RED HOT SANTA :   excerpt | order
redhotsantamed

Ballantine
October 2005

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This holiday season, four bestselling authors give the gift that keeps on giving: gripping tales of special agents in a covert agency, out to protect the innocent...by any means necessary.

SNOWBALL'S CHANCE, by Cherry Adair: Kendal decks the halls, unaware that a serial killer has her name at the top of his list. Of course, being naughty with the sexy good guy sent to protect her would be so nice.

SANTA SLAVE, by Leanne Banks: After her best friend disappears, Hilary takes matters into her own hands and finds herself caught in the throes of danger, while a hunky male operative hopes to mix pleasure with business.

BIG, BAD SANTA, by Pamela Britton: Biologist Kaitlyn Logan's research is leading to a big scientific breakthrough...and mortal peril. When bullets start to fly, so do the sparks between Kaitlyn and her Santa-clad rescuer.

KILLER CHRISTMAS by Kelsey Roberts: When several Santas are murdered at a swanky department store, the new CEO Meghan Beckham, had better watch out, had better not cry—because a serial killer has come to town.

excerpt

“Dr. Kaitlyn Logan?”

Kait Logan looked up from the paperwork she’d been studying on her desk, her muttered, “Yes,” turning into a yelp of surprise when a huge giant of a man stomped forward and grabbed her by the arm.

“Hey,” she cried, trying to pull away.

“Come with me,” he said.

But she couldn’t move. One, the man had hands the size of catcher’s mitts. Two, he blocked her path, and that was saying a lot. Six-foot-two of pure muscle, by the looks of it, all clothed in black. Black eyes. Black hair. And black…chaps? What was this? An early Halloween prank arranged by one of her staff?

“Look, mister,” she found herself saying, shoving the glasses up her nose before remembering she didn’t wear them anymore. “I don’t know who you are, but if you have an animal injured, you don’t need to order me around. I’ll come with you without the use of force.”

“Animal?” he asked, black brows pushing together. Then he shook his head, as if trying to dislodge her silly words from his ears. “I don’t have an animal.”

“Then what—“

“Come with me,” he ordered again, trying to pull her up.

"I’m calling 911.”

He ducked down, the hand she’d used to reach for her phone making a suddenly batted away. His big fingers closed around her wristand tugged her up.

"Ouch!"

“Down,” he said, shoving her to the floor.

Boom!

She tried to scream again, her cheeks so firmly pressed into the polyester carpet her skin stung. Glass fell around her with a wind chime-like tinkle that made her shudder as she tried to cover her head—except her arms were pinned by the man’s body.

What the—

“Don’t breathe,” he said.

Don’t breathe—

And then she saw why.

Smoke began to pour out of a tin can thing. Her eyes widened, then began to water, sulfur-scented gas causing Kait to choke.

“I told you not to breathe,” the man growled. And then he shifted off of her, Kait thinking he had to have cut himself on broken glass. In the next instant he lifted her off the ground, warm air from outside momentarily clearing the smoke so she could see.

A man wearing a black ski mask came toward them. Her tear ducts went into overdrive and she had to close her eyes. Her rescuer, or whoever he was, must have noticed because he pressed her face against his chest, big arms wrapping around her.

He scooped her up.

This couldn’t be happening, Kait thought, wondering who the heck the man outside was. This couldn’t be happening.

But it was, because in the next instant she was being carried away, and for a second…but, no, he wasn’t giving her a hug, he was running, fast. She tried to wrap her arms around his neck, but he was too darn big. Besides, the minute he got her out of her office he set her on her feet, put a big hand at the small of her back and hissed the word, “Run.”

Kait didn’t need to be told twice. The dogs kenneled in her clinic began to howl. Even the cats screamed in protest. She darted past her operating room, past the buff-colored walls with framed pictures of kitty cats and dogs on the wall, heading for the door at the end, the framed posters rattling as they passed.

The exit door burst open.

The man behind her jerked her toward the OR just as something popped. Through tear-filled eyes she had a brief glimpse of something that snaked toward her, something attached to long wires, but then the OR door swung closed, the automatic return causing them to fan back open again.

What the hell was going on?

“Move.”

And by now Kait had reasoned out that whatever else might be true, obviously he wasn’t a bad guy. She rolled to her knees and pushed herself up.

The OR doors burst open. Kait heard herself scream as she wrenched open yet another door, this one leading to a long, narrow lab with microscopes and centrifuge on the counter. Another pop. She knew enough to duck down. So did the man, the both of them falling to the tile floor. He kicked the door closed. She lurched to her feet, blinking to sooth her burning eyes as she turned the lock, then twisted toward an exit door off the lab.

“Hurry,” he barked.

She hurried; her heart beating so hard she couldn’t hear her feet on the hard floor, couldn’t hear anything other than her own breathing and the persistent sound of the question that ran through her mind.

What the hell was going on?

They burst outside. Sage-scented air erased the acrid stench of sulfur, but it didn’t help her eyes. They still felt as if grains of stand rubbed against them.

“This way,” the man said, jerking her toward the narrow alleyway that ran between her business and the one next door. It was early evening, late November, but you wouldn’t know it, the desert air unusually warm. Garbage cans clattered when her foot accidentally brushed one. She almost fell. He-man kept her upright.

Someone blocked their path.

One moment bright light marked the end of the alleyway, the next someone in a ski mask stood there.

Holy shi—

“Down,” her rescuer said.

Kait ducked right as the big man grabbed an aluminum lid.

Pop!

Ping-ping-ping.

She looked up, metal prongs sticking through the lid. But she only caught a glimpse of them because the next second Terminator man threw the lid aside then pointed a pistol in their assailant’s direction.

A pistol?

Poof.

That was all the sound it made when he pulled the trigger, Kait having seen enough movies to know that long, skinny thing at the end was a silencer, but, really, what else would it be? This was, after all, a scene right out of a B movie.

“Run,” the man said again.

She ran. Right. Past. The dead man.

Oh, lord. He was dead. He really truly was dead. Kait almost stopped, almost started to see what she could do, her instinctive reaction to heal causing her to slow.

“Don’t,” he ordered, jerking her by.

No. Yes. Of course. That man had just shot something at her.

The man had shot at her.

She almost fell to her knees.

He-man held her up, all but dragging her down the access road behind her office. A motor cycle sat behind the neighboring business, a chrome and steel monstrosity that Kait immediately identified as a Harley Davidson.

Well, that explained the chaps.

“Get on,” he ordered.

Her eyes had begun to clear, enough to notice the pistol he pointed back the way they’d come, his big shoulders tense as he waited for her to do as instructed while watching her back.

She hesitated.

“Lady,” he growled out or the side of his mouth, just like they did in the movies. “Get the @#%$ on.”

“I don’t know if—“

He stepped toward her.

“If you don’t get on that bike you’ll be dead.”

She believed him.

She got on the bike. He hopped on in front of her, tucking the pistol God knew where before he started the thing. Kait wrapped her arms around him automatically, feeling sinew and corded muscles that grew harder as he leaned forward and stabbed the gas.

They took off. The big engine roared down the back alleyway, the sound drowning out the barking dogs. Gravel slid out beneath the back tire, pinging the back doors of other businesses. Kait ducked, her back muscles tensing as she waited for those...those things to be shot at her and to penetrate her skin.

He was dead. That man back there was dead. She’d seen the blood oozing out from beneath his back.

And the man in front of her had done it.

Suddenly, she wanted to hop off, but they were taking a corner, the big bike leaning toward a wedge of shrubs that framed alleyway. Her brown hair, pulled back in its customary ponytail, began to whip at their cheeks as they roared onto the main road, the smell of desert sage, the scent unusually strong in the winter, doing nothing to mask the scent of tangy man in front of her.

“Take off your lab coat,” he yelled back at her.

And any thoughts of escape died a swift death as they picked up speed. At this rate, she’d break her neck if she jumped off. Besides, where would she go? Reno, Nevada didn’t exactly have a lot of terrain where she could hide. The rock covered hills behind her practice would give him and the bad guys an easy time of finding her.

“What?” she called back at him.

“Take off you lab coat.”

Her lab coat. Why the heck did he want her to—?

”They’ll be looking for a motorcycle with a white-coated female on the back. Take it off.”

Oh, yeah...well. That made sense. She unbuttoned the coat, screaming, “Who are you?” as she peeled the thing from her shoulders, the sleeves hitting her in the face as warm wind caught it, took it, and flung it high in the air.

“Name’s Chance. Chance Owens. Here’s a helmet. Strap it on.”

Chance Owens. Who was Chance Owens? And why had he come to her rescue?

But then she couldn’t think because she was fumbling with her helmet straps, wondering how he’d managed to quickly pull his own on, and then strap it down with one hand. Her own helmet was too big, but she didn’t care. It’d protect her head from bullets.

Or…other things.

They slowed only to take a corner at breakneck speed, Kait’s body sliding toward his, her thighs clenching tighter. If they kept this up, she wouldn’t need to do her Thigh Master for weeks. They took off again, and Kait had a brief moment of clarity, one followed by the thought that the bad guys could likely find them just by sound, and then they were turning yet another corner, the brown horizon dipping and falling. She clutched him, her stomach clenching so hard she thought she might be sick.

Dear god, don’t let me die.

She had animals to take care of. A parrot to feed back home. A life to live.

It wasn’t until the fourth of fifth turn that she thought to look around. They were still in a commercial area, store fronts and the occasional supermarket whizzing past. Wind pressed against her eyes, making them tear and whipping reddish strands against her face. But a quick glance back revealed nothing but the stunned faces of drivers as they shot past in a burst of speed and noise.

“Hang on,” he called out.

The back wheel locked up. Kait bit back a scream as they skidding to a halt, then tipped sideways, the man turning into a crowded parking lot. A Ralph’s Supermarket.

“What are you doing?”

“Camouflage,” he called back.

“We’re going to camouflage ourselves? With what? Ralph brand toilet paper?”

“No,” he shot back, racing past a startled mother who jerked on the hand of her child. Chance Owens didn’t give them a second glance, just guided his bike past her and the child, then turned in front of the store before making yet another turn toward the back. They passed a less crowded parking area, went down a narrow access road and then turned again, Chance heading toward a loading ramp. A short cement wall grew taller and taller, the big bike echoing around them as he came to a stop at the base of the six-foot deep dock.

“Get off,” he told her.

She glanced at the closed roll up door, wondering if she should make a run for it.

“And take off your shirt.”

The words made her straighten. “I beg your pardon?”

“Take off your shirt,” he said again, swinging his leg over the side of the bike. He turned to face her and said, “Don’t give me that look, Dr. Logan. If I wanted to rape you I wouldn’t have taken you to a crowded supermarket.”

“We’re not near a crowd.”

“No, but if you scream, I guarantee you someone will come running.”

“Who are you?” she said, the question just popping out of her mouth.

Big, beefy arms crossed, the black T-shirt her wore seeming to bind around his biceps, causing them to bulge. He was handsome, if square-jawed jocks were your thing—which they weren’t.

“I told you. Chance Owens.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, the end of her ponytail brushing her ears. “Who are you?”

He darted a glance right and left. “Look,” he said. “I’ll explain later. Right now, we need to put a move on it.”

“Someone tried to kill me.”

“No,” he said quickly, sharply, black eyes as hard as the galvanized metal railing that lined the pit of the dock. “They weren’t going to kill you. Those were Tasers they were using. They’re meant to knock you out.”

“Knock me out? Why the heck would someone want to knock me out? And,” oh, lord, she felt suddenly queasy. “You killed that man.”

“Kait,” he said softly, the look in his eyes fading to gentleness. That surprised her. Hulking men dressed in black chaps should not, as a rule, look so, so…nice. “Someone wants to kidnap you because they know about the migratory chip.”

Migratory chip? “Wha— I don’t—”

And then she straightened. The migratory chip. Her pet project. The one she’d been working on for years.

“How the heck does anybody know about that?”

“Two weeks ago you wrote to Senator Prescott about government funding. With that letter you set into action a chain of events culminating in today’s attack. The agency I work with reasoned that you might attract attention from non-friendlies. I’ve been watching your place for about a week."

“A week?” He’d been watching her a week?

“That microchip you invented, the one that sends electronic pulses to the frontal lobes of a bird’s brain? Well, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to reason out that if you can control the direction a bird flies, you might be able to arm that bird with cameras. Or maybe turn it into a biological weapon. The possibilities are endless. And what are foreign governments going to do? Shoot every bird out of the sky?”

“Oh my Lord.”

“In short, Dr. Logan, you’ve created the world’s first avian weapon.”

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