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Jump into the action with the second of the Maxine Decker thrillers by bestselling authors Sholes and Moore! 

Chapter 1 – Night Visitor

Big Bear Lake, Colorado

I sat up, startled from sleep. My first muddled thought was earthquake. The walls and windows of my cabin shuddered, shaking a picture off the wall. But then I quickly recognized the thunderous roar of a turbojet helicopter. A beam of bright light shone through the window blinds. Instinct kicked in and I rolled to my side and snatched the SIG Sauer from the nightstand drawer.

The chopper’s spotlight swept away and I used the opportunity to run to the living room with both hands locked on the 9mm’s grip.

From the light seeping through curtains and blinds I could tell my entire front yard and surrounding area were lit up as if the sun had kicked the moon to the curb. The sound of the helicopter landing was unmistakable.

I stood flush against the wall, gun still gripped with both clammy hands.

A rap on the door made me flinch, and I took aim. I’d already been shot twice in my life and had no intention of this being number three.

“Maxine Decker?”

Another strident knock.

“Agent Decker?”

“Who’s there? What do you want?”

“I need to speak with you regarding important government business.”

I edged my way to stand beside the door and pulled on a slat in the sidelight mini-blinds for a view of the porch. Backlit by the brilliance of the chopper’s spotlight was a man of medium height and trim build. Other than that, he was nothing but a silhouette.

“Identify yourself,” I yelled over the noise of the rotors.

“Peter Kepner. I’m with the government and I need to speak to you right away.”

“You must be out of the loop, Kepner. I’m no longer a federal agent. I retired from OSI.”

“I’m not OSI. I’m an emissary from Beowulf.”

“Never heard of it. And if you’re not OSI, then why do you want to talk to me?”

“In times of national security issues, Beowulf has executive authority to recruit CIA, FBI, NSA, even Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents. Retired or otherwise.”

“Tell the pilot to kill the light and shut down the engine. And tell anyone else on

board to stay put. Do it now.”

The man relayed my demand through hand signals and his radio. The spotlight dimmed and the rotors trimmed down to a slow idle.

I switched on the front porch light and pulled back the blinds on the sidelight.

“Turn around slowly.”

Kepner did a 360.

“Show me some ID. And remember I have my weapon pointed at you.”

“Got it. But for security reasons, I don’t carry any special identification. I can show you my driver’s license and a couple of credit cards.”

“I’m not Walmart, so you’re gonna have to come up with something better than that.”

He pulled an envelope from his back pocket. “Agent Decker, I have something for you. I’m sliding it under the door.”

I let the blinds snap back and saw the end of the envelope poke through. I picked it up and switched on the lamp on the foyer table. My curiosity was aroused by the embossed seal—the image of a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf. I remembered the ancient epic poem I’d had to study in high school.

I checked to see that Kepner was still there. Then with a zip of my finger I slit the envelope.

I withdrew the stationery, shook it open, and held it close to the light. Seeing the letterhead, I whipped around and glared at the door.

Then my eyes swept the length of the paper. At the top of the stationery was the official White House letterhead. At the bottom was the supposed signature of Guy LeClaire, President of the United States.

Slowly I read the contents, then took a moment to digest it. I retrieved my cell phone from the charger on my nightstand and returned to the living room.

“You still out there, Kepner?” I called.

“Still here.”

I did a quick Google search and came up with the phone number I needed to dial according to the instructions in the letter—the White House switchboard. When my call was answered, I continued to follow the directions I was given in the letter. “I’d like to speak with Tennyson.”

“One moment, please,” the operator said.

A few seconds later, a synthesized voicemail told me to leave a message. I glanced at the letter to make sure I would reply exactly right. “I have read The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

Then I hung up and waited.

In a moment, my cell rang. “Maxine Decker,” I answered.

“Ms. Decker, this is Guy LeClaire.”

His words were steady and unmistakable with that distinctive, crisp Boston accent.

My voice had a small tremor in it, both because I was speaking with the President of the United States and because I knew that whatever the reason for Kepner’s visit, it was of utmost importance. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“I apologize for this late-night visit and call. We have a critical matter that requires swift and efficient measures. You’re needed to participate in a special assignment. Please invite Mr. Kepner inside so he can speak to you. He’ll give you more details.”

Before I could say anything else, he thanked me once more and ended the call. I stood there a minute trying to absorb what just happened. I unlocked the front door, thankful I wasn’t the sheer nightie type, instead wearing long flannel pajama bottoms and a loose-fitting tee.

With a wave of my arm, I invited Peter Kepner inside. I decided to claim the overstuffed chair and leave the sofa to him. Even though I felt confident that the visitor was legitimate, I conspicuously rested the SIG on my lap, one hand atop it. With the kind of business I’d been in for so many years, if I’d learned one thing, it was never to let my guard down. Being betrayed by my partner a few years back had clinched that for me.

I gestured for my visitor to take a seat on the couch opposite me.

Kepner sat, eyed the gun, then looked squarely at me.

“Why the personal visit, Mr. Kepner? Why not a phone call? And why couldn’t it have waited until morning? For drama’s sake?”

Other than a condescending smile, Kepner didn’t react to my jab. “What I’m about to disclose is top secret, and I can’t emphasize that enough. As with all electronic communication, there is the outside possibility of unwanted surveillance. That explains my personal visit. And, we need to move on this ASAP. Waiting until the morning would delay our response.”

Kepner leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs, fingers laced. “You were a hell of a civilian OSI agent. Top in the antiquities black market. That’s why you’re Beowulf’s choice for this project.”

“Like I said, I’ve never heard of Beowulf.”

“And that’s a good thing—the way it’s supposed to be, Agent Decker.”

He wasn’t going to let go of the agent title no matter how many times I said I was retired.

Kepner steepled his fingers then aimed them at me. “Here’s the deal. There’s been a serious breach of security at the Beowulf headquarters.”

“Excuse me, but first would you elaborate a little more on what exactly Beowulf is? What’s the function or mission?”

“I can’t give you any more explanation until we are in a protected and secure environment. All I can do at this point is echo the request from the President that your assistance is needed to help with a potentially grave threat to our national security. The United States and its allies are at risk. I would like for you to get ready and leave with me as quickly as you can.”

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t return to my old occupation in any fashion. I’d consulted on one job after retiring and it had nearly gotten me killed. But this . . . this sounded like something critical that truly put the nation in peril. I felt my resolve softening.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t say.”

“So you want me to take off with you to an undisclosed location to help with an undisclosed mission involving a government operation I’ve never heard of? Right now, in the middle of the night?” I plastered a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me expression on my face.

“That’s about it.”

I chuckled. “Who said the government doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

His expression quickly reverted to somber and so did mine. This was obviously a no-bullshit situation.

“Just one more thing. Don’t pack a bag—no clothes or toiletries. But bring your ID, including your passport. Everything else will be provided for you.”

I thought the request to take my passport was strange, especially since he carried so little. “Why my passport?”

“This may eventually require international travel.”

I stood, holding the 9mm at my side.

He pointed to it. “And no guns.”

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sholes-mooreAbout the authors

Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore are the #1 Amazon and international bestselling authors of THE SHIELD, THE BLADE (bestselling Amazon Kindle book), THE PHOENIX APOSTLES (#1 bestselling Amazon Kindle book) and the award-winning Cotten Stone thriller series: THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (#1 bestselling Amazon Kindle book), THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, and THE 731 LEGACY. Their novels have been translated into 24 languages and are available online or at your favorite bookstore.

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