Deception, A Jake Stone Thriller (Book Two) (The Jake Stone Thrillers 2)

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He cast a glance at the body beneath him.

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The black beard of the jihadi was gone. The rugged face was replaced by the pretty features of a woman.

The curly black hair was now long and soft and light brown. Her dead blue eyes stared at him, unseeing—the eyes of his wife, Becca. He sat bolt upright in the deep darkness, his heart hammering in his chest. He was nude, and his body was soaked in sweat. His hair was a long, matted tangle. His blond beard was as thick as that of any Islamic holy warrior.

With his hair and his beard, and his weathered skin, he could easily pass for a homeless man. He was wrapped in a mummy sleeping bag—rated for extreme cold, twenty degrees below zero. He was alone above 16, feet on the western slope of Denali, and the mountain was already deep into its winter. He had come up here woefully unprepared—he realized that now. He had brought enough water for four days—it had run out two days ago. He was eating snow and ice for water at this point. That was okay.

Worse was food.

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He had brought a stack of dried meals-ready-to-eat. They were mostly gone now. When the storm came, he had started rationing the food. He was eating less than half the daily calories he needed—luckily, he had barely moved in two days, and was conserving energy. No one had any idea he was out here but the pilot, and he had told the guy he would call him when he was done. He was startled by the sound of his own voice. He knew the answer. Not necessarily. If it happened, okay, but he was not actively trying to die.

You might say he was daring it to happen, taking foolish risks, and had been doing so ever since Becca died. He was a failure as a husband. He was a failure as a father. And killing—he was good at that, too. Otherwise, he had been a total, abject failure. It would be an okay place to die, and an easy thing to do. All he had to do was… nothing. Eventually—soon—he would run out of food. He would become gradually weaker, until it was impossible for him to make it back down the mountain by himself.

He would starve. At some point, he would drift off to sleep and never wake up. The sound made him jump, and his heart skipped a beat. The ringer was on as loud as it would go. The ring tone was a rock song that his son, Gunner, had put on the phone two years before. Luke had never changed it.

More than not changing it, he had kept it on purpose. He cherished that song as the last link between them. He looked at the phone. It reminded him of a living thing, a poisonous viper—you had to be careful how you handled it.

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He picked it up, glanced at the number, and answered it. The sound was garbled. Naturally, the thick tent was blocking the satellite signal. He was going to have to go outside to take this call—not a cheerful thought. Even moving quickly, it took several minutes to assemble the layers of clothes he needed and get dressed. It was too cold outside to do it halfway.

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He unzipped the tent, crawled through the tiny foyer, and pushed out into the weather. The wind and the stinging ice hit his face at once. He hung a beacon lamp on the tent frame and stumbled away from the noise of the flapping material into deep snow. He carried a powerful flashlight with him, turning back every few feet to mark the location of his camp.

There were no lights out here, and visibility was about twenty yards. Snow and ice swirled around him.

He pressed the button to make the call and brought the phone inside the hood of his parka. He stood like a statue, listening to the beeps as the phone shook hands with the satellite and the call tried to go through. Luke thought about that for a moment. Or a helicopter. Whatever you need. Luke nearly laughed. We go the extra mile around here.

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We believe in door-to-door service. Luke had to admit he felt a quick flash of relief. Just moments before he had seen no way off this mountain, no second chance at life. Now, he had one. He could tell by the quickening of his blood when she mentioned a way out of here. She hesitated, and her voice shook the smallest amount. He could hear it even through the wind whipping around him.

Luke considered that. He had been off the grid for so long, he had no idea what the date was. Somewhere far away, in another world, people still campaigned for office. The wheels of government ground on. There were policies to argue about and important decisions to be made. There was media coverage, and talking heads shouting at each other. In fact, he had almost forgotten they existed.

Susan Hopkins stood in the middle of the office and stared at the large flat-panel TV on the wall. She was still numb, almost in shock. Although she watched intently, she was having trouble forming clear thoughts. It was too much to process. She was very aware of the suit she wore.


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It was dark blue with a white dress shirt. There was something uncomfortable about it. Once upon a time, it had fit well—in fact, had been tailored to fit her perfectly—but it was clear today that her body was changing. Now the suit hung wrong. The shoulders of the jacket were too loose, the slacks were too tight.

Her bra straps pinched the flesh of her back. Yesterday at this same time, just after the polls opened, she was among the first people in the United States to cast her vote. She had come out of the booth with a big smile on her face and a fist in the air—an image that had been caught by the TV cameras and photographers, and had gone viral all day long.