Fatal Deceptions by Cindy Gerard

Chapter One

Rachael’s phone started playing the Outlander theme just as she was buckling Addie and her bulky pink snowsuit into her car seat.


“Sit tight, punkin’.” She smiled at her tired and a bit cranky daughter and wrestled her phone out of her purse. “Momma’s got to take this.”

Rachael was tired and borderline cranky herself. The clouds hung heavy as darkness began to fall, and it had started to snow which meant slippery streets driving from Addie’s daycare to home. It had already been a long day, but Cassie didn’t call often and it had been a while since they’d talked.

She got caught up, though, for just a few seconds as she took in the wonder of her eighteen-month-old child – every inch of her, her daddy. The blond hair, the blue eyes. The quick sweet smiles. Addie hadn’t inherited one thing from her momma. Not Rachael’s red hair. Not her freckles. Not her fair skin. Addie was her daddy through and through. And Rachael loved every inch of both of them.

She finally managed to pick up on the sixth ring, just before the call went to voice mail. “Hey, Cass.”

“Hi, Rach. How you doin’, sweetie?”

Rachael heard something other than normal interest in Cassie’s tone and tried to interpret what it meant. Concern? Sympathy? It felt like more than your basic ‘checking in on you’ voice. “I’m fine. How are things with you?”

“I’m okay.”

An uncomfortable silence followed and seemed to stretch on forever.

“So, what’s up, Cass?” She finally prompted, forcing a smile for Addie and brushing a blond curl away from her daughter’s forehead.

“Have you … have you talked to Mac?” Cassie asked, with a hesitance that provoked the first real trickle of alarm.

“Not since last week, why?”

Mac’s platoon was deployed to Afghanistan. When one of the platoon’s wives called to ask about another wife’s husband, all senses rose to red alert. Just last month, Rachael had had to make ‘the’ call, to relay the bad news that two of the guys had caught shrapnel from a round of artillery fire. Thankfully, both men were going to be okay but they faced some hospital time ahead. She’d dreaded making that call. She was growing more and more certain that she was going to regret receiving this one.

“Cass…What’s wrong?”

“Oh, Sweetie. I should have waited. I thought you would have heard from Mac by now. I … I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you.”

Alarm ramped up to fear. “Oh, God. Is Mac okay? Is he hurt?”

“No. No. He’s not hurt. At least that’s the word.”

She gripped her phone with both hands, her tension shooting off the charts. Addie sensed it. Her blue bonnet blue eyes grew big and round. Her lower lip started to quiver.

“It’s okay, baby.” She patted Addie’s thigh, squeezed in assurance, trying to stop what inevitably came next. “Momma’s okay.

“Then what?” She turned back to Cassie, attempting to keep her voice low and calm for Addie. But the eighteen-month-old’s rosy little cheeks puffed up, her face turned beet red, and huge raindrop tears pooled in her eyes just before she let out a wail that could wake the dead.

“What’s wrong with Addie?” Cassie couldn’t miss her cries through the phone connection. No one within a mile could miss those heart-wrenching sobs.

“She’s fine. She’s tired. She knows I’m upset. Cassie, for the love of God, stop stalling. Tell me what’s going on.”

Addie had ramped up to screaming, and Rachael had to cup her hand over one ear to hear Cassie.

“It … well, word is that Mac’s gotten himself into some trouble over there.”

Her heart lurched, uncertain if she’d heard her right. “Mac? What kind of trouble?” Her husband was the last person she would ever associate with that word. Samuel (Mac) McKenzie had always been a ‘toe the line’, military sharp, quintessential soldier. He was an officer. A 1st Lieutenant now. Platoon leader. In trouble? No.

Addie’s ear-piercing screams tripled Rachael’s anxiety. Lord, that child had a pair of lungs.

“Cassie, hold on a sec.” Bussing a kiss on Addie’s forehead and making sure her car seat straps were tight, she scrambled out of the car and shut the door behind her. With Addie’s crying muffled, she could hear – and think. “Now what’s going on?”

Seconds later, she wished she hadn’t been able to hear her.

A full minute after they disconnected, Rachael finally climbed back into the rear seat of their compact SUV, unbuckled her daughter and drew her into her arms.

And held her.

Held her until they both stopped crying.

The sunshine was too bright. Too cheery. Just …too much. It glinted through the trees and reflected off patches of ice melting on the road, painting a far too optimistic picture. The day was completely out of step with the gray mood Rachael had carried with her for the six long days since Cassie’s call.

She backed off on her speed, suddenly aware that she was driving fifteen miles over the limit. Nerves. Excess tension. Her eagerness to finally see Mac. They all came into play as she maneuvered the route to Ft. Riley.

During the many years Mac had been stationed there, she’d driven the fourteen miles from Manhattan, Kansas, to the army base more times than she could count. Knew the route by heart. Up ahead was a spot along the road where faded silk flowers and a small white cross rose from the melting snow, memorializing the site of a fatal accident. Just a mile further, she could push forty-five mph on a tight left curve if the road was clear of ice.