Exclusive Excerpt: Lindsay McKenna's BOXCAR CHRISTMAS
What would you do if a Border Collie and her pups were being pursued by a big, wild cat in your back yard? That's exactly the situation Army veteran Jesse Myers finds herself in in Lindsay McKenna's Boxcar Christmas, available now. Let's see how Jesse handles this high-pressure experience:
There was a strange noise outside Jesse Myer’s boxcar bedroom, the door partially cracked open. Frowning, she honed in on it.
It sounded like scratching. Was it a mouse in the red caboose? In her room? Getting up, she turned on the light, looking around the bed and in the small clothes closet.
Frowning, she looked out into the gloom, all the curtains shut, the warmth wonderful to her bare feet as she went to the bathroom. She’d put her clothes she was going to wear in there, along with her tennis shoes. A quick, hot shower would wake her up. And then, she’d make a cup of delicious, hot coffee. Her world was looking up. And it filled Jesse with hope as she shut the door to the bathroom.
Emerging half an hour later, it was six a.m. and there was light filtering into the caboose from the coming dawn. She had washed her hair, combed it into place, dressed and walked out into the main area of the caboose, opening the curtains as she went. The sky was wide and a pale blue above the meadow. Hoping to spot some deer coming to the river, she glanced out at the yellowed grass, seeing nothing moving. The place was quiet this morning.
As she opened the curtains toward the tree line, she froze.
There, just inside it was a huge cougar standing, looking toward the caboose. Her skin crawled with danger.
There was frantic scratching at the back door.
Frowning, Jesse took one last look at the cat who remained motionless, just watching the caboose. Hurrying to the back door, she pulled the curtain back. Her eyes widened in surprise. A black dog with a white blaze, with brown eyebrows above her blue eyes, was frantically pawing at the door, up on her hind legs. It was a beautiful Border Collie!
Good grief! What was going on? Jesse opened the door.
The dog whined and sat, thumping her tail, looking up at her.
Jesse leaned down, “It’s all right,” she crooned, petting the dog’s head. Her gaze riveted on the cougar who stood like a statue, watching them through amber eyes. The cat was less than three-hundred yards from where she stood with the dog.
The dog whined, turning, pawing into the blanket that had fallen off the rail sometime during the night.
“Get inside,” she told the dog, pointing toward the opened door. Why was she anxiously digging at the old wool blanket? It made no sense to Jesse.
The dog whined louder, digging harder, refusing to move into the caboose.
Part of the corner flew back from her efforts.
Jesse gasped. There were five newly born black and white pups!
Rapidly, she put it together. Leaning down, she gathered the huge, bulky blanket between her arms, swiftly carrying it inside the caboose.
The mother followed.
After laying the blanket near the table on one side of the home, Jesse hurried to the back door, slamming it shut and locking it. Her heart was beginning a slow beat as she turned, grabbing her cell phone off the kitchen counter. Leaning down, she saw the cougar move—toward the boxcar.
Fingers trembling, she punched in Travis’s phone number.
It rang three times before he answered.
“It’s Jesse. Travis, I need help. I found a mother dog with puppies on the rear of the caboose and a cougar is following them. I’ve got the dog and pups inside with me. I’ve locked the door. The cat is moving our way. Is there a pistol or gun in this place?” She heard his slurred, drowsy answer, feeling bad that she had awakened him.
“There’s no weapon,” he grunted. “Stay there. I’ll be out in ten minutes. I’ll have a rifle with me. Stay away from the windows. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” she answered, hearing the sleep torn from him.
The phone clicked dead.
Putting the cell phone on the counter, she saw the cougar walking toward the rear of the caboose. The cat had probably been following the mother. Turning, she saw the dog standing in the center of the boxcar, a low growl in her throat, her hackles, or what was left of them, were standing straight up on her shoulders and all the way down her spine. The pups were okay, nestled in the warmth of the blanket, sleeping.
Jerking open one drawer, Jesse gripped a huge butcher knife. It was all she had. Would the cat attack? Try to break a window and get in? Her mind skipped through many scenarios. She didn’t know the habits of a cougar except that this one had followed the dog here, to her home.
The dog’s growl increased, her body stiffening.
Jesse lost sight of the cougar. Where was it?
Panic struck her. She felt as if she were back in combat. Her hand tightened around the wooden handle of the ten-inch butcher knife. She walked up to where the dog was at, her gaze riveting to the rear window.
Suddenly, the cat’s face appeared in the window, it’s huge paws on either side of it, amber eyes looking in—at them.
Gulping, Jesse felt the power of the cat’s intense focus.
The dog leaped into action, throwing herself at the back door, trying to attack the cougar on the other side of it. Her barks were sharp, ear splitting and her growl deep and filled with hatred.
The cougar dropped back down on all fours, disappearing from the window.
Jesse blinked. What could she do?
Nothing. Oh, God…
The dog barked furiously, throwing herself again and again at the back door, the hair all along her neck and back standing straight up. The barks and growls were savage.
Jesse forced herself to walk to the rear door. Was the cougar still on the platform? Waiting? Figuring out how to get into the caboose? She swiftly turned, gaze snapping from one window to another. The easiest way to get in was through this back door. The window was too small for the cat to actually get in through it, but he could cause a lot of problems for her, the dog and the pups.
The dog whined, spun around, racing toward the window where the pups were in the blanket.
Jesse saw the cougar about ten feet away, in the meadow, studying the window.
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