PREVIEW OF HALLOWED GROUND

Nothing stays buried forever.

An exclusive excerpt from Hallowed Ground, Book Three of The Guardians Series.

CHAPTER ONE

“Help!”

Ellie Broussard did her best to ignore that desperate cry. 

Her world was isolated and quiet, peaceful but for the dark, internal chaos that plagued her, and that was how she preferred to keep it.

“Bleedin’ hell, help!”

It wasn’t that she didn’t care—well.

Yes, it was.

The planet turned around her, spinning through space at a whopping one thousand miles an hour, but she stood nice and still, and frankly, she didn’t give a damn what happened out on the turning top.

“Mick! I’m comin’, son!”

Son.

The word stabbed through her.

Somebody’s son was in danger!

But she didn’t care. She didn’t want to get involved.

Children died.

That’s simply how it was.

It wasn’t her problem—

Merde! 

She jumped down the rickety wooden steps of her back porch, jogged through the overgrown lawn and around the thumb of wetland that skirted her property to the shore of Lake Poisson, where she could see someone in the water, floundering wildly. They’d been foolish enough to walk the long, rotten length of old man Guidry’s dock and had fallen through.

Help!” The cry turned to a scream of piercing terror. “Help me!”

Panic bolted through her, and she began to run.

In her peripheral vision, a shadow streaked in the same direction, but dark thoughts twisted through her—dusk, the gators would be hungry, waiting!—and she sped up, her heart a wild, frightened hammer.

The dock wobbled beneath her, but she knew to stick to the right side, where the wood was a little less rotten, and she sprinted along that line until she reached the end of the platform. Then she dove in.

The water was cool, thick, and heavy; the lifeblood of the bayou. Fear flooded through her when she surfaced and spotted a boy’s floating, motionless form, and as she swam swiftly toward him, she prayed.

Something she’d not done for as long as she could remember.

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name—

it felt like an eternity. Was she getting closer? She had to be getting closer—

—thy kingdom come; thy will be done

he had to be close, he hadn’t been that far out—

on earth, as it is in heaven 

There!

Her hands snagged his t-shirt, and she rolled him over, surprised by his size. A teenager with hair as bright as a new copper penny, and heavy, even in the water. She wrapped one arm around his chest and began to swim back toward shore with the other.

Blood roared in her head; her lungs fought for breath; the muscles in her arms and legs burned. She swept her gaze around them as she swam, hoping nothing gazed back, aware that gators were just one of the many creatures in the bayou that could ruin a fine evening. 

But nothing impeded them as she neared shore. Mud sucked at her feet when the water grew shallow, and she struggled, staggering beneath the dead weight of the boy until she smacked into something hot, hard, and unmoving.

“Mick!” rasped a voice just above her ear, and the boy was plucked from her arms by a tall, broad man who lifted the teenager as easily as he would a wet kitten.

Then he put a hard arm around her waist and lifted her out of the muck as well.

Fire jolted through Ellie at the contact, and her entire body went taut.

How long had it been since anyone touched her?

A decade. 

Longer.

As soon as they stepped onto the shore, she jerked away. The man—whose head was covered in rich, dark auburn hair so she thought he must be the father—was setting the unconscious boy down in the thick grass that edged the water, his hands so gentle that for a moment, her heart squeezed painfully.

“Fuck,” he snarled, and his terror licked at her nerves like an open flame.

She knew that terror intimately.

He pushed on the boy’s stomach.

“C’mon, Mick,” he whispered, “not you, too.”

Ellie fell to her knees. She clasped her hands together and told him, “Tilt his head back and breathe for him,” and then began CPR. 

For all his size, the boy’s chest was thin; he felt fragile beneath her hands, and emotion welled from the dark place to press painfully against her ribs.

Grief and fear; adrenaline spearing through her like a drug.

Don’t want to feel this.

None of it; not ever again.

But there was nothing she could do to stop it. Death was laughing at her.

Again.

Non,” she told it furiously.

One, two, three, four—

“Breathe, goddamn it!” The man tilted the boy’s head back and breathed into his mouth.

Five, six, seven, eight—

Another desperate breath. She kept counting. Beneath her hands, the boy’s sternum seemed to bend.

Tears burned her eyes, unexpected and hot. Slipped from their corners, slid down her cheeks. Sweat misted her skin. Her heart beat like a heavy, angry drum.

Nine, ten eleven—

Another breath.

“No,” the man whispered, and the break in his voice made her work harder. 

Twelve, thirteen, fourteen—

A violent cough erupted from the boy; water fountained from his mouth, and Ellie rolled him swiftly over onto his side. She whacked him on the back a few times, relief a hot, thick, knee-bending slide through her.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” the man muttered, and he cupped the boy’s face, bending low to look in his eyes as they fluttered open. “You with me, Mick?”

Another harsh cough. Then, roughly, “Aye, Da. I’m with you.”

And Ellie realized abruptly that they were foreigners, their words heavy with an accent she couldn’t pinpoint. Ireland? Scotland? 

Somewhere far beyond the bayous of Louisiana.

Strangers.

She pulled her hands away and scooted back. Wiped away those silly, useless tears. The man looked up at her then, and the deep, brilliant green of his gaze seemed to freeze her in place for a moment.

He was beautiful. Strong, classic bone structure with winged brows and a firm, wide mouth she stared at for a heartbeat too long. Tattoos curled up his neck to lick at his temples, something tribal in design, and a narrow, brutal scar halved his face, slicing from the tip of his left eyebrow down to the right corner of his mouth.

Awareness flashed through her, as unwelcome and foreign as the man who caused it.

“Thank you, lass,” he said, his gaze burning like green fire.

Ellie only nodded brusquely and pushed to her feet. “You should take him to the ER, make sure his lungs are clear. There’s a whole universe of life in that water.”

Then she turned to walk away.

“Wait,” the man said sharply, and she halted.

Her jeans and t-shirt clung like a second skin; rivulets of water slid from her hair to trace the length of her spine. The last of the sun’s rays had all but disappeared, and it wouldn’t be long before it was full dark.

“You should go,” she told him without turning. “The gators will be out soon.”

“You’re just goin’ to stroll away?” Disbelief underscored his accent, which was lyrical against the earthy symphony of the swamp.

The cicadas. The nutria. The birds warning that night had begun its descent.

She did turn then. “There’s nothing more I can do. He should go to the hospital.”

“I don’t need no bleedin’ white coat!” the boy protested, coughing some more. He glowered at her, and Ellie saw that his eyes were the same shade as his father’s, like glinting, sunlit emeralds. 

“You do if you don’t want pneumonia,” she told him. “Nut up, little man.”

Then she turned away again.

“Stop right there, woman!” the man ordered, and there was an authority in his tone that said he was used to being minded.

But Ellie didn’t mind anyone. Never had, never would.

She started walking again.

“Goddamn it,” he swore. 

“I’m okay, Da,” the boy—Mick—said. 

“Goddamn it,” he said again, softer, and Ellie could feel his gaze burning a hole between her shoulder blades.

The urge to look back was so strong, she nearly did.

 Foolish foreigners, treating the swamp as if it was inert, as if the life teeming within it would welcome their intrusion or forgive their ignorance.

People had died for less. 

“You’re goin’ to make me hunt you down,” the man warned after her. 

A threat that made an unexpected shiver move through her, which made her angry, because nothing touched her.

Nothing.

Not words; certainly not threats. To feel fear, you had to have something to lose.

And Ellie…Ellie had nothing.

“You take care, now,” she tossed over her shoulder. “And if you want that boy to grow into a man, you’d best teach him how to swim. The swamp don’t suffer couyon.”

“I was told southerners were hospitable!” the man yelled, sounding annoyed.

“I’m not a southerner,” she yelled back. “I’m a Cajun. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out!”

She rounded the corner and disappeared.

Copyright 2021 Hope McKenzie