It was love at first sight for coed Lexie Carter and Army Ranger Taylor Jackson. Can Lexie survive when Taylor is reported killed in action?
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One look at Captain Taylor Jackson at a Career Day at Spring Hill College and wealthy coed Lexie Carter knew he was The One. In six months they’re engaged and the wedding set for after graduation. When Taylor is reported killed in action in Afghanistan two months before their wedding, Lexie is devastated, her hopes for a family of her own crushed. Can she survive a future without Taylor or will she succumb to her grief?
Army Ranger Taylor Jackson fell in love at first sight with young Lexie Carter. While on a mission in Afghanistan, he is captured by insurgents after taking his brother’s place on patrol. When Taylor escapes and returns home on what should have been their wedding day, Lexie has disappeared under ominous circumstances. Can he find her in time to rescue her from her fate?
“Lexie, Lindsey. Come here! Hurry!”
Lexie exchanged a concerned look with her mother and ran to the front of the house with Lindsey following close behind. Miss Cathy stood frozen, grasping the doorframe. Looking through a sidelite of the front door, her breath caught and her heart raced. Six men in Army dress blues stood on the porch.
Lexie put an arm around Miss Cathy and assisted her to the couch in the formal living room, while Lindsey invited the men inside. Lexie knew why they were here, but was confused. Officers and NCOs didn’t come to notify families unless… It couldn’t be.
“What’s happened to my sons? No sugar-coating.” Miss Cathy’s voice trembled. One of the officers stepped forward with the senior NCO. “I’m Captain Springer.” He nodded at the man beside him. “This is Sergeant Michaels. Are you the mother of Captain Taylor Jackson and Private Tyler Jackson?”
Lexie gasped. Both of them couldn’t be gone. Blood surged through her veins like ice water.
Miss Cathy struggled to speak. “Yes, I am. This is Taylor’s fiancée, Lexie Carter.”
“Is Mr. Jackson available?”
“He’s out for the evening. Tell us what you have to say. Now.”
Lexie didn’t want to hear it. The words would make her fears real.
“We’re from the Army’s Casualty Notification Unit. Your son, Private Tyler Jackson, was reported missing in action in Khost province two days ago. The Afghan police discovered Captain Taylor Jackson’s body in the city of Khost yesterday. The Secretary of the Army extends his condolences for your loss.”
Lexie went numb inside. Taylor, the man who had introduced her to love and passion, couldn’t be dead. His team should have arrived at Fort Benning yesterday. They’d planned a weekend at the Gulf Shores condo after he’d debriefed. The weather was still cool and the beaches would be mostly deserted. Not that they would have left the condo often. Tears slid down her cheeks. The reality of life without Taylor overwhelmed her. Soon, sobs wracked her body. Her mother took her into her arms, patted her on the back, and muttered soothing nothings.
“What happened?” From her seat at the end of the couch, Miss Cathy was doing far better than she was. How could she bear it? One son dead, the other missing. Her babies, both gone.
Captain Springer nodded to Sergeant Michaels. “Private Jackson, at great personal risk to himself, saved the lives of members of his platoon while on patrol when it came under attack by a superior force of insurgents. When the extraction team arrived, he was missing. He remains missing after an extended search.”
“What was his condition when he was last seen?”
The pain in Miss Cathy’s voice reflected her own. Tyler was no friend of hers, but she hoped Miss Cathy didn’t lose both her sons. Why did Taylor have to die? Her Taylor, whom she’d fallen in love with at first sight, lay dead in a foreign country, but Tyler, the evil twin, might have survived. How could God let that happen?
Sergeant Michaels consulted a folder. “Members of his platoon reported he’d been injured. How seriously is unknown. There have been no claims of a captive. The search for him continues.”
Miss Cathy pursed her lips, then nodded. “Tell me about Taylor.”
Lexie gulped some air, trying to control her sobs. Miss Cathy was helpless where Tyler was concerned, but she could see that Taylor was taken care of.
Captain Springer and Sergeant Michaels exchanged a telling look.
“Afghan police discovered Captain Jackson’s body yesterday near the market in Khost. The circumstances are under investigation.”
“What does that mean?” Her voice sounded shrill. Taylor wasn’t a body. He was her fiancé. The man she’d planned on spending the rest of her life with. A brave and decorated hero.
“As I said, ma’am, how or why Captain Jackson died is under investigation. We’ll keep you informed on the progress of the investigation. We should have details about his arrival at Dover Air Force Base by tomorrow.”
He turned to Miss Cathy. “We’ll give you a contact number for the Casualty Assistance Unit.”
He glanced her way, then nodded toward the door where two officers stood. “A chaplain and a physician accompanied us, if either of you need them. Mrs. Jackson, I recommend you phone your husband immediately. If you have family or others you wish to contact, we can assist you.”
Miss Cathy pulled her cell out of her pocket, speed-dialed Mr. Tom’s number, and prepared to have the most difficult conversation of her life. Miss Cathy was a strong woman, but how could she tell her husband both their sons were gone? They needed help and her own mother, who’d been a stranger for most of her life, was useless.
“Call Ely and Todd, Lindsey. I need them here.” Her guardians would handle the military. They would know what to do, but until they arrived she would discover what she could. She bounded off the couch, stormed across the room, and confronted the officer. “What happened to Taylor? What aren’t you telling us?”
Captain Springer shrugged and looked away. “We’ve given you the information we have, ma’am.”
Maybe she shouldn’t have left the couch so quickly. Breathing rapidly, she bent over and tried to control her breathing. She sucked in a deep breath and the room darkened. She barely felt the pain of hitting the floor.
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