That sounded like the sort of stunt his former mother-in-law would pull. Anything to get her daughter’s name in the gossip columns, even if it involved flaunting Mindy’s one-night stand with a criminal. The idea of another man touching his ex turned Cash’s stomach, but they’d been divorced five years. She’d moved on with her life, and so had he…more or less.
He scanned the crowd of passengers waiting for their bags to appear on the carousel and chose his next words with care—he couldn’t risk someone overhearing a careless reference to Mindy Mann, darling of the small screen and currently in Ireland filming a high-profile miniseries. “Does your cop friend think Barbara’s telling the truth?”
“He’s undecided. Barbara complained to the Irish police about threats made against her daughter. Mindy refused to cooperate, and no one on the set saw or heard anything suspicious. The police didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to support Barbara’s story of an überfan turned stalker.”
“But Jason doesn’t agree,” Cash finished, delivering an imaginary right hook to Jason Starr, Mindy’s jerk of a personal assistant. “I don’t like the man, but unlike Barbara, he’s not given to flights of fancy. If he’s worried, so am I.”
“The most recent letter from the stalker included a reference to the same Russian cult The Ghost belonged to.” The Ghost, a terrorist with a metaphorical boner for the sex industry, had been the target of one of Liam’s recent investigations. Although he’d met an explosive end, neither Cash nor Liam had been entirely satisfied with how the case had been wrapped up by the officials.
“The question,” Cash said, grabbing his case from the baggage carousel, “is how much weight we can give that reference.”
“True.” Liam sighed, and Cash could picture him shaking his head. “The Ghost was all over the news last December. A wannabe stalker could easily use that information to get attention.”
After Cash rolled his case through customs, he spotted the signs to the car hire counters. “This entire scenario belongs in the shit-you-can’t-make-up category.”
Liam snorted. “You’re the boss. You could have turned down the job or given it to another operative.”
“No other operative deserves to be landed with Barbara,” Cash said gloomily. “This is a job I need to handle myself.”
Liam erupted into laughter. “Having met your ex’s mother, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with her.”
“Barbara is high maintenance.”
“And Mindy isn’t?” Liam had never been a fan of Cash’s ex-wife. They’d only met one another a couple of times toward the end of the marriage. On both occasions, Mindy had been high as a kite.
“She’s…different.” Images of his ex-wife crowded Cash’s mind again, eroding his self-control. He blinked them away and focused on the baldpate of the man standing behind the car hire counter. “Thanks for the update. I’ll call you when I get to Cork and know more.”
As if on cue, Liam yawned. “You do that. I’m going to head back to bed with my wife.”
“Say hi to Jill for me.”
After Cash hung up, he scanned the signs for the various car hire companies. He’d try the one called ValueCars first. But before he could take a step toward ValueCar’s counter, a riot of cotton candy curls burst into his line of vision.
“Cash! It’s lovely to see you. Thank you so much for coming.” Barbara Mann stretched her baby pink lips into the fakest smile Cash had ever seen and treated her former son-in-law to a floral-scented air kiss.
He took a step back, putting distance between his nose and Barbara’s perfume. “Uh, hey, Barbara. What are you doing here?”
Barbara fluttered her heavily mascaraed eyelashes. “Why, I came to meet you, honey. Didn’t Jason tell you?”
“No, he didn’t. I told him I’d make my own way to Ballybeg.”
“I have a nifty little sports car. Why don’t you come with me?”
Hell, no. Cash shuddered. He still had nightmares about Barbara’s driving.
As if reading his mind, the older woman dangled a key in front of him. “The car is yours while you’re Mindy’s bodyguard. Consider it a perk of the job.”
“Barbara, I can’t—”
She rolled her eyes. “Come on, Cash. You’ll be doing us both a favor. I get nervous driving on the wrong side of the road. And I can use the trip to tell you all about Mindy’s stalker.”
Cash bit back a groan. Unfortunately, he’d have to talk to Barbara at some point, and it was probably smart to get it out of the way. “All right, but I have to take a detour to Cork before we go to Ballybeg.”
Barbara beamed. “That’s fine. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
Cash’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. His mother-in-law had always treated him with ill-disguised condescension. A Navy SEAL didn’t earn enough to impress Barbara Mann, nor did Cash have the Hollywood connections that might further her daughter’s acting career. Why was she determined to be friendly now?
Within fifteen minutes, they were on the motorway and starting their two-hour journey. Barbara babbled for most of the trip, barely pausing for breath. Much to Cash’s irritation, her rambling account of Mindy’s alleged stalker shed no new light on the situation, and her strong perfume made his nose and throat ache. He rolled down his window for air, and the warm blast helped to alleviate some of the effects of the perfume. Thank goodness it was June and not the dead of winter. The boring gray of the motorway didn’t reveal much of the Irish countryside, but as soon as they took the exit for Cork, the lush green landscape appeared, bringing a smile to Cash’s lips. Maybe this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Meeting Liam’s policeman friend in Cork provided a brief respite from Barbara, but the thirty-minute drive from Cork to Ballybeg was pure torture. She prattled on about movie stars and other celebrities he didn’t give a damn about. If his mother hadn’t drilled good manners into him at an early age, Cash would have turned on the radio and blasted music to drown out Barbara’s yapping. Instead, he gripped the steering wheel tighter than usual and gritted his teeth.
Mindy was staying in a five-star hotel on the outskirts of Ballybeg called the Clonmore Castle Hotel, one of those swanky joints with a golf course and spa facilities.
The instant Cash turned onto the tree-lined driveway that led to the hotel, his stomach lurched. “What the hell?”
Beside him in the passenger seat, Barbara gasped. “Oh my goodness. Are those flames?”
Sure enough, thick black smoke curled down the drive. Sirens sounded in the distance, growing louder by the second. Cash swerved to the side and let the emergency services vehicles pass. An icy dread settled between his shoulder blades. This didn’t look good. He put the car into drive and pulled out onto the lane, pressing the gas pedal hard.
“What are you doing?” Barbara wailed. “There’s a fire down there. We need to leave.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, your daughter is staying at that hotel. We need to make sure she’s okay.”
Half a mile down the road, Cash drew to a halt in front of a police barricade. He leaped out of the car and jogged over to a uniformed officer, a reluctant Barbara bringing up the rear. “What happened?” he asked the policeman. “Are the people at the hotel safe?”
“Most of them are fine,” the policeman replied, grim-faced. “A car exploded shortly after leaving the hotel’s car park.”
“Oh my God,” Barbara screeched, pushing past the barricade.
“Hey,” the policeman shouted, “you can’t go down there.”
“Shit,” Cash muttered. “I’ll go after her.”
Without waiting for the police officer’s reaction, Cash leaped over the barricade and ran after Barbara. They didn’t need to go far before the burning car came into view. The vehicle was well on its way to total oblivion, but Cash could tell it was a pink Porsche 911 Carrera. The dread between his shoulder blades snaked down his spine, freezing him midstep.
Barbara whirled around, her face ashen, and he knew what she was going to say before the words left her mouth. “That’s Mindy’s car.”
From Bodyguard by Day, Ex-Husband by Night by Zara Keane, Copyright 2016