Double DareWar Games Series #3, a Quick-Read Novella
War Games #3
War Games Series
S.A.S.S. Unit #1
#1 Body Double
#2 Double Vision #3 Total Recall (Smokescreen Collection)
#4 Double Dare
S.A.S.S. Unit #2 #5 Kill Zone
“Readers will need a seatbelt as this thriller stays at faster than light speed. Delightful speeding rocket ride.”
Captain Maggie Holt is new to the S.A.S.S. unit, and her induction is trial-by-fire when she’s chosen to lead her first covert mission and runs headlong into GRID. Can Maggie prevent mastermind Thomas Kunz from field-testing a deadly virus–in the largest shopping mall in the south on Christmas Eve?
© 2006 Vicki Hinze
“Jingle bells. Jingle bells. Jingle all the waaaay—
” Singing along with the radio, Captain Maggie Holt hit a pothole in the dirt path leading to Regret, her S.A.S.S.—Secret Assignment Security Specialist—office. Her right front tire dropped a solid six-inches, jolting her, jarring her teeth. “Damn.”
The red Jeep absorbed the shock without a groan, but her morning’s first cup of coffee splashed all over the dashboard and passenger seat. The cup hit the side of the door and fell to the floorboard, a casualty of the daily war to get to the middle-of-nowhere shack without suffering bodily injury.
Maggie grimaced, about sick of this. Her fellow operative, Darcy Clark, had trashed a set of shocks on Wilderness Trail, as they’d come to call the overgrown path, just a few days ago. What was it going to take for the commander, Colonel Sally Drake, to insist someone fix the sorry excuse for a road?
Irritated, Maggie smoothed at a soaked spot on her pale-blue uniform shirt and cranked up the radio, sifting through the lyrics to catch up to the tune. Tapping the gas, she moved through the woods, down the narrow ruts lined with hurricane-twisted pines and thick, spiky underbrush.
“In a one horse open sleigh. Hey!” She sang along and slid a glance to the Christmas ornament on the passenger’s seat beside her. Everyone in the S.A.S.S. unit celebrated Christmas and had to put an ornament on the tree no later than today. Colonel Drake’s orders. She’d pulled a check and none of the unit’s operatives had taken time out from work to put up a tree at home this year. Hell, some hadn’t even made it home in the better part of a week. The tree was the colonel’s attempt at keeping everyone grounded in life as well as in work. Not likely to happen, in Maggie’s humble opinion, but an endearing goal. The sparkling silver star was coffee-soaked, but unbroken. Soaked would dry, and unbroken was a good thing, because Maggie was damned if she was going back to Santa Bella Mall again for anything until after New Year’s. It’d taken fifteen minutes to find a parking slot, ten to get inside and pick out the ornament, and yet another fifteen minutes to pay for the thing and get out again. She figured that, before leaving the store’s parking lot, she had more time invested in the freaking ornament than she’d spent with her ex-husband, Jack, in the last week of their marriage.
And wasn’t that a shameful truth to have to admit?
Letting go of the steering wheel, she checked her hand. The imprint of the spiky star and her wedding band were still there. She’d divorced Jack’s sorry ass three years ago, but she still wore the wedding band most of the time. It kept rodents at a distance—and it reminded her that she hadn’t been blameless in the destruction and demise of her marriage. Equally important, seeing the ring on her finger reminded her why, as long as she remained an operative, having a relationship was about as smart as Jack’s recent, intermittent attempts to drink himself to death.
Tapping the remote clipped to her visor, she blew past the first gate, glimpsing signs posted on the fence every eight feet: Use of Deadly Force Authorized.
She and the other S.A.S.S. operatives stationed here were the deadly force.
A mile in, Maggie came to the second wire fence. This one was topped with razor wire so sharp it’d cut soda cans tossed at it. A speaker was attached to the gatepost. Inside was an artillery battery; dormant but maintained and ready to be used if needed.
She tapped the remote and the brakes, stopped and waited for the gate to swing open. The remote didn’t have the range here that it had at the first gate, and the gate itself was slower to open. There was a specific purpose for that. So whoever was manning the monitors inside the S.A.S.S. bunker could take a look at who was coming in and have sufficient time to react. So far, the unit’s best time for a full scramble to protect the location of their real offices was two minutes forty-seven seconds.
Maggie waved at the surveillance camera and then drove on inside, whipping down the weedy trail to the shack. She parked in her normal spot, next to Kate’s yellow Hummer.
Colonel Drake and the Providence Air Force Base commander, Colonel Gray, were still neck-deep in a pissing contest over authority, and he assigned everyone their offices. So Gray had strutted his stuff and dumped the S.A.S.S. unit out in the middle of an abandoned bombing range twenty miles north of the Florida base. For an office, they had a shack. For water, a well. For electricity… There was no electricity.
It had been impossible to handle S.A.S.S. operations out of the shack, which had more holes than roof and walls. And it would have been hell for the unit to actually function out of the trailer parked out back, which was where Colonel Gray believed the unit had set up operations.
Gleeful at their primitive conditions, he had been generous and given them a generator. Not one that actually had the capacity to run their equipment, of course. He wanted Colonel Drake to suffer—and anyone who worked for her to suffer—because she’d beat him out in a head-to-head competition for the S.A.S.S. command job. But neither Colonel Drake nor the unit operatives complained to the honchos higher up in the chain of command to intercede. The operatives took on this challenge just as they did any other and focused on a solution.
Captain Mark Cross had been instrumental in the entire process. He’d used his money—rumor was he had a lot of it and he must, considering the palace he’d provided them—and his talent to build the S.A.S.S. unit a bunker. A top-notch, technologically advanced, freaking fabulous bunker with impressive offices twice as nice as any of those assigned to the Pentagon honchos.
Maggie slid out of the Jeep into the brisk air and stepped over to the shack. A hand-carved wooden sign hung above the door and read, Regret. Mark had carved it as a reminder to all who entered. If Gray thought he’d won by sticking the unit in a primitive hellhole, he’d regret it.
Across the board, everyone with access to the bunker conceded that Colonel Gray had seriously lost the office-space battle in the Gray/Drake pissing-contest war.
Inside the falling down shack, thin rays of sunlight split through the cracks and spilled on the dirt floor. Maggie stepped to the right and pressed a board that looked more gray and aged than those around it. A split door slid open, exposing an elevator that led down a floor to the bunker’s vault.
She stepped in and pushed the button to take her down. Of course, if Gray ever found out what cool offices the S.A.S.S. actually had, he’d commandeer them for himself and toss the unit into some other rat’s nest or swamp without power or water. To avoid that, the S.A.S.S. operatives had created an early-warning system, signaling outsiders’ arrival, practiced scrambling regularly, and kept their secret to themselves. So far, Colonel Gray remained in the dark. He’d never seen anyone in the S.A.S.S. unit anywhere other than in the trailer parked out behind the shack.
When the elevator door opened, Maggie stepped out into the crisp white hallway. Private offices lined the walls. At the east end, broad doors led to the operations center, and beyond them was Darcy’s private domain.
Captain Darcy Clark had been an operative until a mission had gone south and she’d received a serious head injury. It’d taken a while and a lot of determination on Darcy’s part, but she’d recovered—with a kick. Total recall. The injury had taken her out of the field, but her new gift make her a hell of an asset for assimilating Intel reports from around the globe.
Yet no gift comes without costs, and Darcy’s were high. Around others, she suffered serious sensory-input overload. A trip to the mall was sheer hell. More often than not, she required total isolation to function normally, which meant even within the unit, she needed a place to retreat. Mark made sure she had it in her isolated office.
The good news on Darcy was that, since she had spent some time on a mission down at the Texas/Mexico border with custom’s agent Ben Kelly, she hadn’t needed as much private time as she had before. Maggie was glad for that, and hoped the trend continued. Life in isolation had been hard on Darcy. Maggie walked past the broad screens covering the common walls, past the photos of the FBI’s most wanted, Homeland Security’s suspected terrorists and the S.A.S.S.’s watch lists. She checked the hot-spots board and was relieved to see things were relatively calm worldwide, with the exception of Iraq, which was never calm these days. Soon, she prayed. Soon.
She dumped her purse on her desk then headed to the kitchen, located just this side of the Operations Center.
Captain Amanda West, a S.A.S.S. senior operative, was in the adjoining common room, throwing darts at a picture of Thomas Kunz tacked to the center of the dartboard.
By presidential decree, the S.A.S.S. unit’s primary assignment was to intercede, interrupt and intercept Kunz. So far, the world’s most successful black marketer of top secret or higher intelligence, cutting-edge technology and weapons-systems/arms sales had three darts stuck right between his eyes.
Seeing his photo raised Maggie’s hackles. Kunz was German, hated America and wanted to destroy it, preferably through the destruction of its economy. Unfortunately, he’d had some success and he’d been as elusive as Bin Laden. Worse for the S.A.S.S. operatives pursuing him, Kunz and GRID—Group Resources for Individual Development—his raunchy band of greedy mercenaries, would use any tactics to succeed. Their loyalty was to money at any costs, which often made the work for Maggie and the others opposing them disheartening and sickening. When fighting an enemy dedicated to a different ideology—even if it’s twisted—it’s easy to respect the dedication. But there is no respect in greed. There is only fear and destruction.
Another dart whizzed through the air and stuck in Kunz’s forehead, well within Amanda’s one-inch group. “Thinking this morning, huh?” Maggie asked. Amanda always threw darts at Kunz to think.
“Yeah.” Amanda sighed and nailed him again.
Maggie paused. “Is he up to no good on something new?”
“Kunz is always up to no good. You can take that to the bank. But we haven’t heard any new Intel on a specific operation yet today.” Amanda hiked a shoulder. “Of course, the day is young.”
It was about 8:00 in the morning. “Then, what’s on your mind?”
Amanda frowned, wrinkling the skin between her brows. “It’s Mark,” she confessed, talking about Captain Mark Cross, with whom she’d had a serious thing going for nearly a year.
“What’s wrong with him?” Maggie liked Mark, and these days, she didn’t like many men, which was just one of the many undesirable emotional stages of divorce: a merciless roller coaster that included far too many downsides and even more sadness. She repeated her mantra. One bump at a time.
Everyone else liked Mark Cross, too, except Kate. The Queen Grouch hated almost everyone, but she loved Mark Cross like a brother. Both alone, a couple years ago they had become surrogate family.
“Nothing’s wrong with him.” Amanda stopped, her arm mid-air and just stared at Maggie. “Not one single thing. Not one.”
So nothing was wrong with him and apparently that was a problem. “Okay, then.” Maggie couldn’t begin to figure this one out. She shrugged, walked across the wide room to the kitchen counter, snatched her butterfly cup from the cabinet and poured herself some coffee. The rich, heavy steam rising from the cup smelled like roasted heaven.
Amanda followed her. “It’s not natural, Maggie. There should be something wrong with him, right? I mean, all men have something wrong with them.”
(Unable to post balance of chapter due to restrictions.)
Readers’ Group Guide
Questions for your reading group…
1.Captain Maggie Holt wears her old wedding band to remind her to avoid emotionally demanding relationships while she remains an operative in the secretive S.A.S.S. forces. This signals she is “unavailable,” and serves as a buffer against her own emotional vulnerability after her divorce. Are females more vulnerable than males after a divorce? With this kind of demanding job, what special qualities in both people would it take to make a relationship work?
2.After involvement with someone who betrays your trust or is abusive, can a new friend be “too good to be true”? Maggie, Amanda, and Kate discuss the too-good-to-be-true issue. How much does the opinion of friends influence the choice of partners or mates?
3.A busy mall at the time of a major holiday has been selected for a demonstration of GRID’s chemical warfare capabilities. What other type of gatherings might be selected for this kind of demonstration?
4.It is hard to balance being prudent and observant with feeling paranoid or overly suspicious. Does the possibility of events such as the mall attack influence your own daily activities? Has your daily life been changed in any way by the new terrorist threats? Do you consider our domestic defenses adequate? Are you yourself more alert? Does your family have a plan in case of such an event? Is life for ordinary civilians more dangerous or uncertain now than in other centuries, where surprise attacks from such enemies as the Romans, Vikings, Huns, or native tribes were common?
5.Linda Diel, the mall assistant administrator, was seduced to the side of Thomas Kunz by her qualities of envy and greed. How can such feelings attract someone to the very job that would feed such emotions? Could someone with such strong feelings be persuaded to change to more humanitarian goals? Is it possible to recover from material and emotional deprivation to become sympathetic to suffering, rather than envious and hard? Amanda was an abused child, and became someone totally different than Linda – what might the influences have been that made such a change?
6.From the dramatic events at the mall, Maggie learns to trust Justin, at least professionally. She still doubts her own emotional response until learning of the real reason for Justin’s divorce. After hearing the story of the Garden Club, what do you think his response should have been? Could it have been different and what would have been the possible result? “Cheating” has many causes, but is it ever justified? Many times our judgments are made without the full story . Often, the full story can never be known. Considering this, what is the best way to decide on the sincerity and honesty of a friend or mate?
7.Thomas Kunz is still up to more evil deeds. Body doubles of Amanda, Kate, and Darcy? What possible plan can he be hatching now? In your opinion, why is the duplicate of Maggie so important to the completion of his new scheme?
“It’s Christmas time and Maggie Holt, Secret Assignment Specialist (SASS) is not happy that she’s being teamed up to work with Dr. Justin Crowe Pharmaceuticals. Maggie is not fond of men since her former husband, Jack, cheated on her with her former best friend, Karen. She specifically doesn’t want to work with Crowe because she knows he was caught cheating on his ex-wife, Andrea.
Justin Crowe, a civilian, is working with SASS as a scientific expert. He’s trying to prevent an extremely dangerous and deadly virus from being released by German-born Thomas Kuntz. The SASS believes Kuntz will most likely try to target the Santa Bella mall with the virus. Kuntz’ ultimate goal is to destroy the United States by destroying its economy.
As Maggie and Justin work together, their feelings for each other mount. The first priority, however, is the mission.
Vicki Hinze has again written a novel that sizzles. Once she sets the stage, look out, because you’re in for a breathless ride. And just like her novel, Body Double, Double Dare is so exciting, you might want to make sure your heart can take the ride.
It was also enjoyable to meet characters that returned to make an appearance from Body Double. It was like meeting up with old friends, or dangerous enemies, and added to the fun. Armchair interviews says: Double Dare is suspense that won’t quit.”
“A top-secret government task force tries to stop an evil terrorist determined to bring down the U.S. economy by attacking the south’s largest shopping mall on the day before Christmas. But he’s not only brilliant and ruthless, he specializes in creating ‘body doubles’ indistinguishable from the originals except by DNA testing. Anyone could be a traitor…even the dishy doctor the lead agent is forced to work with. I love this series. There’s a wealth of detail about both how the military works and how it fails to work, as well as a really cool supervillian. While the characters pick up on some clues, they recognize others as being important but not why, and miss others entirely, exactly as real people do. They’re not super human, like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond, but they’re humans working at the upper limits of their capacity and string to do even more. Thumbs: up.”
– Flickering Flames
“Action-packed from start to finish. A fun, fast read.”
– RT Book Club
” Non-stop action from beginning to end, DOUBLE DARE is the latest installment of the War Games series, featuring S.A.S.S. agents and their deadliest enemy, Thomas Kunz. Fast-paced, and filled with characters both familiar and new, DOUBLE DARE is sure to be on many holiday wish lists this season.”
– Romance Reviews Today
“DOUBLE DARE can be read as a stand alone, but to be honest, the series is so excitingly intense and suspenseful, that you do yourselves a disservice if you don’t pick up the other two books, BODY DOUBLE and DOUBLE VISION. With the holiday season as a backdrop, Ms. Hinze has given us an excellent reason to take a break in our preparations and read!”
– Romance Readers Connection
“DOUBLE DARE will capture your attention from page on eand not let it go until the very end. Even after I shut this book, Maggie and the rest of her buddies at S.A.S.S. stayed in my mind. Vicki Hinze creates an emotionally complex heroine who isn’t afraid to kick butt, but is terrified of risking her heart. Justin is wonderful charming, and flawed enough to make you root for him to win over the reluctant Maggie. This book will keep you up all night, and you’ll love every minute of it. I look forward to more tales from the S.A.S.S. team.”
– Romance Junkies
“An outstanding addition to the War Games miniseries with its vivid depiction of threats in today’s society. Watching this couple develop a trusting relationship was a delight, especially when Maggie gets some help from other S.A.S.S. members. DOUBLE DARE is a first-rate story, where the pace never slows down and the characters are unforgettable.”
“DOUBLE DARE is chaotic, close to home, a wonderful thrill ride and everything that I’ve come to expect in a Vicki Hinze book. It moves the word set in the War Games universe forward, answers some questions, and asks some more. The story is as chaotic as a plot hinged on averting terror should be; it was a page turner. But the chaos didn’t take way from the clarity of description that a thriller reader demands; in fact, the action seemed somehow magnified for the reader’s benefit because it was so well described. It’s the third outing for the S.A.S.S. unit, and the characters introduced in the earlier books continue to develop and change, even as they remain true to their core personalities. Kate’s desire to be in control was definitely appropriate and Sally Drake’s reply, though expected, was more realistic because the reader could see it coming. “It was Maggie’s turn.” And what a turn it was.”
– NY Stacy, bookseller
“Santa Bella Mall, Florida – December 23 and 24, 2005
‘Tis the day before Christmas, and the mall braces for disaster; International terrorist Thomas Kunz will release a deadly virus, unless S.A.S.S. can be faster. Agents and security were scattered throughout the mall, waiting for Darcy to give them the call. Captain Maggie Holt is taking the lead, and Dr. Justin Crowe and his antidote is just what we need. After her husband’s betrayal, Maggie has troubles with trust, But when the time comes, can she do what she must?
The two hundred stores in the mall won’t even hear, of closing on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
So Maggie and S.A.S.S. will have to do their best, to take all the precautions they can, and pray on the rest. Located so close to the Air Force Base, the mall’s Winter Wonderland puts the Special Forces in place. With a chance to strike at two of his greatest enemies, Thomas Kunz passing this up? Please. Making things even more complicated, S.A.S.S. has no idea if Kunz’s doubles have been situated.
Time’s running out ‘til the virus is released, will Maggie and her team be able to keep the thing leashed?
Non-stop action from beginning to end, DOUBLE DARE is the latest installment of the War Games series, featuring S.A.S.S. agents and their deadliest enemy, Thomas Kunz. His use of body doubles has Maggie wondering if any of the people working in the mall could be the “inside” person helping Kunz. The S.A.S.S. agents featured in earlier installments, Amanda, Kate, and Darcy, play a large part, not only in identifying threats, but also in helping along the potential romance between Maggie and Justin.
The plan to release the virus is not just a terrorist act; DR-27 is still relatively unknown, and this will also serve as a demonstration of its capabilities. In fact, so little is known about the virus that Justin — the man who developed the only antidote — has yet to field test it.
Fast-paced, and filled with characters both familiar and new, DOUBLE DARE is sure to be on many holiday wish lists this season.”
–Jennifer Bishop, Romance Reviews Today
“Vicki Hinze builds an S.A.S.S. story from first page to last, with surprises at every turn, and thousands of lives at stake, and all of it in the terrified, but capable hands of a beautiful female secret agent. “
–Lucele Coutts, NovelTalk
“Readers will need a seatbelt as this thriller stays at faster than light speed. Delightful speeding rocket ride.”
– The Best Reviews
War Games Series #4
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