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Clean Break: A Kira Brightwell Short Novel

Clean Break: A Kira Brightwell Short Novel

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Kira Brightwell needs a change of scenery.

A relaxing, solo trip to Toronto to visit her grandparents seems like a good idea. No nosy reporters, no criminals to take down, and (most importantly) no self-appointed sidekick Trevor Wright.

...But from the moment Kira steps off the plane from California, nothing goes according to plan.

A stand-alone short novel misadventure from the Kira Brightwell Quick Cases mystery series.

(This adventure takes place between the Kira Brightwell novels Split Decision and Black and Blue.)

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Kira kept a wary eye on the whirring and clacking luggage carousel, craning her neck for any sign of her suitcase. Her muscles tensed at the sensation of multiple strangers crowding around her to intrude on her personal space in their quest to locate their own bags. She took a deep breath, clenching and unclenching her hands reflexively in an effort to keep herself from lashing out at innocent travel-goers with her MMA skills.

It had been a long day.

I should have known better than to go for a last-minute deal.

Countless hours and two connections later, she had finally arrived at her destination at Pearson International Airport in Toronto—a far cry from her suburban hometown of La Valentia on the opposite coast in California. She stifled a yawn and blinked her watering eyes. It was only late afternoon, but she had gotten up at an ungodly hour in her own time zone to get here.

She wrinkled her nose as the breath she sucked in to cover the yawn informed her a heavy smoker was somewhere in the crowd nearby. She switched to breathing through her mouth instead to avoid the stale ashtray scent—not that it tasted much better than it smelled. Hopefully whoever it belonged to wouldn’t mow her down in an effort to get their luggage and rush out of the airport, where they could finally light up.

She checked the digital display board that hung above the carousel to check the information again. Yes, she was definitely in the right place. The last of the luggage lurched through the rubber flaps and down the conveyor belt ramp that extended from the ceiling to start its progress around the large, slowly-moving oval of assorted baggage.

People jockeyed for position near the edge of the conveyor, many of them with metal trolleys to help wheel all their belongings around. Most of them stood in small clusters, muttering and pointing each time someone recognized a familiar bag on the conveyor, like sailors directing a ship captain toward land. Announcements droned from the PA system at regular intervals in both English and French, reminding everyone to make sure their belongings weren’t left unattended. The overhead lights gleamed dully against the chrome of the conveyor in the large, windowless space.

Kira tugged at her long, brown ponytail and began to tap her foot in anxiety. Still no sign of her suitcase. Maybe it was just on the other side of the conveyor, and she couldn’t see it yet…

Her gaze snagged on a familiar face standing opposite her on the other side of the carousel as she stood up on tiptoe to look for her bag—a tall, gangly man with glasses. His glossy, dark hair was up in a man bun, and he wore a pair of jeans with a rumpled, blue dress shirt. She snapped her gaze back to the slowly revolving luggage and wracked her brain in an effort to figure out where she had seen him before…

“Kira Brightwell?” a male voice called out in her direction.

For a moment, she considered ignoring it. After all, she had come here to get away for a few days. Besides, she didn’t recognize the voice, and the only people she knew in Toronto were her grandparents. And just because someone recognized her, didn’t mean she wanted to talk to them. At this point, all she wanted was to get her luggage and find her grandparents. She had no interest in spending any more time inside another airport than was strictly necessary.

All these thoughts flashed through her mind as she decided how to respond. But her new friend had already taken matters into his own hands.

“Kira?” the male voice said again, a little breathless this time.

She glanced over her shoulder to see the man she had recognized from the other side of the carousel elbowing his way through the thinning crowd toward her. His expression brightened behind his glasses.

“It is you! What are you doing in Toronto?” His head tilted with birdlike curiosity.

Kira’s stomach clenched as she realized where she recognized him from.

He was a reporter for the La Valentia Post.

Based on the curious looks on the faces of those still clambering over to get their own luggage around her, she realized she must be wearing her deer in the headlights face. She forced herself to give the man a weak smile of greeting.

He leaned in to nudge her with a pointy elbow. He seemed to be all arms and legs.

“Are you here on a case?” He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and gave her a knowing smile.

Kira stifled a sigh. “No, Martin. I’m here to visit my grandparents.”

Although she and Martin McMullin had never been formally introduced, she had seen his face and byline in the paper often enough—and on her front lawn with the other local reporters who were the most persistent about trying to get an interview.

First, there had been her own abduction escape three years ago, where she had also rescued seven other women. Kira had been more than happy to let the furor die down, but then a few weeks ago, she had also ended up finding another local missing girl. And then there was old Mrs. Petronas and the body of her dead son that she had helped uncover last week…

Kira had no interest in giving any interviews or having her face splashed in the papers. Not that her unwavering stance of, ‘No comment,’ stopped the reporters from speculating anyway. Or tracking down her yearbook photo to run on the front page, along with whatever second-hand accounts they could scrounge up. She did her best to ignore the articles and the awkward publicity that came with them. After all, it wasn’t as if she had made it her life’s mission to fight crime in La Valentia. It was all just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. (Or maybe the wrong place at the right time…)

At least, that was what she told herself.

“What are you doing in Toronto?” Kira asked with a pointed look in an effort to turn the tables. Her brow furrowed as a sudden thought struck her. “You didn’t follow me here, did you?”

“What?” Martin blinked in confusion. “No, I’m here to visit my mother. She moved up here to be with her family when she and my dad split. She’s very independent, but she still needs some looking after, so my sisters and I take turns visiting to give our cousin a break.”

Kira felt her shoulders relax. Good. Just a coincidence.

“So are you sure you’re not here on business?” Martin prompted as he snatched a bulky, black suitcase from the carousel and hoisted it to the ground beside him.

Kira rolled her green eyes. “I’m sure. And before you ask, I’m also sure I wouldn’t like to discuss any of my past ‘business’ with you either.”

Martin grinned at her. “Can’t blame me for trying. It’d be nice to have a new story or interview wrapped up by the time I get back home.”

She gave him a hard smile. “I’m sure you’ll come up with something suitable on your own.”

She took one last, mournful look at the nearly empty carousel, which was lurching to a stop.

“Now if you don’t mind, I have to go talk to someone about my suitcase.”

She strode off before he could stop her and wondered how long it would take to get her luggage situation sorted out. Her stomach emitted a low gurgle to remind her how long it had been since the sub-par airline meal of under-seasoned chicken and a limp side-salad.

First, I run into some nosy reporter from all the way back home, and now my luggage is missing.

Some getaway this is turning out to be…

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