Whispered Lies book cover

This month, we’re reading:

Whispered Lies

Kathleen Brooks

When danger lurks in the shadows…

Government secrets are being sold and the newly sworn in President of the United States already feels out of options. Without knowing the full scope of the scandal, the president decides to turn to the one person he knows he can trust–former FBI Agent, Elizabeth James. Her deep distrust of the system is rooted in her unfair discharge from service. Now she sees a chance to restore her reputation and send a message to those that would use their power to destroy others’ lives.

Elizabeth James is ordered to do whatever it takes to end a criminal organization pulling the strings of the worlds’ governments to do their bidding. She’s also been told that this is completely off the books. If caught, the government will deny all knowledge of her and the mission. Elizabeth was ready to go it alone until a man with a chip on his shoulder mysteriously helps her when she’s under fire.

Dalton Cage had led his small group of elite Air Force Pararescuemen into the most dangerous parts of the world to rescue civilians and soldiers alike. He thought his time spent evading enemy fire was over after he was booted for ignoring an order he believed to be wrong. But enemy fire was nothing compared to the dangers he faced when he was offered a chance at redemption. All he had to do was provide back up to an undercover agent and he’d get a chance to rejoin his pararescue team. Danger strikes early and often as Elizabeth and Dalton begin their mission and find their hearts becoming involved. Now every decision could cost them their freedom . . . or their lives.

This title will run until February 28.

Chapter One

Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth James sat with her political science students at Georgetown University and stared at the television she had turned on in her classroom. The news had just broken—the President of the United States was dead.

President Winston Mitchell was a beloved, quiet, respected man. While she didn’t approve of all of his policies as president, she couldn’t fault him for genuinely caring for the people of the United States. He had gone to the doctor after having trouble swallowing, only to find out he had a form of anaplastic thyroid cancer. ATC is very aggressive and can spread to multiple organs so quickly that is inoperable in most cases. To further complicate matters, it’s often nonresponsive to many types of treatments. If it’s caught after it has metastasized, the chance of survival past a year is close to zero. President Mitchell’s had spread by the time they found the tumor on his neck just three weeks before.

“What does this mean, Professor James?” Chloe asked as she wiped a tear from her eye.

“Well,” Elizabeth explained to her freshmen class. “Vice President Stratton would have been notified as soon as President Mitchell passed away. He will be sworn in today in a private ceremony. After the death of a president, the swearing in is usually done in private and not outside at the Capitol Building as if it were a normal inauguration ceremony. This is done out of respect for the deceased president and his family.

“What’s interesting here is this is the first time the 25th Amendment will come into play. See, when President Kennedy was shot, Vice President Johnson was immediately sworn in on Air Force One, leaving the country without a vice president. But with the passage of the 25th Amendment, once Stratton becomes president, he will name a VP who has to be voted on by both houses of Congress.”

Chloe nodded her head. “Will that be on the test?”

Elizabeth tried not to roll her eyes. Finals were next week and that would mark the completion of her first year as a professor . . . and she hated it. She had known that after the first month, but right now she just didn’t know what else to do with her life. That tended to happen after a traumatic experience. At least that’s what her shrink said.

One year before, Elizabeth hadn’t been Professor James. She had been Special Agent James with the FBI, based out of the Washington D.C. office. As a counterterrorism expert, she had spent her days tracking down threats to this great nation. But then . . . Elizabeth shook her head. She didn’t want to have a flashback in the middle of class. She would wait until she got home and could collapse into a crying heap onto her bed.

“Yes, I believe it will be,” she answered as the class groaned. “Your last homework assignment is listed on your syllabus. Also, I want you all to read the 25th Amendment and be prepared to discuss it on Wednesday. Remember, I’m holding a final exam review in place of class on Friday. Attendance is optional but highly recommended. Class dismissed.”

Elizabeth turned back to the television after answering countless questions about the final exam and what they should study. Finally the room was empty except for the somber voice of Claudia Hughes as she reported on the continuing coverage of the president’s death.

“I have been told by my contacts in the White House,” Claudia reported as her shoulder-length blond bob never once moved, “that the president was surrounded by his family during his final moments. The First Lady was there with their two children and three grandchildren.”

Lizzy, a nickname her father had given her when she was young, took a seat on the edge of her desk and put her long blond hair into a messy bun. Unlike Claudia’s, Lizzy’s blond was natural. But Claudia’s hair color was a purposeful look to keep her appearing young in the cutthroat world of journalism. It was hard for a woman to rise to the top, and Claudia had already closed in by the time she was forty-one.

“The entire country mourns with the First Family. I have also been told Vice President Stratton was outside the room when the president passed and has offered his condolences to the First Family,” Claudia continued.

A picture flashed across the screen of a young Vice President Stratton in Army fatigues in the middle of the Iraqi desert. “Vice President Stratton isn’t unfamiliar with the loss of a spouse,” Claudia continued as a new picture of Stratton appeared on the TV screen. Wearing his Army Officer dress uniform, he was holding the hand of his young bride as they ran under the arch of swords. Lizzy blinked back a tear. She too knew the feeling of such a loss.

“Mrs. Stratton was killed just three years after their wedding during an armed robbery while Vice President Stratton, then First Lieutenant Stratton, was serving as a military intelligence officer during the Iraq War,” Claudia said with just the right inflection of sadness in her voice before taking a deep breath to indicate a change of subject. “There has been no mention of funeral arrangements for President Mitchell or when Vice President Stratton will be sworn in, but we expect details shortly. Stay tuned to BBN news, where we’re always keeping an eye on the world, for continuing live coverage after this break.”

Lizzy turned off the television. She grabbed her bag and headed for the parking lot. As she walked down the halls of the university, students were glued to the televisions. Some were crying, some were comforting others, and still others were trying to get their finals postponed. Lizzy pushed open the door to the warm May sun. It was already growing humid in D.C. As she made her way to the faculty parking lot, she couldn’t help but think of the last funeral she attended. Tears she had blinked back began to pool in her eyes as she felt her heart speed up. She took deep breaths to fight off the panic attack.

“I did not kill Dan,” she whispered to herself over and over again. Finally, she felt the panic subside, and she was able to get into her car. Damn. She wasn’t going to make it home before she fell apart. Instead she started the car, blasted the AC, and turned up the music so she didn’t have to hear herself cry. She might not have killed Dan, but she certainly hadn’t saved him either.

Elizabeth had made it through the semester—barely. She hadn’t slept since President Mitchell’s funeral the previous Thursday. All of Washington had been shut down as the flag-draped casket was taken from the White House and placed upon the caisson pulled by four horses and flanked by members from each military branch, including the newly inaugurated President Stratton representing the Army. Mitchell’s family had stood on the steps watching the scene unfold.

The procession had gone down Pennsylvania Avenue and over to Constitution Avenue. The first family followed in the motorcade as tens of thousands lined the street to mourn with them. It took over forty-five minutes for the procession to make it to the Capitol Building. Air Force F-15s flew overhead in the missing-man formation, the solemn sound of drums played, and Elizabeth’s nightmares returned.

Over and over again, she heard the shot and saw Dan plummeting. Elizabeth shook her head as she forced herself to forget. Her shrink had told her to embrace the nightmares, even to talk about them. Who was she going to talk to them about? She didn’t have any friends. She’d left them all behind when she had been fired from the FBI. Her father? She’d already confided in him and didn’t think she needed to bother a man in his mid-sixties with her nightly reliving of her boyfriend’s death. When she had told her father, he had held her tight as she cried. Just as he had always done when she was growing up.

Her mother had left them when Elizabeth was six months old, claiming motherhood wasn’t her thing. Living the lifestyle of the ’70s was more her thing. She was too embarrassed that her college sweetheart from Berkeley had turned into an FBI agent to stick around for some crying baby who took time away from her protest, especially when Elizabeth’s father was an agent charged with hunting down the radicals his wife called friends. Her father had never mentioned her name again and neither had Elizabeth.

“You need a pet,” her shrink had said two months ago on the one-year anniversary of Dan’s death, and again at her last session. “Someone to show you that you can still love and who will love you in return.”

Lizzy looked at the morning newspaper that had been delivered just minutes before. It was a benefit of not sleeping—you got to read the paper with no rush. She passed over the picture of President Stratton being sworn in the week before, and a tiny headline caught her eye on one of the back pages: Dog Rescued From Potomac River. The short blurb was about a matted white Bichon Frisé being dropped from the Arlington Memorial Bridge. A couple of tourists visiting the Lincoln Memorial were walking behind the monument overlooking the river when they saw the dog fall. They rushed to the waterside to try to save the dog. Miraculously, the little dog had survived and the man from Ohio had pulled the dog from the water. Currently, the dog was at the humane society after being checked out and declared fit for adoption.

Something Lizzy hadn’t felt since that horrible night fourteen months ago hit her. The night she and Dan were out on assignment, there had been a threat called into the Lincoln Memorial. She and Dan were at their apartment near FBI headquarters in D.C. when they were told to check it out. All intelligence pointed to this being a hoax, at least that’s what her boss, Phylicia Claymore, said. Phylicia wasn’t going to send anyone, except a 9-1-1 call had been made and was now public record. Reluctantly, Phylicia sent Lizzy, Dan, and a team of four other agents to the Lincoln Memorial. What they found was anything but a hoax.

Three explosive devices had been set around the memorial. All of the guards were dead. This hoax had suddenly become all too real. As her team evacuated the area, Lizzy saw Dan take off toward the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Lizzy raced after him and realized he was in pursuit of a figure in black racing across the bridge. Lizzy yelled into her coms for backup and kicked her pace into a full sprint. For as long as she lived, she would never forget the next moment.

Dan had reached the middle of the bridge. He was running along the edge of the sidewalk close to the barrier. The gunman leapt from the sidewalk and into traffic. The few cars that were there spun as their tires locked to avoid hitting the man. As if in slow motion, the man raised his hand. Two shots were fired right into Dan. The impact sent him over the cement barrier. The man who fired didn’t wait to see what happened. He was already dashing to the other side of the bridge toward a waiting car. Lizzy opened her mouth to scream as Dan fell back over the cement barrier. It seemed to take hours for his body to hit the water below. Lizzy watched helplessly as his body fell into the dark waters of the Potomac River and was swept out toward the Atlantic Ocean.

It had taken two days to recover his body. Lizzy had to identify him. It was hard to do with most of his head missing. Dan had taken two shots to the head. The killer had known he was wearing a vest. She was able to identify him through the clothes he wore, his badge, wallet, and a peanut allergy medical alert bracelet he wore. She buried him a day later, and as she looked at the coffin being lowered into the ground, she was thankful she had spotted one red painted toenail during her identification. No one knew about it. She had been painting her nails right before the call came in. As they laughed, she had reached over and painted his big toenail before he realized what had happened. Instead of the bad memories of that night, she now remembered his laughing face after she had painted his toenail. It helped during the daylight hours, but at night the red nail polish on his toe turned to blood as she replayed Dan’s lifeless body falling from the bridge over and over again.

Lizzy’s gut told her this dog was a kindred spirit, and she was reaching for her car keys before she knew it. She nearly left the house in her pajamas until she realized what she was doing. It was 5:45 in the morning. The humane society didn’t open until 8:00. Lizzy looked back at the picture of the dog and decided she didn’t care. She would wait outside the humane society. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do.

Three hours later, Lizzy walked out of the humane society with a three-year-old Bichon she had named Dave. She had looked into the black eyes and knew she had made the right decision. As the little black button nose nuzzled her hand, she felt at peace. “Come on, Dave. Let’s go home and then go for a walk,” Lizzy said to the powder puff in her arms as a smile broke out on her face.

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