When your father's the terrorist and wants to kill you,
…The fear never goes away.
The hunt is one second away.
"Follow the bubbles, I tell myself. Bubbles are life…"
Still recovering from a near death experience in Syria, Sonia moves her small family to safety. She leaves them under CIA protection to facilitate and underground medical project for the government.
"But, is her family ever safe?”
…There are spies all around. Even her best friend or colleague can be a spy.
See for yourself.
Get it now.
You'll love this medical thriller because of the mix of vulnerability, brutality, hatred and love that makes for an undeniable page turner. You'll be up until dawn.
Sonia Amon Novels – Stories of love, strength, vulnerability and grit.
Dr. Judith Lucci has ridden camels in Egypt, taught healthcare on three continents, consulted with Congress on health policy, cared for patients in Third World countries and impacted thousands of lives.
Release date: January 26, 2020
Publisher: Bluestone Valley Publishing, LLC Harrisonburg, VA
Print pages: 409
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I’m submerged with a single hose suspended before me, ejecting bubbles as it kicks from side to side. I reach for it, pushing it into my mouth. I pray that it’s oxygen while recognizing that either way, it’s my only chance. A tentative breath later, I’m relieved as it fills my lungs. I will not die, but I must find my way out.
Creatures in black garb swarm in from each side and, like sharks, move in for their attack, grabbing at my lifeline. Leaning back, I kick at them, punching and gripping the line tightly with one hand. The more I fight off, the more who appear. I hear a woman laughing—peals of wicked, evil delight that swirl about my head in the erratic current. I feel my hysteria rising, but the survival instinct is stronger.
I exhale into the water, watching for bubbles. Follow the bubbles, I tell myself. The bubbles don’t lie. The bubbles are life.
The water is growing warmer against my skin. Am I nearing the surface? It’s continuing to heat up, painfully so. My hand breaks the surface, and I pull myself upward. I’m joyous that I’ve left the water behind and can breathe freely… that is until I realize the heat comes from the ring of flames around me, floating like Hell on the shifting waves.
With a gasp, I opened my eyes and tried to get some sense of where I was. The slats of the vertical blinds over the slider shifted in a rising wind—plastic chimes slapping one another. I realized I’d fallen asleep on the sofa and been in a nightmare. Perhaps the blinds had found their way into my head, or maybe they’d just served to awaken me. Either way, it was time I went to bed and slept decently.
Pushing against the sofa cushion with my hand, I snatched the empty coffee cup from the table and turned out the light. I walked into the kitchen and over to the sink. Rinsing the cup, I forced it in between two smeared glasses and realized the dishwasher was full to the limit. A couple of detergent pods and a push-button later, at least the dishwasher was happy to have something to do.
I peeked in on the children. Carter had fallen asleep. His storybook was tipped against the edge of his pillow as the small side lamp valiantly worked to create enough light for him to see. I pushed the switch, and the room sank into darkness as I removed the book and tucked the blankets—something we mothers learn to do with our eyes closed. I looked upward and silently sent the words to Jeff. “I wish you were here, to read to him and teach him all the wonderful things that made you who you are. I miss you, husband.”
Jennifer, my baby, was sprawled in her crib, her chubby legs taking shape as she toddled her days from table to chair in her effort at independence. My mother, Melody, was fond of saying that Jennifer was me all over again. The tendrils of her hair lay against her pillow, and as I looked down at her, I could see that perhaps Melody made a good point. She definitely had my Syrian heritage in her blood.
My mother’s instinct kicked in again, and inside I felt my eagle’s wings open, shielding my children from the world in which I’d lived to that point. I would kill anyone who hurt them. Even as I told myself that, I knew it wasn’t always possible to prevent harm from finding them. Especially if it came from within a family like mine. A family you could never trust, a family whose shades of truth were jaded, cynical, lackluster and malevolent. A family of chameleons.
My father was a terrorist. Not just any terrorist, but the unquestioned, supreme leader of a jihadist cell. He was an international criminal wanted by every civilized country in the world. His primary focus in life was to kill me. Every time he failed, he vowed to never fail again. I reminded him of how he had failed. And failure wasn’t acceptable to Emir Faisal Muhammed.
To be fair, if there was such a thing, it wasn’t me he hunted and wanted to kill, but what I represented. As a young man, he had married Melody, my carefree, lighthearted, fragile mother. She’d been educated at Radcliff and was the daughter of an American diplomat. Melody was blonde, beautiful and petite. And she loved him dearly. He took her to his home in Syria and, as the radical ideas began to hold appeal for him, he subjugated her and me. She managed to escape with me, but the Emir had kidnapped me back, and I grew up in the dark world he had formed about him. At eighteen, I found my way out and made it back to America and the arms of the US Army, where I knew I’d be safe. It was with their support that I became a doctor and, in turn, cared for soldiers my father and his peers killed, disfigured and maimed. I became his antithesis, and he hated me for it. It had cost him self-respect. Any radical Muslim that couldn’t control his wife or his daughter could quickly become the laughingstock of the jihad world. But my father ruled with terror and fear. So far that hadn’t happened.
I was about to turn out my bedroom light when I heard the noise of a key in the door. I rose from my bed and peeked around the corner into the living room.
“Just me, Sonia,” she was quick to respond. Her voice was light and musical. Her lovely face and vivid blue eyes smiled at me. We had a special bond, my mother and I—the kind shared by those who have been through Hell together and survived. A bond between two women who have looked over their shoulders most of their life—women who know, perceive and suffer true fear. Women who have so far survived.
“Did you have a good time?” I asked as I watched her sliding off her shoes.
“The movie was so-so, but the gossip with the girls at the restaurant after was much better. Did you know that Mary Conner had her breasts lifted at her age?
Can you imagine?” I saw my lovely mother peer quickly in the foyer mirror. Her hands reached under her breasts and lifted them quickly. Then she flashed me a guilty look.
I rolled my eyes. “Mom, even if I did know, you know I can’t discuss it. Why? Are you considering it?”
Melody looked at me sharply. “Certainly not. There’s no one I care to impress.”
I grinned. “Glad to hear it. Night, Mom,” I said as I kissed her on the cheek. “The kids are fine. I just looked in on them. Don’t forget I have classes to teach at USUHS in the morning. Will you be okay with them?” I asked, nodding toward Jennifer’s closed door.
USUHS is the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. In a sense, it is the nation’s federal health professions academy. It’s similar to the undergraduate programs at West Point and Colorado Springs. There is no tuition. The graduates repay the nation for their education via their services. Their emphasis is on military health care, leadership, readiness and public health
“Of course. I always am.” She frowned at me.
I nodded and padded down the hallway to my room, closing the door for all but a couple of inches. I wondered what Melody’s interpretation of “okay” was compared to mine. I made a note to begin looking for a combination of housekeeper/nanny. I thought I might ask Laura to come back now that she was married to Pastor Karnack. Laura had lived with us and cared for Carter when Jeff was alive. She was dependable and trustworthy. I knew she was expecting her first child, so they could use the extra money, as ministers were never rich men. At least, not the honest ones.
I closed my eyes and tried not to think about my father. Thanks in large part to my efforts, he was being held a prisoner in the US, charged with crimes against humanity. Again, I wished Jeff was alive so he could see that his death at the Emir’s hands was being avenged. I missed him so, and there hadn’t been anyone very serious in my life since. I forced myself to blank my mind and prayed that the nightmares wouldn’t return. They were whispers from my past, planted there by the PTSD that would never leave me alone. It was a cruel evil that often consumed me and made me doubt myself. I hated it.
At least it will never find its way to my children, was my last thought as I drifted off.
My work as a physician was important to me. Not only did it allow me to help those who looked after our country, but there was a comradery, both within the US Army and in civilian life, among medical professionals. They were my family, and with a background such as mine, that was a critical feeling to enjoy. I had few friends who weren’t medical professionals.
When I’d bought my cottage by the sea to give the children a safe and wholesome place to grow up, I’d discovered the small hospital up the shore, and they hired me to work in their ER two days a week. The rest of my time, I was a professor of medicine at USUHS, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Thus, my life had a more placid side as well as a side that kept me involved in the Army’s medical technology and gave me access to that inner world that monitored my father’s movements for me during the preceding years when I was his prey.
My late husband, Jeff, had worked for the CIA and was my handler when I carried out some missions for them. I was considered an authority on Syrian affairs and terrorism—a combination that made me highly valuable even if I wasn’t deployed on active missions. My naturally accented, fluent Farsi had come in handy more than once. A few years ago, I’d held a professorship at the War College in Washington, DC, which was really a cover for my “clandestine missions” with Jeff’s agency. Recently, they’d been making noise about my returning to Syria to help them out. But I wasn’t ready. After all, I had two children now and no husband.
I drove into the campus of USUHS and, despite the heat, strolled to the building where my office was located. I enjoyed stretching my legs and the feeling of being a professional again. As a mom, I was loved and valued, but I knew they would grow up quickly, and someday, I’d only have my work to keep me occupied.
Formerly, I’d served on the staff for Walter Reed, and that was where my then-secretary, Frances, still worked. We had an ongoing battle. She wanted me to come back to Walter Reed, and I wanted her to come to USUHS and work with me.
“That’s not really Army,” she’d say with derision. Frances was always quick to scorn whatever wasn’t Walter Reed or the Army. “It’s just kids who want to grow up to be doctors.”
“Oh, now, Frances, that’s not entirely fair. They’re on the younger side, true, but so are the soldiers you watch over when they return. Besides, I miss you and need your efficiency.”
“I’m not far away, and if I stay here, we have two sets of eyes watching and waiting for whatever should come our way.”
I knew what she meant. Even though my father was in captivity awaiting trial, my half-sister, Ester, was still out there and, if possible, hated me more than our father did. The only other person who stood between us was my half-brother, Karem. He and Ester were full-blooded siblings while the three of us shared my father’s blood. Karem was a man of peace, although our father’s lust for killing pulled at him regularly. Karem was in a difficult position with my father, but as far as I knew, he’d resisted.
I drew in a last breath of fresh air before I pulled at the heavy door that gave me entrance to my building. The familiar scent of Lysol and rubbing alcohol greeted me as I ascended the single flight of stairs to my office. I loved that smell. It offered me a sense of sameness and comfort. Inside, I tossed my case on the small utilitarian sofa and went in search of coffee.
“I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” a deep voice advised behind me. “I’m fairly sure I saw building maintenance spreading it on the drive to keep the dust down.”
I giggled, a strange sound even to my own ears. Pivoting, I saw a tall man in doctor’s scrubs. His hair was dark brown, winged with gray, and he had the most compassionate brown eyes I’d ever seen. He stuck out his hand. “Ben Lassiter, at your service.”
I took his hand. “Sonia Amon Hansen.”
“That’s a mouthful,” he commented, those brown eyes sparkling.
“I’m widowed, and most everyone knew me before I was married.”
“Thank you. I’m assuming that’s Doctor Lassiter?”
“And I assume you’re Doctor Sonia Amon Hansen?”
I nodded. I liked this man. I got good vibes from him.
“There, you see? We already have something in common. Now then, let’s see if we can’t figure out how to make fresh coffee.” Ben held his arm out toward the coffee area.
I smiled. “Agreed, but how about we make it Ben and Sonia?”
“Good idea.” He winked at me. “Save the spit for the coffee.”
“Ewww…” I groaned, making a face. I opened cupboards until I found the coffee-making supplies. I measured the grounds as he filled the decanter with fresh water.
“Not exactly Starbucks, but then what can you expect with the government?”
“You get used to it. Are you working here?” Maybe it was his jovial, teasing attitude that put me at ease, but my customarily reserved nature was relaxing, and I fell into the comfortable exchange without resistance.
“Sure am. You?”
I noticed his lips. They were beautiful.
I nodded. “Three days a week. I teach specialties having to do with the Middle East. You know, munition wounds, chemical weapons, you get the drift.” I paused. “The nasty stuff.”
“I’m assuming you’re on our side?” He raised his eyebrows.
I know my mouth dropped open at his teasing. He had no way of knowing the import of his words. I nodded, choosing to keep it light. “Is this Wednesday? Then, yes.”
Ben flashed a thumbs-up and loaded the water canister into the coffee maker and then leaned back against the counter, his long legs folded at the ankle, his arms folded over his chest. Doctors were very good at standing for long periods.
I could barely believe I said the words, but I did. “You married?”
He grinned, revealing matching dimples in his cheeks. “Divorced. You seeing someone?”
I gave a nervous laugh. “I feel like I’m eighteen again.” My stomach had butterflies. I was actually nervous and my heart beat rapidly in my chest.
“Get used to it. You’ve caught my interest.”
I could feel my eyes widening.
“Oh, and I’ll take that as a ‘no’ on the seeing-someone part.”
I knew I was blushing and turned my back, pretending to search for the coffee mugs, which were clearly hanging from hooks over the stainless sink. The drip of the coffee splashing in the pot was loud in my ears. For a moment I was so nervous being around him that my hand trembled. I clutched a cabinet door. The room was spartan for a reason—everything was handy. Then I reached for two mugs. I handed one to Ben and waited near the coffee maker for it to quit dripping as the sounds in my ears decreased.
“I’ve embarrassed you, haven’t I?” he expressed quietly.
“Me? I’ve seen a lot. It would be hard to embarrass me, but I suppose it’s just been a long time since a man talked to me like…”
“Like a woman?” His eyes held mine.
His question caught me off guard but was nail-head on. I inclined my head enough to acknowledge without saying any more. When the coffee was ready, I poured myself a mug full of the steaming liquid and scooted out of the room before he could say any more. So intent was I on leaving, I forgot to get cream and sugar. Oh well, I could stand to lose a few pounds, I thought. I grimaced at the thought of black coffee, but my heart was happy at the possibility of seeing Dr. Ben Lassiter again. Happy wasn’t a feeling I had often—unless I was with my children.
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