Christmas Blackout (Love Inspired Suspense)

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9780373447060: Christmas Blackout (Love Inspired Suspense)
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NO WAY OUT 

The last thing Benjamin Duff needs is to be stranded at his friend Piper Lawrence's bed-and-breakfast with a dangerous intruder. But when he stops to say goodbye before moving across the world, he finds a masked man attacking Piper. Benjamin rushes to save her, crashing his truck and trapping them during a winter storm in the process. With no power or cell phones and time running out before his trip, he'll have to work fast to catch the killer. As they fight for their lives and their feelings for each other grow, Benjamin must decide if he's really willing to leave Piper behind.

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About the Author:

Maggie K. Black is an award-winning journalist and self-defense instructor. She's lived in the United States, Europe and Middle East, and left a piece of her heart in each. She now makes her home in Canada, where she writes stories that make her heart race, chases her dogs around the park and shares her adventures with her one true love and their two daughters.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Benjamin Duff gripped the steering wheel with both hands and tried to turn into the skid. It was too late. Pelting sleet and freezing rain had turned the southern Ontario back road into a treacherous mess of slush and ice. The storm had picked up quickly. He'd been just a fraction of a second too late in catching the change of traction from paved road to country lane.

Now his pickup truck was spinning.

Benjamin held on tight as the world flew past the windshield in a blur of gray and white.

Trees. Snow. Sky.

Lord, please keep us safe.

The truck gave a final rotation and came to a stop.

He looked out. Branches, heavy with snow, buffeted against the driver's-side door. The truck was now pointed back the way he'd come, but he'd somehow managed to stay out of the roadside ditch. He rested his forehead on the steering wheel and let out a long breath. "Thank You, God."

The hospital room where he'd spent so many months in traction as a teenager flashed through his mind. It would be sixteen years this February since a terrible snowmobile accident had taken a friend's life and left fifteen-year-old Benjamin with a body so broken that doctors didn't know at first if he'd ever walk again. Since then, he'd built a successful business as an extreme sports instructor and even used the lingering notoriety as a platform to teach thousands of young people about outdoor safety and living life to the fullest.

Now his business was successfully sold. He was just three days away from catching a Christmas night flight to Australia, to pick up the boat he'd saved his entire life for. First he'd embark on a year long sailing voyage for charity. Then he'd use his new boat to start his own Pacific charter service.

Life on the open waters meant that finally he'd be living somewhere he could escape the long shadow the accident had cast over his life.

Yet here, in an instant, he'd been reminded of just how easily everything could be taken away again.

Not that that he'd ever forgotten.

A soft whimper came from the passenger seat.

"I'm sorry, Harry." Benjamin slid one hand into the dog's thick fur. He scratched the young black-and-white husky on the back of the neck, just where the seat belt clipped into his safety harness. "Don't worry. We're almost there. Piper's bed-and-breakfast is only a few minutes away."

I hope.

He eased the truck back onto the road and kept driving. He'd met Piper Lawrence during the summer, when the spunky brunette had walked into his sports shop. Truth be told, they'd barely kept in touch since then and he didn't know her all that well. But he knew she had a bed-and-breakfast, on a huge property on the edge of Lake Erie. While Harry was a pretty good dog he sure wasn't suited for life on a sailboat, so he'd asked Piper if she'd be interested in giving him a new permanent home. She'd said yes.

But the weather forecast was pretty much as bad as the holidays could be. His deep blue eyes glanced at the console clock. It was quarter to four. It was a seven-hour drive from here back to his sister's place on Manitoulin Island, the home he had shared with her. At this rate, he'd be driving well into the night.

"See, dog, Meg and Jack are getting married on Christmas Eve, which is the day after tomorrow." Maybe talking out loud would calm both the husky and himself. "Sounds like your Christmas will be exciting, too. Our friend Piper is hosting a huge Christmas Eve thing."

Our friend Piper. He scratched his trim brown beard. Why did it feel weird to call Piper Lawrence a "friend"? But he couldn't think of a better term to call her. The second to last week of August, he'd just looked up over the counter one day and saw Piper there in the doorway. A mess of tumbling dark hair, plaid shirt worn over jean shorts, sparkling eyes behind huge, round glasses. The dog had charged her instantly, tail wagging. Puppy love at first sight.

She'd had just four days on the island and only been there to escort her aunt. But there'd been this glint in her eyes that told him she could use an adventure. So, he'd done his best to find her one. Together they'd gone hiking, boating, parasailing and waterskiing. Sure seemed like a friendship. Good one, too. But then, when they'd gone out for dinner her last night on the island, somehow everything had gone from comfortable to awkward between them, and he still didn't know why.

"But when it was time to find you a new home, she was the first one I emailed." Benjamin ran one hand through Harry's fur. "Living all by herself, taking care of a bunch of strangers, Piper could use a guard dog, I figured."

He dialed her on his cell phone, which was mounted on the dashboard. The hands-free earpiece was clipped to the corner of his tuque.

"Hello?" Piper's voice filled the car.

Something about her voice always reminded him of salted caramel. Sweet and light on the surface, yet down-to-earth and gritty at the same time.

"Hey. It's me. Benjamin. I'm sorry. I'm running a bit late."

"A bit? I expected you hours ago." Her tone was somewhere between frustrated and worried. Whatever the tension was between them, this probably wouldn't help.

"Yeah, I'm really sorry. Had a lot of goodbyes to get through and you're my last stop—"

"Hang on. The signal's patchy. I'm just carrying some Christmas decorations down to the barn. I was going to wait until after you'd left. But I didn't expect you to be so late and now the storm is getting worse." There was the crunch of footsteps. He heard the sound of a door creaking and the dull sound of stomping. "Now when—"

A loud bang shook the air.

He heard the clatter of her cell phone hitting the floor.

Then the muffled sound of someone screaming.

"Piper? Piper! Hey? You okay?" The phone went dead.

A shiver shot down his spine. He hit Redial. The call didn't go through. The dog growled.

"Don't worry. She probably just got startled by something and dropped her phone."

He hoped. He prayed. Eighteen months ago, a serial killer had targeted his sister, Meg. It's what had brought her and her fiancé, Jack, together. Ever since, every unexplained footstep had sounded just a little more ominous.

Benjamin's headlights flickered over a wooden sign for The Downs Bed-and-Breakfast. The house lay straight ahead. A smaller sign advertised Christmas Eve at The Downs and Barn. He followed the arrow and pulled a sharp right and found himself driving down a slope toward the barn where he'd find Piper. "See, we're here."

The truck jolted over uneven ground. The twisting lane dipped even steeper. Wet snow pelted vertically across the windshield like Impressionistic paint strokes. When the trees parted, he spotted a large wooden barn at the bottom of the hill. The frozen surface of Lake Erie spread out behind it. He hit the brakes but the truck kept inching forward slowly. The hill was in desperate need of both plowing and sanding. Even with snow tires it might've been better to wait for Piper at the house.

He tried the phone one more time. Still, no answer.

Below, the barn door opened and someone walked out. Didn't look like Piper. No, this was a big, wide, grizzly bear of a man. The man was dragging something behind him. He hoisted it onto his shoulders, took a few shaky steps across the snow and then dropped it.

Not it. Her.

The man was dragging a woman's body out onto the lake.

Benjamin's heart stopped cold.

She started thrashing, flailing and kicking out against her attacker.

Piper!

Piper was fighting for her life down on that ice. And he was too far away to save her.

Ice smacked hard against Piper Lawrence's body, jolting her into consciousness. She opened her eyes but couldn't see anything. She tried to turn her head and felt the rough sting of burlap on her cheek. Her glasses were gone. Someone had pulled a feed sack over her head. She tried to scream but the string around her neck choked the air in her throat. Her hands were tied together in front of her at the wrists by the very same string now looped around her neck. She could barely move her arms without choking.

Lord, please save me.

A hand grabbed her ankle, pulling her backward. She twisted around, flailing from one side to the other as she tried to wrench her leg from his grasp. He laughed. It was an ugly sound that filled her veins with dread. She kicked back hard and made contact. The man swore and let go.

She dragged herself to her feet. She was running blind. Desperately her fingers pulled at the string around her neck as freezing rain smacked her body.

Disjointed memories filtered through her fear like pieces of a nightmare. She'd walked into the barn carrying a box of decorations. She'd been talking to Benjamin on the phone. Someone in a ski mask had rushed her in the darkness and thrown her against the wall. It was all a blank after that, until the moment he'd dropped her in the snow.

Please, Lord. Help Benjamin realize something's wrong and come looking for me. He's the only person who even knows I'm here.

She could hear her attacker behind her, muttering curses and gasping for breath. She stumbled up the snowbank and struggled to run, but the two feet of snow was coated in half an inch of ice. She managed to take three steps on the slippery surface before her foot plunged into snow up to her knee. She yanked her leg back and lost her boot in the snow. No! She dropped to her hands and knees, and dug for her boot. Her fingers brushed the cuff. She tugged it out and put it back on.

But she was too late. Her attacker tackled her from behind.

He pressed a knee into her back and spoke in her ear, his voice deep and as rough as sandpaper. "Tell me where Charlotte Finn is and I'll let you go."

Charlotte Finn? Her head swam. Charlotte was the history student Piper had briefly shared an apartment with in college six years ago. She hadn't seen the snobby, slender blonde since Charlotte had asked if she could come visit The Downs for Christmas that year—and then robbed them.

"I don't know." She shook her head. "Honestly, I don't."

"You're lying." He flipped her over and pushed her back into the snow.

She tried to yell, but her voice broke. "I have no idea where Charlotte is!"

Piper kicked him hard with both legs. He grunted and fell off her. She struggled to her feet and kept running. The string around her neck had loosened just enough for her to see a couple of inches under the bag and to gulp in a deep, pain-filled breath. She felt her shins smack against something—the barn steps. She found the railing and then ran her gloved hands along it. The old rotting wood was a mess of splinters and nails. If she could just loop the string around her wrists on something sharp, she might be able to snap herself free.

"I know she's here." Footsteps landed hard behind her. "You're going to tell me where she is."

He grabbed her jacket and yanked her around. For a split second she could see his wrist—the blurry lines of a bear tattoo and the word Kodiak. He grabbed ahold of the string around her neck and yanked her back hard, cutting off her windpipe. Pain shot through her lungs. Her hands tore free of their bonds and she clutched at her throat.

She couldn't breathe.

"I'm not playing around." He choked her harder. "Charlotte's here. Somewhere. You think you're helping her out by hiding her and lying to me? I got too much on the line to let this go and if I've got to murder all her friends to make her show herself, I will. So, you're to tell me where she is. Right now. Or I will kill you."

There was the metallic clink of a butterfly knife. Then she felt the tip of the blade pushing through the bag and into the back of her neck.

Oh God, help me. Please.

A horn split the air. The loud, insistent blare sounded as if someone was leaning on it with their full weight. Her attacker swore and shoved her off the steps. She fell into the snow and gasped as air filled her lungs again. The honking grew louder. Then she heard a man shouting, but she couldn't make out the words.

There was the long, painful screech of brakes.

Then a deafening, splintering crunch.

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9780373677177: Christmas Blackout (Love Inspired Suspense)

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Book Description Love Inspired, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. NO WAY OUT The last thing Benjamin Duff needs is to be stranded at his friend Piper Lawrence s bed-and-breakfast with a dangerous intruder. But when he stops to say goodbye before moving across the world, he finds a masked man attacking Piper. Benjamin rushes to save her, crashing his truck and trapping them during a winter storm in the process. With no power or cell phones and time running out before his trip, he ll have to work fast to catch the killer. As they fight for their lives and their feelings for each other grow, Benjamin must decide if he s really willing to leave Piper behind. Seller Inventory # BRD9780373447060

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Book Description Love Inspired, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. NO WAY OUT The last thing Benjamin Duff needs is to be stranded at his friend Piper Lawrence s bed-and-breakfast with a dangerous intruder. But when he stops to say goodbye before moving across the world, he finds a masked man attacking Piper. Benjamin rushes to save her, crashing his truck and trapping them during a winter storm in the process. With no power or cell phones and time running out before his trip, he ll have to work fast to catch the killer. As they fight for their lives and their feelings for each other grow, Benjamin must decide if he s really willing to leave Piper behind. Seller Inventory # BRD9780373447060

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