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Excerpt of Girl Three by Tracy March

Purchase


Entangled Select
May 2013
On Sale: April 30, 2013
Featuring: Jessica Croft; Michael Gillette
352 pages
ISBN: 1620611236
EAN: 9781620611234
Kindle: B00APDAYTE
Paperback / e-Book
Add to Wish List

Romance Suspense

Also by Tracy March:

Should've Said No, November 2015
e-Book
The Marriage Match, February 2015
e-Book
A Shot of Red, May 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Tempted in the Tropics, September 2013
e-Book
Girl Three, May 2013
Paperback / e-Book
The Practice Proposal, March 2013
e-Book

Excerpt of Girl Three by Tracy March

Chapter One

Three words and three numbers. Enough to make Dr. Jessica Croft's heart hitch. She reread the note the CEO had left on her desk: My office—8:45. Franz. It was already eight thirty.

What did I do?

Jessie had never been summoned to the executive suite of The Oliver Institute. Not when she'd kindled a media firestorm with her provocative articles on designer babies. Not when the series had sparked enough controversy to incite a congressional hearing. Not even when she'd been briefed before she went to Washington to testify.

She unbuttoned her coat and sank into her chair.

Lois, her early–bird, motherly secretary, came in carrying a mug of hot tea for Jessie and set it on the desk. "Chinese Flower."

During the last couple of years, they'd tasted their way through the entire Harney & Sons tea catalog and settled on their favorites. Chinese Flower was Jessie's.

"Thank you." Jessie glanced at her, then looked away quickly, too embarrassed to meet her eyes. "You must have seen the note."

"I did." Lois kept her tone positive. But everyone knew about the curse of the CEO's office, and they nervously joked about it at the Institute. Franz's office was the last place you go before the last time you leave.

Jessie had once seen a dismissed coworker escorted out of the Institute by a security guard. The poor woman had carried a cardboard box full of empty hopes, her dignity left on the desk. Jessie shrugged. "Somehow, I've earned the walk of shame."

"Or a Pulitzer Prize." Lois gave her an encouraging smile and set a copy of Jessie's schedule for the day on the desk. Despite new technology, Lois relied on the tangibility of paper and ink. Jessie understood. Words printed on a page implied a commitment that words typed on a screen could not. Evidently Franz felt the same, since he'd left his message on a Post–it note.

Jessie swallowed hard, conflicted over the possibilities. "I guess it could go either way." But not as far as a Pulitzer Prize. And hopefully not as far as getting fired from the Institute. She'd carved a niche for herself here and, thanks in large part to Lois, finally felt like she belonged somewhere.

"Good thing Franz wants to see you first thing," Lois said. "I'm not sure much else will get done today." She gestured toward the window, the creases in her pleasant face deepened by her frown. Outside, the sky hung low and gray. Pine branches glistened, frozen from the dreary beginning of an ice storm. "I'll reschedule things for you, if need be."

Jessie couldn't help but hear a double entendre. Lois was referring to the worsening weather and not the question of Jessie getting fired.

Wasn't she?

...

By 8:43, Jessie sat before the esteemed Dr. Franz Oliver, her insides all ripply and tense. She pulled her cardigan tightly around herself and took a deep breath of the chilly air in the fabled executive suite.

Burl wood furniture, museum–quality art.

Career–altering meetings.

This one included a starchy White House envoy who had introduced himself as Mr. Bishop.

"Miss Croft," he said, "the president has questions about your work."

Jessie's gaze darted to Franz—the president, as in president of the United States?—then back to Bishop, whose words wore a could–be–good, could–be–bad disguise. She sat straighter in her seat and wondered why Bishop had called her Miss instead of Doctor. Not that the title really mattered to her. Usually when someone referred to "Dr. Croft," she thought of her grandfather, who had been an MD, not a PhD like Jessie.

Bishop had settled in the chair next to hers. He riffled through a stack of papers in his lap, CONFIDENTIAL slashed across the pages in red. His balding head shifted as he scanned each sheet.

Seated at his desk, Franz loomed in front of them, built like the Tower of London minus the turrets. He dragged his hand over his gray mustache and clutched a fistful of goatee. His gaze settled on Bishop, flickering with the foresight of damage control.

In the corner of the room, an antique floor clock ticked. Jessie counted the seconds—backward from twenty.

Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen.

Franz cleared his throat. "What specific area of Dr. Croft's work concerns the president?"

Bishop cocked his head, appraising Franz. "It's her body of work more than her position on a particular issue." He licked his index finger and leafed through his papers. "But the president has commented on her recent articles about assisted reproductive technologies and..." He stopped on a page, skimmed his fingers over it, and halted mid–paragraph. "Genetic screening of embryos."

Jessie might as well have been a cardboard cutout, since the two men talked about her as if she wasn't in the room. Since the president objected to her work, was her next stop the recycling bin? She practiced her science like a religion, reconciling issues as current as human cloning with principles as rock–solid as Stonehenge. But bioethics was hardly an exact science. No matter how well she justified her reasoning, someone disagreed. Now, that someone just happened to be the leader of the free world.

Franz leaned forward, planted his elbows on the desk, and steepled his thick fingers. "Her contributions to The Oliver Report may not parallel the president's views, but they foster critical debate."

Bishop turned his attention to Jessie, and she willed herself not to react.

"Furthermore," Franz said in his intellectual voice, "Dr. Croft is the most thought–provoking bioethicist at my Institute."

Jessie's jaw went slack, but she reined in her surprise. For five years, she had finessed her way up the ranks at the think tank without praise from Franz. He had an unspoken philosophy: If you work at my Institute, you're the best. You don't need a reminder.

"The president agrees with your assessment," Bishop said.

Franz leaned back in his chair, eyebrows raised. "He does?"

Wide–eyed, Jessie looked from Franz to Bishop.

"Yes," Bishop said. "He's selected Miss Croft to fill the vacancy on his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. We've already started the vetting process. He wants to know if she'll accept his appointment."

Franz flashed her a victorious smile, but Jessie's defenses flared despite her excitement and relief.

Nothing came out of Washington without premeditation, and this appointment was no different. She'd bring a fresh frame of reference to the Commission, but other candidates offered name recognition, distinguished achievements, and longtime careers. Something more had prompted the president to choose her. Something more politically charged, complex, and knotty.

Jessie pinched her pencil between her fingers and wrote on her notepad, Arranged by my father? She stabbed the dot beneath the question mark.

"As a courtesy," Bishop said to Franz, "I'm alerting you that my team is contacting Miss Croft's coworkers and superiors, former professors, friends. We've started with her family."

"That won't be necessary." Nerves sharpened Jessie's words, the first ones she'd said since hello.

Franz's smile flattened.

"You're not interested?" The first hint of emotion tinged Bishop's voice.

Of course I'm interested.

The weight of Franz's expectations smothered Jessie, and her doubts piled on. At only thirty, the fulfillment of a lifelong goal was dangling in front of her. Because of her hard work, because of her sacrifice, or because she had her father's DNA?

Bishop's BlackBerry buzzed. He snatched it from his belt and scanned the screen. "Sorry." He set the phone atop the papers in his lap and gave Jessie a questioning look.

"Is this selection a strategy to favor my father?" She hesitated to suggest such impropriety, yet she needed to know upfront.

Bishop crooked a prickly eyebrow, his expression guarded. "You misunderstand the president."

"Perhaps," she said. "I don't know the president. But I know politics. That's why I'm here in Charlottesville—peaceful, beautiful, middle–of–nowhere Virginia—and not in DC."

"You can serve on the Commission from here," Bishop said. "Stay with The Oliver Institute. The other members are highly respected physicians, lawyers, and academics who live—"

"I understand." Jessie gathered some false confidence and faced him. "But you evaded my question about my father. Should I take that as an answer?"

Bishop blinked erratically.

Franz shot Jessie a watch–yourself look.

"If the president is interested in my perspective," she said, "then I'm honored. If he's trying to create a false family image for my father ahead of his likely nomination to the Supreme Court, I can't accept." She leveled a determined gaze at Bishop. "I've worked too hard to be used as a trophy daughter."

Bishop's thin lips twitched. "I assure you, that is not the president's intent." His BlackBerry shimmied on the papers in his lap, red light flashing. He squinted at its screen and grimaced. "As I mentioned, we've started the vetting process. We're questioning your family today."

Jessie regretted that they had to involve her family. Couldn't her superiors and professional associations vet her? She shook her head. "They don't know me."

"What?"

"My father, my sister—they don't know me. Haven't for a while." Awkwardly, she twisted the monogrammed silver ring on her finger, the familiar edges of her mother's initials pressed beneath her fingertips. "So interviewing them won't be necessary."

Bishop's BlackBerry shuddered again.

"Excuse me," he said, sounding frustrated. "This must be urgent." He held it to his ear. "Bishop." He stood, stepped out of the office, and shut the door.

Jessie risked a glance at Franz.

"You deserve this appointment," he said. "No matter who or what motivated it. Don't let pride or speculation cause you to make a reckless decision."

Lightning pain shot behind Jessie's temples. The closed door muffled Bishop's voice, but she could still hear his end of the conversation. "I'm in a meeting," he said. "Make it quick." Then, in hushed words that she struggled to make out, "Our Samantha Croft, the lobbyist? Judge Croft's daughter?"

The tone in his voice put Jessie on full alert, but Franz kept talking. "I'm confident that—"

Bishop opened the door, no longer on the phone, his face sallow. His stunned demeanor stopped Franz mid–sentence. He walked to his chair and sat.

"What is it?" Jessie asked. "I heard you mention my sister."

Bishop opened his mouth but hesitated before he spoke. "That was my assistant, the one assigned to meet with Samantha in Washington."

Jessie heard an odd tick in his voice. "Is something wrong?" Apprehension tingled across her scalp.

No change in Bishop's expression. No answer.

Jessie shifted in her seat. "Mr. Bishop?"

He stared out the picture window behind Franz. Sleet pelted against the glass, drizzling down in melted rivulets, distorting the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains into a surreal, Dali–esque landscape.

Bishop faced Jessie but avoided her eyes. "Have you been in touch with her?"

Jessie stiffened. "Maybe I should clarify what I said a moment ago. My sister lobbies for some of the same issues I deal with, but we don't associate with each other." Even though we still have a bond, and I miss her, and I hope she knows she's always in my heart.

Jessie's throat tightened. She hated to talk about Sam and her father, and she hated to think of their separate lives. "What did your assistant say about Sam?"

"It's a highly unusual situation," Bishop said. "Inappropriate for me to discuss."

"Sam's my sister. Your assistant is interviewing her in a vetting process for me, for what little he might learn from her. What about that is highly unusual and inappropriate to discuss?"

"I'm not the right person—" Bishop's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed hard.

"What is it, Mr. Bishop?" Jessie forced calm into her voice. "I've leveled with you. Please, let's be honest in this process."

Bishop nodded once. "There's no easy way to say this." He turned to Jessie, looked her in the eyes, then sucked in a breath as if it had to last him a lifetime.

"Your sister is dead."

Excerpt from Girl Three by Tracy March
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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