Abbie Cooper, my protagonist in Game of Fear was a POV character in my previous stand-alone novel Swan Deception. She was fifteen years old at the time, and was dealing with some heavy stuff (her mother facing a possible murder conviction for a crime she didn’t commit, falling for her best friend Ty and her mom not being around to help her navigate the complexities of first love). When the story ended, I felt that she had so much left to say. Even at fifteen, she was smart, sophisticated and wise beyond her years. I started wondering what would she be up to as a senior in high school? What kind of trouble would she get into? She’s so ambitious and always has her eyes focused on her goals, so I started thinking, what if? What would become of Abbie Cooper in a few years? That’s how the idea for the Fearless Series was born. It follows Abbie from her senior year in high school into adulthood. Her journey will not be easy.
About Game of Fear
Game of Fear
by Gledé Browne Kabongo
Publication Date: February 24th 2016
Genre: YA Thriller
A desperate act, an explosive secret, and a diabolical enemy—all part of a treacherous game, with no limits.
Overachieving good girl Abbie Cooper has her future all planned out. As senior year at her elite private school kicks off, she has one simple goal: get into the Ivy League. But at St. Matthews Academy, nothing is ever simple. The pressure is overwhelming, the secrets are dirty, and the games are wicked. Abbie has a dirty secret—one that could destroy her chances of getting admitted into Princeton, and the lives of those closest to her.
One morning, she discovers a note in her locker with the warning, “I know what you did”. Then a photo arrives in the mail. It captures her most shameful deed—the shocking blunder she can never erase, in glorious detail. Someone is out to ruin her, but who and why? The answer lies with the sender of the photo, a mysterious girl known only as The Avenger. For a price, she assures Abbie her secret will remain safe. There’s only one problem: The Avenger may not exist at all. If Abbie doesn’t uncover her true identity before acceptance decisions are made, it’s game over…
Black Friday, 9:00 p.m.
I pull into Shoppers World off Route 9 in Framingham. I score a parking spot close to the cluster of stores that include Starbucks, Old Navy, and Taylor Books, the place of the drop. I text the girls to let them know I’ve arrived at the bookstore. They tell me they’re hanging out at a fast food joint on Route 30, a five-minute drive from me. I take a visual sweep of my surroundings, looking for anyone suspicious. My hands are clammy. I wipe them on my dark jeans, several times.
At 9:15 p.m., I take a deep breath, calm my nerves, and exit the car with the big brown paper bag with the handles and a plain, black scarf on top. I walk at a steady pace, careful not to appear nervous or in a hurry. I enter the store, and I’m greeted by the smell of new books and an extensive display of fiction bestsellers. Customers are scattered in every section of the store. I mentally remind myself not to let my eyes wander. Look straight ahead. The cameras are embedded in the ceiling.
I stroll past the eReader Center, toys, games, and the teen section. I stop in the diet and nutrition aisle and pretend to browse.
“Can I help you find something?” I feel my leg muscles tightening, my body ready to make a run for it but I don’t. A store employee is assessing me with a forced smile. She is an older lady, perhaps in her fifties with glasses perched on her nose, and barely-there lips.
“No, ma’am. Just comparing these diet books.”
The woman backs up a little and presses her glasses further down her nose. She takes a good look at me. I mentally scold myself. The diet section? Really?
“It’s for a friend,” I explain.
She raises an eyebrow.
“You know what, she can come look at the books herself. I’ll probably get yelled at for picking the wrong one, anyway.”
Another fake smile.
“Excuse me.” I ease past the skeptic. I can feel her eyes on me as I head to the back of the store, my heart hammering in my chest. I must be giving off that nervous vibe. There was no reason for her to be suspicious of me. I look back to see if she’s still staring at me. She is. I have to drop the money before she calls store security. I’m on her radar. Soon, she will start following me around the shop.
What if someone already moved the decoy bag? What if people witness the exchange? It’s now or never. I glance backward again. Ms. Skeptical has her head down, looking at some paperwork in the customer service center. I duck into the next aisle and ease my way to the opening where the newsstand and magazines are. Two people are browsing through the magazines, their backs to me.
Decision time. Do I swap the bags while their backs are turned or wait until they leave? The risk in that strategy is that more customers might show up in the area, increasing the odds that one of them may take the bag to the front of the store and explain to the staff that someone forgot it.
My body is suddenly freezing. My hands are shaking so badly I’m afraid I’ll drop the bag. One of the browsers turns around. Her eyes land on me, then the bag on the bench. “Is this your bag?”
“Um…yeah. My friend is in the ladies’ room, and she sent me over to get it.”
She won’t leave. She just stands there, waiting for me to make a move.
“Are you going to pick up your friend’s bag or just stare at it?”
I want to yell at her and tell her that it’s none of her freaking business. Instead, I take tentative steps toward the bench with the bag identical to the one growing heavier by the second in my hand. I pick up the decoy bag loaded with empty shoe boxes and the same black scarf on top. I turn around and take a slow, tense walk down the aisle of biographies. I stop in the middle, drop both bags on the floor, and pretend to browse again.
Painful seconds tick by. She’s still here. The other customer browsing the section has left. The store will close soon. My plan is to wait out Ms. Nosy. Another minute goes by. I can’t stand it. I’m sweating profusely. I want to take off the baseball cap, but I can’t. I walk casually to the end of the aisle and take a book off the shelf. I scan through the pages, unable to absorb any of the content. I then peek around the corner. She’s gone.
I exchange the bags and duck back to the biography aisle, careful to keep my head down, and then slowly backtrack through the store. The double doors are only a few feet away from me. I’m moments from a clean getaway when I hear someone call out.
“Miss, Miss, you forgot something.”
That’s it. They’re going to haul me off to jail. They’re going to call the cops if they opened the bag and saw the money. If I make a run for it, it makes me look guilty, and they’ll definitely call the police. My only chance of walking away unscathed is to turn around slowly. Damn it. Miss Nosy again.
“Yes?” I say, my voice as sweet as honey.
“You forgot this,” she says, holding up the scarf. “You dropped it on the way out.”
What did she do, follow me and pick up the scarf the minute it dropped? I remind myself to look at the positive side of things. She thinks it belongs to the empty shoebox bag I’m carrying.
I take the scarf from her and rocket out of the store. I don’t stop until I reach my car. I jump inside, dump the bag on the passenger seat and burn rubber out of the parking lot. Once I’m safely on Route 9, and certain no one is following me, I pull my phone out of my jacket pocket. I give a voice command to call Frances.
I let her know the drop was made.
“I have an idea,” she says.
“Callie and I should drive to the store to see if anyone walks out with the bag.”
“Whoa. That wasn’t part of the plan. I don’t want you guys caught in the middle of this. She could be dangerous. She could have another accomplice. There are too many unknowns, Frances. It’s a good idea but too risky.”
“Okay. We’ll meet you at the house then.”
I know she’ll go against my advice. I don’t have the energy to argue further.
I make a second call, to Ty, and I leave him a message.
“We got there too late,” Frances says. “It was ten minutes before closing when we got to the store, and mostly employees were still around. The bag was gone.”
“She must have been watching me from somewhere,” I say.
We’re on the sofa in my bedroom, recounting the evening’s events. I’m relieved that the drop was made, but this story is far from over.
“It has to be somebody familiar with this area,” Frances says. “What if she was in the store the whole time?”
Goosebumps appear on my arms, and I shudder. I think back to the store employee who looked at me with suspicion, and the woman who chased me to return the scarf I dropped.
“What’s wrong, Abbie? Callie asks.
I tell them about the two ladies at the store. The only problem is I don’t know either one of them. The store employee was older. Sidney hates anyone over thirty. The younger lady, the one who just happened to be at the spot where I was supposed to make the exchange, seemed to be just a customer. But was she?
“That is odd,” Frances says.
“The younger lady could have been there to pick up the cash. Which means, The Avenger was afraid I would recognize her face.”
“Which brings us back to Sidney,” Frances says.
My cell phone rings, putting an end to our supposition. I scurry off the sofa and grab the phone off the bed. It’s better to stand when I answer. I don’t say a word when I accept the call.
“You’re competent after all,” she says, her tone scornful. “I knew this game would be fun.”
“You got what you wanted. Now it’s your turn to hold up your end of the deal. You know what I want from you.”
“I’m not ready to quit this game, not when things are just starting to heat up.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your next assignment.”
“We had a deal,” I shriek, anger rising like bile in my throat. “You promised the photo in exchange for the money. I followed your instructions. Now, it’s time to step up. Are you going to add ‘filthy liar’ to your list of crimes, too? Extortion is a crime. You do know that, right?”
“Did you really think I would make it that easy?” she asks. “This was only a test. You passed. Congratulations.”
“You can’t do this.” My voice gets louder as my panic mounts. I pace the room. The girls follow the conversation from the sofa, disbelief in their eyes.
“Why should you get away with it? How is that fair?”
I have to get through to her, somehow. “So you want to even the score? Who made you the moral police? Without me propping up your extortion scheme, you have nothing, you hear me. Nothing. You know what, send the picture to the Easter Bunny or whomever. I don’t care. I’ll survive the fallout. I’m that desperate to get rid of you.”
I hang up on her, and then make my way to the bed where I collapse.
Frances and Callie join me, looking as if they have grave concerns about my mental state.
“I’m sorry, Abbie. Are you okay?” Frances asks. “Why did you do that?”
“Hang up on her. Now, you’re in for it. You don’t know what she’s going to do next.”
About the Author
Gledé Browne Kabongo writes intense psychological thrillers—unflinching tales of deception, secrecy, danger and family. She is the Amazon Bestselling Author of Game of Fear, Mark of Deceit (Eye of Fear Anthology), Swan Deception, and Conspiracy of Silence. Her love affair with books began as a young girl growing up in the Caribbean, where her town library overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. She was trading books and discussing them with neighbors before Book Clubs became popular.
She holds both an M.S. and B.A. in communications, and worked as a freelance news reporter right out of college. After she abandoned the dream of winning the Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Boston Globe, she jumped into marketing management for over a decade. Gledé lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.