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Buried Secrets

Buried Secrets (Book 1--Men of Valor)
Revell, ©2015, ISBN 978-0800721268

After seven years as a Chicago homicide detective, Lisa Grant has hit a wall. Ready for a kinder, gentler life, she takes a job as a small-town police chief. But the discovery of a human skeleton by a construction crew at the edge of town taxes the resources of her department. A call for assistance brings detective Mac McGregor, an ex-Navy SEAL, to her doorstep. As they work to solve the mystery behind the unmarked grave, danger begins to shadow them. Someone doesn't want this dead person telling any tales—and will stop at nothing to make certain a life-shattering secret stays buried.

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reviews

Irresistible characters…an ideal blend of romance and intrigue.
                                                           Booklist

A terrific romantic suspense read…twists that come out of nowhere will keep readers on their toes                                                
                                                           Suspense Magazine

Hannon has perfected her skills in the adventure/suspense genre. She’s a reader favorite, and her characters prove why it’s almost impossible to put her books down.
                                                           CBA Retailers + Resource Magazine

An appealing mystery with a healthy amount of sigh-worthy romance.
                                                           RT Book Reviews

If you are looking for a fast-paced, exciting read, this is a story for you.
                                                           The Christian Manifesto

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excerpt

Prologue

It was meant to be a joyride.

No one was supposed to die.

“She’s not breathing!” Erika’s shrill, hysteria-laced whisper pierced the humidity-laden air.

Heart pounding, I fisted my hands. “I can see that.”

The clammy smell of panic overpowered the scent of fresh-cut hay in the adjacent field as we huddled on our knees over the motionless figure in the ditch.

“What should we do?” Joe’s voice cracked on the last word.

They both looked at me like I had the answer. Like I knew how to make this nightmare go away.

I didn’t.

Not yet, anyway.

I was still trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. To figure out how my well-planned life could careen out of control in the space of a few heartbeats.

The answer eluded me.

But I did know one thing. Any whiff of scandal could deep six the coveted job I was a breath away from getting after acing the final interview.

I couldn’t let that happen.

When I didn’t respond, Joe leaned across the crumpled body and grasped my shoulders, his fingers digging into my flesh like talons. “What should we do?”

I shook him off. “I heard you the first time! Give me a minute!”

I straightened up and checked out the rural Missouri road, with its undulating dips that provided high-speed thrills.

Empty.

But headlights could appear at any moment, illuminating us in twin spotlights.

If they did, we were hosed.

My fingers began to prickle.

We had to make a decision.

Fast.

“Should we try CPR?” Joe’s voice was shaking now.

I surveyed the broken body. Every twisted angle said it was too late for life-saving measures, but I pressed my fingers to her carotid artery anyway. Just in case.

Nothing.

“She’s dead.”

“Oh, God!” Erika began to hyperventilate, her breath coming in ragged, shallow gasps.

I gave her a hard shake. “Stop it! If you keep that up, you’re going to pass out!”

“But w-what are we going to do?” Her question came out in a whimpering blubber.

Disgust soured my mouth.

I hate weak women.

If Erika’s father hadn’t had the kind of connections I needed, I would never have befriended her—and I wouldn’t be in the middle of this mess.

Anger began to churn in my gut.

“We need to do something. Now!” Joe gave the deserted rural highway a spastic sweep.

“I know that! Shut up and let me think.”

I glared down at the contorted figure at my knees. I should never have let Erika invite her tonight. So what if they were roommates? So what if the girl didn’t have a lot of friends? So what if she was feeling depressed?

Those were her problems.

Except now she was my problem.

Despite the fury nipping at my composure, the left side of my brain began to click into gear. Logic under duress had been my father’s strong suit, too—on his few good days.

But I wasn’t like my old man. There were better things in store for me. I had plans. And nothing—nothing—was going to disrupt them.

Including a dead girl.

I held the keys out to Joe. “Open the trunk.”

“What?” He stared at me, the whites of his eyes glimmering in the darkness.

“Just do it.”

“But…shouldn’t we call 911 or something?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Erika seconded.

What idiots.

Speaking slowly to give my words a chance to sink into their thick skulls, I explained the problem. “We’re all high as kites. Don’t think the cops won’t notice that.” I locked onto Joe. “You were driving. What do you think a charge of vehicular manslaughter would do to your Rhodes Scholarship?”

I let him mull that over while I turned to Erika. “And a squeaky-clean state senator who’s built his political career on an anti-drug platform might very well disown a daughter who generates bad press that could cost him the U.S. Senate nomination. So much for that grand graduation tour of Europe you had planned for this summer and your fancy car.” I gestured to the Mercedes convertible on the shoulder above us, the hot engine still pinging.

Only the sound of harsh, erratic breathing and the distant wail of a train whistle broke the silence as they digested my rationale.

I gave them ten seconds to think through the ramifications.

Then I held out the keys again.

This time Joe took them.

Since Erika had collapsed into a useless, quivering lump, I waited for Joe to return to deal with the body. “I’ll take her arms. You get her feet.”

We moved into position.

“On three. One, two, three.”

We lifted together. Erika scrabbled backward as the dead girl’s head lolled forward.

I paid no attention—to either of them. I was too angry…at myself now as much as them.

What had possessed me to go along with their stupid joyriding scheme, anyway? I didn’t do foolish and reckless. I didn’t do anything that could interfere with my plans, with the future I’d mapped out for myself.

Tonight was the biggest mistake of my life.

And I never intended to make another one.

Joe and I hefted the girl into the trunk. The liner would have to be replaced—but we could deal with that tomorrow.

I closed the lid and retrieved a flashlight from the glove compartment. “We need to make sure nothing incriminating is left behind. Help me look around. And hurry.”

As I swept the light back and forth in a wide arc over the pavement and ground, they hovered at my shoulders like overzealous prison guards.

Talk about a distasteful image.

I shoved it from my mind.  

Three minutes later, once I was confident that mashed-down grass was the only evidence of our unplanned stop, we piled back into Erika’s convertible.

This time, I took the wheel.

“Now what?” Joe spoke from the backseat as I pulled onto the pavement, gravel crunching beneath the tires.

I’d been thinking about that, my mind working through various scenarios as we’d silently searched the roadside.

“Yeah. Now what?” Erika cowered into the corner of the seat beside me, her voice small. Scared. Tear-laced.

What a loser.

“If someone finds out…” Joe’s words trailed off.

I clenched the wheel.

Not going to happen.

Ever.

“No one will. I’m working on a plan.”

As the minutes ticked by, a strategy began to coalesce in my brain, the pieces clicking into place one by one.

It wasn’t bad.

Not bad at all.

And we were lucky in one regard.

Making the girl in the trunk disappear would be far easier than disposing of anyone else we knew.

“Do you still have that state map in your glove compartment?” I checked the rearview mirror as I directed the question to Erika. The road stretched dark and deserted behind us. Perfect.

“Y-yes.” Her response came out in a choked whisper.

“Get it out.”

I heard her fumbling with the latch.

“Do you have an idea?” Joe leaned forward and spoke behind my ear.

Of course I did. I always had ideas. I was the only one in this bunch who ever did. Erika was a twit, and while Joe might be smart with numbers, he didn’t have one imaginative bone in his body.

“Yeah, I have an idea.”

And as the miles rolled by, I laid out my plan.

They listened in silence for the most part, especially when I reemphasized the stakes. None of us wanted to deal with the ramifications of this disaster. On that much, at least, we were in agreement.

When I finished, neither spoke.

I waited them out.

“It might work.” This from Joe, though he sounded uncertain.

“It will work—as long as we stick together. And there’s no going back once we start down this road. Understood?”

Not that we had much choice at this point. We’d already started down the road by moving the body. But I wanted their verbal buy-in.

“Yeah. I’m in.” Resignation flattened Joe’s words.

“Me, too…I guess.” Erika sniffled.

“There’s no guessing, Erika.” I used my harshest tone. These two needed to get with the program. “We’re either all in or it’s a no-go—and we face the not-so-pleasant consequences.”

“Okay, okay. I’m in.”

“Good. You do remember how to get there, don’t you?

“Yeah. I can find it with the m-map. Mom and Dad have dragged me there every year s-since I was a kid.”

Like I didn’t know that. I’d been listening to her complain about the annual summer command performance since freshman year.

A gust of wind whipped past, and a splatter of rain stung my cheek. For once the weather people had been right. A storm was brewing.

“We need to put up the top.” The road in front and behind remained dark and empty, so I pulled to the side. “Don’t dawdle.”

They didn’t—but by the time the three of us got back in the car, my clothes were damp and sticking to me uncomfortably.

Before this night was over, though, they’d be in far worse shape.

Still, if things went according to plan, both the clothes and the incident would soon be history.

And things would go according to plan.

I’d make sure of that.

Whatever it took.

 

Chapter 1

Present Day

 

Mac McGregor had no trouble finding the site, even if St. Louis was new turf for him. You didn’t have to be a detective to figure out that a police cruiser, yellow crime scene tape and a media van marked the spot.

Pulling up beside the squad car, he scanned the construction site for the police chief of the small municipality who’d put in the call to County for assistance.

An officer stood in the distance, talking to a woman and a guy in a hard hat. He seemed on the young side, based on a quick glimpse of his profile, but he was the only uniformed presence on the scene. Since Carson was more village than town, maybe they’d had to take what they could get for the chief job when they’d established the department last year.

Mac set the brake, grabbed the notebook and sport coat in the passenger seat, and slid out from behind the wheel. Once he’d slipped the jacket on, he ducked under the yellow tape and wove through the idle construction equipment.

The trio was facing away from him now, toward a slight depression in the ground, and he stopped about four feet away. “Chief Grant?”

All three of them turned.

He stuck out his hand toward the officer in the middle.

“I’m Chief Grant.”

The woman to the man’s right spoke, her voice brisk, businesslike—and a touch irritated.

He checked out the name plate above the guy’s left pocket.

Officer Craig Shelton.

Whoops.

So much for making a good first impression.

He shifted his attention to the woman—and gave silent thanks for the sunglass that hid the slight widening of his eyes.

Chief Grant was drop-dead gorgeous.

But he had a feeling she would not appreciate his appreciative perusal.

Too bad his so-called buddy Mitch hadn’t warned him she was smoking hot when they’d run into each other earlier in the headquarters parking lot. It was the least SEALS—or ex-SEALs—could do for each other.

“May I help you?” Chief Grant’s chilly prompt refocused him.

Clearing his throat, he moved his hand to the left. “Detective Mac McGregor. Your reinforcement from County.”

She waited just long enough to make him squirm before she grasped his fingers with a surprisingly strong grip. “Lisa Grant.”

“Nice to meet you.” He shook hands with the officer, too. Like his chief’s, the man’s eyes were masked by dark glasses. “Sorry about the mistake. I assumed you’d be in uniform.”

“Or maybe you assumed I’d be a man.” Her tone was conversational, but he heard the steel underneath.

A spurt of irritation spiked his blood pressure—but he tamped it down. No doubt she’d faced her share of bias in a field long dominated by men. And he’d added to it…in her mind, anyway.

All at once it felt a lot hotter than it should for a first-week-of June morning, and the temptation to loosen his tie was strong.

He resisted.

“It’s dangerous to make assumptions in this business.”

“Yeah.” She let a beat pass. “It is.”

The air temperature seemed to edge up another degree or two.

Best to get down to business.

“I understand you have some bones that may be human.”

“We have some bones that are human.” She angled toward the ground behind her.

He stepped closer and looked down.

The empty eye sockets of a partially unearthed skull stared back at him.

She was right.

The bones were human.

questions

Discussion Questions
(Warning: Contains Spoilers!)

  1. Did you like the way this book begins? Why or why not? Did the prologue make you want to keep reading? Why or why not?
  1. Mac gets Lisa’s hackles up by assuming one of her male officers is the chief. Do you think her reaction was warranted? Have you ever been a victim of gender discrimination on the job, or know anyone who was? How did that make you feel? What did you do about it?
  1. After nearly being killed, both Lisa and Mac made major career changes and reset their priorities. Why do you think it sometimes takes a close call to make us reevaluate our lives?
  1. Despite the changes they’ve made, Lisa and Mac still work long hours. What are some important things that can fall through the cracks when work takes over a person’s life?
  1. Both Lisa and Mac have healthy relationships with their families. Describe some of the ways these are manifested in the book.
  1. Jessica, on the other hand, had a terrible family life during her youth. How might that have affected her attitudes and values? What are the advantages of a strong family?
  1. Were you surprised to discover the villain was a woman? Why or why not?
  1. How would you describe Jessica Lee, using three adjectives?
  1. Describe Lisa and Mac, also using three adjectives for each. Do you think they were a good match? Why or why not?
  1. Jessica Lee was never convicted in the deaths of Erika and Joe. How did you feel about that?
  1. If you had been in the car in that opening scene and wanted no part of scandal, either, what would you have done? Why?
  1. Have you ever known or worked with someone who was as ruthlessly ambitious as Jessica Lee? Describe that experience.
  1. Who was your favorite character in the book? Why? Which character did you find the most interesting? Why?
  1. Florence is depicted as a vibrant octogenarian. Do you know any older people like her? How do they help dispel the stereotypes of aging?
  1. Tally has a keen ability to pick up on moods. Have you ever had a pet that could do this? Tell a story about your favorite pet.
  1. At the end, Jessica takes a risk to wreak revenge—and fails. If she’d simply let it go, she would never have ended up in prison. Why do you think she took this chance?
  1. Did you find Buried Secrets suspenseful? Did you think the plot was well constructed and credible, and the characters believable? Why or why not?
  1.  Talk about your impressions of this book from a literary standpoint—its strengths and weaknesses. Cite specific examples. If you were the author, would you have done anything differently?
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