What Lies Behind

What Lies Behind

by J. T. Ellison

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Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author J. T. Ellison delivers another riveting novel featuring the incomparable Dr. Samantha Owens.

Waking to sirens in the night is hardly unusual for Samantha Owens. No longer a medical examiner, she doesn't lose sleep over them, but a local police investigation has her curious. When her homicide detective friend, Darren Fletcher, invites her to look over the evidence, she realizes the crime scene has been staged. What seems to be a clear case of murder/suicide–a crime of passion–is anything but. The discovery of toxic substances in hidden vials indicates that something much more sinister is at play...

Fletch and Sam are quickly summoned to a meeting at the State Department. High–level officials are interested in what they know and seem to be keeping secrets of their own. As the threat of bioterrorism grows, Sam's boyfriend, Xander Whitfield, is in the line of fire.

Unsure who to trust, Sam and Fletch find themselves up against DC's most powerful people. No one is who they appear to be and the danger escalates by the minute. It's Sam's most complex case yet and the terrifying reality is beyond anything she could have imagined.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781488050169
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 11/12/2018
Series: A Samantha Owens Novel , #4
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 33,903
File size: 661 KB

About the Author

J.T. Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series, including All the Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss and The Cold Room.

She is a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College and received her master's degree from George Washington University. She was a presidential appointee and worked in the White House and the Department of Commerce before moving into the private sector. As a financial analyst and marketing director, she worked for several defense and aerospace contractors.

After moving to Nashville, Ellison began research on a passion: forensics and crime. She has worked with the Metro Nashville Police Department, the FBI and various other law enforcement organizations to research her books.

Ellison is a member of several writing organizations, including International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

She lives in Nashville with her husband and a poorly trained cat.

Read an Excerpt

Georgetown Washington, D.C.
Tuesday morning


They'd drunk too much, gotten too loud, too boisterous. Mr. Smith's kicked them out a few minutes past midnight, and they stumbled into the Georgetown night, dragged themselves up Wisconsin and loped across M Street, tripping and clutching each other to stay upright, cackling hysterically, their heels an incoherent tattoo on the sidewalks. People watched them, their antics greeted with amusement or derision, depending on the mood of the observers.

"I can't go on, I can't. Stop, Emma, please, stop."

Emma, ponytailed, blonde and lanky, fiddled with her tights with one hand, tugged on Cameron's arm. "I gotta pee. We can't stop now, Cam, it's just a few more blocks."

"My feet hurt. And my head." Cameron slipped, landed hard against the plate-glass window of Starbucks. "Bump!" That set them off again, the giggles turning into guffaws.

Emma yanked on the door to the darkened store. "Nuts. They're closed."

"Why are they closed?" Cameron whined.

"'Cause it's midnight. The witching hour. And you're not a witch, you're just a bitch. Tommy's place is just ahead. Can you make it there?"

Cameron squeezed her eyes closed, chanting the rhyme under her breath. "Not a witch, just a bitch, not a witch, just a bitch."

"You really are screwed up, aren't you? Come on." Emma dragged her to her feet, off down the darkened street.

Georgetown never truly sleeps. Even when the bars close, there are still people about—joggers, the ubiquitous construction workers, musicians and homeless, dog walkers and students, lovers and mistresses. A stew of incessant liveliness, perfect for the college-aged and the cuckolded. The romantics and the hardened.

They made it a block before Cameron stopped dead. She grabbed Emma's arm, nails digging into the soft flesh. "Did you hear that?"

Emma strained, but one block up from M Street and two blocks over, all she heard was the tittering of the night birds and the whooshing of tires on pavement, maybe some faint, masked music. "Hear what?"

Cameron shook her head. "I thought I heard something. Someone shouted. I'm drunk. Where are we?"

Emma glanced at the sign on the corner. The numbers and letters weaved together. She shut one eye and the familiar N floated into range.

"We're on N Street. One more block up. Come on already."

They started off again. "How are you going to get in? I thought you two broke up. Didn't he take back his key?"

"We're not broken up. Just on a break. There's a difference. He's so busy now, with school and working. He just took on another new project. He needed some space. I understand."

"Oh. I see. You understand why you're not important to him anymore. Big of you."

"Bitch." But there was no heat behind the word.

She heard footsteps. Straightened in time to see a jogger cross the street in front of them, legs pounding out a steady rhythm. Chick could move. Emma wasn't a runner. She played tennis, quite well, but the idea of running for the sake of running was boring to her. At least on the courts there was a tangible goal.

She realized she was alone, looked over her shoulder. Cameron had stopped again, was leaning woozily on a trash can.

"Come on," Emma said, her tongue getting stuck on the words. She bit back a giggle and held out her hand. "We're almost there."

"Gotta rest."

"Fooocuuuus, Cameron. Don't make me leave you behind in the dark, all alone. Whooooo. Big nasty dark gonna eat you alive."

Cameron flipped Emma the bird and stumbled back to her feet. "Lesgo."

A car turned the corner, engine purring as it disappeared behind them. Now they were truly alone.

One block, turn right. Twenty steps more, then the basement apartment railing appeared on her left. Emma fished the key out of her bra. She'd known they were going to be drunk tonight. Thought a little booty call would be appropriate, even though she and Tommy had, in essence, broken up. Not because he didn't dig her; he did, she knew it. It was just school was tough on him.

She knew Tommy would be home studying, late into the night, working on some random epithelial cell or DNA splicing theory, as he always seemed to be. Medical school was hard. Hell, undergrad was hard. Harder than she'd expected. Life was hard, too, especially for a pretty young thing with just enough smarts to make it into Georgetown, but maybe not quite enough to stay there. Her parents would freak if she failed out.

Tomorrow, I'll stop drinking and partying and really study.


But for tonight, everyone needed to blow off some steam, get a little nookie. Sex was good for the brain. Raised the levels of oxytocin, serotonin, melatonin, all those tonins Tommy liked to talk about.

Emma shook her hair free of its ponytail so it would fall in a sultry mass about her shoulders, sloppily freshened her lip gloss, licked her lips and shot Cameron a look. Cam seemed like she was about to pass out. Her eyes were half-shut, the smile on her face dreamy and stupid.

Emma slipped as she went down the five stairs to Tommy's front door. She grabbed the railing with both arms, clung on, the metal biting cruelly into her rib cage. She managed not to drop the key, but one sky-high platform peep-toe clattered toward the door, hitting it with a thump.

"Whoops," she said, laughing. Cameron hooted like it was the best trick she'd ever seen.

Emma put a finger to her lips. "Shhh. God, you're gonna wake the whole street." She righted herself with dignity, squared her shoulders and put the key in the lock.

"Aren't you going to knock?" Cameron asked.

"Why?" Emma replied, jiggling the key, then turning the knob. The door swung open into darkness.

"Darn it. He's asleep," Emma said, looking back over her shoulder. "Better be quiet, Cam. Can you be quiet?"

"Go in, for Chrissakes. I need a drink."

Emma took off her other heel and stepped inside, the straps looped on her index finger. It was dark, so dark she couldn't see anything. She ran her hand along the wall by the door, found the light switch. The lamp in the foyer cast its yellow glow into the hallway. Tommy's bike was leaning against the wall. Careful not to knock it over, she pulled Cameron inside and shut the door. Made her way down the hall into the living room.

Turned on the light. Saw red, and it took a moment for reality to penetrate her margarita-fogged brain.


Not red.


Blood, everywhere. The sofa, the floor, the wall by the two-seater bar.

Emma stood frozen, unable to move. Cameron was busy getting sick behind her, gagging and choking. Only then did the smell of the blood hit her, meaty and raw, like steaks left too long in the refrigerator, their surface shiny and green.

Want to run, want to hide, want to go away.

Something kept her rooted to the spot. "Tommy?" she called.

There was no answer.

"Stay here," she told Cameron, an unnecessary direction. Cam was on her hands and knees, moaning, trying and failing to scrabble backward away from the living room and the vomit. She bumped up against the hallway wall and ducked her head into her hands, eyes squeezed tightly shut. She wasn't going to be of any help.

Careful to avoid stepping in the blood, Emma moved along the edges of the living room. Tommy's bedroom was down the hall. It was dark. There were no sounds but Cameron's low keening, which sent shivers down Emma's spine.

"Please," she said, uncertain to whom the plea was directed. Please don't let this be Tommy's blood. Please don't let him be hurt. Please don't let him be dead. Please please please please please.

His door was shut. She steeled herself, took two deep breaths. The smell was worse here, tighter, fresher. Almost alive in its awfulness.

She opened the door, flipped on the light.


Over and over and over again. Screams.

* * *



The wailing jolted Dr. Samantha Owens from sleep. She listened for a moment, heard them growing louder. They were close. Too close. Several of them, caterwauling through the night as they came near. Instead of peaking and fading, blue lights suddenly flashed on the opposite wall of her bedroom, rotating frantically. The sirens ended with a squawk, but the lights continued their alternating strobes. Based on the angle of the flashes, they'd stopped on O Street.

Her home in Georgetown was generally quiet and calm in the darkness. A few drunk kids every once in a while, hollering as they wound their way back to campus, but rarely something like this.

Clearly, something terrible had happened.

Sam was used to sirens. Living in the city meant they were a regular, nightly, daily occurrence. Sirens used to be the precursor to her part in the festivities, so she always registered their noise. Sirens used to mean her phone was going to ring, and she'd have to drop everything and rush to a crime scene. But that was another life, in another city. One she tried very hard to put behind her.

Her phone wasn't going to ring, but habits die hard. She glanced at the clock—one in the morning.

She got up, pulled a brush through her shoulder-length brown hair, slipped a warm cashmere sweater over her thin T-shirt, pulled on black leggings and a pair of leather ankle boots. Grabbed a pashmina and tossed it around her shoulders.

Autumn was in full swing, and the late-September temperatures had dropped precipitously over the past week, making D.C. shiver. The bedroom, too, was cold, empty of Xan-der and his internal furnace. He was on assignment, a close-protection detail with one of his old Army buddies, Chalk. Trevor Reeves Worthington III on his driver's license, but Chalk forever to his Army mates, named for his propensity to write everything down.

It had only been three weeks since Xander and Chalk had hung out their shingle, made the business official, and they'd already been in high demand. She was glad to see Xander reengage with the world, though she had to admit, it was a bit of a shame. She liked the idea of him up in the woods with Thor at his side, doing his best Thoreau, leading the occasional fishing party, hiking solitary through the woods. The new gig was intense, all-hours, and took him away too much for her liking. Plus, his main job was to throw himself in front of a bullet should the need arise, and she wasn't at all comfortable with the thought.

She started down the stairs, whistled for Thor. The German shepherd was waiting for her already, ears pricked. She knelt beside him, buried her face in his fur. He was warm, like his daddy, had been curled in a ball in his sheepskin bed, dreaming doggy dreams. He nuzzled her and licked her on the nose gently, then went to stand by the door, alert and ready.

"Let's go out the back, baby."

He hurried to her side, and she fastened his lead. She opened the back door, was rewarded with a gust of chilly air, and the voices that carried from the other side of her privacy fence.

You have stooped to a new level, Owens, trying to eavesdrop on a crime scene.

But she went to the far fence, skirting the eternity pool, Thor stuck to her leg like glue. Put her head against the wood. If she turned slightly sideways, she could see through the double slats.

It was so familiar, the shouts and calls. The first responders were there, the police, too. An ambulance was parked on the corner. As she watched, EMTs scrambled toward it with a stretcher. One was kneeling on the gurney itself, straddling a body of indeterminate sex, performing CPR with single-minded intensity.

The open doors of the ambulance blocked the rest. Moments later, they slammed shut and it left in a hurry, sirens wailing. The fire trucks followed, calm now, big beasts rumbling into the night.

The police stayed.

Definitely not a good sign.

She wondered if her friend Darren Fletcher, the newly minted homicide lieutenant, would show. She didn't know why she assumed it was a homicide, or an attempted homicide, given that someone had been brought out at a rush. It could be anything. More than likely, at this time of night, it was a simple domestic dispute. Someone was punched, had a bloody nose, a black eye, then things got out of control. She ran through the neighbors she knew on O Street, people she'd waved to when walking Thor, imagining them in various states of fury and undress.

Maybe a heart attack. Or a stroke. Embolism, aneurysm, overdose.

God, you are cheery, aren't you?

She heard one of the cops say, "Hernandez, while you're at it, go ahead and call the OCME. We'll need them."

And she knew. Something inside her gave a little buzz. Death comes in all forms, from all directions. Expected or by surprise, it was the greatest common denominator, the great equalizer. She felt an affinity with the grimness, couldn't help that. But she had a choice, now. A choice to walk away from the carnage, from the horror. To face death on her own terms, especially since she'd agreed to work with the FBI on their more esoteric cases. A deal made all the more tantalizing because they wouldn't be dragging her out of bed in the middle of the night to parade, yawning, to a crime scene, where she'd face death in all its incarnations, as she had for so many years as a medical examiner.

She had a more immediate choice, as well. She could open the gate, walk around the block, stand with the crowd of neighbors who'd come to watch the show. Or she could go back inside and return to bed. She'd be able to get several more hours of sleep if she went inside now.

You're not the M.E. anymore, Sam. She stepped away from the fence.

Thor took advantage of the nocturnal walk to do his business, then she followed him into the silent house, feeling strangely hollow. As she closed the door behind her and watched Thor scoot back to bed, something made her pull out her cell phone and send Fletcher a text.

What's up on O Street?

She knew it wasn't too late for him; he was a night owl, especially now that he was seeing FBI Agent Jordan Blake. He'd be up, one way or another. She sent another, this time to Xander.

Miss you.

She poured herself a finger of Ardbeg, thought about it, brought the bottle with her to the couch. Sat down. Took off her boots.


Didn't know exactly what she was waiting for.

She spared a glance at the file folders on the coffee table in front of her. She'd left them scattered carelessly in frustration before climbing the stairs to bed. Crime scene and autopsy photos spilled out of the manila folders, coupled with her notes and Baldwin's notes and toxicology reports, all jumbled together on the smoky glass. She'd pulled all the autopsy reports from the files and stacked them neatly on the side table; they were her reading material and were proving to be an even bigger frustration than the case itself. This massive, sprawling, unnamed and unacknowledged case.

There were so many pathologists, coroners, methods, regulations, jurisdictions. No one did a postmortem exactly the same, much less were handling several of the individual cases as if there was a criminal component. She'd begun to feel she was interpreting without a Rosetta stone.

When John Baldwin had talked her into coming on board the FBI as a consultant to the behavioral analysis unit, BAU II, to work with his infamous group of profilers, he'd promised she could pick her cases. True to his word, he'd brought her to Quantico, gotten her set up with passes and emails and paperwork galore, then set her loose in the BAU file room. They had so much work, and so few people to handle it, any help was welcome.

And whether she was trying to prove her worth to her new team, or to herself, she'd chosen the big daddy of them all. A stack of files that were getting dusty, because no one could manage to link them, even though there was a single similarity between each victim—every woman was from the same hometown. New Orleans.

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What Lies Behind 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
rhonda1111RL More than 1 year ago
Lot of drama, mystery, action and terror. Some swear words, and violence. You don't who to trust or where it is going to go. Dr. Samantha Owens is the main character. She is teaching and newly working with FBI. She is no longer a medical examiner. A crime has taken place close to her home. She spies on it. Samantha texts her homicide detective friend, Darren Fletcher to see if he got the case. Xander Whitfield is now working as a personal security. They are out of town. He has to bring his old talents back in use. Darren Fletcher meets with Samantha and tells her a little about the crime while at breakfast. While eating Sam gets a text asking her to step in as a FBI Agent and go to the briefing for him while he is out of town. Samantha and Fletcher walk through the crime scene and with in minutes she tells him that it was not what it looked like but a double murder. Also finds deadly viruses in the apartment. There is a lot of murder, and assassins and terrorists that keep them all busy. You don't want to put the book down till the end. The setting for most of the book was Washington D.C. and currant year. I have read all four Dr. Samantha Owens books and like her. She is a strong female character that has gone through a lot. I want to see more of her. I was given this ebook to read by Net Galley and Harlequin. I agreed to give a honest review of What Lies Behind.
christalvp More than 1 year ago
While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the Samantha Owens books, this one is my favorite to date. I loved everything about this book. As usual, it was great to read about Sam and Xander, and they were given a great storyline. The story was fast-paced and had lots of action. I really liked the way the storylines with Sam and Xander connected and came together at the end. I enjoyed the direction that things went with Sam's career, and it was great to have her working with Baldwin and the FBI, as well as with Fletcher. I also enjoyed seeing the glimpse of Taylor Jackson in this one. When Sam Owen's sleep is disturbed due to sirens and police activity in her neighborhood, it isn't long before she is involved in the investigation. What first appears to be a murder/suicide attempt where the perpetrator survived becomes more complicated when it is found that the victim is a deep undercover FBI agent who also works with the CIA. As Sam investigates with Fletcher, who is sent in as the homicide detective by Washington, D.C., a tale of possible bioterrorism begins to emerge. This was a very exciting story, and it kept me engrossed. I loved the characters, both the main and secondary ones. I really like the direction the author is taking the series so far, and I really hope we don't have to wait long for the next book. I am very anxious to see where the author goes with the dangling threads from this book.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Former medical examiner, newly minted FBI agent, Dr. Samantha Owens along with her friend DC homicide detective, Lieutenant Darren Fletcher have just been handed the most baffling, bloody case by her new boss, John Baldwin, also her best friend’s fiancée. What at first appears to be a domestic dispute gone deadly is really something all together different. They discover the victims; a dead undercover FBI agent and an expelled medical student barely hanging on to life apparently unlikely partners on an anti-bioterrorism unit for the US State Department, and what’s meant to look like a murder suicide is in reality all staged by the killer. What the murder was about and what the killer was looking for is what Sam and Fletch need to find out because they’re afraid the body count could rise. Unfortunately the red tape and smoke and mirrors DC is famous for is tying their hands and adding questions instead of supplying answers. Meanwhile Sam’s love, former Army Ranger, Xander Whitfield and his new partner  are on their first personal protection assignment, they’re protecting a British industrialist in the states for business  and find themselves involved in taking out a sniper with a long ranged gun pointing at their client. It’s a good thing they stopped the bad guy because the alternative would be very bad for business. But now they need to see if the sniper was working alone and just who wants their client dead and why. Where do I start telling how wonderful this was, do I start by giving it the 6 out of 5 stars it deserves? Do I start by saying what an adrenalin rush this nail biting, page-turning, one-sitting tale is so that by the end readers will need to breathe into a brown paper bad to stop hyperventilating? Or do I start by saying how incredible the characters are, how three dimensional, how vividly each one portrays his or her, good guy or bad guy roles? Maybe I should start by saying how the fast paced, in-your-face dialogue, a mix of cop & doc speak adds not only to the excitement but gives it that indelible authentic feel too. Or maybe it's the author I should start with, how everything that comes out of her fervent, incredibly creative, albeit a bit morbid brain never ceases to amaze me and that she gets better with each story she tells. Or I know I’ll say how incredibly explosive the ending is, how the entire book happens in one event filled day and how there’s a mind blowing cliffhanger right before; The End! Yeah that’s what I’ll say! JT, wow, you amaze me, utterly and unbelievably!!!
BooksAndSpoons More than 1 year ago
The prologue of the story gives a very creepy picture of a stalker, possible serial killer, hunting for a prey. But this book turns out to be about something completely different. Several different crimes and threats to life are happening at the same time, hunt for a serial killer, what seems to be a domestic murder suicide, and protecting a high profile CEO. The characters are split between different scenes, and the stress, fear, and dread are palpable. The more evidence and information they find, the more anxiety and concern is on their minds. Because nothing is what it seems to be, no one is to be trusted, as the cases and dead bodies start turn out in every corner, and somehow they all are linked to each other. The story is gripping and riveting. The characters are smart, capable, professionals, with their own demons to be battled with, and determined to overcome them, and find the culprits. Terrifying bio terror is threatening the continent, and the pyramid scheme seems to be going high up in many different government agencies. There's a lot of characters in the series, whose lives are followed, even though the story focuses on the crimes committed. This isn't a romantic suspense, but a terrifying murder mystery, with terrorists on the run. The story ends in a cliffhanger, as there still is a crime Dr Owens and her friends didn't solve in this book. The story is very wordy, and at times I felt I lost the focus and the intensity of the story because of it. Other than that, truly enjoyable, yet horrifying, jitters bringing crime novel ~ Four Spoons
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ANOTHER AMAZING WORK BY J.T. ELLISON!!! Thank you J.T!! You have hit another one out of the Ball Park!! This is the fourth in the Samantha Owens series. I suppose you could read this as a stand-alone mystery, but I would recommend reading the other three first. You will understand some of Samantha's quirks better that way. Ellison does a good job of filling new readers in, but I like to start a series from the beginning myself. You get way more insight to the characters that way. If you are familiar with this series, this is a great addition with a brutal cliffhanger. Yup -- a cliffhanger. This particular mystery is solved, but another presents itself at the ending that will have the reader worried until the next installment comes out. I will not give out any spoilers, but suffice it to say I screamed a few obscenities at the end. If you are unfamiliar with J.T., she is an amazing mystery/thrill writer that knows how to fill every page of a story with suspense. There is cussing, the story lines can be pretty dark, and J.T. can be pretty descriptive, so please keep that in mind if those kinds of things bother you then this book is probably not for you. If great suspense is your game, Ellison is at the top of this genre for me. Thank you Ms. Ellison for another late night and bags under my eyes at work. Looking forward to see what happens with Sam next! Please don't make us wait too long!!! -- SPeeD :-)
Anonymous 8 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the 3rd book I have read. This one wasn't as good as the other ones were.it wasn't really a page turner.they were short chapter. There were 57 chapters. 347 pages. I will read more of the series. If you like murder books this would be the book to read.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
Dr. Samantha (“Sam”) Owens has begun an entirely new phase of her life as a first-year medical school professor in the forensic pathology department at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C., quite a departure from her former position as Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Tennessee. She has chosen her new job despite having been offered one as special consultant for the FBI, not without misgivings, although this time around she is acting in just that capacity at the behest of her friend, John Baldwin. Sam has been working on a cold case, a series of killings over a 20-year-period which seem to have no connection except that each female victim was from the same hometown of New Orleans, dubbed the Hometown Killer. As the title suggests, the challenge is to find “what lies behind” all the violence. As in the prior series entries, the book is replete with fascinating and well-drawn characters in Sam’s life, both professional and personal. As the book opens, her “newly-minted homicide detective” friend, Darren Fletcher, asks her to look over the evidence at what is at first blush thought to be a murder/suicide, a crime of passion. What at first seems a “simple case of domestic dispute had turned into an international intrigue and a possible bioterror attack in less than twelve hours.” The body count rises, and very quickly. As the title suggests, the challenge is to find “what lies behind” all the violence. Then there is her boyfriend, Xander Whitfield, “a man who has carried a gun by his side day and night for over 18 years,” now on assignment as a close protection detail with his partner, nickname “Chalk,” both quite expert at what they do, which very early on in the job calls upon Xander to shoot and kill an assassin who appears ready to kill their client (“a world leader in oil and gas, mining and the like) as he disembarks from a plane at a New Jersey airport. There are different story lines presented, all of which seem to converge towards the end of the novel. I loved the reference to the author’s other series protagonist, Taylor Jackson, a homicide lieutenant in Nashville engaged to the aforementioned John Baldwin. The novel is well-written, with the story taking place over little more than a day, just about the time it took me to read this intriguing, fast-paced tale. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As with her others this was a good book...interesting, and tense.