Deadly Christmas Pretense

By: Dana Mentink

A cowboy to her rescue...

but she’s not who he thinks she is.

Posing as her sister for Christmas is the only way to save her, but Maggie Lofton needs help—even if it means working with her twin’s cowboy ex-boyfriend, Liam Pike. But between the bull’s-eye on her back and the dangerous connection she’s forming with Liam, Maggie’s mission is harder than expected. Will their tenuous partnership be enough to shield her when the killer closes in?

Roughwater Ranch Cowboys





“You want to die? Such a pretty young thing?”

“You won’t kill me. Then you’d never know,” Maggie rasped.

“I don’t want to kill you,” he said. “But I will if I have to.”

“I...” she started.

She felt his body twitch, as if something had caught his attention past the railing down on the beach, his hand still pressing her windpipe. “Who’s the cowboy?”

Liam, she thought with a surge of hope. He’d followed her.

She wriggled but he tightened his grip, too, nearly shutting off her oxygen. “You give me what I want and don’t involve anyone else, or you know what will happen. It would be so easy.”

She was too oxygen deprived to reply.

“Hey,” Liam shouted from down below. “Get your hands off her.”

Without warning, the man released her and raced away down the stairs. The sudden movement sent her staggering. Her hips impacted the rusted railing. Gulping for air, it took a second for her brain to register that the railing had given way as she fell backward into nothing.






ONE


Maggie Lofton punched the speed in her twin sister’s Corvette as a car rounded the corner behind her a little too fast. The twisting road cut along California’s central coast was lit only by the moon and her headlights. Was the person behind her a random stranger or the man she’d been warned about? Tammy’s terrified phone conversation from late the night before rang in Maggie’s memory.

“I took something from my boss’s house...but I had a good reason. I hid it in Driftwood with someone I trust. You have to get it before his nephew Virgil Salvador does.”

“His nephew?” Maggie had tried. “Why would he...?”

“Mags, I’m in trouble. Deep trouble.”

“The police...”

“No. I’ll be arrested. Just pick up my car at Fine Motors Garage and meet me at the lighthouse near the Roughwater Ranch on Thursday night. I’ll tell you everything. Don’t talk to anyone. No police. Please, Mags.”

“Where are you now?”

“I’m safe.”

Maggie had gripped the phone tightly at the fear in her sister’s voice. Then the call had been abruptly cut off.

Oh, Tammy. Why do you get yourself into these jams?

A smile quirked her face as she imagined Tammy’s reply. “Because I fire first then aim, just like Daddy always says.”

Everything from bad romances, getting kicked out of her apartment, taking jobs that sounded too good to be true and were—Tammy had fallen into all of them and Maggie had been there to pick up the pieces. As she would be this time as well, if she could just figure out what new kind of trouble Tammy had landed herself in.

The car behind her edged closer, further proof that it wasn’t someone out for a leisurely evening drive. Was it Virgil, the nephew? She knew Tammy had taken a job caring for the elderly Bill Salvador in the nearby town of Sand Bar, but Maggie had never met Bill or his nephew.

The whole situation made no sense.

She had to get away from whoever it was long enough to make the meeting with Tammy and sort out the details. If it was the person her sister feared, he must have caught her trail as she’d blown into town. Further, if he believed the woman driving the green Corvette was Tammy, that meant her sister was still safe, in hiding maybe, waiting for Maggie to arrive for their rendezvous. But if Tammy was fine, why had there been no answer to Maggie’s follow-up texts and calls?

The car behind her was large. Black. So close now that the headlights blazed in her rearview mirror. The road was slick from a December frost. Dark. Was that a train whistle? Quickly she rolled down the window as the tires struggled to grip the icy road.

“Don’t they believe in streetlights here in Driftwood?” she mumbled, pressing harder on the accelerator. She knew every spark plug and bolt in the car, having given it a complete tune-up a month ago after she’d paid the outstanding loan and gotten it out of repossession for her sister.

Per Tammy’s instructions, she’d picked it up that very morning from a garage ten miles outside of Sand Dune. There was a formidable dent in the front driver’s side and the mechanic said it had been towed in to have the front axle replaced. Clearly, Tammy had been in an accident. Maggie jerked a look in the rearview. Had it been caused by the person currently glued to her bumper? Whoever it was swerved and accelerated. Maggie stomped on the gas. Her pursuer inched closer.

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