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Shadow Box: A Kira Brightwell Short Story (Bonus Edition)

Shadow Box: A Kira Brightwell Short Story (Bonus Edition)

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Abduction survivor, MMA trainee, local hero—trouble always seems to find Kira Brightwell.

And with Christmas only a few weeks away, her current bout of trouble includes surviving her first holiday away from her childhood home, and figuring out what to get her best friend and roommate, Rob.

...Until a secret project turns everything upside down, and Rob’s present becomes the least of Kira’s problems.

Join Kira and Rob on a fun, holiday misadventure from the Kira Brightwell Quick Cases mystery series.

(This adventure takes place before the Kira Brightwell novel Split Decision.)

This edition includes a bonus chapter. (Direct exclusive.)


Kira Brightwell dodged another crumpled body and kept running. It wasn’t the first she had encountered that morning, and she was certain it wouldn’t be the last. The soles of her running shoes pounded the sidewalk in a steady rhythm and her long ponytail streamed through the air behind her like a dark flag. Sure enough, she ran past the flattened remains of a giant snowman a few moments later. Its round, white form sprawled across a well manicured front lawn, puddles forming on the flattened, white fabric of its smiling face. The storm that had rolled in the night before hadn’t been kind to the suburban neighborhood’s inflatable holiday decorations, which seemed to be everywhere this year. Even though the mild California weather kept the snow away, you couldn’t seem to go more than two houses without running into reindeer, sleighs, or giant snowmen—at least not around where Kira lived in the heart of La Valentia.

She slowed her pace to a walk as she rounded the corner to her own street so she could get a chance to cool down. Her surroundings might be festive, but the music blaring through her earbuds was not. Trent Reznor was aggressively playing piano to accompany the acoustic version of ‘The Becoming’—no Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ for Kira. She took a deep breath of the relatively chill, damp air, inhaling the scents of wet grass and damp pavement. The sun was still hiding behind a patch of slate-gray clouds. Even so, she had warmed up enough from her run to feel a bit overheated. She unzipped her Nine Inch Nails hoodie (black, of course), to reveal the blue tank top she wore underneath and took a sip from her water bottle, tasting the salty tang of sweat.

Kira couldn’t help but smile as she spotted the front window of her own townhouse apartment that she shared with her best friend, Rob. It was their first Christmas together, so they had collaborated on the decorations. An obnoxiously giant, white Christmas tree dominated their living room and could be clearly seen from the street. (Thanks to the flashing lights that hung from its branches, it was likely also visible to any drones that might fly overhead. Kira just hoped none of the neighbors were epileptic.)

The tree had been decorated with Star Wars and Xena: Warrior Princess ornaments she and Rob had ordered online, including a Santa Yoda, glittering chakrams, and other various figurines. Kira’s mother hadn’t said anything about it the last time she had come by, but the prim line of her lips and the hard look of disapproval after her initial shock weren’t exactly difficult to read. Kira’s sister, Kori, also didn’t appear to be a fan. But on the plus side, both women seemed physically repelled by the tree somehow, which meant no in-person guilt trips about Kira moving out with Rob, or spending her first Christmas living away from her childhood home. Rob’s mother was nowhere near as fashion conscious as Kira’s, but even Señora Alvarez had given the tree a wary look the last time she had visited, and hadn’t dropped by since, which meant things had been pretty quiet around the apartment lately.

…Which was just the way Kira and Rob liked it.

The only problem was, Kira had no idea what to put under the garish tree yet for Rob on Christmas morning. She kept hoping inspiration would strike, but so far nothing. Maybe something would come to her in the shower. That was where she got all her best ideas anyway.

She turned off her music and bounded up the front steps. She had barely managed to fit her key in the lock when the front door burst inward. She might have fallen over, if not for someone throwing themselves at her in a flailing embrace that knocked the breath from her lungs.

“Thank God you’re here!” The words were spoken into Kira’s shoulder, muffled by her hoodie.

For a moment, Kira stood stock-still. The matted tangle of curly, brown hair and the lingering, chemical cheese scent of Cheetos told her it was Rob, but her mind reeled at the sensation of him literally flinging himself at her. (He was like a brother to her, but definitely not in a touchy-feely way.)

“Um, what’s up?” As soon as she had regained her balance, she made an effort to step back.

Her reaction seemed to pull Rob back to his senses—at least for a moment. He pulled back enough to reveal his woeful expression, but his hands still clenched at the sleeves of her hoodie.

“She’s gone!” He practically wailed the words in Kira’s face. (Which was unfortunate, because it seemed he had yet to brush his teeth.)

Kira shook her head, confusion and dull fear warring within her. “What?”

Thanks to her own past abduction, her mind was already concocting scenarios of something happening to one of Rob’s younger sisters…

“What happened?” she demanded before her imagination could completely spiral out of control.

“They took her!” Rob’s fingers tightened on her sleeves. “The hot guy came by, and when I went back inside…”

Rob took a shuddering breath and pinned Kira with an anguished look before cutting off any of the multiple clarifying questions that hovered on the tip of her tongue.

“Leia is gone!

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