Keeping Christmas - By B. J. Daniels


The rain had stopped, but the parking garage seemed unusually cold and dark as Dixie Bonner started to step from the elevator.

One booted foot poised on the edge of the concrete, she hesitated, sensing something was wrong. She stood listening for whatever sound had alerted her, only now aware of how late it was. The library had closed for the night as had all the other businesses around it except the coffee shop back up the street where she’d been the past few hours.

She hadn’t realized the time or noticed how dark and empty the streets were. All the holiday shoppers had gone home for the night. She’d foolishly paid no attention because she’d had other things on her mind.

Now she felt vulnerable. Not that she wasn’t used to taking chances. It went with her job. But taking chances was one thing. Just being plain dumb was another.

She let one hand drop to her shoulder bag as she eased back, but kept her free hand holding the elevator doors open as she scanned the parking garage.

Her fingers found the purse’s zipper and began to slowly glide it open, speeding up as she heard the scrape of a shoe sole on the concrete floor of the garage.

She was in danger, but then she’d suspected that the moment the elevator doors had opened. She’d been on edge all night, at one point almost certain someone had been watching her beyond the rain-streaked window of the coffee shop.

There were two vehicles left in the unattended garage. A tan cargo van and her fire-engine-red Mustang. The van was parked right next to the Mustang.

Her hand closed over the can of pepper spray in her purse as she debated making a run for her car or returning to the upper level of the parking garage. Neither seemed prudent.

The decision was made for her as a man wearing a black stocking mask suddenly appeared in the open elevator doorway. A gun glinted in his right hand. She hit the door close button at the same time she brought up the can of pepper spray and pointed it at the man’s face.

He let out a howl and stumbled back as the full force of the pepper spray hit him in the eyes and soaked into the mask.

She shoved past him through the closing elevator doors, her eyes tearing from being in close counters with the spray. Running, near blind, tears streaming down her face, she sprinted toward the red blur of her car.

Too late she sensed movement out of the corner of her eye. A second masked man tackled her and took her down hard, knocking the air from her lungs. She landed on her stomach, gasping for breath even before he jammed his knee into her back to hold her down.

She still had the pepper spray can in one hand, a tight grip on her purse in the other. But she had a bad feeling that these men weren’t after her purse.

She tried to yell for help, knowing it was senseless. There was no one around. No one would hear her cries even if she had enough breath to scream.

Strong fingers twisted the pepper spray from her hand. She heard the can land where the man threw it, the can rolling away into the silence of the vacuous parking garage.

With her face pushed into the gritty cold-damp concrete, she could see nothing but the tires of her car next to her. She’d almost made it to safety.

She heard the first man come running up.

“Bitch.” He cursed. “My face is friggin’ on fire.”

She heard the anger in his voice and knew things were about to get a whole lot worse. The kick caught her in the ribs. The pain was excruciating, her cry pitiful, as the air was knocked out of her again.

She gasped for breath, fighting the terror that now had a death grip on her. She didn’t stand a chance against two men. Not alone in this garage. With a sabbatical from work and her lousy relationship with her family, it could be weeks before anyone even realized she was missing.

“Stop!” the second man ordered. “For hell’s sake don’t kill her yet. We have to find out where she put the damned journal and the disks before you—”

The second blow was to her head. Pain glittered behind her eyes just before the darkness.

DIXIE WOKE IN blackness, her head throbbing, her body cramped. She shifted position, bumped an elbow and a knee, and started to panic, gasping