Welcome to Alison Chambers Romance

Where Danger Makes Passion Sizzle

Writings

  The Sequel to "The Secret Sentinel" 
          
You've been Waiting for!

"Prisoner in his Arms"

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Read an Excerpt below:

Washington, DC
The Present Day

    

      "You know, the White House cornerstone has never been found,” Lexie O’Shea told her fiancée Stanford Kittredge as they tramped over the icy ruts in the circular path surrounding the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial.  The recent snowstorm and subsequent bout of cold weather had left the sidewalks glazed over and treacherous.  Even the Tidal Basin was still partially frozen, the gulls treading carefully over the crusty frosting of ice and snow covering the surface.  Lexie gazed out at the water, wishing it were summer, with the paddle boats running, the cherry blossoms blooming and strolling musicians playing jazz.  Instead, it was just another cold and dreary January day, eight days before the next Presidential inauguration, an event that Washington was gearing up for in grand style.  The glowing lights of Christmas had disappeared, leaving only mounds of dirty snow and grey clouds in their wake.
“I know, Lexie,” he snapped.  “And the cornerstones of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument are missing too.  You’ve told me the same thing a dozen times.  I no longer find it amusing.”
Lexie pursed her lips together in annoyance.  “Why can’t I make you understand—”
“And why can’t I make you realize that this quest is useless.  Your father has been missing for over a month now.  All these clues you think you’ve found have only led to dead ends.”  He stopped walking and grabbed her shoulders.  “Let the professionals handle it.”
“They’re useless.  I can’t just sit around and do nothing.  I refuse to give up.  My father needs our help now.  I can feel it.”
 “You don’t know what you feel.  You’re just scared.”
 
“Why is that so wrong?"
“Lexie, we’ve spent the last two weeks scouring all of the memorials, trying to find out about some strange murders that occurred over one hundred and fifty years ago.  How can that help your father?”
    “My ancestors may have been involved.  I told you that.  And besides, you’re overlooking the fact there were also three unsolved murders that took place within the past six months, one at the Washington Monument, one at the Capitol, and one outside the White House.  My father believed they were linked to the murders back in 1854 and that’s why he disappeared.  Can’t you just be a little bit more patient with me?”
    
He released her and stuffed his hands in his pockets.  “I’ve been nothing but patient, Lexie.  And those recent murders were coincidental.  They had nothing to do with the past,” he said.  “But I think this thing you want to do tonight is just plain foolhardy.”
    
“He did call me with a tip about my father.”
    
“Nothing but a crank.”
    
“I have to check it out.  He may be telling the truth.”
    
“And you’re going to meet him at the Washington Memorial.  Tonight.  And alone.”
    
A stiff wind blew her against his chest.  The cashmere from his coat grazed her face while she battled to remain upright.  Soft and warm, just like his skin as their cheeks touched for a moment before she pulled away.
    
“I have to go.”
    
“I’m going with you or you’re not going at all.  Do you understand?”  He threw his arms around her waist as cold tears spilled down her cheek and dripped onto her upper lip.  
    
She buried her face in his coat again.  “I am scared, Stanford.  But I can’t involve you in this.”
    
“You’re not going to be this disagreeable once we’re married, are you?”
    
She stiffened in his arms.  
    
“Or I may have to rescind my proposal.”
    
Lexie bit her lip, holding her rising anger in check.
    
“Just because you work at the Blackstock Mystery Museum doesn’t make you an expert on unsolved crimes.”
    
She expelled her breath in a whoosh.  “Then don’t go with me!”
    
“Please don’t pull the guilt trip thing on me again.  That’s getting really old.”
    
“I thought I’ve been very fair.”
    
“Think again.”
    
“You’re in over your head, Lexie.  Admit it.  You’re comfortable in a very serene setting, doing your arcane research in a back room where no one can disturb you.  This is way outside your normal comfort zone.”
    
Then what did you ever see in me if I’m such a mouse, she longed to say, but held her tongue.  Again.  She couldn’t afford to lose Stanford.  He was all she had now.  Her only support system.  Her only friend.  And the financial protection he could provide her with was the opportunity of a lifetime she couldn’t afford to pass up.  Her father had little money to give her, her job at the museum was only temporary, and she longed to remove herself from the stressful rat race for a while and indulge herself a little.  Enjoy life.
    
Stanford Kittredge lived in a dream world.  He was a jet-setter, one of the beautiful people, involved with all the movers and shakers in the board room as well as the back room.  She didn’t know exactly what he did, only that he had inherited his father's money after his untimely death and was the sole owner of SKI Industries, Ltd., an international consulting firm based in ­­­­­­Basel, Switzerland.  He was handsome and wore his honey blonde hair in a short cropped style.  Tall and slim, with a weakness for sharp Armani suits and a talent for chess, skiing and golf, anyone would think he was the perfect catch.
    
Stanford mattered.  But did she?  He told her she did.  But would she matter if he didn’t love her?  Did she matter just because he said so?  Didn’t she matter on her own?  She didn’t think so.  She lived in his shadow.  She was nothing more than an appendage on his sleeve.  And maybe that was all right.  At least for now.  
    
They’d met purely by chance, in a bar late one night when she was tired and vulnerable, hungry for company and not much else.  Her friend from work had deserted her, running off with some strange guy she’d just met against Lexie’s wishes and her better judgment.  And Stanford had come to her rescue.  He’d seen what had happened, heard the argument and had stepped in afterward to soothe her hurt feelings.  That had been six months ago.  When she’d learned his office was located nearby, they’d met at the same bar often after that first night.  
    I
n the beginning, the courtship had overwhelmed her.  Doting and attentive, Stanford was the perfect companion, in spite of the fact that they were complete opposites, seemingly mismatched—Type A alpha male courting a quiet introvert with her nose stuck in the books most of the time.  Yet something had clicked between them.  Strong but tender, Stanford touched her like no one else had.  It had only grown more powerful with the passage of time.
    
Until recently.  She’d begun noticing small things at first, a subtle shift of his emotions, tell-tale glances, an exasperated shake of the head that indicated all was not quite right.  And the passion, while never a ten on the Richter scale, had always been adequate, considering her limited range of experience.  But now she detected he was only going through the motions.  It felt so routine, almost cold.  Devoid of tenderness, lacking fire, Stanford was content only with pleasing himself.  Had he tired of her already or was she only imagining it?  She was prone to imagining things—hypochondria, excessive worry—a condition that often left her wondering about her own fragile grip on reality.  
    
And he had called her on it several times, making her feel all the more uncertain.    
    
Stanford’s long fingers pressing into her shoulder jolted her into the present along with an icy breeze rocketing through her body.  “Lexie, are you day dreaming again?  Or are you having second thoughts about moving forward with this ridiculous escapade?”
    
“It’s not ridiculous!”
    
“What is it then?”
    
 She rocked back and forth on her heels, unable to find the right words.  “I guess I’m trying to do something brave for once, something right.”  She stared up into his blue eyes, partially hidden behind his tiny wire rimmed glasses, already misted over from the cold.  “I have to help him.  There’s no other option.”            
    
“Even if it means losing your life."
     “I won’t let it come to that.”
    
His brows furrowed and his white-blonde-eyelashes fluttered.  “Do you think you can control that?  Once you show up, it may be too late to back out and save yourself.”
    
She gripped his lapels and the two carat diamond engagement ring glittered on her finger in spite of the cloud cover.  “But you’ll be there, won’t you?  I do need you so.”
    
 “You’ve changed your mind, then.  You’ll let me come along.”       
    
“Yes,” she said.  “I’ve decided I want you there.”
    
 “So I promise to save you and you promise to save me if something goes wrong.”
    
She nodded.  ‘I promise.”                
     “It’s a deal,” he said and kissed her forehead.  “And I’ll hold you to it.”
 

         Now Available on Amazon.com!       

                             
"The Secret Sentinel"
 
Three lost keys to untold riches. Three cryptic rhymes. A secret society's deadly plot

When museum curator Savannah Rutledge steals her father's treasure map to impress her boss, Winston Gale, and his handsome son Eric, she unleashes a Pandora's box of horror. Her father is killed and she is framed for murder. To atone for her father's death, she sets off on a cross-country chase for the treasure that ends with a dangerous showdown in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix. To get there she and a sexy stranger, Antonio Desada, follow a perplexing trail of clues that lead them to the keys that will unlock the mystery.  This action packed thriller will leave you breathless! 
Read an excerpt below.

Purchase this book from www.thewildrosepress.com or Amazon.com

FIVE STARS AND A TOP PICK FROM NIGHT OWL REVIEWS--"I loved the characters and the perfect blend of romance and suspense.  Ms. Chambers takes us on a wild journey through the south and ends up in the southwest...The background story is wonderful and kept my interest the entire time.  This is easily a book I would enjoy sitting down and reading again.  I for one hope that Ms. Chambers decides to make a series from this tale.  The Secret Sentinel is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.  Look out Nora Roberts...there's a new author on the horizon."

FOUR STARS FROM THE ROMANCE STUDIO--
"The constant action and adventure made this a very enjoyable read.  If you loved the movie 'Romancing the Stone' this book will be a treat for you."

FROM THE JUNE ISSUE OF RT BOOK REVIEWS MAGAZINE--
    "Deception is the watchword in Chambers' thriller.  The action is fast moving and the characters intriguing."-RT Reviews

NIGHTS AND WEEKEND REVIEWS--"A wild mixture of National Treasure and Indiana Jones."

GOODREADS- FIVE STARS

5 of 5 stars
GOODREADS--"Savannah Rutledge Unlocks Pandora's Box When She Takes Her Father's Secret Map And Loans It To Her Boss For Display For A Southwest Fest And To Save Her Job, But Instead Of Crowing With Delight She Was Running For Her Life With Murder Charges, Her Disabled Father Murdered, And A Zorro Stranger Kidnapping Her!  A One Hundred Year Old Secret Has Been Released And It Refuses To Get Back In The Box!"

 

                                     

                                      "The Montezuma Secret"
                          Available on www.amazon.com

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   FIVE STARS:
"Excellent writing! Enjoyable hero and heroine! Great romance! Fast pace! I read it straight through! Author thorough in research! I lived the experience!"--A reader on Amazon.com 

FIVE STARS: "Erica Kingsley, a twenty-nine year old spoiled woman had to be taught a lesson and her CEO father planned with the help of her ex-lover to do just that! Does Ms. Chambers hold her readers captive with a book that you just can't put down and gives her opinion on where the king's daughter buried his gold! From the descriptions of the jungle, the visions fairly leaped off the pages and I can't wait to read her next!"--A Reader on Goodreads.com

FIVE STARS: "A Wild Sultry Ride! Wonderful, action-packed story! I was completely lost in the author's words. Ms. Chambers created quite a world for us to lose ourself in. The chemistry between Trey and Erica is fantastic. With curves, twist, romance and action. Take the chance, The Montezuma Secret is well worth your time."--A reader on Amazon.com 

BOOK OF THE MONTH-ROMANTIC SUSPENSE: www.ibookbuzz.com

                                  
An Excerpt from "The Montezuma Secret"

   "Up?" she pointed, unable to believe her ears.
    
Trey gave her a hard shove.
    
"Get going!"
    
"But how?"
    
"Grab the vines and pull yourself up!" he shouted over the thundering rain.
    
"You must be joking! It’s got to be one hundred feet high!"
    "Good calculation. Now move!"
    
She stood her ground. "But why?"
    
"A. There’s no other way. B. I’m ordering you to. And you’ll listen if you ever want to get out of here."
    
Trey stifled an urge to smack her luscious wet bottom and watched in amusement as she struggled to grab hold of the slick vines, then smirked as she scrambled up a few feet and then landed in the muck with a splat. Her thick mane of black hair, once so splendidly coifed, was heavily matted and caked in mud. 
    
"Again!" he yelled.
    
Raindrops, big as bullets, pelted her mercilessly. "I can’t do it. It’s impossible."    
    
"Watch the master," he said, stowing the camera in his backpack.    
    
He brushed her aside and grabbed one of the sturdier vines, then pulled himself up arm over arm
with the agility of a spider monkey until he reached the top of the cliff where he had a perfect view of the lush jungle canopy and could see for miles.
"Now you know how it’s done. Get your ass up here or I’ll leave you behind."
    
"You can’t do that. You wouldn’t."
    
"Pull yourself up, Kingsley. If you have to, use the side of the cliff to push off and boost yourself higher. But watch out for the holes. There may be spiders and bats hiding in those nooks and crannies."
    
Erica re-tied her sagging ponytail and pinned it to her scalp. Her breath was ragged, her heartbeat erratic. 
    
From above, she heard the sudden monotonous drone of a plane’s engine cutting through the rain splatter, then listened to the sputter as the motor spit and coughed, struggling to stay aloft. Wings slashed through the jungle over her head five hundred feet from her, both turbo props flaming. The plane wobbled and rolled before hitting the ground with an ear-splitting shriek of steel against steel followed by a blinding explosion of light that knocked her off her feet. 
    A sickening sensation shot through her and she suppressed the urge to vomit. The stench of black smoke as dark as blood filled her nostrils. She knew what had happened. She hoped to God she was wrong, but more than ever she wished with all her heart and soul that she was still safely home in Miami Beach and that she had never come.

    From a safe distance, comfortably positioned to witness the entire spectacle, a smiling figure breathed a sigh of relief. It had all gone according to plan. On schedule and on time. They were right where they needed to be. Soon they’d both be dead and no one would be the wiser. Untimely accidents. Marauding terrorists. Ancient Mayan curses. Any excuse would do. Completely believable, considering the dangers of the jungle. They’d just disappear. Perfect. Simply perfect.

Notorious Meets North by Northwest!  

A daring prison escape in  Mexico. An explosion in the Hague. Tourists disappearing in  Scotland and the Sahara. Reporters murdered or reported missing. Seemingly unrelated incidents. Or parts of an ingenious terrorist plot?  After her fiancé mysteriously disappears, Kiley Prescott has a chance encounter with a seductive stranger in Mexico.  But who is this man?  FBI agent Peter Rushing is sure her new lover, handsome Armand Rachet, is really the notorious international terrorist, Gabriel Roca, suspected in a series of devastating bombings overseas.  After Kiley learns Rushing was fired from the FBI, she fears he is hiding something even more sinister.  The chase for the truth takes her cross country, from Washington to Chicago, Las Vegas and San Diego, where Kiley learns the deadliest secret of all--everything is timed to happen at eleven.  Eleven men. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November, 2011.
It is ‘The Time of the Eleven.’

Read An Excerpt From "Time of the Eleven"

Chapter One
Guanajuato, Mexico, June 2011


    Golden whorls of dust spun around the bright shaft of light he had just unearthed with the rusty pickaxe.  Slow-going, he thought, grunting, as he wedged himself between the tight hole. 

    “You’ve bought Santos off, no?” he hissed between clenched teeth at the man behind him, who tugged at his heels.

    “So he says,” the other man whispered back, while crawling on his belly, “but these guards lie like dogs.  They have no honor.  We may only have a few minutes more.”

    The stench of raw sewage was overpowering and the first man through the hole stifled a gag.  Somewhere off in the distance an alarm bell sounded.  Outside, through the two foot opening he had just carved, the moon shone bright and shadows flickered off the crumbling stone buildings of the Salamanca prison.  Beyond those walls, the mountainous terrain awaited them, vast and harsh.

The man swallowed, uttered a swift prayer, then glanced backwards.  “We go now,” he said, hurling himself through the bathroom’s jagged hole, bounding into the blackness of a shadow created by the overhang of a nearby building.

    The other man followed, then ten others.  They bided their time, each watching with fitful anticipation until the moon slid beneath a dark cloud, then disappeared.  They leapt through the darkness, propelled, as if by cannons, towards the open courtyard guarded by brick columns and iron gates tipped with razor sharp spikes.

    Alarms shrieked through the stillness of the night.  Gunshots whizzed past the leader’s ear, so close one seared his skin.  He touched the burning lobe, then inspected his finger.  Blood.   Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the man behind him falling, holding his leg and writhing in agony.  The leader dropped to the ground, moving forward slowly, crab-like, on his elbows, until he had reached the fallen man.  Another man arrived to help and together they dragged their wounded comrade across the square before stopping in the shadows to catch their breath.  More shots followed, spitting gravel inches away from his feet.

They sprinted to the chain link fence topped with concertina wire, straining under the burden of the man slumping between them.  The leader fell to his knees, then ran his fingers over the fence, but found no break in the pattern.  Blood hammered in his ears.  Shit!  Where was it!  Had the guard betrayed them?  Another barrage of shots hit the ground near his feet, sending stray chunks of earth into the air.

    Desperation took hold.  Where, where, where, the leader muttered feverishly as his hands tore at the wire, splitting his skin until the blood flowed like a river, his knees rubbed raw.  Finally, he found the opening.  Bribing the guard had worked after all. 

    “This way!” he hissed, signaling the others with a hurried wave of his arm.

    One by one, they crept through the opening to freedom and the empty wilderness that lay beyond it, merciless and barren. Outside the prison walls, the leader stopped to catch his breath, waiting a few seconds for the others to catch up.  His stomach was empty, still crawling with fear like a dozen eels searching for a way out.  The men quickly clustered around him, their bodies slick and reeking of sweat, their faces haggard, unshaven and pale.

    “Soon,” he said with an air of defiance as his fist rose into the air, “Soon it shall be the ‘Time of the Eleven’ and we stand ready to fight all the challenges that greet us.”

    “Soon!” The others cried in unison.  They clasped their arms together and disappeared into the arid Mexican night.

Chapter Two
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, June 2011

      
The waters of Puerto Vallarta shimmered in the dying light.  On the beach, hordes of onlookers watched the sun dipping towards the horizon like a golden egg, ready to applaud when it finally disappeared beneath the water.  They sat in tables on the sand, margaritas nearby, plates of lobster and crab heaped high.  Some were lovers, some long married or newly-retired, all of them drawn to the same intoxicating blend of warm breezes, brilliant sunshine, and sensual Latin melodies.  The soft guitar music wafted over the booming tides as candles flickered at each table underneath brightly colored umbrellas.

      “Toast the sunset, Kiley,” he said.  “And then toast us while you’re at it.”

      “Any special reason?” she purred, still tingling from the satisfaction of an afternoon spent lost in her lover’s arms.

      “You know the reason,” he said, reaching for her hand.

      She leaned over the table and caressed his palm.  “Let me see if I can find a reason there.”  She traced the lines of his hand, marveling at the massive strength of it, yet amazed at how those same slender fingers could send her into fits of ecstasy with just a simple touch.  She turned his hand over and brought it to her lips.  She adored the tiny tattoo of the little horse emblazoned near his right thumb. 

      Armand Rachet’s coal-black eyes were as dark as his hair, the heavy mustache obscuring part of his full mouth.  He was swarthy like a pirate, delicious as a rogue.  He watched her and smiled. 

      “The tattoo,” she asked.  “What does it mean?”

      “It represents the mascot of the small town in France where I grew up,” he answered.  “A trademark.  You saw the horse everywhere.  Emblazoned on small inns, taverns, outside people’s houses.”

      He turned her hand over in his and brought it to his lips.  His slick tongue danced over her skin.

      She paused and looked into his eyes.  “I never dreamed I’d meet anybody like you.”

      “Why not?  You are a beautiful woman.”

      “I love to hear you say it…say it again.”

      “You are beautiful.”

      A shiver ran down her back as he took her hand and squeezed it.  She cherished the words, even though her brown hair and blue eyes were plain and lacked the beauty he claimed they had.  She had lost interest in wearing the proper make up.  Her clothes were baggy and outdated.  But right now she didn’t care about that. 

    “I’ll never forget this moment,” she said. 

      A rush of applause startled her and her gaze shifted to the ocean where the sun was setting, gracefully slipping beneath the horizon a few inches at a time.  Soon, it would disappear completely. 

      “Everything is perfect,” she said as the applause grew louder.  The sun had dipped out of sight, leaving only ribbons of pink sky in its wake, and in her heart she felt awe, along with a deepening love for this charming stranger she had just met.  He had given her back her life.



       The Peace Palace
       
The Hague, Netherlands

 June 2011


    He glanced around him, then lit the fuse.  The  Semtex was in place.  The dark night would give him good cover, he thought, as he studied the overcast sky.  No stars, no moon, nothing to give his position away. 

      He reached inside his pocket and felt for the small talisman.  He would drop it a short distance away just as he always had, so they would know he had been here, so they would feel fear.  He struggled for a deep breath and felt his heart flutter, then beat wildly like a rabbit’s.  He swore under his breath and gritted his teeth.  “It’s worth the lives it takes,” he mumbled to himself.  “The world must see.”

      He dashed for the exit, his rubber soles and heels leaving no trace on the polished mosaic floor.  Soon he found a safe hiding place, crouched down, and stared at his watch, waiting until the second hand had passed zero.  The bell tower at one end of the huge Neo-Renaissance building suddenly exploded in a blinding shower of splinters and stars, blood-red and white-hot, and his eardrums nearly ruptured, strained to the point of bursting, even with their protective covering.  Then the screams followed, shredded body parts shot high into the air, and tongues of flame licked the sky.  A smile creased his lips.  He had done it again.


     “You’re sure,” the police detective inquired an hour later. 


    “There is no doubt.  He always leaves the same thing behind,” the Interpol agent responded.

    The detective surveyed the destruction.  Another terrorist bomb.  Ten more lives lost, including two prominent US diplomats.  Where would he strike next?  He fingered the tiny object in his gloved hands, his stomach roiling with disgust.  It was reddish brown, edged in black; no markings apparent anywhere.

     “What does that mean?”

    The detective didn’t hesitate.  “A bay horse,” he said.  “It is the work of Bajardo.  I’m certain of it.”

 Available on Amazon.com:  "THE TIME OF THE ELEVEN"
Click to purchase: 
http://www.amazon.com/Time-of-the-Eleven-ebook/dp/B005P1A41Y/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316959264&sr=1-11

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Also on Amazon:  "STAND IN FOR A DEAD MAN"
http://www.amazon.com/Stand-Dead-Man-ebook/dp/B005SS6IU0/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318166662&sr=1-3

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Who Killed the Secretary of State?

Gunfire erupts on a Chicago sidewalk and controversial secretary of State Henry Landis lies bleeding from an assassin’s bullet.  But who really pulled the trigger?  And what were the motives behind it?  GLOBAL magazine reporter Stephanie Bosworth Thornton, the Deputy Secretary of State’s estranged daughter, fears the worst when her dying father tells her the President was actually behind the Secretary of State’s murder.  She is forced to thread her way through a labyrinth of mystery, danger and romance searching for the truth in an attempt to exorcise her own demons of guilt and betrayal.  On the way, she meets handsome Danny Flint.  But is he only using her to cover up his own involvement in the crime?  And as her suspicions mount, her editor and former fiancé, Nick Orlan, warns her to stay away from Flint.  But she wonders about Nick’s true motives and still has feelings for him, even though he has a new girlfriend in tow.  Stonewalled by government officials, pursued cross-country by unknown assailants, threatened by renegade CIA agents, and even the President himself, Stephanie is caught up in a dangerous web of intrigue that spirals out of control as the story hurtles to its startling conclusion, one almost everyone nearly overlooked.



An Excerpt from "Stand In for a Dead Man"
    

    A horseshoe of humanity began forming around the main entrance to Chicago's famed Blake-Warren hotel.  The double doors were still closed, the soft yellow carpeted lobby barely visible through the rain-spotted glass.  Metal posts with thick purple ropes stretched in front of Stephanie, where she stood waiting with the rest of the media.  Some reporters had TV cameras sitting atop shoulders, others had microphones, muffled from the rain, and pocket tape recorders at the ready, should they catch sight of the controversial Secretary of State, Henry Wadsworth Landis.  Electrical cables curled everywhere under her feet, like black snakes on the wet concrete, heavy insulation tape shielding them from the moisture.

      She didn't want to be here, but events beyond her control had dictated otherwise.  It wasn't the Secretary of State she dreaded interviewing.  It was the Deputy Secretary, her father, Jennings Bosworth.  Things hadn't been right between them for years, ever since her mother Lois had died.  Stephanie blamed him for her suicide and he knew it.

      Anticipation assumed a heavy presence of its own, adding to the damp autumn smell and sharp chill hanging in the air.  Feverish whispers flew through the crowd like wildfire, in response to Landis' latest bombshell, his questionable call for a worldwide U.S. defense policy.  Klieg lights forged a strange daylight glow flashing on and off and the buzzing of the voices around her intensified.  Rain dappled the oversized glasses Stephanie wore as she squeezed next to her ex-fiancée and former editor, Nicholas Orlan, and the GLOBAL magazine photographer, Earl Taber.

      "Well Radar, what are you going to ask?" Nick asked, huddled inside his customary rumpled khaki raincoat, stained at the cuffs and spotted with rain.

      Stephanie flinched at the sound of the familiar nickname he’d given her.  Radar.  Because she’d always been able to read his mind.  She didn’t know if she could do that anymore.  "Why is he so confident the President's response will be favorable--"

      "And?"

      "And does he feel it's the function of the Secretary of State to make policy without consulting the President?"

      "Won't Jennings Bosworth be surprised when he sees who's asking the questions!"  Nick teased, but Stephanie ignored him.

      She twisted her head to study the twenty floors of the white concrete and smoked glass façade of the newly remodeled hotel, wondering when her father would emerge.  Her heart skipped a beat as her gaze returned to street level.  The doors swung open and Secret Service agents dressed in bland gray and blue suits wrapped themselves around Landis and her father like a blanket so that only the tops of their heads were visible.  She caught a glimpse of Nick's brother, Peter, one of the hotel's security guards, bringing up the rear.  Agents continued shielding them when suddenly a mass of bodies surged behind Stephanie, threatening to squeeze her out of position.  Flashbulbs popped like lightning and the TV cameras rolled, bathing the scene in a surreal yellow glow.

      "Secretary Landis, " Stephanie shouted, holding up her tape recorder, and elbowed her way to the front of the pack with a vicious shove.  He glared at her and suddenly her father's face emerged over Landis' shoulder.  A split second later, a dozen others drowned out her voice.  Her father's eyes widened, registering shock, but raised arms soon blocked her view.  Across the street, hordes of spectators booed and applauded, hoisting protest placards and chanting peace slogans.  Reporters' questions were lost in the madness of what Stephanie feared might soon turn into an ugly and dangerous mob scene.  On an impulse, Stephanie threw her tape recorder in her purse and reached in her pocket for a digital camera, thinking she might have a better angle than Earl Taber.

      Landis was smiling and looking down when it happened, the right arm raised, acknowledging the crowd, the other clutching a leather portfolio.  Three gunshots exploded like cheap firecrackers, slamming into his body, hurling him backward.  Landis' arm dropped to his side, his portfolio flew out of his hand and splashed down into a puddle.  Blood spurted from his stomach and head.

      Still instinctively snapping pictures, Stephanie zeroed in on Landis until Nick yanked her to the ground and her legs flipped out from underneath her.  She landed painfully on her tailbone, but kept a tight grip on her camera, her fingers depressing the shutter repeatedly.  A blonde woman on her left tumbled across her lap, screaming.  Stephanie strained her eyes for another view of her father amid more screams and piles of shuffling, scrambling bodies, her mind numb with shock, her body paralyzed with fear.

      "Over here, over here, over here!" someone yelled, sharp and staccato.

      Stephanie scrabbled up on one knee, pushing the woman aside, and watched a mound of struggling police restraining someone.  Nick grasped her arm again and flung her backward on top of him.  However, the image of the bloodstained suit of Landis and two other crumpled figures lying around him near the street still blazed in her brain.  Nausea welled up in her throat, preventing her from screaming.

      "Someone get an ambulance!  Please help--someone--is there a doctor around?  Is anyone a doctor?"

      She fought to stand again and managed to peer above the crowd.  A distraught Secret Service man shielded the body of one of the other victims, who lay twitching beneath him, blood dribbling from his mouth.  She struggled to her feet for a closer look, her stockings bloodied, wet and torn from scraping the sidewalk.  A wall of bodies still blocked her path and she began shouting her father's name.  A reporter was standing over Landis snapping pictures.  Stephanie pocketed her camera, unwilling to capture any more of the gruesome scene.  Another Secret Service agent placed a towel beneath Landis’ head, applying pressure to the gaping wound on his left temple.  A dazed group of strangers circled the other victim curled at his feet.

      Her father.

      Stephanie screamed and lunged into the crowd, struggling to reach her father's side, but bounced back, bony elbows and knees roughly jostling her, poking her ribs and jabbing her kidneys.  When she recovered, she glimpsed Bosworth’s spread-eagled legs moving slightly while shaky fingers touched the pool of blood spreading across his chest. 

      Her father, feebly motioning to one of the agents.

      She searched for Nick, but he'd already disappeared into the crowd.  Her hysteria rose.  Twenty feet away, ten policemen restrained their lone suspect.

      "Get a car!  Get a car!"  One of them motioned across the street.  "Bring it over here!"

      The desperate scuffle continued, the alleged assassin still wrestling and straining to escape the police, and Earl Taber got it all on film.  Nearly two minutes elapsed before the passage to the street cleared.  Red flashing lights screeched to a halt in front of the hotel, accompanied by a siren's haunting wail.  The rear door of the police squad car swung open.  The circle of ten men guarding their quarry shuffled their feet, moving as one.  Before the door slammed shut, Stephanie memorized the suspect's description:  black thatch of hair, hollow cheeks, a yellow shirt, slight build.  Then the car sped away, siren squealing.

      She stood on tiptoe, straining to see over the mash of bodies still blocking her view.  The she caught the face of the last victim.  Oh God, she thought. No!

      Peter Orlan, Nick's brother. 

      Men in dark suits tended to Landis' motionless body.  Stephanie's eyes desperately sought Nick's.  Struggling at the edge of the crowd, she began screaming in his direction, but he couldn't hear her over the pandemonium and was only driven back further.  Stephanie attacked the bodies in front of her again, shoving them away with her elbow.  A siren shrieked, an ambulance rumbled up onto the sidewalk and, after a cursory examination of Landis’ wounds, white-coated paramedics loaded him onto a gurney and rolled him inside.  From force of habit, she mentally recorded her fleeting impressions:  standing on blood, left eye blown away, Secret Service agent's hand dripping, his sleeve bright red.

      She crouched down, her reporter's instinct operating on automatic pilot, palming the ground for her purse and a notebook and pen.  Once the crowd thinned, with dozens of reporters chasing after the speeding ambulance carrying Landis, she sprinted over to her father, his face chalk-white against the wet cement.  Other reporters shouldered her for position, but she had the best view.  Hands brushed and pawed her on their way to hotel telephones.  Others sent furious text messages on their Blackberries and iPhones. 

      "How is he?" Stephanie shouted.

      The agent fell silent.  "Christ," he said to himself.  "Good Christ."

      "What?"

      "Good Christ!" he screamed.  "Do you want that for publication?"

      "I'm his daughter!" she yelled and knelt in the bloody puddle next to him.

      "You'll be fine, Dad.  Just hang on," she said.  Where the hell were the paramedics, she thought, craning her neck.  "Be still."  Her stomach dipped and rolled, watching him struggling to breathe.  "Who did this?" she whispered, bending over his face.

      "Pearson," her father mumbled in a raspy voice and took her hand.  "Pearson found out.  Get him!"

      She recoiled in horror.  The President?  Her left hand shook, unable to spell out what her mind dictated, as she wrote down his exact words.  Her stomach lurched and she felt hot, couldn't swallow, couldn't breathe.  When she looked back, her father's eyes had glazed over and his fingers had fallen limp against her palm, the red stain spreading slowly across his stomach.  One vicious security guard catapulted her backward into a batch of TV cameraman when she tried to stand. 

      "What hospital is he being taken to?" someone screamed as Stephanie fought to regain her balance and her senses after a sharp blow to the head from a heavy camera lens.  Another ambulance siren wailed in the distance, growing louder, its tires screeching.

      Seconds later, paramedics crouched over her father, pulling instruments out of a long silver case, administering injections and pressure dressings until a rolling cot arrived.  When they lifted him, his extremities bobbed in every direction, rubbery and uncontrollable.  After they wheeled away the stretcher, dark stains marked the sidewalk.

      She stumbled after the paramedics.  "Let me go along.  I'm his daughter!"  Secret Service agents pushed her away, their faces grim and skeptical.  One reached for his gun and she quickly backed off.  Other paramedics tended to Peter, who remained motionless, then loaded him onto another gurney.

      "We're taking him to Warren University Hospital, that's the closest," one of the paramedics shouted.

      Stephanie whirled around.

      Nick stood on the outer fringe of the crowd and motioned to her to follow them to the hospital.

      Stephanie shook her head and pointed to the departing ambulance containing her father and Nick's brother.  "My father's been hit!  Peter too!" she yelled.  "Peter!"

      The sirens and idling motors drowned out her screams.  The crowd closed in again, jostling her arms and legs, knocking her glasses off and she crouched down quickly, snatching them up from the sidewalk.  The noise intensified.  Voices slashed through her eardrums.  Nick mouthed the words "Cook County Building” before vanishing into the crowd.  He hadn't understood.  She doubled over, shoulders heaving, and vomited on the sidewalk.

      Her mind reeled at the sickening possibilities.  Guilt overwhelmed her.  If only she had paid more attention earlier, if only she had taken the time, maybe she could have prevented this.  She blamed herself.  Maybe she hadn't taken the proper precautions because down deep, she really wanted her father to die, as punishment for what he had done to her beloved mother so long ago.

      Had it only been this afternoon when the phone rang?  It seemed like she had been a different person then…

      

 

 

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