ACTS OF HONOR TO BECOME A FEATURE FILM!
Don Jordan, CEO of Resurrection Road Media will collaborate on an upcoming feature film based on Vicki’s novel, “Acts of Honor.” The movie version of “Acts of Honor” will be produced in association with G-Star Studios, Palm Beach, Florida and film/video professionals Shane Reynolds (www.ColorEarth.tv), Earl Newton (www.StrangerThings.tv), Scott Clements (www.BrownDogSound.com) and Paul Sinor (www.ValhallaMilitary.com). “Acts of Honor” is expected to go into production in late 2011.
St. Martin’s Press
To be reissued in 2012 by Belle Bridge Books
“Absolutely riveting.” — Philadelphia Inquirer
“An excellent story of awakening love.” — Miami Herald
“Gripping and adrenaline-charged, Hinze’s plot will appeal to fans who like their suspense razor sharp.” — Publishers Weekly
“A military intelligence/romance/mystery…about a secret military hospital and patients who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or are they?) and the civilian doctor who is part of an undercover mission who’s goal is to figure out what happens to these patients and what dangerous secrets have they or have they not told. The story is very suspense filled and very well written. You never know who is telling the truth and who the good guys vs. the bad guys are. One of the main characters I didn’t have truly figured out until the second to the last page! If you like military–romance–suspense– just a great read–you have to pick up [Hinze's] books!”
– The Jackson Journal
“Utterly thrilling from beginning to end. So suspenseful you want to put it down. Hinze has proven herself a true master of military romantic suspense tales.”
– Romantic Times
“FIVE STARS. Very few authors do military tales quite as well as Vicki Hinze. This time, Ms. Hinze combines a military espionage thriller, a medical research tale, and romance into a fabulous suspense story…[that] never eases up. Acts of Honor has cross appeal to readers of romance, espionage, and suspense as an entertaining thriller.”
– Painted Rock
“This was a truly amazing book. Ms. Hinze had me turning pages and hoping that the book would never end. This book shows quite a bit of how the secret part of the military works. It proved that Ms. Hinze has a true talent as a military suspense writer.”
– Old Book Barn Gazette
“Meticulous plotting, enough suspense to keep the reader guessing, and fast pacing make Acts of Honor top-notch.”
– The Bookdragon Review
“A nail-biting psychological military romantic mystery. Hinze has captured the mystique of covert military actions in her riveting portrayal. This is one book that won’t let you put it down!”
– Affaire de Coeur
“Vicki Hinze speaks in a voice unique to the genre. Acts of Honor reads like a mystery with touches of Tom Clancy. If you seek a story with characters of depth, a different twist, tingling suspense, and bittersweet love, buy Acts of Honor.”
– Reader to Reader
“Acts of Honor delivers. If you love military romantic suspense, this book is definitely for you.”
– Romance Book Reviews
“The reader develops…a newfound understanding and a deeply rooted respect for the sacrifices of our military personnel, and their families. Hinze wears her patriotism proudly and unabashedly with an enthusiasm we should emulate. As with Duplicity and Shades of Gray, Acts of Honor weaves a military background into a relationship between a man and a woman making their love even more meaningful due to the shared admiration for family, country, and freedom. [Hinze's] books represent the good things we were brought up on, and while life can be complicated, she clearly demonstrates what should be important to us. A good, solid feel-good read.”
– Word Weaving
“I have never enjoyed a book more or found a book that difficult to put down. Acts of Honor is truly the “best” book I’ve read in a long time. This suspense filled story kept me on the edge of my seat and totally enthralled from the first page to the last. I’d love to see this made into a “movie of the week” or motion picture…it’s really that good! Kudos to Ms. Hinze for her stunning new release!”
– New-Age Bookshelf
“A fast-paced tale filled with enough unexpected twists and turns to give a reader whiplash. A compelling, military thriller that kept this reviewer, who normally is not a fan of military books, clued to her copy long into the early hours of the morning.”
– The Romance Reader
“Intense spine-tingling action. Shattering conclusion. I was exhausted when I finished Acts of Honor, it’s that intense, but it’s well worth every draining emotion that you feel.”
– Romance Communications
“Powerful, tender, passionate. Read Acts of Honor.”
–Stella Cameron, NY Times bestseller
“An electrifying, supercharged thriller.” — Meryl Sawyer, best-selling author
Awards & Honors:
Top Pick Award – Romantic Times
Gold Medal Award – Romantic Times
Silver Star Award – Romantic Communications
Daphne du Maurier, Finalist, Best Mainstream Suspense Novel of the Year
Maggie Award of Excellence, Best Contemporary Novel of the Year
Reviewer’s Choice Award, Finalist, Best Contemporary Romance Novel of the Year
As a nation, we expect much from our men and women in uniform. Often we have no idea of their trials or sacrifices, and we have no idea how much serving us costs them personally. I hope that in reading this novel, readers will have an opportunity to become aware, to understand, and to appreciate those who dedicate, and sometimes sacrifice, their lives for us.
A writer has a responsibility to weigh the costs of portraying characters and events in their natural forms against the potential impact of those portrayals. Having been a military wife for over twenty years, I consider this impact of paramount importance. For that reason, as in Shades of Gray and Duplicity, I have implemented artistic license in Acts of Honor. IWPT and Braxton exist only within these pages and some of the procedures and disciplines have been altered out of respect and concern for the soldiers who perform sensitive missions and for their families. I feel strongly that their gifts to us warrant our concern and protection, and hope you’ll agree.
“Oh, no.” Sara West looked up from her desk and frowned. “What the hell are you doing here, Foster?”
That frank reaction earned her a rare smile. “Glad to see you, too, Dr. West.” He removed his cap and sat down in her visitor’s chair. “How long has it been?”
How long? How dare he do this? He ignored her inquiries into her brother-in-law Captain David Quade’s death, stonewalled her investigation at every turn, and then just waltzes into her office as if they were close friends? “It’s been seven months, two weeks, and four days–not nearly long enough.”
Sara closed the patient file open on her desk, then slid it aside. “Now, this is a private office–mine–and not your military base, Colonel, but I’m going to be gracious and ask you once more before I kick you out on your pompous ass.” She hiked her chin. “What do you want?”
His smile faded and he scanned the bookshelves spanning a long wall.
Sara grimaced. All of the titles were on post-traumatic stress disorder, and Foster definitely would notice. He never missed anything, or gave anything away. Likely a hazard of his job, though even after five years of discussions with him–mostly discussions aimed at him with her trying to get information from him about David–Sara still wasn’t exactly sure what Foster’s job entailed.
She knew he was military. An Air Force colonel who worked with the AID. But her discreet inquires at the Air Force Intelligence Division had convinced Sara that even regular AID personnel weren’t familiar with specifically what job Colonel Jack Foster performed for the military. He was an enigma to them and, by extension, to her. An enigma currently standing in her Pensacola, Florida office–which was a long way from his office at the Pentagon–staring at her in open challenge.
Being even thinner now than when they’d last met, Sara supposed she still looked fragile to him. God, how that rankled. With her blond hair snagged in a barrette at her nape, and wearing the lab coat and navy power suit she’d worn to give her PTSD lecture to two hundred psychologists and psychiatrists that morning, she felt almost prim. But she was not prim, nor fragile. She was thirty-four, stood five eight in stocking feet, and his unwelcome presence in her office had her and her temper rising to meet his challenge. “Well, are you going to answer me? Or do I get the delayed gratification of kicking you out?”
Foster grunted and tucked his cloth cap under his belt, between the loops on his slacks. “Still ticked-off at me, eh?”
“Forever, plus ten years. Count on it.”
“I did attempt to learn more about Captain Quade’s incident, Dr. West. Unfortunately, I was denied access to his files.”
Who was he trying to kid? Foster had clout. That much everyone in AID knew–even those who had needed a little friendly persuasion to admit they ever had heard of him. “Why?”
“That’s classified information.”
Sara grunted. He was lying to her. She’d heard whispers during her last fact-finding trip to the Pentagon that Foster’s security clearance exceeded Top Secret. He could get file access. He chose not to do it.
He looked her straight in the eye. “Isn’t it enough to know David is dead?”
“No, it isn’t enough.” Vexed that she couldn’t force Foster to be honest, she stabbed the toe of her shoe deep into the teal carpet beneath her desk. “Not when David’s widow–my sister–is collecting husbands like you are a chest full of medals.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. After five years . . .” His voice trailed off, and then he went on. “Well, I’d hoped Brenda, er, Mrs. Quade, would adjust.”
Foster sounded sincere. But Sara had experienced his sincerity before. She knew better than to believe it, and let him know it by arching a skeptical brow.
A faint flush swept up his neck and flooded his face. “No progress on your research, I take it.”
He’d caught the gesture. Foster was a pain, but he was swift on the uptake. “Plenty of progress on PTSD, just not on how patients’ families successfully cope with it.” She let her gaze slide to the window, unwilling to let him see how deeply her failure affected her. “Brenda stood on shaky ground before David committed suicide. Now, in a way, she’s doing her damnedest to join him.”
“Through the marriages?”
Sara nodded. “Five in four years.” Guilt swam through her chest and settled like heavy stones in her stomach. Brenda was thirty-six, the older sister, and yet Sara always had been the big sister. Not by choice, but by necessity. Since grade school, Brenda had gotten herself into more scrapes than a teen with her first training bra. And Sara always had pulled her out. But on this, when it mattered most, Sara couldn’t seem to find a way out.
Foster let his gaze drop to his knees. “And you feel responsible because you’re an expert on PTSD and yet you still can’t seem to help her.”
How typical of him to lay out her feelings like bare bones and then peck at them. Bristling, Sara snapped. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, I would.”
Surprised by that admission, Sara pursed her lips and opted to be a little more civil, though she had to work at it. She didn’t like Foster any more than he liked her. The only thing that made their interactions possible was that they both knew it and were never hypocritical enough to deny it. “Thanks for holding off on the platitudes and absolutions.” She meant it sincerely.
“You’re welcome.” His smile returned. “Does that mean all is forgiven?”
“Not by a long shot.” She tugged at her lab coat cuff and slid him a glare. “I make it a practice never to forgive men I don’t trust.”
“Unfortunate.” He feigned a sigh that held a breath of truth.
Tired of this mousing around, Sara cut to the chase. “Why are you here?”
Foster’s demeanor changed dramatically, turned somber and serious, deepening the creases to grooves streaking across his forehead. “I’ve got a problem, Sara. A significant one.”
Worry seeped into her. In five years, Jack Foster never once had used her first name, nor had he admitted a weakness. Both unnerved her. She tried her best to bury her reaction under the sarcasm common between them. “Welcome to the human race. We’ve all got problems. That’s why we’ve got shrinks, and we shrinks have shingles on our doors.”
“We don’t all have problems like this one.” He again scanned the row of dog-eared books, clearly avoiding her eyes. “I need your help.”
Surprise rippled through her. Men like Foster didn’t need help, they created a need for help in others. God knew he’d given her more than her fair share of trouble–and nightmares. And his type never asked for favors. Intrigued, she paused to let her tone steady, and then quizzed him. “What? The Air Force doesn’t have its own shrinks anymore?”
“This is different.” He shifted uneasily on his chair. “It’s . . . delicate.”
Delicate? More likely, the matter was classified and he wanted it buried far from other military eyes. “Is this problem personal, or professional?”
“Professional.” He sighed. This time, it was genuine, and tinged with discomfort and impatience. “I don’t need military assistance. I need yours.”
“This, I know. Therapy would work wonders for your disposition. But I can’t treat you, Foster. A doctor should want to cure her patients, not to murder them.” She rolled the end of a pencil over her lower lip, then nipped down on it. “The licensing board discourages murdering patients–though in your case, it might be willing to make an except–”
“Stop it.” Foster stiffened. “We both know you’re about as apt to kill someone as the tooth fairy.” His gaze turned piercing, stone-cold. “This is serious, and only you can help me.”
“Me? Help you? After all the times you’ve refused to help me?” Her temper reared and she guffawed. “Forget it.”
“I can’t do that.” His terse tone proved he’d like nothing better.
She slid forward in her chair, laced her hands atop her desk blotter. “Look, I don’t like the military and I don’t work for it, aside from cleaning up the messes you guys make of some people’s minds. I work with five patients at a time–no more, and no less–in a private practice. I work only with PTSD patients and/or their families, and I damn sure don’t help arrogant military bastards who needlessly let others suffer–especially when those suffering others are members of my family.”
“I’m well aware of what you do and do not do. I’m also aware that many of your professional peers consider your methods extremely unorthodox.”
There’s a good reason for that.” She lifted a hand. “By traditional standards, my methods are extremely unorthodox.”
“Some consider you out in left field.”
“And some think I’m a brick short of a full stack. So what? I don’t need their approval, or care if I have it. Intensive one-on-one therapy–treating the mind, body, and spirit–works.”
Foster lifted his chin, annoyingly calm and typically arrogant. “Frankly, the professional acceptance of your methods means nothing to me. You have an eighty- percent success rate on the PTSD patients you treat–far higher than the standard–and that means everything.”
“Success is hard to dispute.”
“Yes, it is.” He stood up. His knees cracked, and he walked across the office to the bookshelf and then let his fingertip drift across the spines of the books, obviously mulling over what to tell her and what to withhold. “I can’t disclose certain things without physician/patient privilege. You don’t have security clearance.” He stopped and looked back over his shoulder at her. “You understand?”
David. This was about David. Her heart thudded deep in her chest. Low and hard. A little breathless, she nodded. She didn’t trust Foster–after five years, she had hundreds of valid reasons not to trust him–but could she afford to brush off a potential opportunity? They were so rare. “Okay.” She conceded with as much grace as she could muster. “I’ll make an exception–short-term.”
Foster turned toward her. Bars of light slashed through the vertical blinds at the window, streaked across his pale-blue uniform shirt, and glinted on the metal eagle rank pinned to his collar. “So, you’re my doctor now?”
“Give me twenty dollars.” He fished a bill from his wallet. She took it. “I’m your doctor.” After scribbling out a receipt, she thrust it at him. “Now, what do you know about David?”
Foster leaned a shoulder against the bookshelf and crossed his chest with his arms. “I know if you do what I ask, you’ll find your answers about what happened to him.”
Sara’s skin crawled. Foster’s tone and the look in his eyes swore she’d find more. Far more. “Exactly what answers will I find?”
“The ones to all the unanswered questions that made you become an expert on PTSD so you could help others like David, Brenda, and Lisa.” Foster rubbed at his chin, spoke slowly. Distinctly. “You and the Quades’ daughter are very close.”
He’d been monitoring them. All of them. Sara, Brenda, and Lisa. An uneasy shiver slithered up Sara’s spine, and her gaze slid to a photo of the three of them on the corner of her desk. For some reason, Foster must feel threatened. “Of course we’re close. Lisa is my only niece. But what does that have to do with this?”
“It’s irrelevant,” Foster said. “What is relevant is that I won’t tell you anything more about David’s situation because I’d have to breach national security to do it. But I will put you in a position where you’ll have the opportunity to discover your answers for yourself.” Pacing a short path before her desk, Foster stopped and fisted a hand at his side. “I know you don’t forgive and you never forget, but let me be clear about something, Sara. Playing games with me is not honorable, nor is it in your best interests.”
“Now why does that remark strike me as a threat?” Tight-lipped, she glared at him. “You know, in five years, I have never–not once–given you a reason to question my honor.” She cocked her head. “Can you say the same to me?”
“Our topic isn’t my honor, it’s your family’s best interests.”
Chilling her tone even more, Sara looked up at him from under her lashes. “Obviously, you don’t know me as well as you think, or you’d know warning me against game-playing isn’t necessary. Not when it comes to my family.”
“Oh, I know you, Sara.” Foster leaned forward and bracketed her desk blotter with his hands. The muscles in his forearms twitched. “I know you’re weak when it comes to defending yourself, but tougher than nails at defending others. And you’d like to be even tougher on me.”
She would. She didn’t like this conversation, or him. Yet Foster’s palms were glistening with sweat and he looked as if he wanted to heave. He clearly needed something from her–why else would he be here? But whatever it was, he didn’t feel certain of getting it, which meant he had failed to stack the odds in his favor. The master manipulator felt vulnerable, and that worried her.
“I also know you avoid relationships because you feel guilty,” he went on. “It wouldn’t be right for you to have all your sister has lost, would it? You have to fix things for her and Lisa first–and for your brother, Steve. It really got you that his wife had him committed for psychiatric evaluation, didn’t it? Isn’t that incident what drove you to become a psychiatrist?”
Sara stiffened. Foster had been thorough, and he’d investigated Steve, too. “Considering my brother is one of the most well-balanced human beings walking the earth, and his wife pulled that stunt and had him committed for thirty days because they’d had a disagreement about moving out of the state of Mississippi, yes. You’re damn right, it got to me. That there are laws on the books allowing that type of injustice should get to you, too.”
“We all deal with injustice in our own way.” He let his gaze drift to the door. “You’ve taken blanket responsibility for every injustice to everyone and everything in your sphere of influence since the cradle.” He grunted. “If I had to guess, I’d say you’re a victim of your genes. Maternal genes, or influence.”
He’d be right. Sara’s throat went dry. Foster made her feel invaded, as if she had no privacy, not even in her thoughts. She fought the sensation, determined not to let him get the upper hand. Once he did, she was screwed, and they both knew it. “Goodness. Amazing that I warrant all of this attention from you merely because I’m a responsible adult. I suppose I should be flattered.” She rubbed at her temple with a long fingertip. “Instead, I’m asking myself why you fascinate so easily.”
A tight smile threatened the corner of his lip, and he narrowed his eyes. “Actually, I bore easily. But you are your work, Sara. And that intrigues me.”
Amused him, more likely, and that grated at her.
“You’ve pushed me hard, from all sides–as thorough as a crack operative with a dozen years’ experience under your belt. At times, you’ve been persuasive, tenacious, and charming enough to have the devil caving in to you.”
No way was she falling for this. Foster used praise just as he used people. “So the devil would cave, but you were immune. Now, what am I to make of that?”
“Perhaps the devil enjoys luxuries I can’t afford.” He stared at her. “Perhaps the same is true for you.”
He knew her as well as she knew herself. The realization spilled over her, burned and branded into her mind. She hated it, too. And she hated even more that he was right about her work and her personal relationships. She’d never verbalized it, or dared to focus her thoughts on it, but she did want a family of her own and someone to share her life with, yet she couldn’t have everything Brenda had lost. She just . . . couldn’t.
Gruesome thought, but maybe Foster knew Sara better than she knew herself. Fighting not to wince, she shifted topics, heading for safer ground. “So what’s your problem?” Did she dare to hope, a guilty conscience? “Why do you need my services?”
“First, some ground rules.” He straightened and stepped back from her desk. “Everything I tell you falls under patient/physician privilege. I have not, and will not, grant you authorization to release any information I share with you. None whatsoever, under any circumstances, at any time, to anyone.”
“I gathered that.” Sara met his gaze, and saw the tension of an emotion she’d never expected to see in Jack Foster’s face. Fear. It tugged hard at the healer in her. “So what’s the problem?”
“I’ve got an officer with scrambled brains and I have no idea why or who scrambled him.” Foster stiffened, as if relieved and uneasy with revealing that. “He was on a mission–classified, of course–and went missing. Seven days later, he showed up at a secluded facility, and we have no idea how he got there.”
“Could you clarify his condition? Scrambled, how? Is he a vegetable, psychotic, or what?”
“He’s been diagnosed PTSD.” Foster grimaced. “I need to know what happened to him, why, who did it, how, and if he’s salvageable.”
If he’s salvageable? Flabbergasted, Sara leaned back in her chair. “And you want me to make this determination?”
“Yes, I do. Quickly.” Foster didn’t miss a beat. “This man has been on a lot of high-risk missions. He has Top Secret security clearance and he’s having moments of lucidity. Frankly put, he’s a critical security risk.”
Foster’s voice turned gritty, as if forced to speak, and the words burned his throat. “You have the highest success rate in the business, Sara. I need success. Until we determine the specifics I mentioned, every AID mission and operative working worldwide is vulnerable. I can’t afford to lose this operative without discovering the facts of his case.”
“The patient is an AID operative?”
Foster hesitated. “He is, but don’t bother checking on him. You won’t find any more on him than you found on me.”
Not surprised Foster knew she’d checked him out, Sara didn’t flinch. “Why is that?”
“Because he’s one of my men.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. Her white lab coat bunched at her ribs. “Your men. Who are . . .?”
Foster paused. “I head an elite group of specialized operatives called Shadow Watchers.” He gave her a chilly smile. “You won’t see that organization listed on any official documents. Actually, most military personnel don’t realize our group exists, and those who do realize it would never admit it to other service members much less to anyone outside of the military.”
“I see.” An empty hole stretched and yawned in her stomach. She’d gotten into something deeper than expected. “What exactly do Shadow Watchers do?”
“We perform a vital service in a system that requires checks and balances.”
“Could you be a little less philosophical and more specific?”
Foster answered without embellishment. “We spy on spies.”
David had worked for Foster–as a Shadow Watcher. Suddenly, so much made sense. Except for the suicide. That would never make sense. David had been happy with Brenda, had adored her and Lisa. From all signs, he had been content.
Had David’s death been suicide? An eerie feeling crept through Sara. She stared into the cool, detached depths of Foster’s eyes. Or had David been declared “unsalvageable”?
The question begged to be asked, but Sara resisted. Foster wouldn’t answer, and it could be advantageous not to let him realize the question had occurred to her just yet. She pursed her lips, tilted her head. “Serious problem.” National security implications, integrity of ongoing missions, safety of all Shadow Watchers and regular AID operatives–those were but a few of the considerations and hazards.
No wonder Foster always seemed wired too tight. Carrying around responsibilities this weighty would do that to any man. “What you’re telling me is that I cure your operative or he’s deemed unsalvageable–without your finding out what happened to him.”
“That’s correct. Certainly not our preference, due to the potential complications I mentioned, but our resources have been exhausted.”
His resources hadn’t yet been tapped. Foster couldn’t risk alerting non-AID personnel or his superior officers that his missions weren’t secure. In his world of red tape, the man had to answer to someone, and his credibility would be shot. But she’d give him the lie. “So if I don’t do this, or if I fail, then that means you terminate this operative, right?” What else could unsalvageable mean to spies?
Foster’s gaze slid away.
Sara girded her loins and persisted. No way was she getting involved in this without knowing the full scale, scope, and consequences. “Am I right, Foster?”
The blinds streaked slatted shadows across his face. “We prefer canceled.”
“Damn it, just once would you call a spade a spade? Forget your military jargon and sidestepping semantics and just tell me the truth.” Sara glared at him. “I fail, and the man is murdered. Yes, or no?”
The breath left her lungs. She’d expected it. But expecting it and hearing him admit it were totally different things. She studied Foster’s expression, his posture, his eyes. No remorse, regret, or apology. He would kill the operative. Reeling, she struggled to pull together a cohesive thought, settled for a mumbled, “I see,” and felt damn grateful for it.
“I’m glad you grasp the gravity of the situation.”
“It’s hard to miss.” Sara put the pencil down on her desk. Her instincts warned her to back off; she was in over her head. But if she did, then the operative would die. She had no doubts about that, nor any illusions. And then some other family would be in the position Brenda and Lisa were in, suffering the same hell they were suffering, wondering what they had done to make their loved one prefer being dead to living with them.
David hadn’t committed suicide. He’d been canceled. Sara knew it as well as she knew she couldn’t condemn a man to death, or a family to hell. “So who is the patient?”
Foster didn’t falter. “I can’t tell you that.”
Typical. Just . . . typical. She squeezed her chair’s arms until her palms and fingers stung. “Then how am I supposed to treat him?”
“Actually, you’ll treat five patients. He’ll be one of them.”
“Five?” The man was arrogant and absurd. “I can’t take on five new patients at once.”
“Of course you can.”
Sara bit down on her temper, resisted an urge to shout at him. “Look, let me explain something to you. In therapy, I operate from a base of trust, and that takes time to develop. Without it, I have no foundation–and no hope for success. That aside, I already have a full caseload and a healthy waiting list, so what you’re asking me to do is utterly impossible.”
“It’s possible,” he countered. “And your current patients won’t be adversely affected. You have my word on that.”
Won’t be adversely affected? Was she supposed to feel grateful he wouldn’t cancel them to get them out of his way? “Not to antagonize you, Foster, but your record with me on trust-inspiring issues leaves a lot to be desired. What’s your word worth on this?”
He didn’t so much as blink. “Finding out the truth about David Quade.”
Her throat went tight. Those were the ones. The magic words. The irresistible offer.
And both she and Foster knew it.
There was no way she could take her deductions on David to Brenda and Lisa without proof. Sara straightened in her seat. “It appears you already have a plan. Why don’t you just lay it out and let me see if I consider it acceptable?”
“Fine.” He laced his hands behind his back, strode a brisk path between the bookcase and the door. “You’ll enter a facility under the auspices of performing a short-term research project on PTSD as a psychiatrist, Major Sara West.”
“Major?” Sara grunted. “Forget it. Impersonating an officer would cost me my license, and you know how I feel about your military protocol and red-tape nightmare of a system. If I do this–and I’m not saying I will–then I want civilian status, total control, and full latitude–personally, and with my patients.”
“Which is exactly why you’re heading the PTSD research project. The only person you’ll have to answer to at the facility is the director, and, of course, to me– though, obviously I won’t be inside the facility. You’ll have total control over the patients and therapy, but not over the facility. I can’t give you that, or civilian status. Not without exposing your cover.”
“You honestly expect me to go in undercover?” She rolled her gaze heavenward, dragged her hands over her head. “For God’s sake, Foster. I’m not one of your spies, I’m a doctor. What do I know about covert operations? And what about my current patients, and my license?”
“The cover is essential.” He sat down, leaned forward, and then linked his fingers, bracing his forearms on his knees. “I don’t know who is responsible for this, Sara. I can’t take unnecessary chances with my operative, with the other Shadow Watchers and AID personnel, or with you.” Foster lifted his gaze to meet hers. “Look, you wanted me to call a spade a spade. Well, here it is. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You dislike the military and you resent its dedication to discipline, rules, and order. Yet every day of your life, you enjoy the personal freedom the military provides you.”
“Excuse me, but it’s the Constitution that guarantees my personal freedom.”
Foster’s eyes blazed. “Try exercising it without us.”
Valid point. She didn’t like it, but historically speaking, she couldn’t deny it.
“We’ve served you, Doctor. Now, we need your service. That military operative is one of many who provide you your freedom. If you won’t assist for David or for the sake of your country or under your oath to heal, then do it for him. Make it personal. Hell, it is personal. Every day of his life, this operative sacrifices for you in ways you can’t begin to fathom. Simply put, Sara, you owe him.”
Foster orchestrated this deliberately, to make her feel responsible for the operative. Even knowing it, the tactic worked. That infuriated her. “I do not owe him, or you. I haven’t asked anyone in uniform to do anything for me.”
“No, but you certainly haven’t objected to all we have done.” He thrust out his chin. “You’ve benefited from our sacrifices, Doctor. That’s a fact.”
“Sorry, this mind-set doesn’t wash with me.” Her palms were damp. She pressed them flat on her desk blotter. “The draft has been abolished for a long time. Everyone in the military freely chose their career, just as I chose mine.”
Foster lifted and then set back down her nameplate. It thudded against her desk. “Think, Sara. Whoever did this to him is dangerous. Human life means nothing to him. Do you think for a second a person capable of deliberately destroying a man’s mind would hesitate to kill you or thousands of others like you?”
“Him.” Sara picked up on the pronoun. “You said him. So you do have an idea of who is behind this.”
“Him, or her, or they,” Foster replied. “Likely they. And if I had any idea who was behind this, would I be here?”
He wouldn’t. And her deduction proved true. This was a serious problem. For the country, the operatives, and now, for her. If overt, she’d be an assassin’s target. If covert, and discovered and exposed, she would be canceled. Some choices. Either way, if she got caught, she was dead.
But what if you don’t get caught? You find out about David, get Brenda and Lisa straightened out, save an operative’s life, and you live.
And Foster owes you.
Sara rocked back and forth in her chair, absorbing, reading between the lines. “What you’re telling me–underneath all the God-and-country-and-duty talk–is that once I’m in, I’m on my own.”
“Totally. No support and, if you blow it, no knowledge.”
If exposed, definitely canceled. She looked up at Foster. For the first time, she saw complete, unvarnished truth in his eyes. And she hated it most of all. It scared her in ways she’d never been scared. Her throat muscles quivered, and she swallowed hard. “I don’t have a choice about this, do I?”
“No.” Foster softened his voice. “I wish I could give one, but I can’t. If you refuse, I’ll manufacture whatever evidence it takes to have your license revoked. You’ll lose everything, Sara. I know you won’t believe it, but I regret having to issue this ultimatum. I oppose force and do all I can to preserve freedom.”
“You stand here and say that, knowing your ultimatum will cost me everything?”
“Yes. For the greater good of a nation, I’ll sacrifice you.” He looked straight into her eyes. “You, or many, many others, Sara. In my position, which would you choose?”
She’d choose the lesser of the two evils. She’d choose to sacrifice herself. What else could she choose and still live with herself? “I’d look for another option.”
“There are no other options.”
True, or he wouldn’t be here. She didn’t want to ask, but she had to know. Her mouth dust-dry, she lashed at her lips with her tongue. “Will I be canceled?”
“The moment you become a risk. Yes, you will.”
At least he was honest about it. Still, the concept was difficult to grasp. This had been just another normal day. Now, there was nothing normal about it. “And if I don’t become a risk?”
“Then no good would be served by canceling you.”
Sara studied him. Foster was worried; his forehead was sweat-sheened. If he’d had any other way of resolving this, he never would have come to her. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but if there was a snowball’s chance in hell she could help Brenda and Lisa, then Sara had to try it. God knew, helping them her way, she’d failed again and again. Foster’s insight about David could give her what she needed to succeed. She didn’t relish the idea of losing everything she had worked for, either. Especially her life or that of the unknown operative, and she had made an oath to heal. A damn shame they hadn’t added, “when it’s convenient.”
Obviously, whoever had written the oath hadn’t crossed paths with Foster.
Okay. Okay, she’d do it. Something flashed in Jack Foster’s eyes. Something dark and evil. “No,” she said before she could change her mind. When it came to a battle between logic and instinct, she went with instinct every time. “I’m sorry. I understand your dilemma, but I can’t help you. Find yourself another doctor.”
“I can pull you in, Sara.” Foster stood up. “I’d prefer not to have to do it, but when it regards a matter of national security, I have the authority.”
Yet another threat. Enough was enough. “Look, you do what you have to do. My gut’s telling me you’re not playing straight with me, and until it tells me differently, I’m refusing. You want to make my life miserable? Pull my license? Fine. Go ahead. I’ll deal with it. But I won’t have you jeopardize my reputation and my life when you’re bent on playing the very games with me that you warned me against playing with you.”
“What games?” Foster elevated his voice. “I’ve told you everything you need to know.”
“You’ve told me everything you want me to know. There’s a difference. Look me in the eye and tell me you haven’t held out on me.”
He looked away.
“Good grief, Foster. Your body language has been screaming at me since you walked through my door. It’s still screaming at me now.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “What exactly is it screaming, Doctor?”
Sara stood up. Though a good six inches shorter than his six two, she glared up at him. “It’s screaming that you’ve got a hidden agenda.”
Foster stared at her for a long moment, as if torn between choking her and laughing at her. “Of course I’ve got a hidden agenda. I’m AID, for Christ’s sake.”
He had a point. Still . . . “You know what I mean. Don’t you dare make this sound trivial. Not when you’re talking about lives.”
“There’s nothing trivial about any of this.” Foster pecked a piece of lint from his dark blue slacks. “But my agendas are of no consequence to you.”
Was he joking or suffering from delusions? “Let me get this straight. I do what you want or I lose everything–including my license, right?”
“Simplified, but, yes, that’s correct.”
She crossed her chest with her arms. “Well, for something that is of no consequence to me, this proposition stands to have a huge impact on my life.”
He ignored that remark and dropped a business card on her desk. “You have twenty-four hours. Phone me at the handwritten number on the back.”
Sara glared across the desk at him. “I won’t call.”
“Yes, Sara, you will.” Foster spoke softly, just above a whisper, and his eyes reflected pity and regret. “Because if you don’t call, Brenda is going to marry and divorce again, Lisa is going to run away from home, and an innocent man, who has devoted his life to his country and to keeping people like you safe, is going to die.”