The Sisterhood: a group of women bound by friendship and a quest for justice. Now their male allies, the Men of the Sisterhood, have formed a top-secret organization of their own, with the same goal of helping the helpless and righting the wrongs of the world . . .
When the call comes, the Men of the Sisterhood drop everything to help their friends. This time it’s Cyrus, their four-legged hound dog and unofficial mascot. While member Joe Espinosa is driving along an isolated country road with Cyrus in tow, he catches a glimpse of movement in the woods bordering the road and notes Cyrus pawing desperately at the car window. As soon as he pulls over to investigate, Cyrus bolts out the door and leads Joe to three children clustered together—bedraggled, silent, and scared out of their wits. As soon as he has brought the children to safety, Espinosa arranges an urgent meeting.
Charles, Abner, Jack, Dennis, Harry and the rest of the crew gather at BOLO headquarters to hear a shocking story that confirms their worst suspicions. Many more children are still in danger. But in order to protect and avenge the victims, the team must use more cunning than ever before. With so many vulnerable young lives at stake, one mistake would be too many . . .
Praise for Fern Michaels
“The Men of the Sisterhood series has it all . . . Michaels manages to surprise and delight fans of all ages with her novel’s unexpected twists and turns.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars, on High Stakes
About the Author
FERN MICHAELS is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood, and Godmothers series, as well as dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over one-hundred ten million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com.
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
Demetri Pappas, doctor of veterinary medicine, dropped to his haunches to stare at his patient. There was a protocol to these visits that both doctor and patient adhered to every six months. The doctor spoke in Greek first, then back in English to see if his patient remembered his earlier teachings before having gone to live with Jack Emery.
Cyrus yipped, then yipped again.
"Fetch me the tennis ball. When you bring it to me, drop it into my hand." It was all said in Greek. Cyrus rose to his feet, all 160 magnificent pounds of pure dog. He raced to the end of the room, pawed through the toys, and found the tennis ball, not the red plastic ball, not the yellow rubber ball but the green tennis ball, and then carried it in his mouth back to where Dr. Pappas waited. He dropped the ball into his hands, offered up another yip, and smacked his paw into the doctor's open palm. He waited for the praise he knew was coming. No treat, however; Dr. Pappas was stingy with his treats, and Cyrus knew it.
"Well done, Cyrus. That was our last test. And you passed each one. Jack is going to be very proud of you. Go along, Cyrus, you have ten minutes to visit your old friends out in the yard. Ten minutes." This order was also given in rapid-fire Greek. Cyrus trotted off, allowing the doctor to home in on Joseph Espinosa, who was watching the scene play out in dumbfound amazement.
"Cyrus understands Greek?" He might as well have said, "Cyrus just returned from the moon," by the expression on his face.
"But of course. All my dogs understand my language. Every animal I breed is extraordinary, as you can see by Cyrus. His intelligence is superior to that of some humans. His stamina is equal to that of several men. He knows right from wrong. He is loyal to me and to his master, in this case, Jack Emery. He would and will kill for either one of us if he sensed our lives were in danger. He understands that children need to be protected at all times, at all costs. Cyrus graduated canine school at the top of his class of five."
"Uh-huh," was all Espinosa could think of to say.
"So, tell me, Mr. Espinosa, how is Jack and why did you bring Cyrus today?"
"Root canal. Jack had already canceled it twice, and the doctor told him no more, and the tooth was bothering him. Jack said he called to clear it with you."
"Yes, my assistant took the call. My checkups are mandatory, and I suffer no cancelations. Jack knows this, and that is why you're here. In other words, Mr. Espinosa, I run a tight ship."
"Uh-huh," Espinosa said again.
Espinosa watched as the doctor took a beef-flavored stick from a jar on the counter and slipped it into a plastic sleeve that he then placed in the cylinder that was Cyrus's report. A ritual. The doctor looked down at his watch just as Cyrus sauntered through the door. He looked around, then trotted over to the doctor, and waited for the doctor to tie the cylinder to his collar.
"Do not remove this cylinder, Mr. Espinosa. That is for Jack to do. It's part of our ritual. In addition to my warning, be advised that if you were to try to take off the cylinder Cyrus would take off your hand."
"Uh-huh," Espinosa said.
"This visit is now over. Cyrus, it was lovely seeing you again. We'll meet again in six months. Take care of your master and anyone else who needs your help. Let's have a hug, and then you can be on your way."
Espinosa watched as Cyrus stood on his hind legs and wrapped his front paws around the roly-poly doctor. Then he nuzzled the man under the chin. He let loose with two sharp yips, turned, and headed for the door. He didn't look back. Espinosa scurried to keep up with the prancing dog.
Outside, the compound was quiet. Espinosa wondered how many dogs were housed here. He asked Cyrus, not expecting an answer. Cyrus barked seven times. So much for being stupid. Seven dogs at fifty grand a pop was some serious money. He could hardly wrap his mind around a dog, any dog, being worth fifty grand. Except maybe Cooper. Cooper. Don't go there, he warned himself.
Once inside the shiny black Silverado, Cyrus settled himself, buckled his seat belt, and went to sleep.
Espinosa tooled along the winding country road that would take him back to the District and the BOLO Building, admiring the trees on either side bursting with fall color. Jack would be waiting to pick up Cyrus, he let his mind wander. He was supposed to meet up with Ted and Maggie after lunch to do a photo shoot with some gung ho new congressman who loved getting his picture in the papers. He hated puff assignments, as did Ted and Maggie. But those puff assignments paid the bills.
He sniffed and smiled. Alexis had used his truck a few days ago to pick up some beauty supplies, and the scent still lingered. He liked the powdery floral scent, whatever it was. Lilacs, maybe. He missed Alexis, and she'd only been gone for thirty-six hours. The girls were on a mission that, according to Alexis, was so hush-hush she couldn't even tell him where she was going, much less tell him what it was about.
Espinosa looked at the clock on the dashboard. He had made good time on the way out to Reston and was making good time on his return. His thoughts turned to how pleased Jack was going to be with Cyrus's stellar report.
It happened all at once. A flash out of the corner of his eye, a streak, movement of some kind. A deer? Cyrus's bloodcurdling bark, the dog's seat belt clicking open. Espinosa almost lost control of the Silverado. He took his foot off the gas pedal, slowed, and steered the big truck to the shoulder of the road. Cyrus pawed the window, then pressed the door handle. The door flew open, and he was out like he'd been shot from a cannon, sprinting, and then airborne down the embankment. He was lost to sight before Espinosa even got out of the truck.
Espinosa plowed through the brush, and before he knew what was happening, he lost his footing and rolled down the embankment, Cyrus's ear-pounding barks almost splitting his eardrums. He shook his head to clear it and then did a mental check to see if he'd broken or sprained anything. Other than a sore rear end, he thought he was okay. He opened his eyes wide, not sure he was seeing what he was seeing as Cyrus continued to bark relentlessly.
Three little kids, filthy dirty in equally filthy dirty clothing, clustered together, their frightened eyes on Cyrus. Espinosa swallowed hard. He came from a huge family of eleven siblings. He knew a thing or two about kids. First things first. "Cyrus, shut the hell up, or I'm going to call Dr. Pappas. I see them. I know what to do. Chill, okay?"
Either the threat of calling the doctor or Espinosa's calm tone or the big dog's just getting tired worked because he stopped barking. The fur on the nape of his neck stood straight up, his ears went flat against his head just as his tail dropped between his legs. Warrior pose.
Espinosa struggled to take a deep breath, the doctor's words ringing in his ears that dogs like Cyrus knew to protect children. Surely, the monster dog wouldn't turn on him. Or would he?
"Like I said, Cyrus, I know what to do. Just let me do it, okay?" He waited. Cyrus yipped and advanced a few steps, the children cowering against each other.
"Okay, kids, listen up. My name is Joseph. This is Cyrus. He means you no harm. I won't hurt you. How did you get here? Are you lost? Tell me where you live, and I'll take you home. Are you hungry?" When there was no response to his questions, Espinosa wondered why there were no tears. He estimated the age of the oldest girl going by how tall she was to be maybe seven, the other girl, almost as tall, six or so. Maybe they were twins. The little guy looked to be four, perhaps five years old. He was missing a shoe and a sock.
Espinosa tried wheedling. "Come on, tell me your names so I can take you home." The sudden thought that maybe they didn't want to go home hit him. Maybe they had run away from abusive parents. He corrected that thought. These kids, from what he could see by the layers of dirt and the condition of their clothes, looked to have been on the run for a while. All three were skinny and scrawny. They looked alike. Siblings.
Cyrus barked. Do something already.
Espinosa pondered the situation. How was he going to get all three kids to the top of the embankment without them cutting and running? Cyrus, of course. They were afraid of him. Cyrus could herd them to the top, and then he would secure them in the backseat of the Silverado and head for the BOLO Building. He'd send out a call for an emergency meeting. A dire emergency meeting.
"Okay, listen up, everyone. This is what we're going to do." Espinosa spoke directly at Cyrus, whom he knew would understand. "You herd them to the top of the embankment. You watch, and I'll put them in the truck one by one. I'll call Jack and the others to meet up at the BOLO Building, and we'll work things out there. Right now, these kids are just too damn scared to do anything. Let's do it, big guy."
Cyrus barked. At last, a plan.
It took some doing, but they finally got the three kids into the back of the truck. All three were crying now as they clung to one another. Cyrus never took his eyes off them, even for a second.
Espinosa turned on the engine, then called the team. He ended each call with, I'm forty minutes out. I repeat, this is a dire emergency. After he ended the last call, to Abner Tookus, he put the truck in gear and headed down the road.CHAPTER 2
Sir Charles Martin smacked his hands together before he scooped out a blend of his special rub for the prime rib he was preparing for his and Ferg's dinner. He was so looking forward to eating it hours from now and sharing it with Fergus, who was keeping himself busy shelling fresh peas from the garden. "I don't know about you, Ferg, but I'm starting to feel like we're bachelors again. I see more of you these days than I do of my wife. That's not necessarily a bad thing," he added hastily.
"I hear you, mate. Anytime you have enough of me, just let me know, and I'll head on down the road to rattle around alone in that big farmhouse. Is it my imagination, or are the girls busier than we are? They just finished a mission, they graced us with their presence, and then three days later they were gone again. Ah, don't pay any attention to me, I just hate not having anything to do. Sometimes, I talk to myself just to hear my own voice."
"Well, the garden is flourishing under your care. The dogs are loving that we're here all day and giving them our attention. I'm thinking if there are any leftovers from dinner I'd fix us a shepherd's pie for tomorrow's lunch. What do you think, Ferg?"
"I think that means an extra hour on the treadmill."
"There is that," Charles agreed as he washed and dried his hands. His special encrypted phone took that moment to buzz like an angry bee. An incoming text. A second later, Fergus's phone gave off three cheery notes. Both men looked at one another. Lady reared up and looked at both men.
"It would appear that our services are required at the BOLO Building. Take note, Ferg, of the word dire."
Fergus was already covering the bowl of emerald green peas he had just shelled and putting them in the refrigerator. He held the door open so Charles could slide the roasting pan holding the prime rib onto the big shelf.
Preparing dinner early in the morning was something Charles liked to do so that when nothing else was pending he could putz around with his memoirs, the very ones he knew he would never publish.
Quick as a wink, the kitchen was cleaned, the coffeepot was turned off, and the aprons were hung on the door of the pantry. "Ten minutes to change our shirts, grab our gear, and call Marcus to come sit the dogs. Hustle, Ferg."
Twelve minutes later, Charles backed the Land Rover from its parking space and whizzed through the open gates.
"Feels good to know we're needed, doesn't it, Ferg?"
"I have to admit I do like the adrenaline rush. I hope everyone can make it."
"You know the first rule, Fergus — we drop whatever we're doing, and no matter where we are we show up. No one to date has broken that rule."
In the District, Maggie had just hung her backpack over the back of her chair when her cell phone chirped to life. She looked down just as Ted Robinson fished his own chirping phone out of his pocket.
"Oh, boy, here we go! Hey, Caruso, you're up!" he yelled across the room. "You get the congressman and his social-climbing life. Do a good job." He was rewarded with a loud moan.
"Dire! Did you see that, Ted?" Maggie whispered, her eyes wide in anticipation of what "dire" meant. "Do you think it has something to do with Cyrus? Oh, God, if something happened to that dog, Jack will go nuclear."
"Not Cyrus. See the last few words. Cyrus is fine."
"I missed that. Okay, okay, let's go. Are we taking the van or your car?"
"Caruso needs the van. We'll take my car. Did Dennis check in this morning?"
"Nope. Haven't seen him. He likes to go to Dings before coming to work. If he's there, he's right across the street from the BOLO, so he'll beat us there. What are you waiting for, Ted?" Maggie called out on her way to the elevator.
Ted scrambled to his feet. "I'm trying to come to terms with the word dire," he muttered to himself. "I didn't know Espinosa even knew the word. What the hell ..."
"We'll know soon enough," Maggie said, punching the button of the elevator that would take them to the lower-level parking basement. "I'm excited. It's been a while since we had a case. The girls are busy as all get out. They're off right now, but it was so hush hush they wouldn't even tell me. Do you believe that?" she asked, outrage ringing in her voice.
Ted did believe it, but he wouldn't admit it for all the tea in China. "Have you heard from Abner lately? I called him yesterday and asked him to meet for lunch, but he said he was up to his eyeballs in something to do with some black ops and cybercrime at the CIA. That stuff is all Greek to me anyway. He said he could make lunch tomorrow. Want to join us?"
"Sure, why not. But only if we are not otherwise engaged. Remember the word dire, Ted." Ted nodded to show he understood as he slipped behind the wheel of his BMW. His thoughts turned to Dennis and wondering whether if he was at Dings he would bring some bagels to the meeting. Ted had been in such a rush this morning that he hadn't had time to eat his usual bowl of Cheerios.
As a matter of fact, Dennis West was at Dings, sitting outside at his favorite bistro table and scarfing down a bacon, cheese, and egg sandwich on a bagel. This was his favorite time of day, early morning, his favorite breakfast, and he got to spend some time doing one of his favorite things, people watching. Today was going to be run of the mill, so he was in no hurry to head for the Post. For some reason, news was sparse in the summer months. Despite the pleasure he took in watching people, what he really liked was action; he thrived on it. What he liked even more was being in the middle of said action.
Dennis finished his coffee and was about to head back inside for a refill when his phone announced an incoming text. He read it, blinked, then read it again. Holy crap! Action was about to go down, and here he was, sitting just across the street. If he left now, he'd be the first one to hit the BOLO Building. Or ... he could refill his coffee and order a dozen bagels to take with him the moment he saw the first member of the team arrive. Yeah, yeah, he decided, that's what I'll do.
A dire emergency meeting. From Joe Espinosa. Of all people. Cyrus was fine. What did that mean? He got up and headed inside, where he got his coffee refill and a dozen bagels in a sack that had handles on it. "Throw in some strawberry cream cheese and butter," he instructed, knowing how much Abner loved strawberry cream cheese.
At the same moment that Dennis was thinking about Abner Tookus inside Dings, that very person was about to enter a secure conference room at the CIA, also known as The Farm. Years earlier, he'd been recruited by the head man, whose real name he still did not know. Nor did he care. He had agreed to "help" for an outrageous sum of money with several other caveats. He could wear whatever he wanted, he could work whenever he wanted, and he answered to no one save himself and the man with no real name. The last condition was necessary so that he could quit or walk away at any time and his departure would not come with any reprisals. Should there be a reprisal, even the hint of one, Abner let it be known that he and his secret band of hackers would cripple the infamous agency.
So far, everything had worked just fine.
Excerpted from "Truth Or Dare Loyalty Knows No Bounds ..."
Copyright © 2018 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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