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Deadly Games

Deadly Games, February 2011
by Cate Noble

Kensington Zebra
Featuring: Gena
323 pages
ISBN: 1420101722
EAN: 9781420101720
Kindle: B0046ZRW74
Paperback / e-Book
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"A gripping tale of devastating, life-changing actions with lots of twists and turns."

Fresh Fiction Review

Deadly Games
Cate Noble

Reviewed by Sabrina Marino
Posted March 31, 2011

Romance Suspense

Rocco Taylor is in a precarious position. One of his enemies, Minh Tran, has kidnapped a woman who works with him in the CIA in revenge for Rocco killing his youngest son. Tran thinks Maddy is Rocco's girlfriend. Although they briefly dated, Rocco, still in love with Gena Armstrong, broke it off quickly with Maddy.

Tran is asking for the release of Dr. Ruffin, the developer of a mind-controlling designer drug. Since Dr. Ruffin is much too important, the CIA is not willing to make the trade, so Rocco vows to rescue Maddy on his own.

Rocco's previous boss, Travis Frank, steps in and takes over Maddy's rescue operation, Rocco doesn't know it, but Travis has feelings for Maddy. Travis tells Rocco he has a more immediate mission. Tran, they assume, has tried to get to Rocco's sister, and has made an attempt at Gena's life causing the death of a young woman. Rocco must go to Texas to get Gena and bring her back to a safe house.

Gena Armstrong is working hard at completing a women's shelter in Sugar Springs, Texas. Juveniles have already damaged the property once and Gena has repaired the damage with her own funds in the hope of meeting the code deadline so the shelter can open. She once was in love with Rocco, but he broke her heart. After a misguided marriage and eventual divorce, she is working hard to turn her life around. Going back home to Texas has allowed her to do so.

Even though Rocco arrives in Texas and tries to convince Gena she needs to stay with him, she is traumatized that a woman has died because someone is out to get Rocco and has targeted her. She goes out on her own, gets kidnapped but manages to get away. Then Rocco arrives and she finally agrees to go with him.

They now know there is an internal leak at the agency who has been feeding Rocco's business to the enemy. Rocco and Gena go off the grid while Travis works frantically to rescue Maddy from Tran. While working on the issues of the pasts, Rocco and Gena realize Tran must have a partner because activities are happening in the U.S. while Tran has Maddy in Thailand. A determined man is closing in on them and Rocco and Gena's tangled past becomes a bomb about to explode.

DEADLY GAMES is full of twists and turns as the characters try to sort out who they can trust. This second story in a trilogy by Cate Noble continues the gripping theme surrounding devastating life-changing results with mind- control drugs. The intense pain suffered by the characters is emotionally drawn out to a satisfying conclusion. I excitedly recommend Ms. Noble's DEADLY GAMES.

Learn more about Deadly Games

SUMMARY

Eyes Only
INTERNAL AGENCY E-MAIL
FROM: Rocco Taylor
October 3, 11:50 p.m.

It’s the waiting I can’t stand. Let me belly crawl across a minefield into an enemy stronghold. Or give me an MP5 and a load of clips and just let me shoot my way in. Anything but this: playing along with the perps while an innocent woman pays the price.

I know the last thing Gena wants is a hero—or me. I made the mistake of letting her go once, putting the assignment ahead of the heat between us. Since then she’s survived things I can only imagine, but no one can escape a death agent alone. Now I’ve got one last chance to win her trust, to get it right.

Game on.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Arlington, VA

October 3, 11:50 P.M.

Rocco Taylor eyed the tiny digital clock on the video player, the only source of light in the town house’s shadowy living room. Ten more minutes? No way.

He checked his watch. Way. His Tag Heuer was never wrong.

Damn Sam. It felt like it had been ten more minutes an hour ago. The couch springs groaned as he rocked forward and raked fingers through his hair.

God, he hated waiting, doing nothing. Let him belly crawl across a minefield into an enemy stronghold. Or give him an MP5 and a load of clips and let him shoot his way in. Hell, hand-to-hand combat was better. Anything was better than this: playing along while being fucked with.

Oh, like you’re really suffering. Compared to what Maddy was enduring right now—Jesus. Maddy. The gravity of her situation mingled with the molten guilt in his stomach. After three days of nada in the search for missing CIA analyst Madison Kohlmeyer, the Agency had scored deuces today, even if they only knew half of it.

Earlier that afternoon, while busting his ass to get to Dulles airport, he’d gotten word that Maddy’s BMW convertible had been pulled from the backwaters of Chesapeake Bay, a two-by-four still jammed against the gas pedal.

Hearing this from a friend who’d picked the story up off a newswire had infuriated Rocco. After being shut out of the Agency’s official investigation into Maddy’s disappearance on grounds of “emotional involvement,” Rocco had been promised that every stone would be turned, every angle examined, and that he would be notified personally of any big breaks. That he wasn’t should have been clue one.

An illegal U-turn on the interstate had Rocco racing back to the CIA complex that housed his office, dreading the word that would come once they pried open the BMW’s trunk. The relief he’d felt upon learning that the vehicle was empty eroded as the truth of how little else had been done to locate Maddy surfaced.

The Agency genius heading up the investigation had decided to let the police complete their missing person investigation first. Except the locals had backburnered the case as a low-priority after an interview with Maddy’s roommate revealed that Maddy had seemed preoccupied.

Rocco would have jumped all over that. Preoccupied could mean scared, nervous. Upset. Had she been bullied? Threatened?

But to the jaded Virginia police detective, who claimed he’d worked “dozens of cases just like this,” Maddy’s failure to show for an all-girl weekend at Virginia Beach three days ago meant she had something better planned.

To the detective, “preoccupied” was code for “she’d met someone.” “I figured she’d turn up for work on Monday, embarrassed to find people worried,” the detective had told Rocco by phone. “Happens all the time.”

Yeah, well, as Rocco’s grandfather used to say, the road to hell was paved with bad assumptions. In the end, Rocco had stormed out of his office in disgust after picking a fight with one of the supervisors. The official excuse offered, that Armageddon had broken loose at the Agency, was a crock. When was it normal these days, given the ever-expanding war on terror? The war on drugs? The war on wars? “Hard choices call for tough sacrifices,” the supervisor had parroted.

“You’re saying Maddy was sacrificed?” Rocco had been livid. Did they really think that sounded better than the truth? That Maddy’s case had slipped between the cracks as everyone assumed someone else was handling it?

And even though recovering Maddy’s drowned car had escalated her case to “foul play suspected,” it made little difference in light of the e-mail Rocco had opened just two hours ago. A game-changing e-mail that had languished in his spam folder—for an entire bleeping day—before he’d found it.

The message included a high-res photograph of Maddy, bound hand and foot, wearing nothing but bra and panties. She was curled in a fetal position in a nest of soiled straw at the bottom of what appeared to be a nondescript wooden shipping crate. Foul play confirmed.

In the photographs, Maddy’s eyes were closed tightly, as if she was wincing. Her upper arms bore bruises from a cruel grip. Someone would pay for hurting her, Rocco had vowed as he’d noted the slender, bloody cut that creased Maddy’s rib cage. While a knife blade had likely scored her skin when her clothes were cut away, the inferred subtext of the wound was clear. Future snapshots would be more horrific.

But it was the tears on Maddy’s cheeks, visible in the enlarged photograph, that haunted Rocco. The good news was corpses didn’t cry. She’d been alive when the picture was taken.

Unfortunately, bad news was also visible. Blowing up the photograph exposed a symbol branded into the plank of wood just above her head. The telltale revealed the sender’s identity more succinctly than any signature line. A triple-headed dragon. The symbol of Southeast Asia’s most notorious drug lord and Rocco’s archenemy, Minh Tran.

That Maddy had been targeted because of her association with Rocco was clear. I’m sorry, Maddy.

YOUR EYES ONLY, the photo’s caption had read. CALL THIS NUMBER OR YOUR GIRLFRIEND DIES.

That Tran mistakenly thought Maddy and Rocco were still a couple was a moot point. She was a colleague and a friend. And she was in trouble because of Rocco.

A quick search revealed that the publicly listed, international phone number belonged to a popular commercial messaging service based out of Latvia.

For two euros, typically paid with untraceable gift or stolen credit cards, a forty-five-second message could be left. With layers of high-tech-scrambling security, across multiple servers, the system was virtually impenetrable, making it popular with illicit lovers and criminals alike.

The access PIN provided allowed Rocco to retrieve the recording and then punch in a callback number. The succinct voice message, playable only once, had been left by one of Minh Tran’s English-speaking minions.

“We will trade this female for you and one other.” The message went on to outline the two-for-one swap.

In recompense for the death of Tran’s youngest son, a trigger-happy punk Rocco had killed during a recent mission in Bangkok, Minh Tran demanded Rocco’s surrender. No surprise there. Rocco and Minh Tran had been stepping on each other’s toes for years.

But it was the second part of Minh Tran’s demand that was the kicker. In order to secure Maddy’s release, Rocco had to bring along Dr. Rufin, the scientist Tran’s dead son had shot during that same mission.

As the developer of the designer drug SugarCane, Dr. Rufin was key toMinh Tran’s financial future. The sole distributor of SugarCane, Tran’s empire threatened to crumble as his supply of ’Cane dwindled.

That Tran fed a growing segment of the illicit drug market in the U.S. typically fell under the domain of the Drug Enforcement Agency. The C.I.A. had gotten involved when Tran started wholesaling dope to terrorist groups who used the drug profits to fund their attacks on allied troops in the Middle East.

Rocco couldn’t have dreamt up a more hopeless situation. If he honestly believed that Maddy’s safety could be secured with such a swap, he’d have had Rufin hog-tied on the couch and been awaiting further instructions. Except it was never that neat, that easy.

The truth was, Rufin was recuperating on Uncle Sam’s dime at a top-secret location, unknown even to Rocco.

As the perceived repository of the works of the late Russian scientist Viktor Zadovsky, Dr. Rufin was wanted by every country on the planet. His value was off the charts.

Though Rufin had been covertly granted asylum in the U.S., the Agency denied the fact and employed countermeasures ranging from offering rewards for Rufin’s capture to planting rumors of his demise. While those tactics were fooling others, Minh Tran seemed to know better. Precisely how Tran had linked Rocco to Rufin, and Maddy to Rocco, was to be debated another time.

Within minutes of his retrieving the voice message and leaving a callback number, Rocco’s cell phone had rung. The conversation had lasted less than twenty seconds. Rocco had demanded to speak with Maddy, proof of life as well as an opportunity to buy time.

The reply, “She is not available,” had rattled him. Please let her be alive. As difficult as it had been, Rocco had stuck to his guns, refusing to negotiate until he spoke with Maddy. The caller had promptly disconnected, only to call back a few seconds later with a promise to have Maddy available at 11:30.

But at 11:25, a different man had called, changing the time to midnight. Rocco looked at the clock again. Seven more minutes. Would someone call at 11:55 and blow him off again?

Needing to move, dying to take action, Rocco pushed to his feet. Two steps brought him to the front window. The blinds were drawn, but the slight gaps at either edge allowed him to peer out. Beneath themoth-surrounded streetlights, the night appeared normal. Which didn’t mean squat.

Living in a so-called gated community might give most residents a sense of security but Rocco had exploited that same blind trust more than once. Simply giving the gate attendant a name and an address earned you a visitor’s permit.

Turning away from the window, Rocco let his eyes readjust to the town house’s darkened interior. Then he began to pace.

Like a leopard prowling, he moved by instinct, focused. He had the layout of the sparsely furnished town house memorized. Five steps put the coffee table to his left, the pole lamp to the right. A ninety degree turn brought him to the hulking shape that was a recliner. The one Maddy had openly mocked, calling it “too awful for the junkyard.” And she had felt terrible later, after learning the recliner had belonged to Rocco’s grandfather.

On the end table beside the chair was the now long-dead cactus Maddy had brought over during the I’m-gonna-put-my-mark-here phase of their relationship. Neither the plant nor the phase had lasted long. The two-year course of their on-again, off-again relationship had been mostly off. The fact that deep down Rocco still cared for someone else had been the death knell.


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