A 44,000-word Prequel Novella to the Deception Point Military Detective Thriller Series
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How far would you go to stop a terrorist?
US Army CID Special Agent Regan Chase thought she knew the answer--until her target changed and her case blew up in her face.
"Your suspect is Special Forces."
The tip is from a Stateside colleague. With it comes the chilling reality: Regan's latest mission just might be her last. Has one of the Army's elite soldiers turned terrorist? It's happened before--with deadly results.
Not only is this soldier more lethal than most, he's a master at rigging bombs. Unfortunately, Regan's gun-shy commander won't let her tail the sergeant. Worse, her suspect has refused to take the bait--her.
Regan has one option left. She'll have to maintain her cover and get close to the sergeant's roommate, deliberately using their budding relationship to zero in on her target. But John Garrison is hiding something too.
Has the war-weary Green Beret captain been turned as well?
As the investigation deepens, lines are crossed--personal and professional. Even if Regan succeeds in thwarting a horrific bombing on German soil, what will the fallout do to her career?
Written by a former US Navy Lt.
Please Note: The remaining Deception Point books are significantly longer and carry a warning: graphic crime scenes, the occasional sex scene and cursing abound throughout this series! If you're faint of heart, you may want to turn back now. But if you're not & you like strong, female protagonists and seriously gritty, complex suspense that twists and turns all the way to The End, you'll love Candace Irving's military detective thriller series.
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Your suspect is Special Forces.
Special Agent Regan Chase stared at the text on her cellphone, unable to move, unable to breathe, as the implications pummeled in.
Please, God. Let her be wrong. Perhaps her friend had jumped the gun.
Except, the text was from Mira Ellis. She never jumped. Not with her past. The woman was painfully cognizant of what could happen when a special agent piled incomplete evidence onto rumor and conjecture. Careers were ruined. Lives.
A follow-up text pinged Regan's phone, confirming her stateside colleague's usual zealous due diligence—and her own worst fears.
The warrant came through. See enclosed file. Off to see my boss. Will call soon.
Regan shot to her feet as she sent the file to her printer, rounding her desk to get a look at the papers already spitting out into the tray near the door of the tiny office deep inside the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division in Hohenfels, Germany. The door to the office opened as she retrieved the initial pages. Yet another special agent—though this one was Army CID like her—entered, his laptop tucked beneath the right arm of his slightly wrinkled dark blue suit.
Agent Jelling tipped his thatch of strawberry curls toward the papers in her hand. "That the ballistics report we've been waitin' on?"
"Nope. Different case. These are phone records—from Mira." She collected the remaining pages from the tray as the printer wound down, glancing at the customer details on the uppermost sheet as she headed for the only other piece of furniture in her spartan office. The work table. "Her warrant came through; they belong to Scott Platt."
The Army—and Navy's—newest suspect of the hour.
Although Mira wasn't Army, she had a vested interest in the case since she'd initiated it when a sailor had walked into the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in Washington, DC, the day before. The sailor claimed he'd overheard a civilian he knew on the phone, discussing a pending terror attack in Germany. Mira had dug into the tip with a vengeance and discovered that not only had Scott Platt worked at the Pentagon, but he'd also been fired the previous summer. Mira had immediately brought him in for questioning. Platt was still refusing to talk.
Hence, the presence of the warrant and the records now in Regan's hands. "She thinks our guy's Special Forces."
Jelly's laptop thumped onto the table. "Holy shit."
Regan nodded as she set the stack of papers down beside the computer. A thick yellow line bisected the uppermost page, highlighting a phone number corresponding to a call Platt had received the previous September, almost a year ago to the day. The call had lasted over an hour.
Mira had scrawled a name and rank inside the margin.
Jelly's freckled brow furrowed as he gave voice to both. "Sergeant First Class Evan LaCroix. Huh…I know that name."
"Not sure. Just know I'm familiar with it. And not in a good context."
"A run-in from the MP days?" They'd been friends since their first joint patrol as military policemen. She'd learned then that Jelly never forgot a name or a face. Getting promoted to Chief Warrant Officer Two alongside her four years ago and qualifying as an Army CID special agent had only enhanced his skill.
He'd just need time.
"Nah, that's not it. Damn." His hands came up to rub reddened eyes. "I'm raw today. The baby cried most of the night. Ava was so stressed, I took her midnight shift. It's left me chuggin' enough coffee this afternoon to satisfy even you."
"It's a stage; it'll pass. As for that name, a photo might help." Jelly dragged his abused laptop around and opened it, quickly pushing through the requisite security protocols until he'd accessed the Army's personnel file on one Sergeant First Class Evan LaCroix, Special Forces.
The man's official uniformed photo greeted them, featuring cropped blond hair and an unnervingly baby-faced mug, along with the requisite green beret.
"Christ, he looks fifteen."
Regan checked the sergeant's birthday and did the math. Thirty-three. Definitely old enough to serve. And kill. But did this man possess the mindset to target his fellow soldiers—or worse, murder innocent civilians?
She waited as Jelly studied the photo at length.
Disappointment cut in as he finally shook his head. "I got nothin'." He glanced up. "Doesn't look like much of a terrorist though, does he?"
"They never do."
Regan studied the official photo as well, imprinting those baby blues and chipmunk cheeks firmly into memory. Jelly was right. Hardened Special Forces soldier or not, not only did that face not scream terrorist, it didn't even whisper big, bad snake eater. More like earthworm.
Then again, looks truly could be deceiving. She and the agent beside her had learned that the hard way, during the same knock-down, drag-out takedown in Iraq.
"Wait! I remember him. Stateside. Three years ago. Fort Bragg." Disgust tinged Jelly's own bloodshot baby blues as he shook his head. "Man's a piece of shit."
"Then you did have a run-in with him."
"Nope. Never even met the guy. Ava did. We weren't married yet—had just met. Ava had recently transferred to Fort Bragg. So had LaCroix. He was the topic of conversation on post for damned near a month. Hell, a lot of posts. I'm surprised you never caught wind of it—oh, yeah. Right. You'd got called back to Afghanistan."
That explained it. But if Jelly didn't get to the point, she was going to throttle him, friend or not. "Damn it, what happened? What did he do?"
"Not what—who. LaCroix had a rep for hunting the young and newly commissioned. The younger and more newly commissioned they were, the more determined he was. Then, as soon as he'd bagged them, he'd dump 'em. He was quiet enough about it—at least outside of SF. But inside? They all knew. Anyway, three years ago, he focused on a nurse who worked the same shift as Ava. The nurse was so flattered the hound sniffing around was SF, she slept with him. Unfortunately, her commission wasn't the only thing she was risking. She was married with a kid. Her husband—some civilian doc Ava met a few times—found out and complained to the post commander. The nurse was so humiliated and terrified she was about to be court-martialed for an inappropriate relationship, she dropped the kid off with a friend for the night, went home and swallowed a bottle of pills. Her husband found her the following morning when he got off work. She'd been dead for hours. LaCroix didn't even bother to fake regrets to her folks when they came to collect her for the funeral."
"Yeah." Jelly hooked a hand to the back of his neck and began to rub. "I'll bring up Bragg tonight with Ava, casually work my way around to the old gossip, see what else she knows about the guy."
Regan hid her wince. "You sure?"
Jelly might be a fantastic agent, but he was the lousiest of liars. Newborn baby or not, Ava could not be that sleep-deprived. No one could.
"Funny. Fine. I'll ask her while she's bathing the monster. She never looks away when she's doing that."
More like the former sergeant in Ava still knew when to keep her head down. Either way, Jelly's wife also knew how to keep her mouth firmly shut.
Probably why she and Ava got along so well.
Regan dropped her stare to the phone records. Their NCIS colleague had included the entire past year's worth.
She spread the papers out along the table, the knot in her gut tightening as she scanned line after highlighted line, noting dates, times and durations. Twenty-seven calls over the last year, almost evenly split between incoming and outgoing—and though most were ten to twenty minutes, at least five had breached the hour mark like that first call a year ago. Even more telling, every one of these longest five had been logged in the past six weeks, including the one their stateside sailor had overheard.
If LaCroix had been turned and if he was planning an attack, those recent, lengthening calls suggested an escalation. The hashing out of a plan.
Jelly leaned closer, squinting down at the records. "That's a hell of a lot of gab-time. Whatever he's planning, it's big."
Regan stiffened. So did Jelly. They were both thinking it.
Again, it was Jelly who voiced it: "Oktoberfest."
Precisely. Oktoberfest. Their host country's infamous folk celebration of all things German was slated to begin roughly a hundred enticing kilometers southwest of Hohenfels…in fifteen days. Six million clueless, Bavarian-pretzel-savoring, beer-soaked revelers would be descending on Munich.
Six million targets.
They simultaneously shifted their attention to the photo on Jelly's laptop. To a blue-eyed, baby-faced blond who was more than capable of blending in long enough to execute whatever nefarious plot he contrived. Especially in Germany.
Jelly's whistle filled the office. "If your buddy's right about LaCroix—and my gut says she is—we're fucked."
She was about to agree when her phone pinged, alerting her to yet another text from DC, though this one had a slightly positive spin tacked on at the end.
Still in with boss—but on my way there. Flight details coming asap.
Regan texted back a thumbs-up emoji and slipped her phone into the pocket of her navy trousers. "I need to see Brooks. We need that phone tap and tail—yesterday."
Jelly shot her a grimace. "You know what he's gonna say, and how he's gonna say it."
She knew. But she wasn't asking. And she definitely wasn't taking no for an answer again. She couldn't afford to. They couldn't afford to.
Regan swung around her desk to retrieve the suit jacket she'd left warming her chair's shoulders when she'd returned from lunch two hours earlier. She donned the jacket, shifting her dark, heavy braid over the collar and down her back as she headed to the table to gather up the pages of Scott Platt's records. "Keep reading that personnel file, will you? And take notes. I'll be back in a few to discuss them."
Hopefully, with her head still attached.
This time, Jelly laughed. Sort of. "Good luck, Prez. You always were braver than me. Must be that presidential juju you channel from your namesake."
Wrong. She wasn't brave—just stupid.
Platt's phone records in hand, Regan abandoned Jelly and headed out through the maze toward their boss' office. Like Mira, she could feel this one in her bones. Evan LaCroix was the real deal. If he had been turned, something was about to go down. Something big. Maybe Munich, maybe somewhere else.
Unfortunately, neither she nor Jelly had been able to convince their boss that the sailor's tip was sound, much less that Captain Brooks needed to pull out all the stops to support it. They both knew why. Hell, the whole blessed command knew, if not the entire US Army and most of their nightly-news-watching citizens back home.
Brooks had been burned.
Heck, they all had. But no one else was still cowering in the corner of his office two weeks on, licking his wounds and bitching about it.
Make that shouting.
Regan heard the captain's bellow while she was still a good twenty feet from his door. She had no idea who was on the other end of that one-side conversation, because it ended with the loud slamming down of a phone long before she'd reached the wooden portal. She knocked anyway.
Her commanding officer was on his feet, his ebony scowl locked into place as he slapped his own sheaf of papers into his outbox. Regan drew the door shut behind her, patiently waiting for her CO to vent the remainder of his fury on the lid of his laptop before she stepped up to his desk.
"Good afternoon, sir. I just received a text from—"
"—Special Agent Ellis. I know. That was her boss on the phone, sticking his Navy-owned prick in where it doesn't belong. Why? I don't know. They've got their own goddamned pond, and it's a bloody big one. Man should mind his own business and concentrate on pissing in there. But since he's refused, I'll tell you the same thing I just told him. Mira Ellis can fly over here and advise, but that's it. She will not be working this case. Nor will she be requesting a tap on Sergeant LaCroix's phone or asking for the manpower to tail him." His scowl deepened. "Nor will you."
"Sir, Agent Jelling says the sergeant—"
"I know all about LaCroix and his exploits. Yet another asshole who can't keep his dick to himself. Yeah, he likes them young and out of bounds. So what? The women were all senior to him. It was their job to maintain good order and discipline. Not his fault or mine if they were personally horny and professionally reckless. And, yeah, I know about the suicide. It stinks—but it doesn't prove squat, and you know it. Nor do those phone records you've got clutched in your hands. We need more."
"With a tap and a tail—" Christ, either one. "—we'll be in a position to get—"
"—said no, and I meant it. And if you even think about going over my head and bleating to your mentor on this one, I'll have your badge. You bring me evidence—hard evidence—and then I'll risk a tail." The man's dark brown glare was as filthy and blistering as his temper had been for the past two weeks.
Regan focused her attention on the wall beyond the closely cropped silver dusting his temples as she jerked her own temper into line. The captain's office was as spartan as hers. Unfortunately, their mutual lack of decorating skills was about all she and Brooks had in common.
Especially these last two weeks.
She got it. His confidence had taken a hit. And, yeah, with cause.
Not only had the subject of their previous investigation turned out to be a victim of sour grapes, the entire case had blown up in CID's face when the lieutenant they'd been investigating discovered he had a tail. To the entire command's misfortune, the lieutenant had taken the discovery to his uncle—a beleaguered US congressman. To deflect attention from issues with his constituency regarding his ongoing crappy behavior, the congressman had in turn raised indignant hell with the Pentagon, who in their turn had duly rained that same hell back down on the beleaguered military police captain still glowering at her from the opposite side of his desk.
Brooks had been lucky to escape the resulting shitstorm with his career intact. And from the fear still embedded in the whites of his eyes, the professional wounds were far too fresh for him to risk drawing the Pentagon's ire again—along with his own commanding officer's.
Nope. Brooks wasn't about to attach a tail to LaCroix. She wasn't even sure he'd risk it with direct evidence.
The hell with it.
Regan slapped the phone records on his blotter and shoved them across the desk until they were flush with the lid of his laptop. "Sir, I know the situation's dicey, but we don't have a choice. These records prove it. The calls between Platt and LaCroix have been lengthy and consistent—occurring every other Saturday or Sunday for the past year. The latest call matches the timing of the conversation that stateside sailor overheard last Saturday. Furthermore, six weekends ago, the frequency and duration of the calls tripled, and they haven't let up. If LaCroix has been turned, he appears primed to pop. Oktoberfest would be a truly devastating target, and it's still a full two weekends away. If we can get a tap into place—"
"You think he's not ready for that? Expecting it? Dicey? The man's a fucking Green Beret. If he's plotting something, he's taking precautions. And he sure as hell's checking to see if some bumbling carrot top in a suit's attached to his ass."
Christ. It wasn't Jelly's fault he'd been made.
Not only had the lieutenant been tipped to Jelly's physical description, the information had been passed on while Jelly was following him. She'd told Brooks that at the time. Shown him the irrefutable proof. Not that she'd risk their current need for a tail on LaCroix by dragging it all up again. Let alone reminding her CO that neither she nor Jelly had believed there'd been cause to follow the lieutenant in the first place.
Not with Brooks' mood.
She clamped down on her own foul temper once more and kept a firm grip on it. Once upon a time, she'd hoped the prior-enlisted status she and Brooks shared as combat-forged sergeants would allow them to find common ground as they worked to cull the occasional rotten apple from deep within the Army's core.
She'd been wrong.
As much as it would burn, it was time to drag out the knee pads and commence the official begging. She didn't have a choice. "Sir, I know you're—"
"Save it, Chief. You don't know shit. Neither does Ellis. I neither want nor need that disgraced squid-cop here. All the two of you and that carrot sidekick have are hearsay and a bunch of calls. According to Agent Ellis' boss, Platt and LaCroix shared the same neighborhood in Shitsville, Alabama."
"No, that fact does not necessarily support you three. Those men could've been planning their fifteen-year high school reunion for all we know."
Except their source of hearsay had risked his career to report otherwise—and the sailor's timeline had been backed up.
Regan pushed forward, into the edge of the captain's desk. Into him. "That's why we need that tap. We need to know for certain. We can't afford to be gun-shy."
Wrong word to use.
Her boss' stare fairly smoldered as he leaned right back into her. "You got hearing damage from the firing range? I said, no. You want to make that a yes—go get me some goddamned probable cause. Something so juicy I can see, hear and taste it when I pass it up the chain. You said it yourself; you have two weeks. You're supposed to be some Second Coming savant when it comes to honeytraps. Not that I've seen it, mind you. I've had you squirreled away in that back office for eighteen months to shield your pretty face from the bulk of the soldiers who move through this post. And in all that time, you've done squat."
"Yeah, I know. You've done your thing for the provosts at Baumholder and Wiesbaden."
And Grafenwoehr, Landstuhl, Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern—but who was counting? Evidently, not Brooks.
Nor was she thrilled with the way he was now eyeing her naked face, basic braid, and minimally tailored suit. Especially when he offered up his first eager nod since he'd barked her through the door of his office. "Yup. I've changed my mind. Shit, I should've approved it yesterday. Well, I'm doing it now. Go slap on some lipstick and a tight skirt, and get that bastard's attention. You've put out for the rest of Germany; it's about time you put out for us."
The implication behind that double entendre was deliberate and ugly, and Brooks knew it. She ignored it. She knew full well he wasn't so much as pissed at her, as stinging from that gun-shy comment. Because he knew who it had been really directed toward. Just as he also knew that, deep down, it fit.
But she'd make him pay for it. In people.
"And Agent Jelling?"
"Take him. It's not like I want him touching anything else around here."
Go for broke. "And Special Agent Ellis?"
Yet another nod.
Hallelujah. It seemed miracles were still possible in her world.
"But Ellis is strictly emergency backup; that's all. I don't like that woman, and I don't trust her. The way you collect these lost souls baffles the hell out of me."
Oh, for Christ's sake. Mira had been exonerated years ago. Heck, it was why she'd turned her back on the Navy's mea culpa and its offer to reinstate her into its nuclear power program and joined NCIS instead. It was also why Mira understood Regan and her own motley collection of demons in a way no one else could.
She opened her mouth to defend her friend, but her boss spoke first.
"Doesn't matter. Ellis and her considerable baggage are not my problem, so long as you keep her away from me. According to her CO, Ellis will be here by zero six hundred, whether I approve or not. You might as well abuse her. The woman can do research on the fly with Jelling. Hell, she can even hold your virtual hand in the ladies room while you're out and about doing your thing to reel in LaCroix. But she does not go near him. Nor does Jelling. I don't want either of them fucking this up. Understood?"
She bit down on her tongue and nodded.
Brooks was still livid enough that he'd find a way to revoke Mira's assistance. No matter who'd approved it.
"Then get to work, Chief. Give me what every other post's provost has been raving about on this side of the Atlantic. But be goddamned vigilant. Because if you're right and your performance is off, by even a fraction of a whiff, we'll have a nightmare on our hands. Not only will LaCroix be tipped off, but anyone else he may be working with will be in the wind, never to be seen again. At least not by us. So find an in with that asshole and get what we need, and do it soon. Before the bodies start piling up—in Munich or elsewhere."
Regan nodded crisply and scooped Platt's phone records off the desk, then turned around to exit the office. She was halfway to her own when her phone rang.
Mira's name flashed across the screen as she retrieved it. "Speak of the devil. I understand you'll be landing in time for breakfast tomorrow. Need a ride?"
"Yes. But there's another reason for my call—and it's not good."
Regan juggled the sheaf of papers in her hand as she elbowed her way through the door of her office. She didn't mind that Jelly was absent for his first official briefing since that fiasco. She had bigger worries.
Somehow, she knew what had happened.
LaCroix. "He called Platt's phone, didn't he?" The one NCIS and the DC Metro Police had confiscated when Scott Platt had been brought in and booked into a cell to keep his uncooperative mouth from doing a one-eighty and flapping open long enough to tip off his good buddy LaCroix.
"Ten minutes ago."
On a Friday? At fourteen hundred? They were six hours ahead of the East Coast, making it eight in the morning on Platt's end. Worse, it was a deviation from their Saturday/Sunday call pattern.
One that did not bode well.
Regan dumped the phone records on her work table and picked up the folded square of paper Jelly had addressed to her. "Did LaCroix swallow it?"
"I think so. Hell, I hope so. The Intensive Care Unit nurse we had manning Platt's phone was nervous, but I'm pretty sure she pulled it off. She threw in enough medical jargon to stump me. If we're lucky, her critical accident and coma story bought us some time. How much, we won't know unless LaCroix decides to call via the hospital's main line to confirm. If he does, the rest of the unit's nurses and physicians are prepared to back her up. But if some unsuspecting doc from another floor walks by and picks up that phone, the cover story could fall apart and fast."
The clock was ticking then, in more ways than one. "Understood."
"How's it going on your end?"
Regan sank into the metal chair at the table. "Not as well as I'd hoped, but it's getting there. Brooks shot down the tap and tail again, but he's regrown his pair enough to finally decide to send me in. I've got some research and planning to do, but I'll have my cover identity worked up before you arrive."
"I'll let you get to it, then. See you soon. Wish it was under better circumstances."
Regan hung up the phone and opened the note Jelly had left.
Went home to grill Ava. Not even going to try to lie. We both know she won't say a word.
Jelly's tactic was sound. But since Brooks wouldn't agree—especially with his current, added, ire toward her fellow agent—she took the time to walk the note over to her shredder. She fed the hungry beast and headed for her desk.
With the basics of her cover already churning through her brain, she phoned Public Affairs next.
Unfortunately, Terry Vaughn wasn't in.
She left a message for the stalwart captain who'd covered for her brilliantly on several missions before—albeit on posts other than Hohenfels and nearby Vilseck, including a war zone.
After hanging up her second call in twice as many minutes, Regan turned her attention to her laptop. She fired up the computer and clicked through the security protocols to access LaCroix's official Army record. She'd need to study his entire career history, as well as his performance evaluations, before she finalized her cover details with Terry anyway.
But this particular file would have to be absorbed quickly.
In light of the unusual timing of the sergeant's most recent stateside call to Platt's phone, the stakes had been raised even higher than those she'd just conveyed to Brooks.
Several pages into LaCroix's personnel record, they shot into the stratosphere.
Sergeant LaCroix wasn't just the real deal. He'd all but crafted it.
And it was born of C4, det cord and so much more. Before Special Forces had tapped LaCroix on his shoulder to invite him into the hallowed brotherhood, he'd been a sapper. But not just any sapper. LaCroix was so good at constructing both complex bombs and simple, impromptu explosives, he'd been tasked with teaching his fellow combat engineers at the Army's Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Whatever his pending target might be, it appeared the man wouldn't even need a brick of C4 and handful of blasting caps to obliterate it.
Ice crackled along Regan's spine as she read one particular write up.
Sergeant LaCroix is an outstanding soldier and unsurpassed as a sapper. Though young, he possesses an uncanny and unparalleled ingenuity in crafting field-expedient explosives. I have the utmost faith in Sgt. LaCroix's ability to link up with any indigenous force to which he's assigned and quickly teach them to rig bombs with whatever's on hand. If the materials don't exist, Sgt. LaCroix will create them—and the results will be devastating.
The enemy will never see him coming.
The evaluation had been filed six years earlier. Since then, LaCroix had completed the SF Q Course and donned the vaunted green beret. As Special Forces, he'd gone on to serve four more tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, where he'd undoubtedly honed those innate, deadly skills of his to a terrifying proficiency.
And there was Hohenfels.
If LaCroix was up to no good, he had plenty of places right here in his own backyard to prepare for it. Far too many for CID to search.
Hosting the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, the forty thousand acre Army installation was the second largest combat maneuvering facility for US troops in Europe. Hohenfels' often unforgiving topography was riddled with thick forests and deep, often inaccessible ravines—wet and dry.
And that wasn't the worst of it.
With the JMRC training roughly twenty-two hundred soldiers a day—sixty thousand last year alone—the installation's instructors and students chewed through a staggeringly large supply of munitions.
A staggering supply to which a trusted, outstanding sapper-turned Special Forces sergeant first class with an uncanny and unparalleled ingenuity in crafting field-expedient explosives would surely have been entrusted with near-unfettered access.
Brooks was right about one thing. Dicey didn't begin to cover this case.
She had to find a way to get close to LaCroix, and now. Because if they didn't have an entire team of savvy, adaptable agents trailing behind the man, twenty-four seven, ready to take him down before he managed to place that bomb, they'd never find it.
Not until it was too late.