At Holden Prep, dirty little secrets always have a way of coming to the surface.
Eleanor Ames has never been what she seems. Average high school student on the outside, but reformed con artist trying to break free of her past on the inside. When Eleanor receives startling news about someone from her previous criminal life, plans for a new operation coinciding with her school's upcoming field trip quickly consume her.
But operations rarely go according to plan. And this is one her irresistible teen FBI agent boyfriend, Miles, would never approve of.
Now, more than just Ellie's reputation is at stake. If she fails, it could be her life.
The Eleanor Ames series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Chasing Truth
Book #2 Hiding Lies
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About the Author
JULIE CROSS lives in central Illinois with her husband and three children. She never wrote fiction before May of 2009, but since then, hasn't gone a day without writing. She is the author of The Tempest Trilogy.
Read an Excerpt
It's been nearly a year since I decided to give up my conning ways for the honest life. But here I am again, hiding up in a tree, studying an asset. I lift the binoculars to my eyes so I can get a better view of the hot guy walking toward me. Despite the chilly, December night (why in the world did the Founding Fathers consider Virginia "the South"? It's freakin' cold here!), he's not wearing a coat. Probably because one of his arms is in a sling. He approaches the building slowly, carefully, his gaze never holding one place but scanning the area.
I shift my binoculars toward a car in the distance. The headlights are off, so I can see a man and a woman inside. They're sitting in the dark, looking perfectly comfortable. Nothing exciting. I go back to spying on the dark- haired hottie, but I'm distracted. My butt is painfully going numb. The tree branch I'm sitting on is covered in snow. I shift, trying to find a dry spot. The hot guy stops, holds perfectly still, and then tilts his head upward. His beautiful, blue eyes seem to land on me. This is confirmed a second later when a dimple appears on each cheek. I used to never trust anyone with dimples. Recently, I've become more flexible with this rule. But even so, my heart plummets to my stomach at the sight of them.
My feet have been dangling. I start to lift them up, attempting to conceal myself. But I'm not fast enough. Warm fingers wrap around my ankle.
"Got you," the guy says. "How long have you been up there spying on me?"
"Spying? On you?" I shake my head. "Don't know what you're talking about. I'm waiting for someone. He'll be here any second."
The hot guy takes the binoculars and looks them over, analyzing the zoom- in and recording switches hidden on the underside. "Fancy. Not exactly for recreational use."
That's because they're Aidan's. My sister's boyfriend. Up until two weeks ago, when he was forced to resign, Aidan was a Secret Service agent. He used all kinds of spy gear in his former job — like these high-tech night- vision binoculars.
I hop down from the tree, assessing the intruder, searching for body language that says friend or enemy, even though I already know the answer. No harm in having a little extra practice. Role-play is definitely a skill of mine, but it's also a muscle that must be worked regularly. "Just so you know, I am trained in self-defense. Wouldn't try anything if I were you."
"Yeah?" He lifts an eyebrow. "That's good because this place is sketchy as hell."
We both glance around the deserted warehouse building beside us, the vandalized lumberyard nearby, and the questionable items strewn across the walkway leading to the giant warehouse door — condom wrappers, broken beer bottles, cigarette butts.
"You're right, it's sketchy," I say. "I better take off before something bad happens."
"Wait ..." Hot Guy reaches for me, his fingers curling around my waist. He tugs me until my back rests against the tree and we're hidden from anyone on the street. "Tell me about this other guy you're waiting on."
I stare up at him, taking in the cocky smirk, perfectly messy dark hair, and blue eyes that hold dozens of secrets. "What other guy?"
He grins, showing off two perfect dimples to go with the rest of his perfects. "Good answer."
Then, before I can refocus on the role I've been playing, he leans down and kisses me. It's only been a week but feels like a month. Maybe longer. His cheeks are cold, but his lips are warm and tender. I bring him closer and closer until his slinged arm is lodged between us.
"Miles," I mumble against his lips.
"Miles," I repeat, too caught up in this kiss to celebrate the slip he just made. "That's his name. The guy I'm waiting on."
"Miles. Sounds like an asshole. Forget him." He pulls away just enough to see my face. His good hand rests against my cheek. He looks like he's about to dive into kissing me again but hesitates. "It's really cold out here."
"And sketchy," I add. "Why would you pick a place like this? You can't coast forever on the whole mysterious-hot-guy persona. So if that's your plan, I'd rather meet at the Y or Planet Fitness like a normal person."
He rolls his eyes. "Yes, that's my goal in life. Devote all my time to training to be a spy so I can impress girls."
"Doubt you would be the first." I plant one more kiss on those warm lips, and then step around him and head for the door to the warehouse. He really does need to get out of the cold. "Hopefully someday you'll be able to wear a coat again."
"And dress myself," he agrees. "My mom had to button my shirt today."
"And drive you here." I nod toward the parked car where his parents, Agent Beckett and Agent Beckett, are waiting. "How much longer with the sling?"
"Another week or two," he says with a hint of longing in his voice. Not surprising. Since the day I met him last September, I've watched him swim thousands of laps in our apartment complex's pool, go for runs and not come back for two hours. He's good at concealing his frustration most of the time, but without those outlets he must be so restless right now.
We enter the warehouse, and Miles flips on the lights, revealing the large square of blue mats covering part of the floor, a weight bench beside the mats, and a punching bag dangling from the ceiling. Like a good student, I kick off my shoes before stepping onto the mats. When we're in this building, like we've been for the past three Sundays, the kissing gets left outside along with sarcasm, whining, and pretty much any talking on my end. And considering Miles's personality invites constant opportunity for sarcasm, this is no easy feat. But after Miles and I were kidnapped two weeks ago and nearly murdered, I've decided it's probably a good idea to take these self-defense lessons seriously.
He can't drive until his shoulder fully heals (an injury obtained during the previously mentioned kidnapping incident), so the Becketts have been nice enough to make the drive from their house outside of Baltimore. Every Sunday.
"What have you worked on this week?" Miles asks.
He's all business now, too, though his eyes roam over me when I toss my coat aside and reveal a skin-tight workout top. It's a reaction I expected and even planned for. What kind of partner would I be if I didn't test his strength of focus every once in a while? I stand there for a long moment, making eye contact but not moving a step toward him. Sure enough, his feet shuffle my way, his good arm rising a few inches, as if his hand is planning to land at my waist.
My mother told me something years ago, when I first began helping out with the family biz. She said, "The ability to command the attention of others is mastered through actions, not words, through the way you walk, the way you hold yourself. The very air you exist in must bleed charisma, confidence, and believability. That skill will be your greatest weapon."
If I can distract a military school — trained, compulsive rule- follower like Miles, even for a few seconds, that means I've got at least one weapon on me and ready to use at any time.
Miles stops, the movement abrupt and deliberate, his good arm falling back to his side. He shakes his head and his lips twitch, fighting a smile. Caught me for the second time tonight. "So ... what have you worked on this week?" he repeats.
I laugh under my breath and then grant him a response. "Lots of cardio, weights, and a little bit of work on escaping a chest mount."
During the week, I have training sessions with a woman who is a friend of Aidan's from his days in the Marines. She does a good job, but she approaches our lessons like I'm a girl who wants to avoid sexual assault in college — which I definitely am. But I'm also a girl who might need to escape highly trained assassins. Everything that happened a couple of weeks ago, though, is top secret, so I can't exactly ask her for more offensive tactics without raising questions.
"Good," Miles says. "Cardio is good. Running away is often your best defense."
Okay, maybe my weekly instructor isn't the only one focused on defense. "My best defense or anyone's?"
"Anyone's," he clarifies, putting a note of finality to this conversation.
I asked my mother the same question when she gave me her "greatest weapon" advice, worried that she was really trying to tell me that all I had going for me were my looks. She answered exactly the same as Miles just did.
"Start on the bag," Miles commands.
I retrieve my gloves from a storage closet and approach the punching bag. I keep one gloved hand close to my face and use the other to strike the bag. This exercise used to be nearly impossible for me. Now it's not so bad.
"Don't let your elbow lock out," he says. Then with his good arm, he demonstrates a punch. "You're making yourself vulnerable to having that arm twisted behind you."
I do at least a dozen more punches with my left arm until I've earned Miles's approval and he orders me to switch hands. After a while, my arms begin to feel like Jell-O and sweat trickles down my face. Whenever I start to get tired, I imagine being locked in that cold, dark room where Miles and I were held a couple of weeks ago. I visualize the door opening, offering me a chance to escape, but first I've got to get past Agent Jakowski — Jack — who was Aidan's boss and a trusted friend turned murderer.
The bag morphs into Jack's face. I clench my jaw and strike harder, devoting every ounce of strength in my arm to that punch. And the next one. And the one after that.
"Hey ..." Miles's hand wraps around my wrist, holding it in place. "I said stop."
"Sorry, I didn't hear you." I tug my hand away from his and loosen the Velcro on my gloves, preparing to take them off. "Weights next?"
He just stands there studying me, his forehead wrinkled. "What were you thinking about just now?"
"Not locking out my elbow, keeping my front foot planted, using my hips, protecting my face," I rattle off, but I can't look at him. Instead I focus on unfastening my gloves.
Unfortunately Miles isn't buying it. "Maybe we should call it a night? Head over to Clyde's early?"
Miles's uncle lives in the apartment beside ours. Clyde and Miles's parents are hosting an early Christmas dinner at Clyde's tonight, and they invited my sister, Aidan, and me to join.
"Can we finish, please?" I need this. I really do. But he needs honesty from me and won't go forward without it. I drop my arms and turn to face him. "It feels good learning this, but at the same time ..." I release a breath and force out the worst of my current fears. "I hate imagining situations where it might come in handy."
Miles is silent for the length of several heartbeats but finally says, "Me, too."
In those two simple words, I can hear his own fear, can feel it pulsing in the space between us. It's both a comfort and a source of anxiety.
"So you think it might come in handy?" I chew on my left thumbnail, a clear sign of doubt, my father would tell me if he were here. "In the near future?"
I know Miles's parents (and possibly Miles, too) have far more information than I do about what happened to us a couple of weeks ago. About the rogue group of assassins and whether or not the organization is still intact. Part of me wants to push for details, and the other part would love nothing more than to return to being just another student at Holden Academy, oblivious to the world of secret government agents gone bad.
"I hope not," Miles says, and then he breaks his own all-business-on-the- mats rule, moving closer to me and laying a hand on my cheek. "But it's definitely possible."
My stomach twists with fear, and my heart picks up, but I give one sharp nod and clap my hands together. "Okay, what's next?"
I just have to hope the near future allows time for me to learn enough to stay alive.CHAPTER 2
A shirt-size box wrapped in red paper printed with Santa heads all over it lands in my lap.
"That's from us, Ellie," Mrs. Beckett says, resting a hand on her husband's arm.
My face warms, though I don't know why. Guess I'm not used to people just giving me things with no strings attached. I tear the paper carefully and slide the lid off the box. Inside is a very old book, worn from years of existing and likely multiple readings. My fingers brush lightly over the leather cover. I've assessed enough valuables in my lifetime to guess that this is a first edition. It's also a story so familiar to me, if I close my eyes and draw it from my memory, entire sentences will leap out at me.
"'I could tell you my adventures — beginning with this morning,'" my mom read from the worn book in her hands, the paper cover hanging by a thread. "'But it's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.'"
"Like us," my five-year-old self said. "Yesterday Daddy had a mustache and you had black hair."
Mom laughed, the sound ringing with truth and etching itself into my memory. "Yes, just like us."
I rub the goose bumps on my arm, willing them away. It felt real. Her voice in my head. I haven't heard it in nearly a year.
"Saw you admiring that book when you and Miles came for the weekend," Mr. Beckett says, referencing the two-day vacation Miles and I took last month at his beautiful house in the woods near Baltimore. I'd almost refused to go. The idea of meeting CIA parents freaked me out a little. Especially since my own identity and criminal past had still been a secret then. Now Miles, his parents, and his uncle all know. But not anyone else, like the kids I go to school with.
"We're gone more often than we're home," Mrs. Beckett adds. "Figured we should find a safe spot for some of our valuables."
"Who better to keep your precious items safe than a skilled con artist?" I tear my eyes from the book and look at Mr. and Mrs. Beckett. "Sure you don't want to rethink that?"
They both laugh. So does Clyde. My sister, Harper, looks like she's not sure how to react. I'm not the only one who's still adjusting to the idea of people knowing our family secrets.
Miles, who had been in the bathroom, returns to the living room and glances around, picking up on the weird tension. "What'd I miss?"
He plops down on Clyde's couch, beside me. I offer him the box, and he lifts the book from it. "Wow, guess I know who my parents are leaving all the good stuff to. Clearly not their only son."
My face flushes again, even though I know Miles is joking. He's not at home much, either. His school, Marshall Academy, is a military boarding school. One he's been attending since the sixth grade.
With Simon Gilbert, I can't help thinking.
As much as I try not to think about Simon, it's hard whenever I see Miles. Simon's death was the reason we met. Long before I came to Holden Prep and became Simon's friend, he and Miles were best friends and roommates at Marshall Academy for three years.
Miles's hand brushes my shoulder, and I try to shake off all thoughts of Simon. Miles and I did what we'd set out to do — prove that Simon's death wasn't a suicide. Now I just need to figure out how to put it all behind me. Would probably be easier without the revenge of the Government Agents Gone Bad hanging out in the near future.
But it's Christmas. It's only December tenth, actually, but we're celebrating Christmas. Which means I need to shove all that future crap to the side for now and enjoy the last few hours I get to spend with Miles until the middle of January.
My sister offers the Becketts and Clyde the tins of cookies we made for them. Well, mostly Aidan and I made them and assigned Harper as many fireproof tasks as we could think of to keep her busy.
"I have a present for you." Miles leans in closer, his lips resting against my temple. "Leave your window unlocked, okay?"
I turn my head toward him and whisper, "I've kept it unlocked since the first time you climbed up my balcony."
He grins at that memory, but the smile fades quickly. "You should definitely lock it. After I leave."
The happy Christmas bubble pops. My stomach twists and knots all over again.
After we leave Clyde's, after Aidan and Harper turn in for the night and I'm left alone with thoughts of agents gone bad climbing into my window instead of Miles, I turn to my gift from the Becketts for comfort. I flip to a random page, then drop into my desk chair, allowing the small built-in lamp to illuminate the words. My insides warm more and more with each familiar name or place. But then I remember that the person who brought these words to life for me is currently locked up in prison, and the warmth turns to cold dread.
It wasn't supposed to be her. When I made that deal with Agent Sheldon and the FBI team, it was supposed to be him ... my dad. The man who kept me from seeing my sister for five years. The man who wouldn't allow even so much as a mention of Harper after she left. A small part of me is still stuck there, in that bank parking lot with half a dozen FBI agents.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hiding Lies"
Copyright © 2018 Julie Cross.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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