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Against All Odds

AGAINST ALL ODDS (Book 1, Heroes of Quantico)
Revell, 2009; ISBN 978-0-800-73310-0

RT Reviewers' Choice Award
Daphne du Maurier Award

For FBI Hostage Rescue Team member Evan Cooper and his partner, dignitary protection duty should have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, Monica Callahan isn’t making it easy. Estranged from her diplomat father, who is involved in a sensitive hostage situation in the Middle East, she refuses to be intimidated by a related terrorist threat back in the States…until a chilling warning convinces her that the danger is very real—and escalating. As Coop and his partner do their best to keep her safe, David Callahan continues his work—triggering an abduction that puts his daughter’s life at risk. And with every second that ticks by, Coop knows that the odds of saving the only woman who has ever managed to breach the walls around his heart are dropping. Because terrorists aren’t known for their patience—or their mercy.

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reviews

Brava! Award-winner Hannon debuts the Heroes of Quantico series with a wonderful array of believable characters, action and suspense that will keep readers glued to each page. Hannon’s extraordinary writing, vivid scenes and surprise ending come together for a not-to-be-missed reading experience.
                                                                       RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)

I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do. This is a captivating, fast-paced, well-written romantic suspense destined for my keeper shelf. I loved this book, and highly recommend this author.
                                                                       Dee Henderson (author of the O’Malley Family series)

Nothing like a great romantic suspense novel to engage and delight and Irene Hannon does it with ease! Coop is the quintessential emotionally reserved hero who finds his heart breached by the women he is charged with protecting. Irene has perfected the dialogue between Coop and Monica as the sparks fly. Well drawn bad guys, a dysfunctional relationship between Monica and her diplomat father and witty male banter between Coop and his partner Mark add intensity and levity in equal measure in this rapid paced, well written romance.
                                                                       Relz Reviewz

Hannon delivers big-time in this novel. The intercontinental  suspense plot combines flawlessly with a fantastic romance that sizzles. The realism in her FBI details adds authenticity to the novel and allows the book to branch out to a male audience and women who would not pick up a romantic suspense title. The characters are all well developed and the interplay between partners is
                                                                        The Suspense Zone
(Book of the Month)

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excerpt

Prologue

“Sir? I think you need to hear this.”

With a preoccupied frown, David Callahan looked up from the security briefing in his hand. His aide, Salam Farah, stood on the threshold of his small office deep inside the fortified U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan. The man was holding a tape recorder and a single sheet of paper.

“A new message from the terrorists?” David lowered the briefing to his desk.

“Yes. And another personal threat.”

“I’m not interested in threats directed at me.” David waved the comment aside. “Let our security people worry about them.”

“This one is different, sir.”

After forty years in the diplomatic service, most of them spent dealing with volatile situations in the world’s hot spots, David had learned to trust his instincts about people. And in the two months he’d been back in Afghanistan trying to help stabilize the local government, he’d come to respect Salam’s judgment. His aide wouldn’t raise a red flag unless there was good cause.

“All right.” David adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and held out his hand. “Let’s see what they have to say.”

In silence, Salam set the recorder on the desk, pressed the play button and passed the sheet of paper to David.

As the spoken message was relayed in Pashto, the language favored by the Taliban, David scanned the translation. The warning was similar to those that had come before: Convince the country’s struggling fledgling government to release a dozen incarcerated terrorists and pay a twenty-million-dollar ransom, or the three U.S. hostages that had been kidnapped a week ago would die.

But as he read the last line, he understood Salam’s concern. The nature of the personal threat had, indeed, changed.

If you do not convince the government to meet our demands, your daughter will be our next target.
His pulse slammed into high gear.

“When did this arrive?” A thread of tension wove through his clipped question.

“Half an hour ago. It’s been in translation.”

“Was it delivered in the usual manner?”

“Yes.”

Meaning a randomly selected seven- or eight-year-old boy had been paid a few afghanis—the equivalent of a dime—to thrust the tape into the hands of the first U.S. soldier he saw at busy Massood Square, not far from the main gate of the embassy. The young, nimble couriers always managed to slip into the crowd or dart through the traffic before they could be restrained. It was a simple, expedient delivery method that left no clue about the origin of the messages.

Swiveling toward the small window in his office, David considered his options.

The official stance from Washington was clear—the United States didn’t negotiate with terrorists. Nevertheless, secret deals were sometimes bartered that allowed the government to save hostages while maintaining its hard-line public stance. While he’d been assigned to broker a couple of those clandestine arrangements during his career,  David had never recommended that course of action. Had never even considered recommending it.

Until now.

Because he wanted to protect Monica—even if she wanted nothing to do with him.

As he stared out the window at the jagged, unforgiving peaks of the distant Hindu Kush Mountains, snow-covered on this frigid February day, he was keenly aware of the moral dilemma he faced. If he’d been unwilling to advise covert bargaining to save the lives of the three American hostages, how could he in good conscience change his stance now just because his own daughter had become a target?

Whoever had masterminded this latest threat had thrown him a cunning, world-class curveball.
For thirty eternal seconds he wrestled with his dilemma. But when he swung back toward Salam, there was steel in his voice.

“Get Washington on the phone.”

Chapter 1

Evan Cooper had never liked predawn pages.

In his four years on the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, he’d pulled his share of all-nighters. And those were fine. He’d much rather stay up until the sun rose than be awakened by that rude alert. Especially on a Saturday after a late night of partying.

Stifling a groan, he groped around the top of his nightstand until his fingers closed over his BlackBerry. Once he’d killed the piercing noise, he peered at his watch in the darkness, forcing his bleary eyes to focus. According to the LED dial, it was four in the morning. Two hours of sleep.

Not enough.

Resigned, Coop clicked on his in-box. Normally, his adrenaline would already be pumping as he speculated about what crisis had escalated to the point that the nation’s most elite civilian tactical force would be called in. But in his present condition, the address line did little more than arouse mild curiosity in his sleep-fogged brain. Why had the page been directed to him alone rather than to his full team, as usual?

Squinting in the dark, Coop scanned the clipped directive from Les Coplin, head of the HRT.

Meet me at Quantico ASAP.

No explanation. No clue about why this meeting couldn’t wait until a decent hour. Just a summons.
In other words, typical Les.

After four years of this drill, Coop simply shifted into autopilot. And thirty minutes later, he found himself striding down the too-bright corridor toward Les’s office with no actual recollection of getting dressed, driving to Quantico, going through security or parking his car.

It was almost scary.

“You look about as alert as I feel.”

At the wry comment, Coop glanced over his shoulder. Mark Sanders closed the distance between them in a few long strides and fell into step beside him.

“One too many beers last night?” Mark queried.

“At least.” Coop didn’t figure it would do any good to deny the obvious. Mark had been by his side most of the evening. “I take it you got a page too?”

“Yep.” He scanned the deserted hallway. “Looks like it’s just you and me, kid. A two-man job. This might be interesting.”

Maybe, Coop conceded. After I wake up.

“How come you’re so perky?” Coop gave Mark a suspicious look. The two of them were often teamed up on missions that called for partners, and their on-the-job pairing had led to a solid friendship. “You had as much to drink as I did.”

“I also stopped for a cup of coffee at the quick shop on the way in.”

“Smart.”

“I thought so.” Mark’s lips quirked into a smirk. “Hey, maybe Les will take pity on you and offer you some of his special brew.”

The commander’s thick-as-motor-oil sludge was legendary—and universally abhorred. But Coop was desperate. “I might take him up on it.”

“Whoa!” Mark’s eyebrows shot up. “You did have a rough night. Or else you’re getting old.”

“Thanks a lot, buddy.” In truth, he felt every one of his thirty-eight years this morning.

Chuckling, Mark stopped outside Les’s office and slapped Coop on the back. “Hey, what are friends for?” He lifted his hand to knock but froze as a gruff voice bellowed through the door.

“Don’t just stand there. Come on in!”

Rolling his eyes, Mark pushed the door open and stepped aside, ushering Coop in first.

“Now you decide to be polite,” Coop muttered under his breath as he passed.

Mark’s soft chuckle was the only response.

“Sit.” Les waved them into chairs and fished out some file folders from the sea of papers on his desk.

He worked the stub of his ever-present, unlit cigar between his teeth as he scrutinized the men across from him.

“You two look like something the cat dragged in.” He turned to Coop. “Especially you. Get some caffeine.” He motioned to a coffee maker on a small table against the wall.

After exchanging a look with Mark, Coop rose in silence and filled a disposable cup three-quarters full, stirring in two packets of creamer to cut the bitterness of the noxious swill that masqueraded as coffee.  Nothing got past Les, Coop reflected. One quick, assessing glance was all it had taken for the man to figure out who had fared the worse from a night of bar-hopping.

His astute powers of observation were no surprise, though.  A former green beret and HRT operator, Les had headed the Hostage Rescue Team for the past two years. And he’d earned the respect of every HRT member with his keen insights and cut-to-the-chase manner. He’d also earned the nickname Bulldog, thanks to his stocky build, close-cropped gray hair and square jaw—not to mention his tenacious determination.

As Coop retook his seat, grimacing at his first sip of the vile brew, he ignored the twitch in Mark’s lips and focused on Les.

“I’ve got a job for you two. Ever hear of David Callahan?”

Mark shot Coop a silent query. At the almost imperceptible shake of his partner’s head, he answered for both of them. “No.”

“Didn’t think so. He keeps a low profile. Here’s some background you can review later.” He tossed a file across the desk, and Coop fumbled with his coffee as he grabbed for it, the murky liquid sloshing dangerously close to the rim of the cup.

Les scowled at him and chewed his cigar. “Keep drinking that coffee.” Settling back in his chair, he ignored the flush that rose on Coop’s neck. “David Callahan works for the State Department. Has for forty years. He’s been in about every hot spot in the world where the United States has a vested interest. By reputation, he’s a savvy diplomat and a tough but fair negotiator. When you see the Secretary of State shaking hands with foreign leaders after a diplomatic coup, you can bet David Callahan had a hand in it. I assume you’re both versed on the current hostage situation in Afghanistan.”

It was a statement, not a question.

To Coop’s relief, Mark took pity on him and accepted the volley. The coffee was starting to work, but he wasn’t yet ready to dive into this game.

“Yes. The basics, anyway. An unidentified terrorist group kidnapped three Americans a week ago and is demanding the release of a number of extremists who are in custody, as well as a large ransom. The hostages are a wire service reporter, the director of a humanitarian organization, and a State Department employee. The last I heard, things were at a stalemate.”

“That’s right. It’s a dicey situation. Callahan is holding firm to our nonnegotiation policy with terrorists, but he’s facing immense pressure to convince the State Department and the Afghan government to reconsider that stance. And the terrorists just raised the stakes.”

 

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questions

Discussion Questions

  1. Early in Against All Odds, David Callahan faces a moral dilemma: compromise his principles and protect his daughter—or hold fast to all he believes and put her life at risk. Is there a “right” answer in this situation? Why or why not? What would you do in his place?

  2. Monica has been estranged from her father for many years. Do you think she was justified in cutting him off? Why or why not? Are you estranged from anyone in your life? Why? What would it take to repair the damage to that relationship?

  3. When she was a child, Monica’s mother told her that  holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Do you think that’s true? Why or why not? How might carrying a grudge affect the life of the grudge-holder?

  4. As a child, Monica offered forgiveness to a friend—and was repaid with rejection and ridicule. Has anything similar ever happened to you? How did you handle it?

  5. What specific things happen in this book that convince Monica to start down the road to forgiveness with her father? Have you ever struggled with forgiveness? Can you talk about one instance—and how it played out? What does scripture tell us about forgiveness?

  6. The timeframe for Against All Odds is very short. Yet by the end of the book, Coop and Monica have established a strong connection. Why do you think their relationship deepened so quickly? Why can such a rapidly accelerating attraction be dangerous?

  7. In her speech, Monica says, “Words, like scalpels, can cut. But so can silence.” She also references the song I Thought You Knew, which is about the danger of assuming another person knows how you feel. Why is communication important in a relationship? What are the building blocks of good communication?

  8. David Callahan sacrificed family for work. In later life, he regrets that decision—and recognizes that some of the reasons he made that choice were selfish. What were those reasons? Do you know anyone whose priorities have been skewed in pursuit of the things he valued? How has it affected their lives? What does scripture teach us about priorities?

  9. In Monica’s book, Walk the Talk, she contends that while actions are an important way to express love, people need to hear the words, too—because words are the window to the heart. Do you agree? Why is verbal communication important in maintaining relationships? What are some reasons people might be reluctant to communicate? What can happen when people stop talking—and sharing?

  10. When Coop questions Monica about her faith, she says that it’s not always easy to believe, and that doubt is part of being human. Have you ever experienced doubts in your own faith? How did you deal with them? Do you, like Coop, ever struggle with the concept of putting your trust in God? What has helped you overcome this?

  11. David Callahan puts his life on the line when he goes to the market to deliver the payment for information. What does this say about his character? About his love for Monica? Why are actions just as important as words in conveying our feelings?

  12. Coop’s father withdrew into grief when his wife died, shutting out his sons. Coop’s brother found a surrogate family through his best friend, but Coop felt abandoned and emotionally isolated. Give some examples of how that affected his life. What does his experience say about the importance of a loving parent or parent-figure in a child’s development—and the impact the presence or absence of such a relationship can have in later life?

  13. All of the characters in this book are driven by strong motivations. Which character did you find the most interesting? Why? Discuss his or her motivations and how it shaped his or her actions.

  14. Monica trusted Coop and the HRT to keep her safe—yet they failed. How does this make Coop feel? Have you ever done your best to protect someone and failed? What were the repercussions? How did you deal with them?

  15. Coop shies away from the notion of turning his life over to God because he thinks it will diminish his freedom and his individuality. Monica says it’s liberating, because when you know you’re loved, you trust the other person and that frees you to be exactly who you are. Do you think this is true? Why or why not? Does this same concept apply to human love? Think of a marriage you’ve witnessed where unconditional love and trust are present. Describe that relationship.

  16. How would you describe Tariq’s character? What events shaped his life? What are his motivations? What are the motives of his key lieutenants? Talk about some examples from your own life or current events that illustrate the destructive nature of these motivations.

  17. What does her father’s half-written letter do for Monica? What effect does it have on Coop? Have you had an experience or discovered something that had an immediate and long-lasting effect on your life? Describe it. Why was it so powerful?

  18. What are two key messages you took away from this book?

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