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"Hand over those keys."
Alexis Beranger spun around and stared into a pair of glassy eyes that looked as if they were popping out of the man's head.
Her heart slammed against her chest as he pushed his fetid, sweaty body against her. The man was taller than her and burly. And judging from his dilated pupils, he was also stoned.
She scanned the supermarket parking lot. The nearest people were a teenage worker herding a train of empty carts and a pregnant woman. Both were several yards away, walking in the opposite direction and oblivious to her situation.
The man closed his hand over hers. She fought back, kicking and clawing with her free hand as she yelled for help. His strength was overpowering and he easily wrenched the keys from her grasp.
He slapped her hard across the face and then silenced her with a meaty hand over her mouth.
Tommy began to wail from the backseat. She went for the man's eyeballs, clawing like a mother tiger. Her fingers missed their mark but dug bloody trenches into his face.
His hand left her mouth. "Don't make me use this, bitch. Get in the car." His voice slurred, but his body had hardened to solid steel.
That's when she saw the pistol clutched in his right handpointed at her son's head.
Terror swept through her, and she struggled to breathe. "Take the car. Take my purse. Take whatever you want. Just don't hurt my son."
"Want out, Mommy. Want out."
"Tell the brat to shut up."
"He's afraid. He's only two." Her voice quivered. "Let me get him out of his seat and we'll just walk away. I won't even call the cops."
"Lying bitch. Get in the car now!"
She heard footsteps and a woman's voice. Surely this monster would run away. Instead he punched her in the face and sent her staggering backward so hard she careened against the car parked next to hers. The back of her skull collided with the rearview mirror, waves of black scrambling her vision, and she slumped almost to the pavement before regaining her balance.
"Security! Security!" The woman's calls for help were shrill and loud enough to be heard throughout the lot.
The man jumped into Alexis's car and slammed the door behind him.
Reeling from the blow, Alexis lunged for the back door handle.
Too late. He'd locked the doors. She pounded her fists against the vehicle as the car pulled out.
The woman and a couple of young men came running over to help.
"Don't let him get away," Alexis shouted. "He has my son in that car."
"I'm calling 911," the woman said.
One of the men muttered curses. The other put a hand on Alexis's shoulder. "The cops will catch him. They won't let him get away with the kid."
"He already did!"
Alexis pushed them out of the way and took off after the car. Her only chance was for someone to see her, hear her cries, and cut off the fleeing car. No one did.
Desperate, she cut through the maze of parked cars and raced toward the nearest lot exit. She made it just in time to see the car jump the curb and spin into the busy street.
An SUV swerved to avoid crashing into her stolen sedan. Neither driver slowed down. Bordering on hysteria, she dashed into the thick of the traffic.
Brakes squealed. Curses flew at her from passing cars. The driver of a black pickup truck that had just missed running over her skidded to a stop. He opened his door and started to get out.
Before he could, she rushed to his passenger side door, yanked it open and slid into the truck. She pointed dead ahead.
"Follow that car."