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Candace Irving

DECEPTION POINT: BOOKS 1-3 COLLECTION (EBOOK)

DECEPTION POINT: BOOKS 1-3 COLLECTION (EBOOK)

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Buy the first 3 books in the Deception Point Military detective series and save!

BLIND EDGE - Book 1

Army Detective Regan Chase responds to a series of murders and suicides brought on by the violent hallucinations plaguing a Special Forces A-Team—a team led by Regan's ex, John Garrison. Regan quickly clashes with an unforgiving, uncooperative and dangerously secretive John—and an even more secretive US Army. What really happened during that Afghan cave mission? As Regan pushes for answers, the murders and suicides continue to mount. By the time the Army comes clean, it may be too late. Regan's death warrant has already been signed—by John's hands. *BLIND EDGE is a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Finalist for Best Thriller.

BACKBLAST - Book 2

Army Detective Regan Chase just solved the most horrific case of her career. The terrorist responsible refuses to speak to anyone but her. The claim? There's a traitor in the Army. With the stakes critical, Regan heads for the government's newest classified interrogation site: A US Navy warship at sea. There, Regan uncovers a second, deadlier, terror plot that leads all the way to a US embassy—and beyond. Once again, Regan's on the verge of losing her life—and another far more valuable to her than her own...

CHOKEPOINT - Book 3

When a US Navy commander is brutally murdered, NCIS Special Agent Mira Ellis investigates. As Mira follows the killer to a ship hijacked at sea, the ties to her own past multiply. Mira doesn't know who to trust—including her partner. A decorated, former Navy SEAL of Saudi descent, Sam Riyad lied to an Army investigator during a terror case and undermined the mission of a Special Forces major. Whose side is Riyad really on? The fate of the Navy—and the world—depends on the answer.

Written by a former US Navy Lt.

Please Note: 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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BLIND EDGE: Book 1
Deception Point Series

Prologue

The Bible was wrong. Vengeance didn't belong to the Lord. It belonged to him.

To them.

To the twelve soldiers who'd stumbled out of that dank, icy cave, each as consumed as he was by the malevolence that had been carved into their souls. A second later, the night breeze shifted—and he caught a whiff of him. He couldn't be sure if that rotting piece of camel dung had been left behind as a lookout or if the bastard was part of a squad waiting to ambush his team. When the combined experiences of countless covert missions locked in, allowing him to place the stench wafting down along with stale sweat and pure evil, he no longer cared. Because once again, he smelled blood.

Fresh blood.

It permeated the air outside the cave, as did the need for retribution. As his fellow soldiers faded into the wind-sheared boulders, he knew they felt it too.

By God, they would all taste it.

Soon.

He shot out on point. There was no need to glance behind as he reached the base of the cliff and shouldered his rifle. His team had followed, protecting his back as they'd done every op these past months. The trust freed him to focus on their unspoken mission. On the blood pooling around seven bodies laid out on the floor of that cavern, and then some. He tucked the blade of his knife between his teeth and began to climb. Rock tore at his fingers as he jammed them into crevice after crevice, causing his own blood to mingle with the death still staining his hands. Moments later, he stopped, locking the toes of his boots to a narrow ledge as he scanned the dark.

Nothing.

He resumed his climb. The same moonless night that cloaked his prey protected him and his team. As long as they were mute, they were safe. Unless—

Shit!

He froze as the wind shifted, shooting his own stench heavenward. He caught the answering scuffle of panicked boots.

Too late, bastard.

He was almost there.

His position compromised, he grabbed a scrub pine, using it to whiplash up the remaining three feet of cliff.

Loose rock bit into his soles, causing him to skid to a halt two yards from his prey. The wind shifted once more, whipping a filthy turban from the bastard's face. A second later, he was staring into pure, bearded hatred as an AK47 rifle swung up. He grabbed his knife and lunged forward. Blood gushed over his knuckles as he buried the blade to its hilt. He hauled the bastard in closer, staring deep into that blackened gaze, for the first time in his life embracing the carnal satisfaction that seared in on a close-quarters kill—until suddenly, inexplicably, the gaze wavered...then slowly disintegrated altogether.

To his horror, it coalesced once more, this time into a soft blue hue he knew all too well.

Sweet Jesus—no!

It was a lie. A trick. An illusion. This latest flood of adrenaline had simply been too much to absorb. That was all.

Goddamn it, that was all.

He'd never know how he managed to hold his heart together as he released the knife and brought his fingers to his eyes. He rubbed them over and over, praying harder than he'd ever prayed as he sank to his knees. But as he blinked through his tears and forced himself to focus on the river of scarlet gushing into the snow, he knew it was true. The body in his arms wasn't that of his enemy. Nor was he in some freezing mountain pass half a world away. He was in his own backyard.

And he'd just murdered the woman he loved.

*****

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should kill before I wake,
I pray the Lord it's my enemy I take.


Chapter 1

Military Police Station
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
US Army Special Agent Regan Chase stared at the five-foot fir anchoring the corner of the deserted lounge. A rainbow of ornaments dangled from the tree's artificial limbs along with hundreds of twinkling lights, each doing its damnedest to infect her with an equally artificial promise of home, hearth and simpering happiness. Fifteen months ago, she might've succumbed. Tonight, that phony fir simply underscored the three tenets of truth Regan had crashed into at the tender age of six. One, no one sat around the North Pole stuffing sacks with free toys. Two, reindeer couldn't fly. And three, if there ever had been some jolly old geezer looking out for the boys and girls of the world, he'd been fired for incompetence a long time ago.

The current proof was handcuffed to a stall in the military police station's latrine, attempting to purge what appeared to be an entire fifth of nauseatingly ripe booze. Unfortunately, the majority of the alcohol had long since made it into the man's bloodstream. Even more unfortunate, Regan had no idea whose bloodstream said booze was currently coursing through.

Not only had their drunken John Doe been arrested sans driver's license and military ID, he'd stolen the pickup he'd used in tonight's carnage.

Regan turned her back on the tree and headed for the coffee table at the rear of the lounge, sighing as she sank into one of the vinyl chairs. She reached past a bowl of cellophane-wrapped candy canes to snag the stack of photos she'd queued into the duty sergeant's printer upon her arrival. The close-up of the stolen pickup's silver grill splattered with blood flaunted its own obscene contribution to the night's festivities. The scarlet slush adhering to the tires beneath provided even more proof of yet another Christmas shot to hell.

Make that crushed.

Regan studied the remaining dozen photos. From the angle and depth of the furrows running the length of the snowy street, John Doe hadn't tried to slow down, much less swerve. Instead, he'd plowed into a trio of teenagers making the rounds of Fort Campbell's senior officer housing and belting out carols to the commanding general himself. One of the boys had suffered a broken leg. Another had dislocated his shoulder as he'd tried to wrench his younger brother out of the way of the truck's relentless headlights. Unfortunately, he'd failed.

As far as Regan knew, the kid was still in surgery.

She should phone the hospital. Find out if he'd made it to recovery. She was about to retrieve her cellphone when the door opened. A lanky, red-haired specialist strode in, a ring-sized, gift-wrapped box in his left hand, the naked fingers of a curvaceous blond in his right.

The specialist paused as he spotted Regan. Flushed. "Sorry, Chief. Thought the lounge was vacant."

He held his breath as he waited. Regan knew why. She'd transferred to Fort Campbell's Criminal Investigation Division two weeks earlier. Not quite long enough for the resident military policemen to know if CID's newest investigator had a poker up her ass regarding midnight rendezvous while on duty, even on holidays.

Regan scooped the photos off the table, tucking them into the oversized cargo pocket on the thigh of her camouflaged Army Combat Uniform as she stood. She scanned the name tag on the soldier's matching ACUs as she grabbed her parka and patrol cap. "It's all yours, Specialist Jasik. I was about to leave for the hospital."

Why not?

She wouldn't be getting a decent statement until their drunken Doe sobered up. Given the stunning 0.32 the man had blown on their breathalyzer, that would be a good eight hours, at least. If the man didn't plunge into a coma first.

Jasik relaxed. He led the blond to the couch as Regan passed. "Thanks, Chief. And Merry Christmas."

Regan peeled back the velcroed grosgrain covering of her combat watch and glanced at the digital readout: 0003. So it was—all three minutes of it. Though what was so merry about it, she had no idea. But that was her problem. Or so she'd been told.

Regan returned the salutation anyway, donning her camouflaged parka and cap as she departed the lounge. Nodding to the duty sergeant, she pushed the glass doors open. Icy wind whipped across a freshly salted walk, kicking up snowflakes from the two-foot banks scraped to the sides. The flakes stung her eyes and chapped her cheeks as she passed a pair of recently de-iced police cruisers at the head of the dimly lit lot.

By the time Regan reached her Explorer, she was looking forward to the impromptu hospital visit. It would give her a chance to stop by the ER and commiserate with Gil. Like her, he had a habit of volunteering for Christmas duty.

For an entirely different reason, though.

Regan unlocked her SUV. Exhaust plumed as she started the engine. Grabbing her ice scraper from the door, she cleared the latest layer of snow from her front windshield. She was finishing the rear when an ear-splitting wail rent the air.

Ambulance. On post.

Judging from its Doppler, it was headed away from the hospital.

The police station's door whipped open, confirming her hunch. A trio of ACU-clad military policemen vaulted into the night, their combat boots thundering down the salted walk. The first two MPs peeled off and piled into the closest de-iced cruiser. The third headed straight for her.

Regan recognized the soldier's tall, ebony frame: Staff Sergeant Otis T. Wickham.

They'd met in front of their drunken Doe's blood-splattered pickup, where they'd also reached the conclusion that Doe's intended target did indeed appear to be the trio of caroling kids and not the commanding general. One look at the tension locking the MP's jaw as he reached her side told her that whatever had gone down was bad.

He popped a salute. "Evenin', Chief. There's been a stabbing in Stryker Housing. Victim's a woman. The captain wants you there. No specifics, but it's gotta be bad. The husband called it in. Man's Special Forces—and he was downright frantic."

Regan tossed the ice scraper inside the Explorer. "Get in."

Wickham wedged his bulk into her passenger seat as she hit the emergency lights and peeled out after the shrieking cruiser. They fishtailed onto Forest Road, neither of them speaking. It was for the best. Four-wheel drive or not, it took all her concentration to keep up with the cruiser as they reached the entrance to Fort Campbell's snowbound Stryker Family Housing. The strobes of the now-silent ambulance bathed the neighborhood in an eerily festive red, ushering them to a cookie-cutter brick-and-vinyl duplex at the end of the street.

Regan brought the SUV to a halt within kissing distance of the cruiser and killed her siren.

Doors slammed as she and the MPs bailed out.

She recognized the closest as the gift-bearing soldier from the lounge. Specialist Jasik had traded the curvaceous blond for a black, thirty-something private. Staff Sergeant Wickham motioned Jasik to his side. The private headed for the end of the drive to round up the pajama-clad rubberneckers. Life-saving gear in hand, a trio of paramedics waited impatiently for the official all-clear from the MPs.

Regan withdrew her 9mm Sig Sauer from its holster at her outer right thigh as Wickham and Jasik retrieved their M9s before killing the volume on their police radios. Save for the crush of snow, silence reigned as they approached the duplex. A life-sized Santa cutout decorated the front door. A cursory glance at the knob revealed no obvious sign of forced entry. The brass plate above the mail slot provided a name and a rank: Sergeant Patrick Blessing.

Regan moved to the right of Santa's corpulent belly as Wickham assumed the left. Jasik was moving into position when the door opened.

Three 9mms whipped up, zeroed in.

A woman froze in the entryway. Roughly five feet tall, Hispanic, mid-twenties. She was dressed in a long-sleeved pink flannel nightgown and fleece-lined moccasins. Given her wide eyes and rigid spine, she was more startled than they. But she wasn't Mrs. Blessing. Though her cuffs were splattered with blood, the woman appeared uninjured. Definitely not stabbed.

She swallowed firmly. "She—uh—Danielle's out back. I live next door. My husband's a medic." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "He's with them now."

Regan lowered her Sig. The MPs followed suit as the woman waved them in.

Regan tipped her head toward Wickham. She might be senior in rank, but right now, she was junior to the staff sergeant's on-post experience. That included knowledge of Stryker's floor plans. Protocol dictated they assume the suspect was on the premises, possibly controlling the actions of the medic's wife—and search accordingly.

Wickham clipped a nod as he and Jasik headed down the hall.

Regan caught the neighbor's gaze. "Stay here."

The relief swirling into her tear-stained face assured Regan she would. The woman had already seen more than she wanted, and it had shaken her to her core. As Regan passed through the kitchen to join Wickham and Jasik at the sliding glass door in the dining room, she realized why the neighbor was so rattled.

They all did.

They'd found Mrs. Blessing. She was twenty feet away, lying in the snow on her back, clad in a sleeveless, floral nightgown bunched beneath her breasts. Like her neighbor, Danielle was delicate, dark-haired and—despite the gray cast to her flesh—almost painfully pretty. But there was nothing pretty about the knife embedded in her belly. Two men knelt along the woman's left. Judging from his sobs, Regan assumed the bare-chested man just past the woman's head, smoothing curls, was her husband. That pegged the man at her torso, leaning over to blow air through her lips, as the medic. Like the husband, the medic had removed his T-shirt. The shirts were packed around the hilt of the knife, immobilizing the blade in a desperate attempt to keep the flow of blood corked. Given the amount of red saturating the cotton, it wasn't working. Danielle Blessing was bleeding out. But that wasn't the worst of it.

She was pregnant.

"Jesus H. Chri—" Jasik swallowed the rest.

The MP regained his composure and grabbed his radio to yell for the paramedics as Regan and Wickham shot through the open slider and across the snow. She'd have to trust that Jasik knew enough to secure the interior of the duplex after his call.

Regan dropped to her knees opposite the medic as the man thumped out a series of chest compressions. Staff Sergeant Wickham was two seconds behind and two inches beside her.

Odds were, they were already too late.

Danielle Blessing's abdomen was extremely distended—even for a third trimester—and rock hard. An oddly sweet odor wafted up from the makeshift packing, mixing with the cloying stench of blood. It was a scent Regan would recognize anywhere: amniotic fluid. Worse, scarlet seeped from between the woman's thighs, pooling amid the snow.

Regan holstered her Sig and ripped off her camouflaged parka. "What have you got?"

The medic looked up. "No breathing, no pulse. Been that way since I got here—six damned minutes ago." The rest was in his eyes. Hopeless.

The medic continued thumping regardless. Working around the knife, she and Wickham covered the woman's lower abdomen, thighs and calves with their coats. Danielle's feet were still exposed to the snow and midnight air. Like her face, they were beyond gray.

Regan shook her head as the medic completed his latest round of chest compressions. "I've got it." She sealed her mouth to the woman's lips. They were ice-cold and unresponsive.

Wickham took over the compressions as Regan finished her breaths. But for the husband's raw sobs and Wickham's thumping, silence filled the night.

Two more rounds of breath, and Regan lost her job. So did Wickham. The paramedics had arrived.

Blessing's neighbor dragged the sergeant to his feet as she and Wickham scrambled out of the way. Two of the paramedics dropped their gear and knelt to double-check Danielle's airway and non-existent vitals as a third probed the saturated T-shirts. Ceding to the inevitable, Regan turned toward the duplex. Jasik stood at the kitchen window, his initial search evidently complete.

The MP shook his head. If someone had broken into the Blessings' home, he or she was gone now.

The slider was still open. The medic had reached the snow-covered steps and stood to the left. Sergeant Blessing had turned and slumped down at the top, halfway inside the slider's frame, his naked feet buried in a drift, his dark head bowing over bloodstained hands, and he was shaking.

From grief? Or guilt?

Unfortunately, she knew. As with the icy furrows left by a drunken Doe's stolen pickup, the snow provided the proof.

Footprints.

They covered the yard. But upon their arrival, there'd been but four telling sets. Once Regan eliminated those left by the his-and-her moccasins of the medic and his wife, she was left with a single, composite trail of overlapping, bare footprints. The leading prints were woefully petite; the following, unusually large. Both sets were dug into the snow as if their owners had torn down the slider's steps and across the yard...all the way to where Danielle lay. Finally, there was the blood. Save for the scarlet slush surrounding the body, there was no sign of splatter—at the slider or along the trail.

For some reason, Sergeant Blessing had deliberately chased and then stabbed his wife.

Regan turned to Wickham. "I'll take the husband, question him inside. You take the neighbor. Stay out here." She glanced at the paramedics. "They might need to talk to him." Though she doubted it. There was nothing the sergeant could say that would help his wife now.

Danielle Blessing had been placed on a spine board, stripped down to gray, oozing flesh and redressed with several trauma pads. Half a dozen rolls of Kling gauze anchored the pads and the hilt of the knife. As the brawnier of the paramedics finished intubating the woman's throat and began manually pumping oxygen into her lungs via a big valve mask, his female partner attached the leads of a portable electrocardiogram to Danielle's shoulders and left hip.

Silence had long since given way to a calm, steady stream of medical jargon.

"Patient on cardiac monitor."

"IV spiked on blood set. One thousand milliliters NS. Starting second line—LR on a Macro drip, sixteen gauge."

"I still can't get a pulse."

Judging from that last—not to mention the wad of fresh dressing one of the paramedics used to dry off Danielle's chest—the next step involved shocks. In a perfect world, the woman's heart would restart. But the world was far from perfect. Regan had learned that the hard way. Given that this woman's heart had already been subjected to eight-plus minutes of unsuccessful CPR, the odds that she'd recover were all but nonexistent.

Regan shifted her attention to Wickham. "Ready, Staff Sergeant?"

His nod was stoic. But his sigh was resigned. Bitter. "Merry Christmas."

The past crowded in despite Regan's attempts to keep it at bay. She shook it off. "Yeah."

Wickham doffed his camouflaged cap as they headed for the slider. Though his bald scalp was exposed to the winter air, he appeared not to notice. She couldn't seem to feel the cold either. Nor did the medic.

The husband was still staring at his hands, shaking.

Regan exchanged a knowing frown with Wickham as she reached for her handcuffs. Two strides later, the distinctive whine of a cardiac defibrillator charging filled the night.

And then, "Clear!"

A dull thud followed.

The shocks had begun. Even if Danielle made it, there was no hope for her baby. If that knife hadn't killed it, the electrical jolts would. Judging by the panic on the husband's face as he shot to his feet, Sergeant Blessing had figured it out.

"Wait!"

The neighbor grabbed Blessing's right arm. Jasik leapt through the open side of the slider and pinned Blessing's left.

"Charging to three hundred."

Blessing thrashed, nearly knocking both his captors to the ground. "Goddamn it! The baby—"

"Clear!"

Jasik regained his hold and drove Blessing to his knees, sealing the sergeant's shins to the ground as the paramedics ripped through the final steps of ECG protocol. As they hit three hundred sixty joules—for the third agonizing time—Blessing accepted the inescapable. His wife and child were dead.

He slumped into the snow as Jasik and the neighbor loosened their grips. A soft keening filled the night, laying waste to every one of Regan's meticulously honed defenses.

Her eyes burned. Her heart followed.

She pulled herself together and tossed her handcuffs to Jasik, her unspoken order clear. Get it over with.

Jasik caught the cuffs neatly and bent down.

That was as far as he got.

One moment the lanky MP was behind Sergeant Blessing, pushing him to his knees; the next, Blessing had twisted about, bashing his forehead into Jasik's skull.

A sharp grunt filled the air.

Regan caught the flash of blackened metal as Blessing ripped the 9mm from Jasik's holster. She lunged across the remaining three feet of snow, launching herself at Blessing as the weapon's barrel swung up.

She was too late.

The 9mm's retort reverberated through Regan as she and Blessing smashed into the slider.

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