The Doll (Vanessa Michael Munroe Series #3)

The Doll (Vanessa Michael Munroe Series #3)

by Taylor Stevens


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“A heroine every bit as provocative as Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander.” –The Dallas Morning News
   Haunted by a life of violence and as proficient with languages as she is with knives, Vanessa Michael Munroe, chameleon and hunter, has built her life on a reputation for getting things done—dangerous and often not-quite-legal things. The ability to survive, fight, adapt, and blend has since taken her across the globe on behalf of corporations, heads of state, and the few private clients who can afford her unique brand of expertise, and these abilities have made her enemies. 
   On a busy Dallas street, Munroe is kidnapped by an unseen opponent and thrust into an underground world where women and girls are merchandise and a shadowy figure known as The Doll Maker controls her every move. While trusted friends race to find her, everything pivots on one simple choice: Munroe must use her unique set of skills to deliver a high-profile young woman into the same nightmare that she once endured, or condemn to torture and certain death the one person she loves above all else.
   In this high-octane thriller Munroe will have to fight fast, smart, and furious to overcome a dangerous nemesis and deliver her trademark brand of justice.

Now with an excerpt from the latest Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, The Catch

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307888808
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Series: Vanessa Michael Munroe Series , #3
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 323,468
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

TAYLOR STEVENS is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Catch, The Informationist, and The Innocent, all featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe. Her novels have received critical acclaim, have been published in twenty languages, and The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Stevens broke free of the Children of God and now lives in Texas, where she is currently at work on the next Munroe adventure.

Read an Excerpt


Dallas, Texas

Palms to the glass, watching the lot from his office window, Miles Bradford saw her topple. The fall was a slow-motion sort of thing, the type of tilt and drop that made him hesitate, unsure for a long second whether to laugh or worry. He held his breath, urging her up. Any second now, knowing he was there, she'd turn toward the building and wave. They'd laugh about it later.

But she didn't move. Made no attempt to edge out from beneath the motorcycle that pinned her leg to the pavement. Didn't even raise her head.

Seeing though not understanding, moving as if treading water, Bradford backed away from the window. Then turned and bolted out of the office, down the hall, and past reception. Bypassed the elevators for the stairs, took the five floors at a run, and emerged from the stairwell into the lobby, where he pushed through the big glass doors only to find an ambulance blocking the northern lot access and Munroe on a stretcher, being lifted into its interior.

Bradford yelled, swung his arms to attract the attention of the paramedics so they would wait a moment longer, and allow him time to get across the lot so he could ride with her. But they never turned, never looked. The stretcher slid inward, the doors shut, and Bradford ran again, racing the distance, arriving seconds too late.

The ambulance, siren blaring, pulled out onto the service road.

The Ducati lay on its side, shoved slightly from where she'd been pulled from underneath, engine off and keys still in the ignition. He stooped and heaved the bike upright. Straddled the machine, hit neutral with his foot, punched his thumb into the starter button, and compressed the clutch handle only to find that the impact with the pavement had snapped it off.

He swore and stared in the direction the ambulance had traveled, frustrated and motionless, catching his breath, processing, while the wail faded and traffic began to flow again. Had he run directly for a car instead of the ambulance, he might have had a chance to chase it down, but he was too late for that now. Bradford glanced back toward the building, where the small crowd of onlookers had already begun to disperse.

Two decades of working in the line of fire, of watching his back and chasing images from shadows, and he still had the tendency to think like a civilian on his home turf. What were the odds that one of the people on the ground floor had made the call and an ambulance had been close by? Not impossible, but not highly likely, either.

Bradford dismounted and rolled the Ducati to the garage, to the out-of-the-way nook Munroe typically stashed it, and then jogged back to the lobby with the mental tape of her fall playing inside his head. Watched her jerk and then glance down, saw her pause and the way her left hand had wandered over her thigh, the long hesitation before she slumped and toppled. Hers weren't the motions--the sudden drop, the collapse--of someone passing out.

At the elevator he jammed a finger into the up arrow and ran through a list of possible alternatives--allergies, medical conditions, recent sicknesses--and drew one blank after another.

By the time Bradford returned to his floor, he'd gone through the replay a dozen times, more frustrated with each rewind. He pushed through the wide doors that separated Capstone Security Consulting from the hallway, crossed the plush reception area with its rich furnishings and oversize logo--corporate tokens that implied something other than the blood-and-guts outfit beyond the wood-paneled wall--and came to a full stop at the reception desk and Samantha Walker who sat behind it.

She stared up at him with her big brown eyes and the same give me the sitrep look she always got when his stress level soared. "What the hell was that all about?" she said. "You look like death paid a visit. Talk to me."

Bradford ignored her with a vacant half-smile and leaned across the desk for the Post-it stack. What else could he do? Tell her that based on his gut and a ten-second memory loop that wouldn't stop, he was pretty sure the woman he loved had just been tranqued and shoved into an ambulance?

He scribbled the few digits he'd caught off the plates when the vehicle had peeled out onto the service road and, with eyes still on the pad, said, "Where's the closest emergency room?"

"Medical City and Parkland."

"Call them, will you? Find out if Michael's there?"

She gave him that look again, then reached for the mouse and her monitor came alive. "Am I calling about Michael or some other name?" she asked.

"Michael," he said. Because unless Munroe was working, that's who her ID said she was, but the inquiry sent his mind bolting in two directions, and while Walker searched for numbers, he forced thought fragments and scattered images into a coherent question: He'd watched Vanessa Michael Munroe being lifted into the ambulance, but to those who'd done the lifting, was it Michael they'd taken or another of her incarnations?

He struggled to draw from the ether some sense of why, of who would have had the means and motive to put her into that ambulance, and, more important, how she'd been traced. Munroe had surely made enemies in her life, trading secrets and buying souls, but she'd worked with disguises and aliases, had stayed away from home for so many years, that there were few who knew who she truly was or how to find her.

Walker cleared her throat, picked up the phone, and gave Bradford a decided stare that said she'd make the calls but not while he stood there listening and micromanaging.

He moved to get out of her way, swiped a key card through a scanner.

A segment of wall to the right of the desk clicked open a sliver. Bradford pushed against it and stepped through. Beyond the paneling, the interior hallways and facing walls were glass, with privacy blinds kept open, giving the entire floor a sense of light and space. He moved past the offices to what most businesses would consider a conference area but which was to Capstone the war room, the nerve center, the place from which the business tendrils reached out for thousands of miles to support and supply the private security gigs running at any given time.

There was no door, only a frame where one used to be, and at one of the desks facing a wall of oversize monitors, Paul Jahan swiveled away from a keyboard.

Bradford nodded, said, "Hey, Jack," and handed him the Post-it. "Dallas Fire-Rescue plates. Can you run them?"

Jahan took the purple square with its three handwritten digits, gave it a look, and then stuck it to the nearest monitor. "Give me a minute," he said. "I'll see what I can get."

In the ensuing silence, Bradford strode to the marked-up whiteboards that functioned on the right wall as the monitors did on the left. He followed the note changes, minor updates on the two-man team in Peshawar, but read them without really seeing. His mind was elsewhere, still running, still torn in the two directions Walker's innocuous question about Munroe's identity had sent him.

Having nothing to answer the first, he shifted to the second: If something happened to Munroe, Logan's number was the emergency contact in her wallet. No first name, no last name, just Logan. He was her surrogate brother, soul mate, partner in crime, the man whose history was nearly as convoluted as her own and who guarded her back as fiercely as she guarded his.

Bradford checked his watch. Checked his phone. Ten minutes, if that, since he'd watched Munroe take the bike down with her fall. Still early if he meant to start tracking, but that didn't matter. He pulled from speed dial the number known to few, the phone Logan always carried and almost certainly answered.

Called and was sent directly to voice mail.

Bradford hung up without leaving a message.

Thumbed through the contacts for Tabitha, Munroe's eldest sister, hit call, and then ended it before the dialing began. No one in Munroe's family had any idea of the life she led off the grid and she took care to shield them and leave nothing that would trace back to them. It was still too soon for this kind of call, and he wasn't ready to step into the resulting quagmire of explanations if Tabitha should happen to pick up. Needed to script a plausible cover story first.

From across the room Jahan said, "Looks like those digits belong to valid Fire-Rescue plates. I can't say for sure with only half of them, but they seem to check out."

Bradford turned from the whiteboard wall. "Is it a stolen -vehicle?"

"Not that I'm showing, although it might not have been reported yet."

"What about a trace on the GPS? Can we figure out where the ambulance ended up, maybe where it's been?"

Jahan swiveled his chair around to face Bradford and then shifted a couple of inches to the right, then left, and back again in a maddening fidget. "I might be able to do that," he said, and stopped. "When do you plan to let us know what's going on?"

Bradford sighed. Walked to the nearest blank spot on the whiteboards, picked up a red marker, and drew the beginning of a diagram. Wrote: Michael--passed out or taken down?

He turned. "That's all I've got."

Jahan's mouth opened for a full second before he spoke. "You've gotta be kidding." And a beat later: "What did you see?"

"Not enough."

Jahan's index finger moved toward the whiteboard. "But enough for that?"

Bradford's posture sagged and he glanced again at the diagram.

Given Munroe's lifestyle, it was more than enough, but there was nothing he could point to for confirmation. The nine months since the infiltration in Argentina had been quiet, her initial week in Dallas had turned into months, the occasional overnight stay at his place lengthening into more, until she, who had no home of her own, gradually grew comfortable in his. He'd offered her security contracts as a way to delay the inevitability of her leaving, but they'd been small and relatively inconsequential--the longest had been a month in Abuja, Nigeria, which had evolved into an adult baby-sitting gig--definitely nothing to write home about, nothing he could connect to today.

The intercom crackled. Walker said, "I've got a Michael Munroe at the emergency room at Medical City."

Jahan raised his eyebrows; Bradford shook his head.

"It's too soon," he said.

Jahan's head tilt was subtle, an acknowledgment of trust rather than agreement. Bradford reached for the key rack, lifted off a set, and moved toward the door space. "Keep an ear for the phones, will you? I'm closing down the front and taking Sam with me."

Bradford and Walker took the elevator down to the ground floor and crossed to the parking garage, to an Explorer, one of three -vehicles Capstone kept on hand. Bradford got in behind the wheel. Walker slid into the passenger seat, buckled up, and kept her focus beyond the windshield, biting back, he knew, questions she wouldn't ask.

Her silence now was part of the same dance of avoidance that had descended on most of the team when Munroe had first come onboard. Suspicions of preferential treatment tainted the waters. Bradford had brought Munroe into the company, it was no secret that he was sleeping with her, and he'd already dropped everything once before to watch her back. Until proven otherwise, this little jaunt to the hospital was Bradford's overly paranoid, overly protective private mission, and as such, a waste of company resources.

The emergency room at Medical City, like most emergency rooms, was harshly lit and filled with depression. Seating took up the bulk of the waiting area. The next-of-kin story got Bradford and Walker beyond the wide swinging doors that divided the helpless from the helped and into the hallway, where the smell of antiseptic filled the air and the glare of fluorescent tubing illuminated nothing Bradford wanted to see and everything he didn't.

He found the room and passed through the curtained entry, only to back out as quickly as he'd gone in.

Walker, close behind, nearly collided with him in the process. She jumped sideways to avoid impact.

"What the hell?" she said, and when his only response was to search out the room number again, she gave him that look and continued past.

The room held one bed, an assortment of medical equipment, and a small space to move about. Bradford joined Walker beside the bed, where, expression clouded over, she stared down at a stranger, bloodied, stitched up, and doped.

"You want me to check with the nurses?" she whispered. "Find out if there's been some mistake?"

Bradford drew the curtain fully around, and motioned for her to keep watch. Belongings lay to the side of the bed and he searched through them, rifling through clothing, shoes, and purse until he found a wallet.

Munroe's wallet.

There was nothing else to indicate who this person was--no notebook or gadgets, no phone or identifying items. Only the folded leather that had, until this morning, been in Munroe's back pocket. Bradford flipped through it and pulled out the ID, turning it toward Walker long enough for her to get a good look, then nodded his head toward the exit.

She turned and left.

He continued past the driver's license and credit cards, which were still there, searching for the emergency numbers and the cash, which should have also been there but were not. Bradford pocketed the wallet, lifted the sheets slightly to see what lay underneath--a violation of privacy to whoever was in that bed, but he needed to confirm what he already suspected--and then having done so, slipped out.

Walker waited for him at the Explorer, arms crossed and leaning against the hood, and when he was within hearing distance she straightened and said, "The woman was brought in at about ten-twenty this morning. Michael didn't leave till eleven-thirty. The timing doesn't work."

"Except Michael got to the office around ten," he said. "The timing works if they were waiting for her to arrive, if they knew they'd get her on her way out."

"They'd have to be watching your place," Walker said.

"Maybe they are."

Bradford opened the doors and slid in behind the wheel, a hundred questions charging through his head, all of them superseded by guilt. Munroe would never have been found if she hadn't been in Dallas, and she'd stayed in Dallas for him.

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The Doll 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Another Thrill Ride. I have been hooked on Stevens' Munroe novels since reading the first--'The Informationist'--for my book club. While I still rank that novel as the absolute best so far, 'The Doll' comes pretty darn close. I am terribly surprised by my love of this series because I am not typically a fan, at all, of violent novels yet Stevens write with such great pacing, dialogue and simple over-the-top/unbelievable situations I have been completely enthralled. The character of Michael Munroe is just too much: she is a totally unrealistic, uber-commando who speaks most languages, is a mistress of disguise, has physical prowess that overwhelms any man, can change her appearance at will, is an expert at changing identities, surviving catastrophic events, can navigate any Third World country, use any weapon, procure any paperwork false or otherwise: she's like Lara Croft and Nikita on steroids. Oh, and every man alternately is intimidated by her and attracted to her. This is a character that a lot of us fantasize about being and that is a great deal of the fun here. The action moves at break neck speed (although I will admit this drags at times in the sections concerning Bradford's actions in Texas), and Stevens is not above brutalizing and/or killing off characters you have grown to care about, so be warned. I thought I knew where this was one concerning a major character and boy was I wrong. 'The Doll' is not perfect; in addition to some dragging action there are some loose ends I still have not figured out--namely the very last scene--and it's obvious some of those points are probably setting up the next in the series. If you read this book, or the other two, really needing all plot tied up nicely, if you're looking for totally logical action and events: you probably will not be happy here. These novels are really about the ride and a female protagonist who has been a victim--and is now dedicating her life to not ever being that way again. If you can let go of what you might require for other novels and simply enjoy the roller-coaster here, it is a fun ride. Angelina Jolie was born to play this woman.
Twink More than 1 year ago
Doesn't the cover of The Doll just promise an 'edge of your seat' read? And Taylor Stevens delivers one....again! I've deoured the first two books featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe - The Informationist (my review) and The Innocent (my review) - and have been early awaiting the third novel to feature this kick*** character. The Doll releases today. Vanessa Michael Munroe is....well, she's deadly, with incredible physical skills and she's brilliant - she speaks many languages and easily assimilates into the situation or culture she finds herself in. She can read people and situations and think three moves ahead. She's also a bit of an enigma - her past is murky and has shaped her into the woman she is today. For a living, she hunts.... people. She's the shadowy figure people call on to do the impossible. Her weak spot? Innocents. When the last book left off, Michael had allowed herself to let down her guard a bit and enjoy her relationship with Bradford - the owner of Capstone Security Consulting. In this latest book Michael herself is the one taken. A criminal kingpin called The Doll Maker has 'recruited' Michael to deliver a package - a living doll ordered by a wealthy client. To ensure her compliance, he has also taken hostage one of the few people Michael has let get close to her - Logan, the man she considers her brother. The Doll is told in two narratives. First, from Bradford's point of view as he and his crew try to track down and rescue both Michael and Logan. Secondly from Michael's as she tries to figure out a way to save herself and her 'package'. And then destroy The Doll Maker. Each storyline was equally addictive and kept me rapidly turning pages as the action escalated. And it truly is non stop. What makes Steven's writing so good is her lead character. It's so much fun to have such a - as I mentioned earlier - kick*** female character. The action scenes are great, but there's a deeper level to this character as well. She is the walking wounded and Stevens does a fantastic job depicting Munroe's inner emotional turmoil and her physical struggle to control herself. Each book out, we learn a little bit more about Munroe and her background. She is a fascinating enigma. And a character I'm hooked on. Read an excerpt of The Doll. You'll be hooked too! Here's what Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books has to say...."Munroe is a sensational character and Stevens is a sensational writer, and together they put The Doll high on my books-of-the-year list." You could read The Doll as a stand alone, but I really do recommend starting with The Informationist to fully appreciate this series. (Film rights for this The Informationist have been optioned to James Cameron) Well, I raced through The Doll far too quickly.... I'll be eagerly waiting for book number four.
BONATIM More than 1 year ago
Awesome gripping story. The author took the reader through many unexpected twists and turns. Just when I thought I had figured it out --Boom she takes us someplace else! Love her writing! Love her heroine! Bring on your next novel please!
MistySkye4333 More than 1 year ago
As always this was a good ride. Michael was a full tilt; couldn't wait for this one to come out and I read it over the weekend; now I'll have to play the waiting game again for the next installment. Taylor Stevens has definitely made my list of authors not to miss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I devoured this as soon as it was released! I was hooked with the Informationist. I usually read Clancy, Crichton, Ludlum, Grisham, Cussler & lately, Brad Thor & Alex Berenson. But I am 100% hooked on this series by Taylor Stevens. Hope I don't have to wait long for #4!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stevens moves between continents, cultures, and countries with ease, describing places and people with an adroitness that puts the reader squarely in the center of action. Her sure-handed skills guide the reader through the murky world of human trafficking and the degrading impact such facilitators have on the lives of those they treat as chattel. Vanessa Michael Munroe grows in stature with each new book, exhibiting a clever ruthlessness born of a tortured past that keeps both her and her package alive and fighting. Michael is at her best when backed into a corner with no apparent way out. She’s quick, deadly, and dangerously smart. I can’t stop reading Taylor Stevens’ books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cynthia181 More than 1 year ago
This was a very intriguing novel. We all know that the is human trafficing out there but this puts it out there to the extreme. I love it very much. I love the differences of the characters and the interaction, but I am glad she got revenge but I am sorry for the loss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Taylor's third Monroe novel does not disappoint. A bit edgier than the others but it will grab you and won't let you go. If you want to fully appreciate Taylor Steven's works, you should check out her website. Her bio is fascinating and give you a better appreciation for her talents. I eagerly Await The MASK, the fourth in the series due the summer of 2015.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not my usual read but I love this flawed character. The writing is intense and super suspenceful. I read till my eyes closed, would wake up an hour or two later and read more...repeat all night until the end. Gets my highest recommendation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Helen_Ginger More than 1 year ago
The Doll by Taylor Stevens is a thriller with heart-racing action, unexpected twists and dangerous turns. The main character, Vanessa  Munroe, can change herself and "become" whatever she needs to be to survive.  She's a fighter. More importantly, she is a survivor. In The Doll, she gets kidnapped and taken into an underground world in Dallas where women and girls are sold, used and abused.  This  world and the women forced there are controlled by a man known as the Doll Maker. He captures women and young girls and sells  them. Munroe has not only herself to save, but also a young girl, Neeva, who also has escaped. Munroe doesn't want to be saddled with  Neeva, but Munroe knows if she doesn't take Neeva with her, Neeva will either be killed or taken back into slavery. Munroe is used to violence. Most of her life has been marked by violence. She can speak multiple languages and she knows how to  fight and how to survive. She could escape and disappear into the shadows, but she'll have to take Neeva back to the Doll Maker, even  though she knows what will happen to her. Munroe will have to decide between Neeva and someone she dearly loves. The story moves at a fast clip and will keep you turning pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Munroe is a great heroine, smart yet vulnerable. I love action and tension in the books I read, and Taylor Stevens delivers. Can't wait for the next one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this series, another great addition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Definitely reading the rest of the series.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The wait is finally over; however. I too, read this one far too quickly. I am hooked on the female. intelligent kick-ass commando type character. (Similar to the JET series of books #1through #4, so far). Read the 1st in the series entitled "The Informationist" which explains how she becomes who she is. Loved it!
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No problem Angel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The editorial review will a mishmash of may iffend the more senistive reader mom