Special Forces Father
Author:Mallory Kane

Chapter One

Travis Delancey knew exactly what Wild Will Hancock was thinking as he eyed Travis’s trembling hands. Drugs.

That wasn’t Travis’s problem, but he didn’t bother explaining. He just shifted in the creaky wooden chair in the double-wide that served as Wild Will’s office and extracted the credit card from the side pocket of his military issue duffel bag. He held it up.

The shiny platinum of the card reflected in Wild Will’s pupils.

“Did I mention I’m in a hurry?” Travis asked evenly.

“Yes, sir, you did,” Wild Will said, his eyes still glued to the card. “Now, as far as the amount of the down payment—?”

“All of it,” Travis broke in.

“All of it.” Wild Will’s prominent Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Well then, if you’ll just swipe your card right there—” he nodded toward the credit card machine “—I’ll get you on your way.”

Travis swiped and Wild Will typed. After a torturously slow two minutes of hunting and pecking, the man finally paused, his index fingers poised over the keyboard. “Your current address?”

Travis started to give him his parents’ address, then changed his mind. He gave him Kate’s address instead. That’s where he was headed, and he didn’t want anyone calling his parents until he was ready to talk to them himself.

“And driver’s license?”

Just as Travis opened his mouth to recite his Louisiana driver’s license number, somebody banged loudly on the trailer’s metal door. Travis jumped. He instantly recovered and smiled sheepishly, but Wild Will’s attention was on the door. “Come in,” Will yelled.

The door creaked open to reveal a pudgy man in a T-shirt and jeans.

“Yeah,” he said. “I want to drive that Camaro.”

Will nodded. “Gimme a minute.”

The pudgy guy nodded back. “No prob,” he said. He went outside and closed the door.

Will turned back to Travis. “Now, where were we?”

“Driver’s license number,” Travis answered. He rattled off his and a random future expiration date. His license had actually expired two years before. Army Special Forces officers didn’t need civilian driver’s licenses, especially while on supersecret missions to unnamed countries overseas.

To his relief, the gaunt man who looked more like an undertaker than a used-car dealer didn’t ask to see the license. He merely gestured toward the credit card machine.

Travis scribbled his signature on the screen. His writing was worse than usual because of his trembling hand, but it satisfied Wild Will. It took a few more minutes to finish the paperwork and transfer the title.

“Congratulations. I know you’ll enjoy driving this little beauty,” Will said.

“Thanks,” Travis answered, irony tingeing his voice. The little beauty was a ten-year-old domestic hatchback. The tires were relatively new but there was a definite smear of oily smoke on the tailpipe. Still, with any luck, a couple quarts of oil would get him to New Orleans, Louisiana.

After tossing his duffel bag into the back of the car, he jumped in and drove off the lot and onto the interstate. It was over a thousand miles from Bethesda, Maryland, to New Orleans. Travis squeezed the steering wheel with both hands, then let go with his right hand and inspected it. Still shaking.

Not surprising. He hadn’t had any exercise or decent food for five months, unless he counted the protein shakes and flavored gelatin he’d been receiving at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the past two weeks. Walking up and down the halls of the psych unit hardly qualified as exercise.

Dr. Gingosian wouldn’t be happy that he’d left against medical advice, but Travis wasn’t interested in spending even one more day listening to the doctor drone on about post-traumatic stress disorder and other understandable emotional effects of captivity.

He knew what was wrong with him and it wasn’t PTSD. He’d kept himself sane for five months in the windowless, unheated room where he’d been held by doing three things. Cultivating his hatred of his captors, playing videos of his most treasured memories inside his head and exercising—until lack of nutrition and loss of weight had made him too weak to stand.

He’d learned a lot about himself during that awful time as he had ignored external discomforts and nurtured his memories. When he was brought to Walter Reed, he’d gratefully accepted medical treatment, but he’d quickly figured out that his emotional problems wouldn’t be cured by medication or group therapy.

He knew what he needed. He needed the people he loved. His brothers and sister. His mom. Even his dad. At some point, in that dark stinking room where his only means of escape was inside his head, he’d forgiven Robert Delancey for the drunken rages that had been his and his siblings’ relationship with their father throughout most of his life.

But the one person he needed the most was Kate. Not that he deserved her. He’d walked out on her twice. The first time he’d stomped out in a fit of anger that had matched the worst his dad could dish out. He’d marched straight from her dorm room to the army recruitment office and enlisted on the spot. The second time, when he’d called her during a rare furlough prior to being shipped overseas, she’d kicked him out. Not in anger, that wasn’t Kate’s style. No. She’d calmly explained that a one-night stand every few years when he happened to be in town was not her idea of a relationship. She’d told him not to call her again. And he hadn’t.

During those horrific five months in captivity, as the rivers of his memories had flowed over him, providing rare and precious moments away from the hunger, cold, filth and torture, he’d discovered that his most treasured memories were of her. And he’d realized that not fighting for her love that last time he’d seen her had been the biggest mistake of his life.

No matter where she was now or who she was with, he needed to find her and apologize for walking out. But he needed something else, too. He needed to look into her eyes and see if the love that had once shone in them for him had really died, or if there was still a spark of it left.

He didn’t hold out much hope for a spark. Things had not gone well on that last trip. Okay, some things had not gone well. Other things had gone exceptionally well. He’d come home on leave for the first time in two years and called her to see if he could buy her dinner or something. She’d agreed.

The dinner at Commander’s Palace had been excellent. The or something had been mind-blowing.

By contrast, the next morning had turned out awkward and sad. When Travis had stood at her door telling her he’d call her whenever he could, she’d waved a hand.

“Don’t bother,” she’d said in her direct, no-nonsense way. “A drop-in every couple years is not my style.”

Her words echoed in his head now as he gripped the wheel more tightly and eased the accelerator forward until the little car was doing seventy. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Eight o’clock in the evening. Even with bathroom stops and a few hours’ sleep at an interstate hotel, he ought to be in New Orleans within twenty-four hours.

What would he say when he saw Kate? A better question might be what was she going to say when he showed up on her doorstep?

* * *

THE NEXT MORNING, Dr. Kate Chalmet picked up Myron Stamps’s police file. She’d been appointed by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office to evaluate Senator Stamps, who was pleading temporary insanity in the aggravated assault of Paul Guillame, his former political adviser. She’d cleared her calendar so she could prepare, since the trial was scheduled to begin in ten days.

Kate knew that the senator had shot Paul Guillame during a shoot-out at Paul’s house. “Shoot-out,” she muttered, shaking her head. Sounded more like a John Wayne movie than an incident in the Lower Garden District in New Orleans. But that’s exactly how the police had described it.

She opened the file and glanced over the initial report, which was filed by the first officer on the scene, Halan Matson. She skimmed it.

Upon entering at 4330 Tchoupitoulas Avenue, we observed the exchange of gunfire between four apparent occupants taking cover in the kitchen area of the house and two armed men in the dining room. At that time, we observed that at least one of the occupants was armed.

We entered and arrested the two armed men, both of whom had suffered superficial gunshot wounds. At that point Detective Lucas Delancey arrived and took charge of the scene.

The name Delancey stopped her. Pressing her lips together, she took a deep breath and told herself to see it as Smith or Jones or Rumpelstiltskin—anything but Delancey.

The report described the two gunmen being checked out by EMTs, then taken into custody and Harte Delancey and Paul Guillame, two of the occupants, being transported to local hospitals.

Harte Delancey. Lucas Delancey. The case was awash with Delanceys. She gritted her teeth. Jones. Smith. Stiltskin. The names of the people involved had nothing to do with her or why she was reviewing the case.

She glanced through the other reports until she came to the statements given by Harte Delancey and Danielle Canto. She’d read one paragraph of Canto’s statement when her cell phone rang.

“This is Dr. Chalmet,” she said.

She heard nothing for a couple seconds. Then a voice spoke in a guttural whisper. “Dr. Chalmet. You understand that Myron Stamps was insane when he shot that guy, right?”

Kate was surprised. This wasn’t the first time she’d received an anonymous call about a case. It wasn’t even the first time she’d been threatened. Although if this was a threat, it was starting off very mildly. Usually the calls came during the trial, once her name was on the witness list, not days ahead of time. Sighing audibly, she asked, “Who is this?”

There was no answer.

“I do not respond to empty anonymous threats,” she said archly.

A hollow click told her the person had hung up. She set her phone down and tapped a fingernail on Stamps’s file. Who knew she’d been appointed to evaluate the senator? She ticked them off on her fingers. Vinson Akers’s secretary, who had called her two weeks ago with the District Attorney’s request. Akers himself, of course, and his prosecutors, Melissa Shallowford and Harte Delancey.

Stamps’s attorney knew, too, and that meant there was probably a 99 percent chance that Stamps knew. That probably explained the phone call. The caller might be a supporter, a family member, even a constituent who really thought the senator might be insane. She’d learned a long time ago that harassing, complaining, even threatening calls like this were part of the package if she was going to be a consultant and expert witness for the D.A.’s office. Moreover, she knew it was a waste of time to wonder about the caller’s motivation.

She went back to reading Danielle Canto’s statement. She’d studied most of the lengthy narrative by lunchtime when her secretary, Alice Stott, stuck her head in.

“Kate, it’s eleven-thirty. We need expanding files, pens and a few other things. Want me to go by the office-supply store on my lunch break?”

“Would you rather leave early and pick up the supplies on your way home?” Kate asked. “I’m probably going to leave a little early myself since I don’t have any appointments.”

Alice smiled. “Leave early? Twist my arm. I’ll just run out and grab some lunch. Can I bring you something?”

“I’ve got yogurt and an apple. I’m fixing Max pasketti tonight. We’re going to watch Shrek.”

“Max hasn’t seen Shrek?” Alice asked.

Kate laughed. “Please,” she said. “It hasn’t been that long since your kids were little. Of course he has. He’s seen all of them. This will be the third time. I just have to convince him that we can only watch one tonight.”

Alice chuckled. “I do remember. I’ll be back soon.”

“Take your time,” Kate said, her attention already back on Danielle Canto’s statement. She’d finished it and was flipping back through, expanding on the notes she’d taken, when someone rapped on her door facing.

She looked up and for a split second, her lungs seized, and she couldn’t get a breath. Then she blinked and realized that the tall lanky man standing in the doorway wasn’t Travis Delancey. It was Harte, Travis’s younger brother and a prosecutor in the D.A.’s office.

“Hi, Dr. Chalmet,” the young man said, smiling. “Your secretary must be at lunch.” He held a manila envelope in his right hand. His left arm was in a sling, a result of being shot during that same violent night she’d just been reading about. Harte had undergone surgery to remove a bullet that had lodged alarmingly close to his heart.

She cleared her throat, pushing away the thoughts of how very like Travis he looked. “Mr. Delancey. What can I do for you?”

“Senator Stamps’s attorney sent this to the D.A.’s office.” He handed her the envelope, which was too thin to hold more than a couple sheets of paper.

“Oh? Did she say what it was?” Kate grabbed a letter opener and slit the seal.

“Apparently it’s a report from an independent physician who evaluated Stamps.”

Kate glanced at the two sheets of paper. “An independent physician. Hmm.”

Harte laughed. “Spoken like a doctor.”

Kate glanced up, a little startled by his laugh. The laugh sounded just like Travis, too. She shook her head mentally as she set the envelope on her desk. “Thanks,” she said, then nodded toward the sling. “How are you doing?”

Harte shrugged, then winced. “Fine. I’m still sore, but I’ve been in physical therapy for four weeks now. I’m doing lots better.”

She nodded. “I’m glad,” she said. “How did you get demoted to courier service? No prosecutor jobs?”

“I’m not supposed to be working, and they’re sure not letting me do anything on the Stamps case except be a witness. I’m not even a reliable witness, since I was losing blood the whole time.” He looked ruefully at the sling. “At least delivering envelopes gives me a chance to get out and get some exercise, if walking fairly slow can be considered exercise.”

Kate smiled. “Well, I appreciate you bringing this over.” She paused, then spoke again. “Do you have a few minutes to talk to me about what happened that day?”

“Sure,” Harte said. “What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been through Ms. Canto’s statement. I haven’t started yours yet. I hadn’t decided for sure whether I need to interview you or Ms. Canto, but since you’re here, would you mind telling me what you remember about Senator Stamps that day? His demeanor, his level of concentration, was he afraid, angry, acting confused?” She waved a hand. “Things like that.”

Harte shifted on his feet and adjusted the sling.

“Please, sit down if that’s more comfortable for you.”

“Thanks,” he said and lowered his lean frame into a chair. “You know, I wasn’t kidding when I said I wasn’t a very reliable witness. I can tell you what I saw and heard, but when I get on the stand, defense counsel will rip into me like a vulture.”

“Because you were wounded?”

Harte nodded. “They gave me seven pints of blood in the hospital. That’s significant blood loss. They’ll say I was impaired.”

“Okay. I’ll see what I think about your answers. When you first saw the senator, how would you describe his demeanor?”

“Dani and I had been running and hiding all night during the storm, from Ernest Yeoman’s men.” Harte made a vague gesture toward the case file in front of her. “By dawn, the storm had finally passed over and they were closing in on us. We were literally out of options when I finally recognized a landmark that I knew was close to my aunt Claire’s house. My cousin Paul let us in and after we told him what was happening, Stamps appeared out of the shadows. He said he’d gone there for dinner the night before and gotten caught in the storm. He acted reluctant for us to know he was there.”

Kate asked, “Reluctant?”

Harte nodded. “We’d been there for several minutes talking to Paul before Stamps stepped forward. It was as if he’d listened to us and decided it was okay for us to see him. So I guess I’d describe him as cautious and condescending. He started talking about how ‘our city wasn’t ready for more tragedy.’ He was referring to the storm damage, of course.”

“It was awful,” Kate said. “A lot of houses on my street were badly damaged. My power was out all night, but I was lucky compared to a lot of other people.”

Harte nodded. “Wasn’t much fun being out in it,” he said.

“I can’t even imagine. Danielle Canto apparently handled it okay.”

Upon hearing her name, Harte beamed and blushed at the same time. “Dani’s a trouper,” he said, unable to keep a smile from his face.

Kate didn’t need her degree in psychiatry to read him at that moment. He was head over heels in love with Danielle Canto. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said. “Please go ahead.”

“Dani gave Stamps a hard time, asking him if he were practicing sound bites for the next election cycle. She reminded him that she’d heard the men who had killed her grandfather using his and Paul’s names, as well as Ernest Yeoman’s, when they had threatened him. Paul denied any involvement and seemed about to turn on Stamps. Then Stamps yelled, Shut up, and lunged at him.”

“I saw that in Dani’s statement. Did you hear him yourself?”

Harte nodded. “By that time I was pretty weak and hurting like a son of a bitch, but I was conscious. I definitely witnessed the exchange.”

“Is that when Mr. Guillame sustained the gunshot wound?”

Harte shook his head. “No. That was later, after the gunmen broke in.”

“Who else heard what Stamps said? Was your aunt Claire there? I don’t see any mention of her.”

“No. She’s in Paris. Paul is house-sitting for her.” Harte smiled wryly. “Has been for the past twenty years.”

“So it was just you and Dani and Stamps and Paul Guillame in the house at that time?”

“That’s right. Paul heard him, too, of course. But he’s changed his story about what happened that night.”

“Changed his story? How?” Kate shuffled through the files until she found the one labeled Paul Guillame.

“I didn’t witness this, but apparently, when the police talked to Paul at the scene, Paul accused Stamps of shooting him. But then when he made his written statement, he swore the shooting was an accident. He said something like ‘in the chaos, when the bullets started flying, Stamps must have shot him accidentally.’”

Kate tapped the eraser end of a pencil on her desk. “I saw in Miss Canto’s statement that she described Stamps as furious. So was it an accident?”

“It doesn’t sound like an accident.” Harte gestured toward Dani’s file. “Dani thought, because of what Stamps had yelled at Paul, that he was terrified Paul was about to incriminate Stamps, maybe even implicate himself, in Freeman Canto’s death. But about that time the gunmen broke in and started shooting. While the bullets were flying, Stamps took the opportunity that presented itself to him. But that’s going to be hard to prove. As I said before, I’m not a reliable witness and Dani, although she’d never lie, will be suspect, because of what she had heard on the night her granddad was murdered.”

“Either way, his attorney is pushing for a finding of temporary insanity,” Kate said, then gestured toward the envelope that Harte had delivered. “Apparently, she found a physician who’s willing to testify that it was possible.”

“I’ve never been involved with a temporary-insanity case. Isn’t that nearly impossible to prove?” Harte asked. “I know one thing it does is shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense.”

“Which is always more difficult for the defense. And yes, it’s very difficult to prove. I don’t understand why a respected state senator would want to go that route, rather than just pleading innocent, if he and Guillame both are claiming it was an accident.”

“He only fired once,” Harte said. “My brother Lucas—he was the detective on the scene—told me that Stamps’s gun was missing only one round and they only found one casing that matched it. A very good case can be made that one deliberate gunshot argues against it being an accident.” Harte paused, looking thoughtful. “If he were to plead innocent and be convicted of assault with intent or even simple assault, he’d be barred from holding public office forever.”

“He’s seventy-eight. How much longer do you think he plans to serve?” Kate asked.

Harte shrugged carefully, favoring his left shoulder. “Politicians have continued in office into their nineties and beyond. Look at Strom Thurmond or Robert Byrd.”

“Okay,” Kate said. “So he doesn’t want to risk a guilty plea. Temporary insanity is going to put him under psychiatric care. Will that cause any issues with his senate seat?”

“He won’t be allowed to serve while he’s under court-appointed psychiatric care, but there’s no reason he can’t run again once he’s released. There’s no law against being crazy.”

“No, there’s not.” Kate nodded. “Well, thanks for the information. I haven’t examined the senator yet. I wanted to read through the case files first. As soon as I’m done, I’ll get with the D.A.”

Harte stood, said goodbye and left. Kate watched him walk out. Even with an injury, he carried himself with dignity and grace, like Travis.

She rubbed her temple. Where were these thoughts of Travis coming from? Just from reading his brothers’ and cousins’ names in the police files and seeing his younger brother? That had to be it. She hardly ever thought about Travis during work these days. The times that she couldn’t help but think about him were at night when she tucked Max in, or early in the morning when he ran into her room to nuggle under the covers with her, or when he begged for homemade pasketti, which was not only his favorite meal but his dad’s, too.

She almost wished she’d asked Harte about his brother. But nobody in Travis’s family except his younger sister, Cara Lynn, knew that she and Travis had dated. And even Cara Lynn didn’t know that her brother was Max’s father. She suspected, but she’d never asked and Kate had never told her.

Kate went back to reading Harte’s statement. She didn’t look up again until four o’clock, when Alice called out that she was leaving.

“Okay. I’m not far behind you,” she responded. “Max is probably giving them fits at his day care. I made the mistake of telling them I was coming by early right in front of him. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She stood and stretched. Her muscles were a little tight from sitting in the same position and reading files all day. She put the files pertaining to the Stamps case in her briefcase, in case she had a chance to look at them after Max went to sleep, then walked into the outer office to get a drink of water from the cooler.

Her stomach growled. Two long swallows of cold water didn’t quite make up for the yogurt and apple she’d forgotten to eat. She smiled to herself. She’d make pasketti tonight. Max would be thrilled. Shrek and pasketti. As she took another swallow of water, she heard her cell phone ring. She ran back into her office, blotting a drop of water off her chin with a finger, and grabbed it. “Hello?” she said.

* * *

“DR. CHALMET.” It was the voice from that morning.

Kate stiffened.

“This threat is anonymous, but it is not empty, Dr. Chalmet.”

Her pulse quickened. The voice, which had sounded a bit hesitant in the earlier phone call, now had a ring of ominous confidence. She clutched the cell phone more tightly and listened without speaking.

“Someone who loves you very much is in danger. You’ll find out more very soon. But shh,” the voice whispered, sending terror arrowing through her. “Don’t tell anyone—not anyone. Don’t go anywhere except to work and home. Don’t talk to anybody, and keep your cell phone with you. Got that?”

“What? No, wait.”

“Don’t tell anyone, Dr. Chalmet, or he’ll be gone forever.” Click.

Kate stood frozen in place, with the faceless voice echoing in her ears. She hardly noticed when her phone slid from her fingers and hit the floor with a clatter. She collapsed into her desk chair as the voice’s awful last words burned into her mind like a brand.

He’ll be gone forever. Forever.

“No,” she whispered. “No, no, no.” She had to do something. She looked at her empty hand. Why was it empty?

Her phone. She’d been holding her phone. She slid out of the chair and felt around on the floor, desperate to find it. Her fingers encountered a thin piece of plastic, then a small flat thing, then the body of the phone. The back and the battery had been knocked off when it had hit the floor. With hands that shook so much she could barely hold the pieces, she put the phone back together, then stared at the dark screen for several seconds before she realized she needed to turn it on.

She pressed the correct button and the display came on. There was no information about the call. Just the words Private Number.

Her thumb trembled over the 9 key. She had to call 9-1-1. Didn’t she? So they could trace the call and stop the man before he had a chance to grab Max?

He’ll be gone forever.

Max! Day care! He was at day care! She had to call them—make sure he was still there. Tell them she was on her way.

She tried to page down to their number, but her fingers wouldn’t work right. She tried again, carefully pushing the buttons. Finally, she was looking at the number. But before she could press Call, her office phone rang.

Her head snapped up and she realized she was still on her knees on the floor. She pulled herself to her feet. Reaching for the phone’s handset, she stopped with her hand less than an inch away. She couldn’t make herself pick it up. She couldn’t talk to anyone. She had to get to Max. But what if it was the day care? What if it was that man again? She had to answer it.

Finally she wrapped her fingers around the handset and lifted it to her ear. “Hello?” she rasped.

“Dr. Chalmet? This is Missy at Bluebird Day Care. We’ve had an incident.” Missy’s voice trembled. “I have a n-note on the schedule that you were going to pick Max up early today. Have you already picked him up?”

Kate’s throat closed as panic sent a flash of heat through her. She felt as though she’d been struck by lightning. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t even breathe. Gone forever. She tried to swallow and couldn’t. She opened her mouth but nothing came out.

“Dr. Chalmet?” Missy said, her voice half an octave higher now and tinged with panic.

Kate forced her scattered mind into a semblance of focus. She had to say something—had to do this. Her child’s life was at stake.

“I— Yes,” she said, her hand at her throat, amazed that she’d managed to squeeze any sound past the constriction there. Max! My little Max. Dear God, don’t let them hurt him.

“I...did.” Had she even said that aloud? She still felt as if no breath could escape her throat.

Missy let out a deep sigh. “You did? Oh, thank God!” she said. “I am so sorry, Dr. Chalmet. I know what you must think, me calling you like this. It’s just that we had such a scare.”

Kate’s hand throbbed with pain—that’s how hard she was gripping the handset. She stood like a statue, looking at nothing, listening as the young woman named Missy told her exactly how the anonymous caller had abducted Max.

“The smoke alarms went off and we smelled smoke, so we evacuated the building. The children were all fine. All accounted for. Once we discovered that there was no fire, we started gathering them up to take them back inside. It was then—less than five minutes ago—that I realized I didn’t see Max. I’m outside right now, on my cell. I’ve been looking all over for him. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you have him. Did you just drive by and see him and pick him up?”

“Y-yes,” Kate said, thankful that she didn’t have to think up an explanation. “I did. I—I was about to call you.”

“That’s what I thought. I was so scared. I was going to call the police.”

“No!” Kate snapped hoarsely.


Kate cleared her throat. “Sorry. I—dropped something. But no—don’t call the police,” she said, hearing herself speaking higher and faster. She took a deep breath and pressed her hand over her mouth before she spoke again. “He’s—he’s fine.”

“Dr. Chalmet, are you sure everything’s all right?”

Kate gathered strength from somewhere—she had no idea where. All she knew was, if this woman became suspicious, she’d call the police, and if she did—

He’ll be gone forever.

“Yes, yes, of course. I’m fine. Ev-everything’s fine. I’ve got company and my—my cookies are burning. I appreciate you checking on Max.”

“Yes, ma’am. Again, I am so sorry. Believe me, this will never happen again. Please understand.”

“Thank you. I do. I have to go,” Kate said in her doctor-knows-best voice. She heard the click on the other end of the phone. She placed the handset carefully and quietly into the cradle.

Then, very slowly, she crumpled to the floor, clutching her cell phone against her stomach.