Hard To Handle [Incognito Series Book 8]
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by Karen Wiesner
Category: Suspense/Thriller/Romance CAPA Award Nominee
Description: Loyal operative Dez Luttino has graduated from being one the recruits of the Network, top of his classes and single-mindedly driven to succeed in his duty to his country. What he hadn't counted on was mentoring his first operative--Nova Granger, once a head-strong, albeit gorgeous, hunting machine who didn't seem to want to follow any rules except her own. As her team leader years ago, Dez had helped Nova tame her reckless nature and develop a team player attitude. She's become one of the organization's most valuable operatives. Little does Nova know that sexy Dez has been instructed to prepare her for an undercover mission that involves felling a ruthless criminal. While Dez has been instructed by his superiors to get close to Nova and encourage her to trust him implicitly, he soon realizes that he's gone beyond duty and done the unthinkable by falling in love.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [302 KB]
Reading time: 178-250 min.
"Karen Wiesner had me at the edge of my seat the entire time. My romantic side was anticipating when Dez and Nova would realize that they were made for each other and when the time would come when they just couldn't keep their hands off of each other. My action pact side couldn't wait to find out why it was that Nova was so drawn to this young girl who hasn't spoken to anyone in over a year, until Nova came along. I was not disappointed in either of those instances. This book can be read alone, or in order that the series go. However you decide to read it, this is one that will not disappoint!"_Reviewed by Ashley Merrill, Front Street Reviews
"HARD TO HANDLE has the harshest topic and the most emotionally charged storyline yet of the Incognito Series to date. Ms. Wiesner is known for her dexterity, respectful yet hard-hitting storytelling, and it's alive and well in this installment. At first I didn't realize that the main female character is one that I'd met before. Nova is a woman who has many demons in her past which she has to deal with. Memories are the hardest to slay because sometimes they makes us who and what we are, for good or bad. It's what we do with them as we go forward in life that makes life worth living and fighting for. Or for some, to give up and turn away because it's just too hard, too painful. Nova was given a chance to do more than survive years ago. If you've read NO ORDINARY LOVE, the first of the series, you'll remember Nova. But she was different in that story, younger, a little wild and a survivor even then. HARD TO HANDLE kicks it up a notch, to an adult level with an adult theme. This story is not for the faint of heart. Dez is a character who's appeared as a secondary in UNDER THE SPELL, Book 5 [and BOUNTY ON THE REBEL'S HEART, Book 3, as the heroine's team leader]. He's got his own issues with his past and now, as lead character, he will have to face and reveal them to Nova and us. As you expect from the Incognito Series, this book continues the tradition of fast-paced writing, logical plot development, strong characters with vulnerable hearts that fall in love despite a forbidding environment, dialogue that puts you right in the thick of things and bad guys that make you want to toss your cookies. HARD TO HANDLE will grip you, make you think, make you feel and, in the final touching scenes, make you believe that love really can conquer all."_reviewed by Xeranthemum for The Long And The Short Of It Reviews 5 Books!
"Romantic suspense at its finest? HARD TO HANDLE is the best book in this series. The action was heart-stopping. The characters have depth. Karen Wiesner just keeps getting better. Fans of romantic suspense, do not miss HARD TO HANDLE."_ReviewYourBook.com 5 Stars!
"HARD TO HANDLE: Book 8 of the Incognito Series is a story with a little bit of everything from drama and romance to action and suspense. It was a thrill to read it from beginning to end. Nova, the young girl with a terrible background, is thrust into a world where she can finally help. However, her heart overrules her head, and she gets herself into difficult situations, where her superiors have to get her out. Dez, Nova's colleague is assigned to keep her in check and become her superior again. The feelings they harbor for each other come out as they "coincidentally" become neighbors. Nova, with the help of Dez, is able to complete the most important mission she has ever had, only to find out she has been betrayed. This book is definitely a good read. HARD TO HANDLE is a story with with many twists and turns thrown into it, making it highly enjoyable to read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little bit of action with romance and suspense thrown into it."_reviewed by Aisha Siddiqui for TCM Reviews
"This is a very suspenseful story with interesting characters and a lot of action. The author provides a very good organizational chart and describes the workings of the agency well. The main plot was pretty engrossing, as was the subplot of the enslaved girls, and I liked how it was all tied together in the end."_reviewed by Maura for Coffee Time Romance
"Karen Wiesner penned the perfect title for her latest novel in the Incognito Series because the main character, Nova Granger, is one operative who is definitely hard to handle. I like Nova Granger because she is willing to defy her superiors and follow her heart to do what she knows was right. Nova overcomes her personal demons brought about by her own father and uses her determination and instincts to protect children. She also overcomes her aversion to men to find a great love. Once again Karen Wiesner has showed her undeniable skill in creating characters who tug on the reader's heartstrings."_Dawn Myers for Writers Unlimited
"Karen Wiesner seems to keep getting better and better as this series continues. The subjects are more challenging, the operatives for the Network more sensitive. Rules about relationships within the covert agency were relaxed in Book 7 and the agents seem to be thriving. Ms. Wiesner is extremely sensitive to the plight of sexually abused children in this book. She crafts her story well, building the intimacy between Nova and Dez slowly and patiently as one would have to with the suffering Nova still really hasn't totally recovered from. The author and I seem to be in complete sync. The punishment for the next sex offender Nova deals with is a pièce de résistance of ingenuity. Gifted characters and the dating experience of Nova and Dez blended with the suspense of the mission scenario make this a novel I found hard to put down. It pulled me in on the first page and didn't let me go. I'm looking forward to Book 9 with high hopes from what I've seen so far."_reviewed by Dee Dailey for The Romance Studio 5 Hearts!
"The eighth Incognito book opens with plenty of action. Interesting characters and expertly written action scenes will keep your attention and pique interest for the next book."_Keitha Hart for Romantic Times BOOKreviews 3 stars!
I can't do it. Nova Granger realized that fact on the wave of fury rising inside her like a tsunami. She'd sat quietly, trying not to make eye contact, as immaculate men dressed and smelling like a million bucks perused the virgin offerings in the brothel showroom. These particular girls, including Nova, were highly prized because they hadn't yet been 'spoiled'. As soon as they were, of course, they would be offered to the men who weren't so choosy. She'd watched four of the pigs incline their heads toward the young girls of their choices, then the pimp's thugs escorted them upstairs to the bedrooms. None of the girls fought--they'd learned their lessons the hard way during the torturous weeks since being taken from the streets of Chicago, where they'd lived, hand-to-mouth, after running away from somewhere months or years before. Most of them were barely twelve years old. Mere children. Used like a product of pleasure with no thought whatsoever of their rights, their dignity, their choices. Dear God--their souls.
The mission profile had been drilled into her, and she reminded herself forcefully what she was doing here and why she couldn't act on her own, apart from the primary operation. She was one of team of undercover agents with specific orders. Their intention was to infiltrate the inner sanctum of an interstate human trafficking ring operating seven houses of prostitution around the United States--from Chicago, to Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, and Boston. A mid-level recruiter employed pimps to handle the houses in each city. Runaways and prostitutes between the ages of twelve and sixteen were "charmed" into trusting pimps who controlled the day-to-day business of handling the girls. Charm quickly turned to threats and horrific violence--of which Nova had taken her share. The girls were rotated, blindfolded, every two weeks, between the prison-like brothels in a city so they couldn't make connections and never knew exactly where they were at any given time. At this particular chicken shack, clients were willing to pay a fortune for sex with extremely young, virgin girls.
Nova made herself receive the mission objective: Get to the top of the chain, so the ring could be collapsed from the inside out and shut down permanently. She'd been brought in as a teenage runaway on the rumored possibility that the top dog in the ring was also a client. So far, she hadn't been forced to endure the attentions of any of the men in order to find out who he was. Her fellow operative and the mission leader, Victor Leventhal, who was posing as a pimp, had warned her that her hands-off attitude was the reason for their disinterest in her. That certainly wouldn't last long.
One customer wore an unstained, soft gray business suit and horned-rimmed glasses. Behind the spectacles, his eyes bulged with excitement as he slowly looked from one girl to the next on the sofas and chairs in the room. Hesitantly, he reached out and touched Nova's arm. She watched that hand as if it moved in slow motion while a fragile, black piece inside her came unhinged.
No, Daddy. No. Not there. Not where it hurts. Not where it bleeds...
The pig's hand was soft--too soft, as if he'd soaked in churned butter. Nova gagged on the sickeningly sweet scent of the cologne he wore, mingled with the sweat of his barely-contained anticipation. Everything inside her advised her to rip his arm out--right from the socket. She could make him bleed, the depraved bastard. Don't you realize how easily I could kill you? With my bare hands?
Nova squeezed her eyes shut. I'll never let you or your friends touch me again. I'll never believe you did it because you love me, Daddy.
Opening her eyes, Nova raised her gaze to the pervert, and he instantly drew back at what she knew he saw there. Incredulously, he appeared to realize the danger involved with his secret sin for the first time, and he hurried to the opposite side of the room, to a cluster of girls huddled on a sofa. Nova's glare followed him. A moment later, as if he could feel her gaze on him like an imminent missile, he glanced back at her over his shoulder, with fear in his cow eyes.
Overhead, the sound of female cries and beds creaking fired the avenging angel inside Nova's blackened heart. No one's coming. No one will save them if I don't.
Movement beside her compelled Nova to glance away to see the little, freckled, red-haired girl being led from the room by one of the thugs. Her long braid hung down her back--the very picture of innocent summers, balancing on a crooked fence, sipping lemonade. Not Pippi Longstocking, my favorite character from the Astrid Lindgren books Mama and me read when I was little. Not the sweet girl with blue fire in her eyes, the one who didn't want to die. She'd cried that over and over while the pimp taught a new reality. Nova had almost lost her sanity wanting to turn his lesson back on him. Stay alive, Pippi. Endure long enough for me to help you escape. But is that even possible?
Next to her, Dara whimpered, and Nova turned to look at the young girl she'd befriended earlier that day. A thug pulled her up. Nova wanted to grab her back, especially when the pig wrapped his arm around Dara and murmured, "You'll be my doll. You'll be part of my collection." Dara looked back at her, her gaze dark and fearful. Nova saw the message in her eyes--Save me. You're the only one who can.
Soon, the pimp would make the exchange of hard, cold cash with this diseased bastard for the death of an innocent soul. Dara ... Nova's teeth clenched at the drilled-reminder inside her head: Focus on the mission. You can either save one or all.
In front of Dara being pushed out of the room, the spectacled customer followed Pippi and the thug quickly--nervously, glancing back at Nova. That skittish gaze broke her.
I'll kill you before I let you touch her again. I can't save all of you, but I can save a few. And that has to be worth something.
Nova's hand closed around the narrow-necked vase holding a single, withered rose. Over the past few days, the other flowers in the vase had died one by one, their petals falling to the dingy carpet where they remained. The customers trampled them underfoot over and over, never noticing their existence in their quest for selfish gratification. For the past week, Nova had watched everything, reciting her mission parameters in her head like a prisoner trying to escape the boundaries hemming her in. No more.
With a cry of rage, she broke the bulb bottom of the glass vase and launched herself at the pervert with his arm around Dara. Driving the broken tube deep inside his back, seeing the bloom of deep red staining the back of his immaculate suit only partially satisfied the bloodlust metastasizing unchecked in Nova's heart.
She shoved his body to the floor while the girls behind her screamed in shock. There was no time to think: she threw herself onto the nervous pig who'd chosen Pippi and plunged her makeshift weapon into his neck with all her strength. He crumpled like a worthless bit of paper headed for the trash.
When one of the thugs reached for her, she slammed her foot into his chest, smashing him down to the floor while grappling for his silenced handgun. As soon as her blood-soaked hand took possession, she turned the weapon on him and blew his head clean off his shoulders. Whipping around where she was straddling the body, she brought the gun to bear on the other thugs one by one. The screams around her sank into the background, secondary to the agenda filling her head. Kill the men. Kill them all. Make them pay. Redeem the souls of these innocent girls. Maybe save my own soul.
She ran through the house, killing all the men she saw. In the last room upstairs at the end of the hall, she stood over the naked body of a man who'd been raping a young girl until she burst in. He held his hands up in surrender, begging her fruitlessly for his miserable life.
"No. I'm giving her the life you wanted to take away." Smiling cruelly, Nova kicked him away from the girl to the other side of the bed and emptied the gun's magazine into his head while the girl screamed, covering her ears. Three soft little coughs preceded the handgun clicking impotently as the breech stayed open. The room filled with the strangely pleasant smell of propellant from the gunplay. Nova lowered the impotent weapon and turned to the little girl. Her body was already covered with fresh bruises.
"Don't move." The order came from a commanding voice she recognized.
Vic. Nova raised her head to look at her team leader, posing undercover as the pimp who controlled this chicken shack. An instant later, a sharp pain blossomed in the center of her back. "No," she murmured. I'm not done. Haven't saved them all...
The drug inside the dart he shot at her stole into her veins almost immediately and she became dizzy. Colors swirled around her head. For an instant, she thought she smelled her father's cheap aftershave, felt his weight as he shoved her hard into the bed sheets. She couldn't breathe with her face in the pillow. She moaned, fighting almost blindly under the effect of the drug as hands caught hers and bound her arms and legs.
Dragging her eyes open a fraction, she saw Vic's ruggedly handsome face leaning over her. "You shouldn't have done this," he whispered. There was pity in his expression and his tone--and understanding. "You shouldn't have gone off-profile, Nova."
Barely a week into their infiltration operation, and she'd already screwed up. Tried to save the one and sacrificed the many. "No..."
She never had a chance to fight the suffocating lethargy stealing over her. Helplessly, her eyes slipped closed. Everything went black as she fell out of all time and meaning.