What would you do if you woke up one day and found out everything you thought you knew about your father turned out to be a lie?
After being bitten by the genealogy bug, Grace Hendricks awakens a conspiracy that's been lying dormant—ever since she disappeared shortly after her father's funeral eleven years ago. Now, here in the present, his military records have been tampered with and his death certificate is no longer on file.
In an effort to unravel the mystery she turns to Eric Wayne, an old flame she thought she'd tucked safely away into the past. Eric has no intentions of getting involved with Grace and her crazy allegations, until he realizes that someone else is buried in his former commanding General's grave.
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.
When 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—3rd 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.