When Zoe, the five-year-daughter of a powerful Senator, is abducted, the FBI brings in Special Agent MacKenzie Graham, a forensic psycholinguist, to analyze the written threats of the vengeful kidnapper. An expert at what she does, Kenzie probes criminal minds more accurately than she does her own heart.
Working alongside fellow FBI agent John Crowfeather, Kenzie refuses to acknowledge her mysterious attraction to John, and continues to build walls she believes will protect her not only from men but God as well. John is no fan of hers, either, but they have little time to dwell on it as the case grows more dangerous.
When the perpetrator begins posting messages on the Internet, the race is on to save Zoe. Can Kenzie and John rescue the girl before it’s too late? Or will their misguided convictions cost a little girl her life?
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Words of Conviction
By Linda J. White
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Linda J. White
All rights reserved.
Mackenzie Graham leaned toward the flickering candle, her fork poised above the broiled Chilean sea bass arranged artfully before her on a square black plate. Her instincts told her that her companion was about to take the bait.
Across the table, Senator Bruce Grable cut lustily into his steak. He looked James Bond handsome, his dark hair perfectly edged in silver at his temples, his blue eyes set wide, his jaw strong. Silk palms and ficus trees separated the white-shrouded tables, giving the illusion of privacy in the trendy new Washington restaurant. "So tell me," Kenzie said looking intently into Grable's bright blue eyes, "what made you decide to get into politics?"
"I wanted to help people," he said, stabbing a piece of steak and thrusting it into his mouth.
"That's the way I see my job, too, Senator—helping people connect." Kenzie smiled demurely. She tossed her head and as she did, her blonde hair brushed her bare shoulders. She saw his eyes follow the movement. The senator was on his third marriage but he clearly hadn't stopped looking. "Your daughter must be about to start school."
He smiled. "Zoe? Yes. She starts kindergarten in the fall." Grable had been quick to pull out pictures of the little blonde five-year-old when they first sat down.
"You're sending her to private school."
"Of course." Grable took a sip of his wine.
"And you told me your older children are in college," Kenzie shook her head, "I don't know how you do it on just a senator's salary!"
"I know. The taxpayers think what we make is a lot, but they don't know the expenses we have!"
Kenzie smiled. "That's why we'd like to help."
Grable swallowed. His eyes flickered and she knew he was once again considering her offer.
"When would it be delivered?" he asked.
She reached down, pulled a bulging GQ magazine out of her tote bag, and handed it to him, watching his face carefully. "Twenty-five percent. I can supply the rest as soon as the first contract is signed."
The senator kept the magazine low, nearly under the table, while he deftly slipped out the envelope hidden inside. Looking down, he peeked at the contents, then tucked it into the breast pocket of his suit coat. It looked like he'd done it before, many, many times. "And all you need is some help with the Department of Defense?"
She nodded. "An inside track on those contracts."
"I can do that," he said, lifting his glass.
"Great!" Kenzie raised her glass to meet his.
The couple at the next table stood up, stepped past the palms, and approached them.
"Senator Grable?" the man said. Tall, with salt-and-pepper hair, the man's sharp gray suit contrasted nicely with his white shirt.
Grable turned to look at him.
"Special Agent James Anderson, FBI," the man said, opening a leather credentials case and showing it to the senator. "You're under arrest, sir."
"What?" Grable pushed his chair back and stood up, his face red, his voice angry.
"Selling influence, sir. That's illegal."
"Special Agent Toni Carroll," Anderson's partner said, flashing her own creds. "Turn around, and give me your hands. Do you have any weapons?" She looked small next to Grable, but her voice had an unmistakable tone of authority.
"Weapons? Are you ..."
"You have the right to remain silent."
Grable looked at Kenzie in disbelief. "Who are you?" the senator demanded, spit flying in Kenzie's direction.
"Special Agent Mackenzie Graham," she said briskly. "Oh, and don't worry about the tab, Senator—the director will pick it up." She threw her black shawl over her shoulders, reached down for her purse, and headed for the door. "Thanks, Paul," she said to the maître d' as she walked past him. "Jim will settle up with you."
* * *
"Great job, Kenzie," Jim said a few minutes later, standing next to her car in the parking garage. "You got everything we needed." He smiled.
The night air felt cool, a welcome relief from the hot August day. Kenzie placed the recording device she'd been wearing in an evidence bag labeled with the case number. She signed and dated the bag, noting the time, and handed it to the older agent, who signed the bag as well, establishing the legal chain of custody that would prove crucial in a trial.
"You're not going to come celebrate with us?" he asked.
Kenzie shook her head. "I've got to get home to Jack. And I've got to stop by the office and pick up some work."
Jim's gray eyebrows narrowed. "The boss giving you a hard time?"
"He still thinks psycholinguistics is voodoo science and because I'm short on street experience, he's convinced I'm not tough enough to be an agent." Kenzie sighed. "I think it's his personal mission to break me. So he's finding loose threads in my old cases and doubling my work." She frowned. "What am I supposed to do? The Bureau needed me at the Academy, temporarily anyway. I can't help it if that makes him short one agent at the field office."
Jim shook his head. "You do great work, Kenzie. Don't let him bug you."
Kenzie thanked him. She started to put the key in the lock of her dark red rental car, then froze. A spider was crawling across the door handle.
Jim's cell phone rang. "Hold on," he said, touching her arm. She wrenched her eyes off the spider and turned toward him. "Anderson. Yes. What? When?" Cradling the phone with his shoulder, he pulled a pen and a small notebook out of his pocket and began jotting notes. "OK, OK ... right. She's right here. I'll tell her. Fifteen minutes, if not sooner." He clicked the phone off and looked at Kenzie, his brow furrowed.
"What is it?" she asked.
"D.C. police have responded to a possible kidnapping, 3217 27th Street NW."
"Senator Grable's house?" A jolt of adrenaline ran through Kenzie.
"His five-year-old daughter is missing."
"Zoe? This happened tonight?" Kenzie's heart raced.
Jim nodded. "While we were in the restaurant. The Bureau's been called out. That was the case agent, Scott Hansbrough. You know him?"
She could barely breathe. "He's why I'm with the Bureau."
"He wants you there."
"Got it!" She turned back to the car and jerked the door open.CHAPTER 2
The Grables' home, a typical Georgetown center-hall red-brick Colonial, sat on a narrow street on the edge of Rock Creek Park. Kenzie, still in her high heels and little black dress, scrambled to keep up with Special Agent Scott Hansbrough. He was tall and athletic, and it seemed like she had to take two strides for every one of his. The heels didn't help.
Kenzie could smell boxwoods near the house. There would be azaleas in the yard, too, she knew, and at least one tulip magnolia. It wasn't hard to imagine the standard Washington plantings.
One ambulance, lights flashing, stood out front next to a single police car. They were keeping things quiet, Kenzie realized. Causing a big stir might make a kidnapper do something rash.
"Kenzie," Scott said, stopping suddenly and turning toward her. His sheer size would stop anyone in their tracks. Kenzie looked up at him. He wore his brown hair short, like a Marine. His left cheek bore a thin scar from a long-ago suspect's knife. Dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, he looked sharp.
Scott lowered his voice, "I want you with me when I interview Grable's wife. Watch her. See if you can pick up any deception, any hint that she might be involved." The lights of the ambulance reflected in his eyes and highlighted the intensity in his face.
"Right," she said. In a kidnapping case, law enforcement officers had to rule out those closest to the victim as suspects first. Kenzie searched her mind for what she knew about the senator's wife.
Scott turned and trotted up the front steps two at a time, knocked at the front door, and flashed his creds at the police officer who opened it. The cop glanced back at Kenzie, instantly reminding her how out of place she looked in her little black dress and high heels.
"She's with me," Scott said firmly. The cop nodded and stepped back to let them in.
Kenzie had always admired the way Scott could walk into a room and take charge. People instantly respected him. She figured it had to be some male pheromone. "It doesn't come so easily to me," she'd told Jack one day when they were jogging. "I've got to work at it."
"Special Agent Hansbrough, FBI," Scott said, announcing his presence to the distraught woman in the living room. "Parlor" they would probably call it, Kenzie thought. Mrs. Grable had grown up in Atlanta and despite her home's colonial style, she had decorated the inside with the melon colors of her childhood: Pale green, cantaloupe, and a touch of watermelon red here and there. It looked gorgeous.
"Where is he? Where is my husband?" Mrs. Grable demanded, rushing toward Scott. A thin, wispy blonde, she barely looked old enough to have a five-year-old daughter.
"Calm down, Mrs. Grable," Scott said. "He's at the FBI office. We'll get him over here as soon as we can."
Elizabeth Grable—her husband called her Beth—wore a pale pink suit, Armani, Kenzie guessed, with a white silk blouse and gold. Lots of gold.
"Why aren't you doing something? Why aren't you looking for her?" Mrs. Grable screamed, looking around. Her eyes fell on Kenzie and narrowed. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Special Agent Mackenzie Graham," she replied. Mrs. Grable stared at her as if she didn't believe her. Kenzie blamed the little black dress.
"Mrs. Grable, is there somewhere we can go to talk?" Scott said, taking charge. "I'd like to hear what happened."
* * *
The sunroom off the kitchen worked perfectly. Plush cushions covered in a gorgeous green leafy design with yellow accents softened the white wicker furniture. A few throw rugs lay on the tile floor, while potted tropical plants added a natural feel. Beth Grable sat perched on the edge of the love seat, twisting a tissue in her hand. Kenzie waited with her while Scott talked to the Metropolitan PD officer who had responded to the 911 call.
After a few moments, Scott appeared, sat down, and immediately Mrs. Grable launched into her story. "It was my mah-jongg night, you see, and Bruce said he had a dinner date with some ... some aide and said he would be late."
Chalk up one lie for the senator. Kenzie made a mental note.
"Our nanny was here, so I didn't see the harm in going."
"You play frequently?" Scott asked.
"Always on the same night?" Scott leaned toward her, notebook in hand, his broad shoulders stretching the limits of his navy blue suit, his dark brown eyes focused on Mrs. Grable's face.
"Oh, yes, Tuesday night at seven o'clock."
"What time did you leave tonight?"
"Why, six-forty, I believe. Yes, that would be right. I was running five minutes late."
Scott was establishing the window of opportunity for the kidnapping, Kenzie knew.
"How many of you play?" he asked.
"How many players? Eight. We have two alternates."
"How does the evening go?"
"What difference does that make?" Mrs. Grable exploded.
Scott waited for her to calm down. "It matters. Trust me."
She rolled her eyes, her cheeks wet with tears. Then she brushed her hair back from her face. "We play for two and a half hours, with a half-hour break in the middle. The hostess provides refreshments. We rotate bringing prizes."
"So you left around what time?" Scott asked.
"Ten o'clock. We always leave at ten." Mrs. Grable twisted the tissue in her hands. "I drove home, and when I pulled up, I knew something was wrong."
"Zoe's bedroom light—why would it be on if she were sleeping?" Mrs. Grable got up and began pacing. "I felt angry at first. I thought maybe she was manipulating the nanny again, staying up past her bedtime. I parked in the garage and let myself in through the kitchen door. I put my purse down and headed for the stairs. And then I saw ... I saw ..." tears welled again in her eyes and streamed over her cheeks. "I saw her, the nanny, lying at the bottom of the stairs, lying there ... with this thing on her head."
Kenzie noticed Beth didn't use the nanny's name. That registered as interesting. Nor did she accurately describe the "thing" on her head. Paramedics said they'd found the woman unconscious, with her head in a brown pillowcase containing a rag soaked with chloroform.
"What did you do?" Scott asked softly.
Beth sat down and shook her head slowly. "I ran up the stairs, screaming for Zoe. I felt terrified. And when I got to her room, I found ... found ..."
"... she was gone! Gone!" The anguish welled up in Mrs. Grable again, and she convulsed in sobs, dropping the mangled tissue on the floor.
Kenzie saw a tissue box across the room, got up, retrieved it, and handed it to her.
"You have to find her. You have to find her!" Beth wailed, pulling multiple tissues out of the box.
Scott and Kenzie exchanged glances. The woman's turmoil seemed real. But then, Susan Smith had shed crocodile tears over her two "kidnapped" little boys. All along, she knew they lay at the bottom of a lake. She had drowned them.
"We're going to do everything we can, Mrs. Grable," Scott said. "Let me ask you a few more questions."
Kenzie sat quietly while Scott continued to interview the senator's wife. Had they been having any problems with anyone lately? Was there anyone to whom they owed money? Had they had any workers in the house recently? What about former spouses? Ex-lovers? Current lovers? Who might have known her schedule? How long had the nanny worked for them? Did she have any boyfriends?
Mrs. Grable answered through her tears, trembling.
"Agent Hansbrough?" An FBI technician appeared at the doorway and gestured toward Scott. Kenzie guessed Scott had called out a response team.
"Yes, one second." Scott turned back to Mrs. Grable. "I'll be right back."
Kenzie tried to comfort Mrs. Grable. "All the resources of the FBI are being activated to help find Zoe, Mrs. Grable," she said, but the woman simply responded with more sobs.
Scott returned. "Mrs. Grable, we've got your phone tapped, but there's a voice mail message. I need you to come listen to it."
The woman jumped up, nearly knocking the glass top off the wicker coffee table. "Could it be ...?"
"We'll know in a second."
But it was only a message from the pediatrician's office asking the Grables to call. "Zoe hasn't been well," Mrs. Grable explained to Scott. "I thought she had the flu but it wasn't clearing up. So I took her in for some tests yesterday."
Scott nodded. "We have agents canvassing your neighbors to see if they noticed anything tonight. We'll be monitoring all your phone calls, including your cell. And your e-mails. I'll set up a command center ..."
"Just do it," she interrupted. "Do whatever you need!" She threw up her hands. "You've got to help me!"
* * *
"It could be a long night," Scott said. Quietly, other agents had been coming into the house. Through the kitchen window, Kenzie could see the Mobile Command Post, a huge RV-type vehicle taking a position in the alley behind the house. It would eventually serve as their headquarters, but for now, Scott said they'd meet in the house to strategize.
After handing Mrs. Grable off to a female agent, Scott and Kenzie moved into the dining room. "What's my role here?" Kenzie asked. Scott worked on a violent crime squad at the Washington Field Office. The Bureau had temporarily assigned Kenzie to the FBI Academy, teaching interviewing techniques and consulting in her specialty, forensic psycholinguistics. Anderson's public corruption squad had borrowed her back to sting Senator Grable.
"I told Shuler I wanted you assigned to the case," Scott replied. Tom Shuler was the assistant director in charge of the Washington office.
"And my classes?"
"He's calling the AD for the Academy."
"Hey, your boss thinks you lack street experience, isn't that what you told me? This is your chance. If we don't find the kid in the next few days, the chances of ever finding her are slim."
Poor Zoe. Kenzie had seen enough pictures of her to feel sympathy. She took a deep breath. "This isn't my field. What do we know about kidnappings? Statistically?"
"If we're talking a child predator, in nearly 100 percent of the cases, the kid is dead in twenty-four hours. But if the kidnapper is doing this for money, we have a chance. He'll make his demands in twelve to twenty-four hours. He'll let the senator and his wife sweat for a bit first." Scott ran his hand through his hair. "Evaluating any messages we get will be crucial. And our responses must be carefully worded. I don't want to mess this up. There's too much at stake. I need someone good with words, Kenzie. I need you."
Excerpted from Words of Conviction by Linda J. White. Copyright © 2014 Linda J. White. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I finished this book this morning and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Linda J. White is a new author to me (even though she's multi published) and this is definitely not my last book by her. There is plenty of action, drama, suspense and a touch of romance. Throw in FBI, US Marshals, PD, Homeland and a few others and make a team to work together to catch a sniper intent on a killing spree. The action starts almost at the beginning and will keep your interest down to the last page. Linda J. White's research is evident and her husband worked for the FBI for years. Its obvious in her heroine who is a special agent. The characters are interesting to say the least and you will get into the head of the killer. I received this book from the author due to a multi-author contest. I'm so glad I won one of her books. I definitely will be buying more by this incredible author. No one asked me to do this review and all opinions are my own. If you love romantic suspense then this book is for you.
Linda J. White in her new book, “Words Of Conviction” published by Abingdon Press brings us into the lives of Mackenzie Graham and John Crowfeather. From the back cover: There’s nothing as convicting as words that threaten your daughter’s life. You want your kid back? Do just as I say. You do not know who I am. But I’ve studied you, you and your family. I’ve been watching you. You’ve been using people. Because you’re greedy. Now, it’s payback time. Terrifying for any parent, these words are especially grim for Senator Bruce Grable, whose guilt may be the reason his five-year-old daughter, Zoe, has disappeared. Or is it because of his wife, whose words make her sound more the victim than their daughter? Or their nanny, whose silence harbors her own secrets? One thing is for sure: The words hold the clues to finding Zoe alive. And it’s up to Special Agent Mackenzie Graham, a forensic psycholinguist, and FBI agent John Crowfeather to decode the messages in time. A kidnapping, FBI Agents and a psycholinguist and those are just some of the ingredients in this very clever mystery. Get ready for an up all night thriller. Kenzie is a psycholinguist which means she can build a profile of the subject from the words he uses and the way he uses them. Both Kenzie and John are going to need this skill if they have any hope of rescuing Zoe. Ms. White knows how to ratchet up the tension so that your nerves are strung tight as you work with Kenzie and John to figure out who the kidnapper is and rescue Zoe. “Words Of Conviction” is filled with intrigue, deceit and a complex mystery. On top of everything Ms. White manages to weave a romance into this story that just captivates you. She makes you care for all the characters and their journey. This is also just plain fun and exciting as well. Don’t start this book late at night because it will cost you sleep. I look forward to more from this very talented author. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Have you ever eaten something at a restaurant that’s touted as “for a limited time only”? They’ve offered McRib sandwiches at McDonalds on a limited basis, and the pretzel burger at Wendys has been for a limited time. Isn’t it exciting when you hear that one of these items are “back”? Back in 2005, I picked up a book for the church library called “Bloody Point”. I devoured it. I couldn’t wait until the author came out with a new book……… It took 8 years for that to happen. Last year Linda White was back with her first book in 8 years called “Seeds of Evidence” and she was just as exciting as ever. Now, I have “Words of Conviction” to pour through. This is one happy guy right here. Special Agent MacKenzie (Kenzie) Graham has just finished taking down Senator Grable in a sting to catch him taking bribes. A successful win for the system and a chance to wind down from all of the intense work is interrupted with the notification that the Senator’s daughter has just been kidnapped. Kenzie must now work side by side with Senator Grable as they track down the clues to where his daughter may be and who may have kidnapped her. Using her expertise in linguistics, Kenzie works on baiting the kidnapper through an online bulletin board system. Late word from the family doctor that his daughter has diabetes ratchets the situation up several notches. Who is behind this kidnapping and what do they want? Can Kenzie read into the messages to convince the kidnapper to keep the girl safe? Do they find the girl before her diabetes takes over? Put away the dictionary and go BUY THIS BOOK!!! To say that this book is a great book is like saying the Eiffel Tower is a great landmark. This book does what I enjoy most in a great work of fiction, it teaches me at the same time that it entertains me. I’ve always been fascinated by words and word usage, guess that’s why I’ve always been a voracious reader. In the character of Kenzie, we see some of the inner workings of wordsmithing and how what we say really can tell more than just what’s on the surface. The characters in this book aren’t all Christians, but they have a regular interaction with someone that is. The story is very fast-paced, even considering that a lot of what the book is about it the waiting game concerning a kidnapping. There is enough going on in the side stories that tie everything together to keep it moving. I will say that I didn’t really like Kenzie, she seemed a bit aloof, but in the end I found out that her traits were a result of who she was and the environment she was raised in, but that with the right motivation everyone can overcome their past. Is this a "guy's book"? If you consider a book concerning bribery stings, kidnappings, motorcycles and more to be books that guys would enjoy, then yes, this is definitely a guy’s book. Throw in suspense and intrigue and murder, oh my! You’ve got the makings of a great work of Christian fiction.
Readers everywhere can agree that starting a new book by a favorite author feels a lot like coming home. That's how I felt when I opened Words of Conviction for the first time. It's a Linda J. White mystery, so I knew a few things right upfront: This book would feature some really cool FBI Agents. The plot would be a complex mystery that challenges our investigators and keeps me up late reading, and there would be a healthy amount of suspense. (Her books are called White-Knuckle Fiction for a reason!) Plus there would be great attention to detail and proper FBI procedure. This research and realism makes her books stand out on the mystery shelf, and it's always interesting to learn about something new while absorbing a story. In this case we get to meet and learn from Special Agent Mackenzie Graham. She's a forensic psycholinguist. Words and their meanings are her driving passion. Agent Scott Hansbrough likes to joke that Kenzie had her Ph.D before most people learn to feed themselves, and he's only half jesting. She's young, she doesn't have a ton of field experience yet, but she's dedicated and she knows her stuff. That's why Kenzie is the obvious Agent to call when a Senator's daughter is abducted. She can analyze any communications from the kidnapper. She can study every word, every phrase, every pattern and syntax, and she can build a profile of the subject from the words he uses and the way he uses them. Isn't that amazing? And it's not just Kenzie's expertise that is fascinating, she herself has a rich inner world and we get a window into it. Law enforcement and crime solving is not abstract for her, it's personal. Zoe's rescue matters. Connecting with the Senator and his grieving wife matters. The outcome of that family's future matters, especially as Kenzie realizes that her childhood had so many similarities to Zoe's. We have a strong female lead here, folks. And we also meet a very memorable Agent John Crowfeather. My family has a tiny bit of Indian blood (Cherokee and Cheyenne) and we've always been intrigued by Native American stories. I think Crow will be one of our favorite characters this year. His presence made this mystery even better as his story unfolds with Kenzie's. He is a confident agent and he thinks and feels deeply about life. Crow's Navajo heritage is evident, undeniable and essential to his nature, yet he ran from life on the Reservation. He has his reasons why and he bears his scars quietly. The spiritual themes in Linda's books are really well done. They flow naturally through the story, and we get to see where each person is on their journey. Keep an eye out for some excellent conversations that will make *you* think! Bottom Line: These are people you'd like to have as friends. The agents rely on and trust each other. They're a brotherhood/sisterhood and they work through their differences and combine their strengths. They have quirks too. For example, Kenzie can keep calm on a sting operation... it takes a phone call from her mom to push her buttons! :) This is my third Linda J. White mystery, and they have all been a great read each in a slightly different way. This one kept me guessing all the way through the mystery, watching each character closely. It was an FBI Agent Adventure through the pages of a book. Thank you very much to Linda J. White for telling this story, and for my copy of this book to review! I'm eager to see what adventure you send us on next.