National Security Advisor Winfield “Duke” Cage nodded at the two Secret Service agents flanking the entrance to the White House situation room and adjusted the unfamiliar tie that was threatening to choke him.
The last time he’d stepped through this doorway, he’d quit as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, effectively throwing away a career that had spanned two decades.
He’d sworn never to return. But that was under a different president, and while only eight months had passed, Cage was a different man, and the newly appointed national security advisor.
The room was smaller than he remembered but utterly familiar. The burnished wood of the massive table gleamed in the rays of the overhead lighting and cast its reflection on the flat-screens mounted to the walls. The blue and taupe carpet lay pristine, perfectly balancing the neutral coloring of the walls and the black leather chairs arranged around the room’s perimeter.
His eyes drifted over the faces of the most powerful figures in Washington, men who were responsible for guiding their new president, and Cage wondered if he had enough in him for one last battle.
His aide, Jacob Simmons, made his way through the scrum of onlookers and as he handed Cage the daily intelligence brief said, “There is a problem. We need to talk.”
At six foot four, Cage was built like an all-pro tight end and towered over his short and stocky aide. The two men had been a team since their days at West Point, and their relationship had been tested in the cauldron of battle on more than one occasion. Simmons was the only man on earth whom Cage trusted, and during his brief exile, he was the only man who had his back. He was also one of the most capable intelligence operatives he’d ever known.
“Not now,” Cage replied, catching the secretary of defense slipping toward him out of the corner of his eye.
“Duke, we have a serious problem,” he hissed.
“Handle it . . .”
“Cage,” Secretary of Defense Collins exclaimed, dragging his attention away from his aide.
“Mr. Secretary,” he replied formally.
“I was surprised when the president told me he appointed you,” he began condescendingly.
“Not as surprised as I was,” Cage replied, taking the secretary’s outstretched hand and shaking it firmly.
He knew that Collins had fought hard to keep him off the president’s cabinet, and while Collins didn’t have the balls to come out and say it, the secretary was already working on bouncing him off Capitol Hill. But this wasn’t the first time someone had been after his scalp, and Cage was already a step ahead.
His ace in the hole was that he didn’t have to be confirmed before Congress and therefore could only be fired by the president. As long as he kept the man happy, he was good to go. Cage felt the SecDef squeeze his hand as he looked searchingly into the ex-general’s eyes. He was challenging him already and the day hadn’t even started.
One lesson Cage had taken from his time in the Green Berets was that it was important to assert dominance among the pack as soon as possible, and he did this by slowly crushing his opponent’s clammy grip until he could feel the thin, birdlike bones of the man’s hand begin to compress against themselves. He pulled the man in close, as if to embrace him, and said, “Be careful, friend.”
Just then the president walked into“Joshua Hood nails it in this debut thriller about blacker than black ops! Step aside Scot Harvath, seasoned, in your face, and hard wired for the war on terror, spec ops hero Mason Kane is the new standard bearer. Written with a crisp voice, keen insider knowledge, and heart stopping friction points, with Clear By Fire Joshua Hood will leave a mark inside the elite military thriller genre.”