"A gripping tale of devastating, life-changing actions with lots of twists and turns."
Reviewed by Sabrina Marino
Posted March 31, 2011
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
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.
INTERNAL AGENCY E-MAIL
FROM: Rocco Taylor
October 3, 11:50 p.m.
Itâ€™s the waiting I canâ€™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 heroâ€”or me. I made the
mistake of letting her go once, putting the assignment ahead
of the heat between us. Since then sheâ€™s survived things I
can only imagine, but no one can escape a death agent alone.
Now Iâ€™ve got one last chance to win her trust, to get it right.
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 houseâ€™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 youâ€™re really suffering. Compared to what Maddy was
enduring right nowâ€”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, heâ€™d gotten word that Maddyâ€™s BMW
convertible had been pulled from the backwaters of
Chesapeake Bay, a two-by-four still jammed against the gas
Hearing this from a friend whoâ€™d picked the story up off a
newswire had infuriated Rocco. After being shut out of the
Agencyâ€™s official investigation into Maddyâ€™s disappearance
on grounds of â€śemotional involvement,â€ť 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 wasnâ€™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 BMWâ€™s trunk. The
relief heâ€™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 Maddyâ€™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 heâ€™d
worked â€śdozens of cases just like this,â€ť Maddyâ€™s failure to
show for an all-girl weekend at Virginia Beach three days
ago meant she had something better planned.
To the detective, â€śpreoccupiedâ€ť was code for â€śsheâ€™d met
someone.â€ť â€śI figured sheâ€™d turn up for work on Monday,
embarrassed to find people worried,â€ť the detective had told
Rocco by phone. â€śHappens all the time.â€ť
Yeah, well, as Roccoâ€™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? â€śHard choices
call for tough sacrifices,â€ť the supervisor had parroted.
â€śYouâ€™re saying Maddy was sacrificed?â€ť Rocco had been livid.
Did they really think that sounded better than the truth?
That Maddyâ€™s case had slipped between the cracks as everyone
assumed someone else was handling it?
And even though recovering Maddyâ€™s drowned car had escalated
her case to â€śfoul play suspected,â€ť 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
folderâ€”for an entire bleeping dayâ€”before heâ€™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, Maddyâ€™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
heâ€™d noted the slender, bloody cut that creased Maddyâ€™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 Maddyâ€™s cheeks, visible in the
enlarged photograph, that haunted Rocco. The good news was
corpses didnâ€™t cry. Sheâ€™d been alive when the picture was
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 senderâ€™s
identity more succinctly than any signature line. A
triple-headed dragon. The symbol of Southeast Asiaâ€™s most
notorious drug lord and Roccoâ€™s archenemy, Minh Tran.
That Maddy had been targeted because of her association with
Rocco was clear. Iâ€™m sorry, Maddy.
YOUR EYES ONLY, the photoâ€™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 Tranâ€™s English-speaking minions.
â€śWe will trade this female for you and one other.â€ť The
message went on to outline the two-for-one swap.
In recompense for the death of Tranâ€™s youngest son, a
trigger-happy punk Rocco had killed during a recent mission
in Bangkok, Minh Tran demanded Roccoâ€™s surrender. No
surprise there. Rocco and Minh Tran had been stepping on
each otherâ€™s toes for years.
But it was the second part of Minh Tranâ€™s demand that was
the kicker. In order to secure Maddyâ€™s release, Rocco had to
bring along Dr. Rufin, the scientist Tranâ€™s dead son had
shot during that same mission.
As the developer of the designer drug SugarCane, Dr. Rufin
was key toMinh Tranâ€™s financial future. The sole distributor
of SugarCane, Tranâ€™s empire threatened to crumble as his
supply of â€™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
Rocco couldnâ€™t have dreamt up a more hopeless situation. If
he honestly believed that Maddyâ€™s safety could be secured
with such a swap, heâ€™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 Samâ€™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 Rufinâ€™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, Roccoâ€™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, â€śShe is not available,â€ť 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 didnâ€™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 visitorâ€™s permit.
Turning away from the window, Rocco let his eyes readjust to
the town houseâ€™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 â€śtoo awful for the junkyard.â€ť And
she had felt terrible later, after learning the recliner had
belonged to Roccoâ€™s grandfather.
On the end table beside the chair was the now long-dead
cactus Maddy had brought over during the
Iâ€™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
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