Olympic athlete turned secret agent Dayna Duncan always plays to win. Her assignment to guard an international sports sensation would be no different. Then the one man who could throw Dayna off her game appears. Fighter pilot Luke Harper never did play fair....
Years ago, knowing that he could jeopardize her shot at the gold, Luke broke things off with Dayna. Now he's back...for keeps. Even as Dayna tries to resist the man she believes chose his career over her, reigniting passion adds fuel to an explosive conspiracy that could end this match, once and for all.
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January 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Match Play by Merline Lovelace
"That's all we have?"
Undercover operative Dayna Duncan lifted a sun-bleached brow. Her green eyes, so vivid against her tanned skin, locked on her boss.
"Wu Kim Li is playing in the Women's International Pro-Am Charity Tournament and whispered an urgent message to another golfer that her father is flying to Scotland to watch her compete?"
"That's all we have," Nick Jensen confirmed.
Nick, code name Lightning, had run the ultra-secret organization known only as OMEGA for more years than he wanted to count now. It was headquartered in a brick town house just off Massachusetts Avenue, in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s embassy district. A discreet bronze plaque beside the front door identified the building as home to the offices of the President's Special Envoy--one of those meaningless titles given to well-heeled contributors to campaign war chests. Not more than a handful of insiders knew the Special Envoy also served as director of an organization so small and so secret that its agents were activated only at the request of the President himself.
One of those agents was preparing to go into the field now. Dayna Duncan, code name Rogue, had arrived at the town house via a secret underground access and been whisked up to OMEGA's high-tech Control Center mere moments ago. This wasn't Dayna's first op, by any means, but from the little she'd heard so far, it sounded as though it might be right up her alley.
Lightning's next question confirmed her guess. "What kind of handicap are you carrying these days?"
"A two," she replied, scrunching her nose in disgust. Golf was more of a hobby now than the passion it had once been, but Dayna still played to win.
"You do know," her boss drawled, "most of us weekend duffers would kill for a two handicap?"
"I'll be back to scratch by the Pro-Am Charity Tournament," she predicted confidently. "You are sending me to Scotland to get close to Wu and her daddy, aren't you?"
A former college all-star athlete, Dayna had twice won Olympic gold in the controlled mayhem known as white-water kayaking. She took her code name from the Rogue River in Oregon, where she'd first learned to run rapids. Her current job as a consultant at one of the nation's foremost outdoor sports-training centers gave her both flexibility and the perfect cover for her OMEGA assignments.
Especially this one. Eighteen-year-old golf prodigy Wu Kim Li was one of those international celebrities everyone loved to hate. Incredibly skilled, obnoxiously temperamental, the North Korean won as many fans by sinking a long putt as she turned off by her tirades when she missed a short one. But it was the golfer's father who had captured OMEGA's attention.
"What's the story on Dr.Wu?" she asked. "I know he's some kind of a scientist working on hush-hush stuff."
Nick flicked a switch and filled the Control Center's wall-size screen with the intent, unsmiling face of Wu Kim Li's father. "This is our most recent photo of Dr. Wu XiaDong. The photo was hard to come by, as he hasn't traveled outside North Korea in almost a decade. His government keeps him on a short leash. No surprise, considering he's one of their foremost nuclear weapons engineers."
"Uh-oh. I'm guessing that doesn't make him real popular with the White House."
"To put it mildly."
Relations between the United States and North Korea, always shaky, had deteriorated steadily in recent months over Korea's stubborn determination to develop nuclear weapons. The situation had become so tense that the State Department had warned U.S. citizens to think twice about doing business with or traveling to North Korea. As Dayna studied the face on the screen, she wondered how much Dr. Wu had contributed to those tensions.
"What's the thinking?" she asked. "Why did Kim Li whisper that urgent message about her father's attendance at the golf tournament in Scotland?"
"The CIA has picked up subtle vibes that Wu is chafing under the constraints his government imposes on him. They're convinced he wants to defect. Your task will be to find out if that's true and, if so, effect the escape."
Nick didn't have to tell his agent how absolutely vital this op was to U.S. national security. Her low whistle indicated she'd grasped the implications immediately.
"What about the daughter? Is she in on this, too?"
"We think so."
He brought another photo up on the screen. This one captured Wu Kim Li in midswing, displaying the perfect form and incredible power that had led the media to christen her Tigress Wu.
"As you well know," Nick said, "she makes millions in product endorsements. Since she lives in a Communist state, however, only a fraction of those revenues come to her personally."