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Authors: Liz Johnson

Vanishing Act

BOOK: Vanishing Act
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Fear crashed through Danielle's stomach, nearly stealing her breath.

Yet for the first time in well over a year, she wasn't alone. She had someone she could ask for help. But she wasn't very good at doing that, either.

God, if it's safe to let Nate in, please show me.

It seemed that the more she prayed for peace, the more her life spun out of control. The spying eyes. The jimmied lock. The butterflies that Nate caused.

She'd come to Crescent City to run away from her father's death. But she hadn't counted on a whole new set of problems.

Nate was nearly to his car, and she had to make a decision.

“Wait!” She jogged over to him. “On Tuesday I thought someone was following me home. I'm afraid they might try again tonight.” His face turned stony. “Would you mind just following me to make sure no one else is behind me?”

She'd barely closed her mouth before he agreed. “I'll be right behind you.”

Books by Liz Johnson

Love Inspired Suspense

The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn

Vanishing Act

LIZ JOHNSON

After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations, Liz Johnson set out to work in the Christian publishing industry, which was her lifelong dream. In 2006 she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream—being an author. Along the way to having her novel published, she wrote articles for several magazines.

Liz lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she enjoys theater, ice skating, volunteering in her church's bookstore and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings. Visit her online at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com.

Liz Johnson
VANISHING ACT

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

—2
Timothy
1:7

To Julia, Rachel, Caleb, Emily, and Jacob, I count myself blessed beyond measure to be your aunt. May our family leave a legacy that you are proud to carry on, one of grace, hope and love.

PROLOGUE

A
car parked at least a block away backfired loudly, making Nora James huddle against the car door. Alone inside the car, she wrapped her arms around her stomach and leaned closer to the tinted window of the Lincoln Town Car, searching for any sign of the events unfolding in the dark alley. But night surrounded the car, cloaking the men she knew lined the brick buildings on each side of the narrow street.

Twisting her long ponytail behind her shoulder, she pressed her ear against the window, hoping for a voice she recognized. Cars sped over the bridge, crossing the nearby Willamette River, but everything else was silent.

No birds chirping. No people talking or strolling along the river. Not even the soft tinkling of evening rain, strange for the time of year. Eerily silent.

Suddenly the door on the opposite side of the bench seat jerked open, and a large man filled the opening. The car's dome light spread an ethereal glow over his menacing sneer. His shoulders stretched his Italian suit jacket, and his hair was slicked back with something the consistency of motor oil. He made an imposing figure, but Nora was surprisingly glad to see a face that she recognized.

It was neither friendly nor safe, but it was familiar. And
she had dearly missed anything familiar since being forced into a nondescript, white van three days earlier.

It had all been so cliché. Walking to the home that she shared with her dad from her final class of the day, she had lifted her face to the warmth of the sun, a rarity in the usually cloudy Portland climate. Lost in thoughts of her upcoming college graduation, she'd ignored the world around her.

That day it had been far from silent. Couples walking down the sidewalk, chatting vibrantly to each other. Cars flying by. The subdued chime of bicycle bells.

But then the world tilted on its axis. The screeching tires of the white van immediately signaled that something was amiss, and the men who jumped from the open sliding door moved like lightning. Both linebacker types and dressed in black, they easily subdued Nora, throwing her onto the floor of the van and slamming the door closed as the vehicle jerked forward.

For three days her life had consisted of a dark room, a flat mattress on a cement floor and the man who now leaned in toward her. Lurch. At least, that's what she'd nicknamed him in her mind the first time he brought her a glass of water. He didn't really resemble the character from one of her favorite childhood television shows, but when she and her dad started watching the old reruns together, the original Lurch had frightened her, too.

“Ms. James?” Lurch asked quietly in the same voice he always used with her.

“Yes?”

He cleared his throat, covering his mouth with his hand. His bushy, brown eyebrows pinched together, not unlike an expression her academic advisor frequently made.

Involuntarily she leaned a little bit closer to him, willing him to tell her what was going on. In three days no one
had uttered a word about why she had been taken. No one said anything about where she was or what they intended to do to her. Or why they needed her alive.

She'd decided on the first day that if they didn't need her alive, they would have taken her out of the picture.

Immediately.

The men she glimpsed were hard, with glowering faces and wicked-looking weapons. The kind of men who dispatched unwanted, unneeded women without a second thought.

“It's going to be a few more minutes,” Lurch interrupted her thoughts. “He's not here yet.”

“Who? Who are we waiting for?”

Lurch looked confused but didn't answer as he closed the door behind him.

And Nora was plunged into darkness again.

Her head spun and her eyes watered. She felt drugged.

Maybe she was drugged.

“God, a little help here, please?” she pleaded. “I know I haven't been praying nearly as I much as I should, but I have been a little distracted with trying to escape. Of course, You know all this. And You know what's going on outside, and I sure don't.” She sighed. “So whatever happens, could You take care of me? And Dad, too. Please don't let him worry about me too much.” A bit of a futile prayer, as her dad was a world-class worrier, but it never hurt to ask.

Just then headlights flashed into the alley, splashing light along the brick buildings then illuminating the interior of the Town Car. Nora blinked against the brightness, holding her forearm up to her eyes.

A door from the other car slammed, but the lights stayed on.

“Where is she?” demanded a voice she'd know anywhere.

She yanked on the handle, pushing hard on the door, trying again to open it without luck. “Dad! I'm in here! Can you hear me?” she screamed into the window. “Dad! I'm right here!”

“Nora! Nora, I'm here!”

She slammed into the door again. “Dad! I'm in the car!”

A silky voice called out, “Enough.”

When he spoke again, her father's voice sounded as though he had turned to face the far side of the alley. “Goodwill, I'm here. Let her go.” Her dad's voice was stronger than usual, out of character for the quiet accountant.

She could almost picture him in his green sweater-vest and white, collared shirt. The last time she'd seen him, he was wearing a hideous orange tie under the vest, and his hair was in complete disarray, brown spikes sticking up all over. Her father certainly didn't have the best fashion sense, but she couldn't love him more if he dressed like David Beckham.

Nora pounded her fist once against the window again, the knock echoing inside the car, then stopped when she realized the conversation in the alley disappeared beneath the sound. She'd never be able to hear her father's voice if she kept banging. Sagging against the door, she once more strained to hear the voices on the other side.

“Good evening, Parker. So glad you could join us.” That voice was deep and smooth as satin. Its very sound seemed to vibrate the windows, making Nora pull back slightly from her position hovering over the door handle.

“Goodwill, I'm the one that you want. Let Nora go. Please.” Her father's voice shook on the last word. Something she'd never heard before.

“Not until I get what I want.”

“Fine! I'll do it. I'll take care of everything. No one will be able to trace the money back to you. But this is the last time. No more.”

What was her dad talking about? Was he laundering money for the men who kidnapped her? Why would he put them both in danger like this?

“I'll decide when you're finished.”

“No—” her dad began.

“I think I've proven that you don't want to be on my bad side. Do what I say and you and your daughter are safe. Don't, and you'll see what a mess that can be.” Goodwill said something more, but he must have turned away because his voice was muffled. She couldn't make out a word of it.

Suddenly the car door, which had been her support, jerked open and one of Lurch's comrades grabbed her upper arm, yanking her to her feet. Nora stumbled, gasped, then gagged on the awful stench that filled the alley. Moonlight illuminated rows of Dumpsters overflowing with rotting food particles and what smelled like animal waste.

She covered her nose and mouth with her free hand as the thug jerked her toward the front of the car and into the stream of light.

And there was her father, looking battered and emotionally bruised. Purple shadows swelled beneath his eyes and his cheeks sunk into his mouth. Bloodshot eyes swept eagerly over her from head to toe, certainly searching for any injuries.

“Dad, are you okay?” she asked, disappointed when her voice came out a scratchy whisper.

“I'm fine. I'm just so sorry that I got us mixed up in this.”

Barely three feet away from him, Nora could stand the
distance no longer and lunged at him, ripping her arm from her captor's hand and throwing herself into her father's waiting embrace. He held her close and smoothed her matted, blond hair down her shoulders.

“Well, isn't this reunion sweet?” The words dripped with sarcasm, and Nora had no doubt that they came from the man her father had called Goodwill. She had yet to actually set eyes on the man, but her father squeezed her closer, impeding her attempt to turn and face the menacing man.

“Listen to me closely, Nora,” he whispered into her ear so low that she had to strain to make out the words. “I don't think this is going to go the way that I want it to. If something happens to me, I want you to get out of here. Go to the apartment and get the money that's stashed in my sock drawer and—”

“But, Dad. I won't leave you.”

“Yes, you will.” His voice was low and fierce, almost a growl. “Get the money and get out of town. Get rid of your cell phone and don't leave any traces. You'll never be safe here. Please just go.”

“But how will you find me?”

“I won't.”

Tears sprang to her eyes as her father pushed her away, stepping toward the two men behind her.

One of the men was Lurch. The other she'd never seen before. He was immensely attractive with features so handsome they bordered on beautiful. Graceful cheekbones that flowed into a round chin. Perfectly arched nose. Every strand of blond hair perfectly gelled into place and piercing blue eyes as cold as ice. His gaze locked on to Nora's as she took an involuntary step back.

“I trust my staff has kept you comfortable, Ms. James.” His voice as smooth as his appearance, Nora was certain
that she was being addressed by Goodwill, but she still had no idea who he was.

Other than that he had obviously had her kidnapped.

“I'm here. I'll do whatever you want. Now let Nora go,” her dad said in a quiet yet firm tone.

Goodwill put his finger on his chin and tapped it as though deep in thought, but his eyes remained cold. Hard. “I think not yet. After all, we'll need a little leverage if you decided to suddenly change your mind. What if you decided to turn state's evidence? What kind of businessman would I be if I had already let my leverage go. No, the girl stays with us until the job is done.”

“No!” Her dad lunged forward, his hands balled into fists, his entire body shaking wildly. He seemed childlike in size compared to Goodwill, but he held nothing back as he slammed into the other man. Goodwill barely shuffled his feet at the impact, then stepped to the side as the flailing man stumbled to the ground.

Suddenly the thug, who had pulled Nora from the car, appeared at Goodwill's side, aiming a large black gun at her father. Her dad's face fell as he stared up at the barrel.

“Don't!” she cried, taking a quick step toward the trio, stopping only when the gun suddenly swiveled and leveled directly at her chest.

“I think it would be wise for you stay put.” Goodwill's voice was like iron.

Nora looked into the tortured face of her father. “I'm so sorry, Baby,” he whispered. Still leaning on the ground, his weight supported by one elbow, he said very clearly, “I wonder why there's no rain tonight.”

The commotion was immediate. Goodwill shouted, “Check him for a bug!” The oaf with the gun kicked her dad in the stomach, and he grunted loudly. Suddenly the gun exploded, the flash from the muzzle surprisingly
brilliant in the darkness of the alley, illuminating the red stain immediately seeping into his sweater vest.

Nora dove behind the open door of her dad's car, landing half on the driver's seat and smashing one knee into the dashboard.

“Get the girl!” Goodwill roared. The goon did as he was told, running toward her.

She had no time to think about her actions, and moved purely out of self-preservation. She turned the keys, sending up a prayer of thankfulness that he'd left them in the ignition. Yanking her other leg into the car, she shifted into Reverse and punched the accelerator. The old sedan, one door still open, flew down the alley away from the man with the gun. Away from the stream of Goodwill's curses.

Away from her father's lifeless body.

She rammed into a large, metal Dumpster before yanking the steering wheel and spinning around to drive forward. A quick glance in the rearview mirror was all she managed before her back windshield shattered with a crack.

She ducked low, keeping her foot on the gas.

BOOK: Vanishing Act
6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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