Authors: Sandra Edwards
Copyright © 2010 Sandra Edwards
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from Sandra Edwards.
Published by Amazon DTP
Electronic DTP Edition: September 2010
This book is a work of fiction and all characters exist solely in the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Any references to places, events or locales are used in a fictitious manner.
Other books by Sandra Edwards
Vegas, Baby (sequel to Broken Wings)
Forever For You (sequel to Crazy For You)
To all my Friends and Family: Thanks for your continued support and help!
~ ~ ~
To The Readers,
Secondary Targets is a tale of intrigue and mystery that I began writing several years ago. Since a pivotal part of the plot centers around Grand Central Station in New York City, which no longer has lockers available to the public, rather than rewriting the book, I took author’s liberty and left the lockers in GCS for the sake of the story.
As always, I welcome comments, thoughts and emails from my readers. I’d love to hear from you, if you’re so inclined. Drop me a line at [email protected].
Raleigh National Cemetery
THE morning sun glared down on Grace Hendricks like an evil omen. She towered over the plot that was supposed to be her father’s grave, but the headstone said someone else was buried there. Grace felt like she’d walked onto the set of some weird Sci-Fi flick.
She surveyed the cemetery, half-blinded by the sunlight dousing the tombstones. Granted, she hadn’t been here since the funeral, eleven years ago, but who forgot a thing like where their father was buried? She hadn’t been a child with distorted memories, she was twenty-two when the man died.
A quick double-check of the small notepad she had clutched in her left hand confirmed the cemetery’s section and plot markers matched the ones she’d scribbled onto the paper before leaving her home in Cleveland yesterday. Grace hadn’t stumbled upon the wrong grave.
Her gaze lit back on the headstone and remained, as if the marker was going to correct itself. It didn’t.
“Where’s my father?” she whispered.
Grace backed away and hurried for the car. Her pounding heartbeat raced to her head and banged against her skull. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Four-star generals didn’t just disappear, especially the former commander of a United States Marine Corps Air Station.
She slammed the car door and started the engine, casting a fleeting glance over the cardboard box on the seat at her side. The container held the file she’d recently obtained from the Veteran’s Administration—they said the dossier was her father’s records, but she didn’t believe it. The file didn’t detail a single event in the life she remembered.
Missing graves and bizarre VA files. What the hell had Grace stumbled upon?
So far, this trip to North Carolina—the site of her father’s last command, death and subsequent burial—had done nothing to clear up the mystery. If anything, the esotericism had amplified.
The only place left to go was Cherry Point, where she hoped someone would recognize her father’s name and agree to help the former commanding general’s daughter. But who could she trust? Who wouldn’t think she’d lost her mind? Only someone who’d been there, the same as her, the day of the funeral.
Captain Eric Wayne.
He was the only one she could trust, even though she’d run out on him shortly after the funeral. The chances of Eric still being stationed at Cherry Point were slim at best, but she could always check with the Post Locator.
Hopefully, he wasn’t overseas.
hen Grace arrived at the front gate those bozos wanted to deny her base access, until they saw the civilian security clearance badge, with her picture, hanging off her rearview mirror. Grace had jumped through hoops to earn those credentials for her job as a corporate fundraiser, and now her efforts were paying off in spades. Even the guards’ overbearing arrogance couldn’t stop her from entering this, or any other, military base on US soil.
Okay, so maybe, in light of 9/11 they were just doing their job, but still, why didn’t any of them know who General Michael Hendricks was? Did neither of them know the history of the military installation they guarded?
Grace headed for the Post Locator. According to them, Captain Eric Wayne was now Lt. Colonel Wayne and once again stationed at Cherry Point. What luck. Something was going Grace’s way. Finally.
She parked in the vacant visitor space in front of Building 2386. The landscape hadn’t changed much in the eleven years she’d been away. Stately red-bricked buildings, Cherry Point’s landmark, sparked her memories. Well-manicured lawns still had those squared-off hedges and splashes of spring colors bordering the structures.
Grace maneuvered through the busy entrance, slipping inside the lobby. She checked the directory on the far wall and searched for his name and location.
Lt Colonel Eric Wayne—3
Floor, Suite 118
Grace leaned against the sidewall of the almost empty elevator and waited for her floor. A woman, her only companion on the lift, exited on the second floor, and a guy in a Marine Corps Service Uniform joined Grace. She figured him for about forty-five or so. His gaze fell upon her and stayed a little too long to suit Grace.
She smiled, hoping to appear friendly and remote enough not to provide encouragement. The elevator’s ding signaled their arrival at the third floor, and a silent offer of thanks invaded her thoughts.
A chill shuddered up her torso as she moved past the Marine and stepped into the corridor. She studied the numbers at each door and the names beneath them.
On one side of the hallway, the numbers ran “odd” in the low 120s. The other side, the right side, she scanned them as she walked. 124. 122. 120. 118.
Lt. Colonel Eric Wayne
A mixture of fear and insecurity swept through Grace, but she had no time to wallow in self-pity. The past had reemerged, the music was getting louder and she’d forgotten the dance. Still, she opened the door and stumbled onto the dance floor, a necessary maneuver if she wanted answers. Her father had disappeared—grave and all. Eric would know what to do. Or she was screwed.
In the reception area, a clerk behind the counter glanced up from her computer screen and smiled at Grace. A single window on the far side cast faint rays of sunshine inside the mostly drab room. Grace stepped forward, closer to the receptionist. The girl had wrapped her blonde hair in a bun—whatever it takes to get it off the collar—and glued in place with hairspray. She wore no earrings, no makeup, no nail polish.
Grace fiddled with the purse strap hanging on her shoulder. “I’m here to see Lt. Colonel Eric Wayne.”
“Lt. Colonel Wayne has retired,” the receptionist said. “Just today. He left a couple of hours ago.” The clerk’s demeanor showed no sympathy, her voice held no consideration for what her words might cost Grace.
Retired? Seriously? What the hell was Grace supposed to do now? Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to ‘erase’ her father, and she had no idea where to turn.
She couldn’t trust too many people with this newfound information. In fact, she could count them on one hand and have a whole lot of fingers left over.
Could she trust anyone, other than Eric, with this bizarre story? No one but Marcus, and the post locator had nothing on Eric’s best friend.
A sick sensation rose up and Grace swooned.
“Can I call someone for you?” the receptionist asked, standing.
“No.” Grace moved back a couple of steps, turned and headed for the exit. Her trembling hands clutched the handle and pushed, enabling her escape.
Okay, get a grip
. Giving up wasn’t an option. Nor was going back to Cleveland and pretending her father hadn’t been wiped from existence. She’d tried a variation of the scenario before. One where she avoided dealing with her father’s death—which had only led her down a path of darkness. A place she couldn’t visit again. She had to have a Plan B.
And she’d implement it, just as soon as she concocted one.
ink’s Tavern seemed liked the appropriate place, for sentimental reasons, to end Eric Wayne’s last day of active duty in the United States Marine Corps.
The place was a hole-in-the-wall joint during Eric’s first stint at Cherry Point fifteen years ago, and nothing had changed. Not its owner. Not its charm. Not the sign hanging behind the bar proclaiming the establishment as Pink’s in pink neon cursive.
Eric strolled across the open expanse between the door and the bar. A hint of beer and pretzels mingled with the more pungent aromas of smoke and stale perfume. The hard-rocking sounds of Rod Stewart blasting from the jukebox made the stench a bit more bearable.
The leatherneck in Eric scanned the near-empty tavern. Happy hour was a good forty-five minutes away, just enough time for a beer or two and then he’d head out before the meat-market crowd arrived.
Pink, otherwise known as David Floyd, greeted Eric as he claimed a stool at the middle of the unoccupied bar. The pub’s owner and bartender had long since hit his fiftieth year. During the time Eric had been stationed elsewhere, Pink had lost most of his hair and none of the extra pounds he’d packed on with his favorite diet of beer and doughnuts.
“Lt. Colonel Wayne,” Pink’s boisterous voice bellowed, “how’s it hanging with the Marines?” He placed the usual, a bottle of Budweiser, in front of Eric.
“It’s no longer Lt. Colonel.” Eric reached for the beer. “Thanks to a little thing called retirement, I’m now a man of leisure.” After devoting twenty years to the Marine Corps—pretty much his whole adult life—he could use a bit of repose.
“Well...” Pink grabbed a bottle of Tequila, a couple of shot glasses and hammered them onto the bar. “I’ll drink to that.”
“That’s why I like this place.” Eric laughed and latched onto the nearest shot glass.
Pink downed the liquor and slammed the beaker against the bar. “So, what are you going to do now? Aggravate the Marines?” A slight snigger rumbled from his restrained laughter.
The music stopped and the tavern grew quiet, except for the faint sounds of CDs changing on the jukebox. A ray of light illuminated the interior. Someone had opened the door.
Pink looked up. His attention stayed on his newest patron, or patrons, longer than typical.
Eric had no idea, nor did he care, who’d claimed the seat a couple of stools over, but judging by the look on Pink’s face—smittened intrigue—it had to be a woman. Pink gawked at the girl and Eric laughed but didn’t steal a peek.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” blasted from the jukebox. Eric hated the song. It reminded him of Grace. Somebody had kept playing the tune over and over the night she stood him up, right here at Pink’s, eleven years ago.
Don’t go there
Keep your head out of the past
At least he wasn’t still sitting around waiting on her to come to her senses. He’d gotten over the fascination years ago. Now, he no longer cared.
Time to check out the chick sitting a couple of stools away. She was here. She was real. And probably waiting for her boyfriend. Eric grabbed his beer, expelling any thoughts of hitting on Pink’s latest customer.
“What can I get you, darlin’?” Pink, on the other hand, poured the charm on thick.
“Black Russian, please.”
“Coming right up,” Pink said, and went about mixing the concoction.
“Thanks. Heavy on the black, please.” Her voice, polite and familiar, floated toward Eric.
No way. Couldn’t be.
Eric’s heart clawed against his chest, and his mouth dropped open. He made a conscious effort to close it as curiosity convinced him to turn toward her.
Grace? Were his eyes playing tricks?
Wouldn’t be the first time. He’d always been able to recognize his mistake quickly though. Until now. Everything about this woman screamed Grace Hendricks.
The tavern’s dim lighting illuminated her slender, reed-like frame. Her clothing was more conservative than before. The dark pantsuit wasn’t something he’d expect to find in her closet, but the garment added a sense of maturity to her appearance.
Wisps of dark hair framed her face, still porcelain-white and ageless. She wore her hair shorter now. No more than an inch or two past her shoulders, and tamer than he remembered but still russet-brown. He’d always loved the color. It reminded him of chocolate.
Eric’s heart slipped to the floor. Then anger took possession of the empty spot. He shook his head and sneered. “Little late, aren’t you?” Turning away, he picked up the bottle and chugged his beer.
“Excuse me?” Her familiar voice was no longer polite.
“About eleven years, I’d say.” Neither happiness nor relief had overcome him at the sight of her, but her presence did have him wondering.
What’s she doing here
To assume she was looking for him was audacious if not arrogant. Grace Hendricks was a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. The girl had been raised military. She had to know the odds of Eric being at Cherry Point, eleven years after the fact, weren’t good.
So, why was she here?
“Eric...?” she uttered his name in a quavering whisper.
He had a feeling he was about to find out.
She rolled over the empty stool separating them and hugged him. His first inkling, to return her embrace, didn’t last long. Her desertion, as of yet unexplained and unforgiven, called his resentment back to the forefront of his mind.
He stiffened and nudged her away. “Why are you here?”
“Eric, I need your help.”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve.”
“Please, Eric...” She paused as Pink sat the drink in front of her, and after a brief interlude she latched onto it. “You’re the only one who can help me,” she said, and devoured half the cocktail.
Eric would’ve been overridden by his bitterness, if not for the fear emanating from her like an aura. She was either afraid or a damn good actress. Given time to make a choice, he bet on the latter and kept silent. He wasn’t biting and that had her fidgeting. Good.
“I retired my superman cape today,” he said, with such detachment he had to fight the urge to smirk.
“Well, if you say you’re not going to help me,” she said, in a half-bargaining half-threatening way. “I’ll just follow you home.”
Eric shook his head and couldn’t resist saying, “My wife won’t like that very much.”
Her laughter came across as puffed-up mockery. “Very funny.”
Sure, okay. Lots of things were wrong with his statement. Inaccuracy for one. He had no wife to speak of, but why was it so hard to believe he’d gotten married since he’d seen her last?
Grace hesitated and reached for his arm. “I need you to come with me to the cemetery,” she said, barely above a whisper.
“What?” He stiffened and leaned back, away from her. She’d lost her mind.
She inched closer. “To visit my father’s grave,” she said, still whispering. “Please?”
How dare she? How dare she waltz back into his life after all this time and beg him to escort her to the cemetery, specifically to visit the General’s grave.