Black Friday

CHAPTER

1

Friday morning, November 23

Mall of America

Bloomington, Minnesota

Rebecca Cory stood her ground despite another elbow shoved into her shoulder blades. She'd let the first two shoves go. A quick glance back at the tattooed man convinced her to ignore this one, too. The man towered over her, wearing camouflage pants and a muscle T-shirt. No signs of a coat. Quite a strange fashion statement considering it was twenty degrees outside and snowing, but not a bad idea in the crowded mall.

Even with a glance it would have been hard for Rebecca not to notice the purple-and-green dragon that snaked down the man's arm, its tail curling up around his neck and its fire-breathing head squeezing out of the T-shirt's tight armhole. The tattoo crawled all the way down past the man's elbow. The same elbow that kept finding its way into the middle of Rebecca's shoulder blades.

She told herself to be patient. She could finally see the order counter as the line to the mall's coffee bar grew shorter. It wouldn't be much longer. She tried to concentrate on the Christmas music, what she could hear of it through the crowd's chatter and the temper tantrums of impatient toddlers.

" in a winter wonderland."

She loved that song. But it certainly didn't feel like winter in here. Sweat trickled down her back. She wished she had left her coat back with Dixon and Patrick who were guarding a rare find, a bistro table and four chairs in the mall's overcrowded food court.

Rebecca hummed with the music. She knew all the words. They had sung Christmas songs on their long road trip. Connecticut to Minnesota. Twenty-one hours. Thirteen hundred miles. Surviving on Red Bull, convenience-store coffee and McDonalds. She hadn't caught up yet on sleep although yesterday they all crashed after Thanksgiving dinner at Dixon's grandparents' house. The first holiday meal she'd had in years—turkey, dressing, real mashed potatoes and all the trimmings. Granddad said a blessing. Nanna served seconds whether you asked for them or not. Dixon had no clue how lucky he was. Family, tradition, stability, unconditional love. It gave Rebecca hope to see those things still existed despite being absent from her family's life.

Another elbow.

Damn!

She resisted looking back this time.

What in the world was she doing here?

She hated malls and yet here she was on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day and craziest shopping crowd of the year. She'd let Dixon talk her into it, just like this whole trip, convincing her it'd be an adventure she'd never forget. He'd been doing crap like that since they were in kindergarten and he convinced her paste tasted like cotton candy. You'd think she'd learn by now that Dixon's taste for adventure was pretty much like his taste for cotton candy, tame and sugar-coated, the hype being the most exciting part of anything Dixon did. What did she expect from a guy who quoted Batman and Robin?

And poor Patrick, along for the ride, trying to be the good sport.

Patrick.

He was a whole different story. She should have found Patrick's behavior endearing. Instead, she thought it a bit suspicious that this totally cool and together guy would want to travel 1300 miles to spend Thanksgiving with her and Dixon. Seemed a long way to go just to get inside her pants.

That wasn't fair.

She knew he didn't have any family to keep him in Connecticut over the long holiday weekend. His mom was in Green Bay. He had a stepsister in D.C. He'd asked if they could cut through Wisconsin on the way back, like that was part of his excuse to go along.