Phantom Pearl

Phantom Pearl

by Monica McCabe

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Overview

Her life's mission. Her heart's desire.

Riki Maddox is not your average tomb-raiding treasure hunter. Her targets are carefully chosen to wound her father's killers, the Japanese Yakuza. To thwart their quest to recapture World War II loot stolen by Japanese forces, she puts herself in constant danger-and in the sights of a man as driven and as daring as she is . . .

Working for the Department of Homeland Security, Special Agent Dallas Landry is a rare breed: an academic with an unmatched lust for adventure. He had a perfect success rate recovering stolen art and antiquities-until he came up against an infuriatingly intriguing menace known as Riki Maddox.

Now the two will cross paths once again in Australia-on a quest for the legendary Phantom Pearl, a priceless carved mammoth tusk. But Riki knows that playing games with a man like Dallas could cost more than just her freedom. Not only could the federal agent end her quest for revenge, he could also give her something more to live for . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781601836571
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 06/27/2017
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

Read an Excerpt

Phantom Pearl

Jewel Intrigue series


By Monica McCabe

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2017 Monica McCabe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60183-655-7


CHAPTER 1

It took three rings before Riki decided to answer her cell phone. She should've left the offensive thing back in the room turned off, battery disconnected.

On ring four, she heaved a sigh and grabbed it. "I'm on vacation," she snapped.

"Your brief e-mail said out of town," Kai replied, "not out of touch."

"Can't you read between the lines?" When a soft ocean breeze drifted beneath the bamboo and thatch roof of the pool bar, she savored the warm freshness of it. "Why are you calling?"

"The same reason you answered," Kai said. "Work."

She wanted to groan. "That last job you sent me on nearly killed me. Don't I deserve one measly week in Baja to soak away the bruises?" Riki didn't like to complain. But Russia was still frozen this time of year, and that comrade had punched like a two-ton block of ice. She ached down to the bone.

"You knew the path chosen would not be easy," Kai replied.

The phone line crackled. Day two at a beach resort on the outer edges of cell reception, and she had barely begun to thaw out. She loved Kai Menita like the father figure he was, but more often than not, contact from him meant work. Right now, she needed a five-minute time-out. Taking this call had been a mistake.

"I never complain. Not ever. For once, though, I want to enjoy squishing my toes in the sand and devour fruity drinks with little umbrellas." To prove it, she sucked the last of her lime daiquiri through a straw until it gurgled.

Kai made a noise of disapproval on the other end of the line. "One Russian tsar and a three-man security team is no match for a woman of your skills. I taught you better than that."

It was true. And no one could ever claim that Riki Maddox shirked her duty. Down time was as rare as the antiquities she chased. Her life was complicated, her work demanding, but she'd just finished a brutal job that left her in dire need of a vacation.

"You also taught me the Tao of Revitalization," Riki said with seriousness. "The importance of mental and physical balance." She set aside her glass. "I'm not there, Kai. I could use a little time."

"You know I freely give you what you need, yet every decision we make demands a price."

Riki sighed. It was always like that with him. Give and take, yin and yang, the inherent duality of the natural world that proclaimed nothing was truly free. Even the smallest movement caused a ripple of energy that spread indefinitely. She understood the principal and believed in the strength of focus it brought. But right this moment, the only thing she wanted was the warmth of the sun, the sound of the ocean waves, and the simple pleasure of a few color-soaked sunsets. Kai's phone call said she wasn't going to get them.

"Whatever this is, it better be worth interrupting the first vacation I've had in forever."

For a couple of seconds, there was nothing but silence on the other end of the line. Then, "I've found the plane," Kai declared.

Riki's breath caught on the bombshell.

She shoved away from her seat at the bar and headed for the privacy of Baja Palmilla's tropical gardens. "How? Where? Are you certain?" That was a dumb question. Kai never joked about anything. If he said he had found it, then he had.

"Phantom Pearl's survival may prove true." The words rang with his usual calm intensity, but there was another layer, an excitement she'd not heard before.

An empty bench under a bright pink bougainvillea arbor beckoned, and she sat down under the weight of Kai's claim. For the most part, he'd kept the search for the downed aircraft separate from their recovery business, a scholarly pursuit that spanned years and bordered on personal obsession. She never believed he would find it.

Not because he wasn't capable of locating the impossible. He'd done that more than once. The problem was that the plane, a WWII Japanese transport aircraft, had been lost at sea during a typhoon in 1944. Everything went down, the cargo, crew, and the incomparable crown jewel of Yamashita's treasure — Phantom Pearl — an exquisitely carved, centuries-old mammoth tusk.

"Please tell me it's not at the bottom of the South China Sea," she said. "You know I don't like to scuba dive."

"How do you feel about a crocodile-infested rainforest?"

No contest. She'd choose the heat of a mosquito-laden jungle over the liquid isolation of a world reduced to a breather and a mask. "Where is the plane?"

"Not where one might expect." He hesitated for effect. "Queensland, Australia."

She frowned as she gazed back at the infinity pool, at the line of palm trees reflecting on the mirror surface of the water. "That's the wrong direction, Kai."

Yamashita, a harsh and brutal general of the Imperial Army, had plundered all Southeast Asia to steal enough gold, jewels, art, and antiquities to fund the Japanese war effort. He had amassed the treasure horde in Singapore first, then slowly moved it across the Philippines to one-hundred-seventy-two locations so secret the transporters were entombed inside. Australia might be in the right hemisphere, but too many miles lay between it and every reported, or speculated, treasure location.

"Your assumption would be true had the general been the only one to steal the Pearl," Kai stated with a hint of satisfaction.

Riki stood as his meaning sank in. "Are you saying someone actually had the balls to steal it from a monster like Yamashita?"

Kai gave a soft laugh. "Denki was a Japanese intelligence officer of high regard. But he, and his balls, folded under the temptation of impossible wealth. He made it as far as the Solomon Islands before getting caught."

Static interrupted the connection again, so Riki aimed toward the beach to find a clearer signal. "What happened to him?"

"Yamashita sent his enforcers."

Bad news for the traitor. "The Yakuza?"

"You know they do not suffer betrayal. Not then, not now."

She knew, but the risk didn't stop her thirst for vengeance. "Go on."

"Denki was executed at Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal. They loaded Phantom Pearl onto a C-47, a long-range, military freighter aircraft. Advanced for the time. Records indicate the cargo held military dignitaries, a sealed war chest of classified documents, and enough yen to cover a month's payroll."

"They were flying it back where? Japan?"

"Singapore, but they never made it. It was April sixteenth, 1944."

He said the date like it was significant. "Okay, what happened April sixteenth?"

"A sudden and unexpected storm hit New Guinea. The weather so severe they called it Black Sunday due to overwhelming loss of aircraft."

This was beginning to get interesting. "So the plane leaves the Solomon Islands and heads west toward Singapore, hits the typhoon over New Guinea, and gets blown off course only to crash land in Queensland."

"You are beginning to understand," Kai said. "Shall I go on? Or do you wish to get back to your pursuit of leisure?"

She rolled her eyes at Kai's attempt at humor. He knew full well she'd been hooked. She ignored his question and asked one of her own. "What makes you believe the plane was blown so far off course?"

"I have a contact in Cairns. He researched old Queensland Civil Defense briefings and found mention of a plane crash in the Far North mountains of Cape York Peninsula. It's rugged, remote, and lower elevations are covered in rainforest. The date matches, and the location is within fuel capacity of the C-47."

"That doesn't mean it's our plane," Riki replied. "It was war time. There were hundreds of US and Japanese air fleet in the area. It could be any one of them. Besides, Japan wouldn't abandon their dignitaries or Phantom Pearl."

"The Australian Defense briefing stated there would be no rescue. The country's resources were allocated to recovery efforts after the destructive typhoon, not spent in search of a small enemy plane deep in the wilderness."

"That explains Australia," Riki stated. "What about Japan?"

"They were busy fighting a war. By the time they could piece together a team, the unthinkable happened — Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dealing with the overwhelming devastation of an atomic bomb took precedence over finding one piece of lost treasure, no matter how valuable. The story of Phantom Pearl eventually faded into the pages of history."

Riki paced the beach, absently watching the sun fall below the horizon. "Since you've called, I assume you want me to investigate?"

"It is your choice, Reika."

On a normal day, she'd scold him for using her proper name. Today she didn't utter a word, just closed her eyes against the deepening blue of a cloudless Baja sky. She inhaled a calming breath and focused on birdsong to center her thoughts. She quickly identified the Cactus Wren, but it was the soothing ku-koo-ah of Shearwaters as they glided over the Gulf of California that gave her the clarity she sought.

"It may help you to know," Kai's voice interrupted, "that the plane's passengers are still on Japan's missing soldiers list. The C-47 continues to be classified as lost, and not a single trace of the Pearl has ever been mentioned since Guadalcanal."

She didn't need convincing. If it was important to Kai, she would do whatever was needed. She could vacation later. "Why haven't treasure hunters considered Australia before?"

"Perhaps they have," he said. "The more significant concern is ... Why is Ken Cho mounting an expedition to Cooktown, a small coastal village near the edge of the range?"

An icy chill snaked down Riki's spine. He was wrong — the most significant question was why hadn't he opened with that piece of intel? Any move against Ken Cho and the Yakuza was an automatic in for her. She despised everything they represented. Extortion, drugs, money laundering.

Murder.

Publicly, they had the support of the Imperial family for their role in reclaiming Yamashita's treasure. Didn't matter that Japan had stolen it to begin with. Privately, they commanded a sizeable finder's fee for every piece of art or antiquity they scavenged and brought back. They were cold-blooded, ruthless, and eliminated anything or anyone who got in their way.

Phantom Pearl would be an irresistible prize. Kai wanted it. The Yakuza wanted it. She was going to get it.

"What about Homeland Security?" Riki asked.

"They are not on my inform list," he scoffed.

Maybe not, but they'd interfered with missions before. Kai well knew it.

"Stop messing with me. Is the Cultural Division aware of the movement?" The question was more about a specific agent, but she refused to acknowledge that curiosity to Kai.

"Dallas Landry is in Singapore, if that is what you are asking."

Dammit. It was. And for good reason. When it came to near misses, Landry had gotten closer than anyone else, even Cho. Her ill-advised fascination with the agent was an inconvenience she'd rather keep to herself.

"How much time do I have?" Riki asked.

"If you leave now, perhaps a three-day head start."

Not much considering one full day would be spent in flight. Fourteen hours from Los Angeles to Brisbane, another two or three to Cairns, and an unknown stint to reach Cooktown. That didn't allow much time for setting a plan in motion, but she'd worked with less.

"I'll head home for LA tonight," Riki said, "and catch the first flight to Brisbane."

"I've already made the arrangements," Kai replied. "A custom carrier for the artifact will be waiting at the airline counter."

Of course it would. He knew exactly what her reaction would be.

"It better be first class."

"I've never let you down yet, Reika."

"Please, Kai," she begged for the hundredth time. "Stop calling me that. I'm not a delicate flower, or lovely petal, or whatever nonsense it's supposed to mean."

"It is your name," he said simply.

"Not anymore." Not in a long time. Not since the day of her father's funeral, and hatred had become her guiding force.

CHAPTER 2

Dallas Landry tugged on the cuffs of his jet-black Versace shirt, an extravagance as necessary as the precision tailored slacks and Magnanni loafers that cost him a week's salary. Conveying the image of a wealthy art collector was nearly as expensive as the black-market antiquities on display at this very posh, very private sale.

He nodded to an older couple as they moved from an exquisite art deco bronze by Erté to a marble impressionist sculpture of twisting human forms. Sango Gallery of Fine Art was legit, classically modern with an air of sophistication and a highly influential business in the heart of Singapore. It made no sense that half the works on display tonight were currently in the FBI's stolen art file.

When a tuxedo-clad waiter strolled by carrying a tray of champagne flutes, Dallas snared a glass. He casually sipped the sparkling liquid and debated the odds of Jane Lassiter, head of Homeland Security's Art and Cultural Division, accepting his next expense report without choking. No one ever claimed undercover work was cheap.

He was admiring a Victorian painting by Henry Fuseli, a leader in the Romantic Art Movement of the eighteenth century, when someone stepped up to join him.

"Nice shoes," purred the female beside him.

Dallas glanced over and stiffened. "Layla Sanchez," he said with barely disguised animosity. Homeland Security's resident femme fatale was the last person he expected, or wanted, to meet at this hot art liquidation sale. "What the hell are you doing here?"

It was more of a statement than question. He couldn't think of a single good reason why she'd turn up now, looking like she'd poured herself into a designer gown that Lassiter probably signed off on without so much as a blink.

"We need to talk, Landry." Layla smiled, her glossy red lips a beacon to every man within a hundred-foot radius.

Every man but him. "Go away." This operation required delicate balance. She represented interference. "Why are you here?"

"Funny story," she said. "You're going to love it."

Somehow, Dallas didn't think he would.

"There you are, Ms. Sanchez," a twenty-something man said as he handed her a glass of champagne.

"Please," she said much too sweetly, "call me Layla."

The poor sap didn't stand a chance against the red-lipped demon in front of him. Dallas had seen too many fall victim to her soul-stealing smile.

"Dallas," she continued without breaking stride. "Meet Tyson Mahoney, the gallery administrator here at Sango."

What was she up to? Had Lassiter sent her? If so, the timing couldn't be worse. He'd suspected that Sango's owner had made a regrettable partnership with Mathis Howe, the Malaysian king of black-market antiquities. Howe's inner circle had been near untouchable. Two months — eight tedious weeks — Dallas had spent cultivating the man's trust. Adding a new player now, even one as beautiful as Layla Sanchez, could ruin everything.

"Tyson has graciously offered to give me a tour." Layla's palm rested against the administrator's arm, her brightly painted fingernails stark against the man's white shirt. "My anticipation is running wild. I've seen many exhibitions, but never been behind the scenes."

"Sango applies the finest in museum standards," Tyson said with pride. "Private conference rooms with concierge service, digitally monitored climate control and fire detection systems. The art handling room is the best —"

"Mr. Mahoney," a tux-clad waiter interrupted. "I was told you're needed at the Italian collection. A buyer has a question on the certificate of authenticity for a Francois Gerard."

A telltale anxiety filled Tyson's eyes, but he shrugged and straightened his spine. "Please excuse me. I should only be a few moments."

Layla waved him on with an understanding smile. "I'll be around. Just don't forget me."

"Never," Tyson said as he lifted her hand for a kiss. With a quick nod at Dallas, the administrator disappeared, leaving them a window of opportunity.

"Out with it," he said to the she-devil. "Why are you here?" She sipped on her champagne and tossed a casual glance around the gallery. "It seems you've been reassigned. I'm here to finish the job."

"I sincerely doubt that," he scoffed. "Lassiter hasn't said a word."

A finely arched brow lifted at his harsh tone. "The order came from higher up. The boss lady is probably discovering it this very moment. Besides, I'm exceptionally good at anything I focus on. If you'd give me half a chance, I'd show you what you've been missing."

Layla wore seduction like a second skin. The act was a major part of her success, a tactic that opened plenty of doors for her. But her well-practiced skills did absolutely nothing for him.

"Don't think you can waltz in here and take over," he said. "Mathis Howe won't play."

"I'm not like you, Dallas dear. It doesn't take weeks for me to hit my mark. I've only been in Singapore a few hours and already found my ticket in."

He shook his head at her blatant overconfidence. "Tyson Mahoney is small fish. An underling forced to authenticate stolen art. He's not the target."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabe. Copyright © 2017 Monica McCabe. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Phantom Pearl 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
gigiluvsbooks More than 1 year ago
Riki Maddox is not your average tomb-raiding treasure hunter. Her targets are carefully chosen to wound her father's killers, the Japanese Yakuza. To thwart their quest to recapture World War II loot initially stolen by Japanese forces, she puts herself in constant danger--and in the sights of a man as driven and as daring as she is. Homeland Security Special Agent Dallas Landry is a rare breed: an academic with an unmatched lust for adventure. He had a perfect success rate recovering stolen art and antiquities--until he came up against an intriguing menace known as Riki Maddox. She's placed his reputation on the line, and stopping her becomes his number one priority. Now the two will cross paths once again in Australia--on a quest for the legendary Phantom Pearl, a priceless mammoth tusk carved by 15th century monks. Barely one step ahead of the Yakuza, it's a three-way race to recover the long lost treasure. One Riki is hell-bent to win. But playing games against a federal agent like Dallas will cost more than her freedom. The chase will demand she risk her life and her thirst for revenge--but it just might offer something more to live for... Review: What an excellent romantic adventure! This story was fun and thrilling to read. Packed full of action, adventure, treasure seeking and bad guys. I loved the premise of the story that multiple factions going after long lost World War II treasure. The story is fast-paced and never really slows down or drags. Another thing I really liked is Riki. She is wicked smart, tough, driven everything you want in an action romance heroine. I loved the interaction between Riki and Dallas. Though they have always been working against each other, there is a mutual respect and a little lusting going on between the two. That tension of being on separate sides and still wanting each other lead to some great scenes. The suspense parts of the story were very well done, I kept guessing who had what ulterior motives and what was going to happen next. This is a new to me Author and she wrote a great story that kept me interested from the beginning until the end of the story. Now, this is book three in the series, but I looked at the blurbs and I could not find any connection other than the theme of the series. Even if there is to me it could be a stand alone, that was wrapped up nicely at the end. 4Stars *I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book provided by the publisher.*
TammyS32 More than 1 year ago
An action packed read wrapped in history. This was an okay read for me, it was a bit slow at the beginning. I did like the characters and the story definitely picks up the pace as you get further along. Plenty of drama and suspense and great chemistry between Riki and Dallas.
BooksAndSpoons More than 1 year ago
What a suspense and danger filled adventure! With vivid images, the author paints a world where I wanted to step in and be part of. The story is riddled with history and mystery from the WW II and the current date with an intriguing point of view and a clever twist as the fiction is built upon facts, making Phantom Pearl captivating and exciting read. Add the combustible attraction simmering between Riki Maddox and Dallas Landry and you have a sure winner, a summer read for all romantic suspense fans. It was easy to enjoy and to be entertained by the story as it has a natural flow with witty dialog. Unexpected humorous moments had me chuckling, the romantic moments swooning, and the action biting my nails. Dallas Landry is a charming character, used to maneuver in the big, dangerous world. He has a romantic side that comes as surprise. He is generous and kind, capable and confident. Completely a swoon-worthy hero! Riki Maddox is a complex character. She is tough as nails, she can take down the biggest thug, she is used to dealing with life on her own, being fueled by revenge and payback. She is sarcastic to the bone, a person I would not turn my back on. Yet there is brokenness inside her that makes her more human, easier to like. The spark between Riki and Dallas is palpable, yet the results manage to surprise, and all the intimate moments are just between them, left to the imagination of the readers. There's a moment right there in the middle of the story that things are less combustible and explosive in nature, where I felt the story took a little lull, but not to worry, things pick up again, with a grand finale that leaves you breathless. As all the books in the series are completely standalone novels, with just a theme of treasure hunting and romance in common, you don't have to read the previous books before you join the hunt for the pearl. If you enjoy action and suspense with a dash of romance, an exotic background of Singapore and Australia to the tale, love stories that have a multitude of layers, part being fact and part being fiction, twists you never expected, and characters you want to be friends with you are going to enjoy to feast on the Phantom Pearl! ~ Four Spoons
ArizonaJo More than 1 year ago
Phantom Pearl by Monica McCabe is the first book that I've read by this author and was an enjoyable afternoon diversion. The plot was steadily paced but I found that it took me a few chapters to actually get into the story. However, the history of Yamashita's gold that was hidden by the Yakuza and the Japanese forces during WWII piqued my interest so I had to keep turning the pages to find out more. Historical fact mixed with mystery fiction, action, romance, a little humor and some great snarky banter made for an easy read to fill a lazy afternoon. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Lyrical Press/Kensington via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.