Absolute Power meets The Manchurian Candidate in this explosive political thriller from USA Today bestselling author Ward Larsen, Deep Fake.
The Cold War is back—but for some it never ended.
Sarah Ridgeway is living the life she’s always envisioned. She has a devoted husband, a loving daughter, and a comfortable home. The path to reach it, however, has not always been smooth. For twelve years her husband, Bryce, served in the Army, deployed to some of the world’s worst trouble spots. After his service ended with a combat injury, the future had seemed precarious, but with Sarah’s support and that of his wealthy family, combined with his exemplary service record, he is elected to congress.
Then, in a moment, everything changes: at a drab Washington fundraiser, the junior congressman intervenes in a terrorist attack, and narrowly escapes with his life. When videos of his bravery go viral, he quickly becomes a national hero. The timing could not be more fortuitous. The presidential primaries are heating up, and Bryce’s party is desperate for a fresh candidate to challenge the vulnerable incumbent.
Amid the whirlwind, Sarah senses something amiss. Since the attack, Bryce has been forgetful and acting strangely. Could it be the stress? she wonders. Might the recent explosion have aggravated his combat trauma? For the first time ever, she finds herself doubting a man she has always trusted. Confessing her fears to her closest friend, together they quietly search for answers. What they uncover is stunning: the man who might soon be president has a deeply held secret. A secret that will likely destroy Sarah’s life—and certainly lead the nation to ruin.
Deep Fake will be available on March 14th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!
Sarah read the words never realizing how apt they would prove: The End.
A wave of cool air brushed over the bed and she sank deeper beneath the covers. She looked accusingly at the window, saw the lefthand frame hanging crookedly on its hinge. Every time a door opened downstairs, a tiny blast of hard November air sucked in.
One more thing for Bryce’s honey-do list.
She put down the short story and capped her red pen, glad to be done. She’d given up late last night, not quite able to finish—hardly a vote of confidence for the poor author—but after the first clatter this morning she was hopelessly awake. Five a.m. She’d made the best of it, editing the last twenty pages. The ending was decent, or at least it hadn’t put her back to sleep. She’d begun picking up freelance work eight years ago, a perfect job for a stay-at-home Army wife with a sharp eye for detail. Today she was getting all the work she wanted. Magazine articles, fiction, the occasional memoir. Nothing lucrative, but it paid the bills. Or at least some of them. Phone, electric. Gas in a good month.
Another bang from the kitchen storm door. Another microburst of chilly outside air.
With a sigh, Sarah threw off the covers and pulled herself up. She went straight to the closet, shrugged a waffle robe over her nightshirt and knotted the sash tight. Then a precautionary inspection in the dressing mirror: her shoulder-length sandy hair was mussed but not tangled, and she gave her front teeth a perfunctory finger-brush.
She padded downstairs feeling chipper, ready for whatever the day might bring. At the midpoint on the staircase she noticed the doorbell chime—mounted high on the wall over the front door, it appeared crooked. Bryce had been busy lately, but it was time for a nudge.
Where was that list?
Fortunately, the house was a good house. Not new, but endowed with good bones, or so the realtor had said. Sarah supposed that meant the rafters weren’t creaky, the studs not rotted. She loved the place because it was theirs. After fifteen years of Army-issue family housing, with its white-popcorn ceilings and painted-over black mold, she and Bryce finally had their names on a real deed. Right next to the bank’s.
She reached the kitchen, her favorite room of the house and where her nesting instincts were most evident: sunny yellow accents on the walls between cabinets, a tasteful backsplash behind the counter, pots hung functionally near the stove. It was all bright and organized, a place where comfort food was served.
At first, she saw no sign of Bryce. Then a flash of motion at the storm door. He hooked it open with one foot, his arms laden with firewood. Still wearing his heavy backpack, he looked like a bad juggling act. Before she could go to his aid he was stomping inside, the door crashing shut behind him.
“Good morning,” he said. “Is Alyssa awake?”
“If she wasn’t, she is now.”
He shot her a sideways glance. “Oh . . . sorry.”
“Don’t worry. It’s after six—she ought to be getting ready for school.” More racket as he dumped the logs next to the fireplace. Sarah checked the floor—a bit of mud, but for once he’d remembered to wipe his feet. He returned to the kitchen, a portrait of fitness in running shoes, shorts, and a moisture-wicking pullover. He was perspiring despite the morning chill
“How was the run?” she asked.
“Better than yesterday.”
This was his stock answer, a domestic version of the outlook beaten into him at Army Ranger school. No easy day and Hoorah and all that crap. Those days were behind them now, and as much as Sarah wanted to blame the Army for what had befallen her husband, she knew better. At every turn, Bryce had made his choices. Now they would live with them. And by her account, they were doing just fine.
He shrugged off a backpack holding thirty pounds of sand and an empty water bottle.
“What time did you get up?” she asked.
“A little before five. Today was a long run, twelve miles.”
“I thought a ‘long’ was ten.”
“That was last month. I’m making progress.”
“Toward what? Masochism? You’re not training for a marathon and you’re not in the Army anymore. You’re a first-term congressman from Virginia’s Tenth. Extreme fitness doesn’t get you votes.
“Don’t be so sure. There’s a big track club in Fairfax.” He moved toward the gurgling coffee machine, sideswiping a wet kiss on her cheek as he passed.
“Yuk,” she said with faux disgust, wiping away the wetness.
“It’s drizzling outside.”
Sarah popped two bagels into the toaster, one for him and one for Alyssa. “Will you be home for dinner tonight?”
He considered it as he filled two mugs with Trader Joe’s Dark. “Um . . . no. I’ve got a fundraiser.”
“The governor of Virginia.” He slid a mug in front of her.
“Well, bully for you. I’ve got a fundraiser tomorrow—I’m selling brownies at Alyssa’s soccer game.”
“Not a chance, Major. You picked the game, you play it.”
Bryce cut his coffee with milk and took a long steamy sip. When the cup came down his face was set in a wide smile. The smile. The one that hadn’t changed in seventeen years, since she’d first seen it outside the freshman dorms at Princeton. Easy and natural, Hollywood-level charisma. The smile that, as alluded to by exit polling, had won eighty-six percent of the college-educated female vote in Virginia’s affluent exburbs.
Sarah smiled back. “What’s on the agenda this morning?”
He checked the calendar on his phone. “Looks like a breakfast reception downtown, then a Veterans Day event at a hotel. After that, committee meetings and a strategy session with Mandy before lunch.” Mandy Treanor was his campaign manager, a lithe, auburn-haired knockout five years younger than either of them, and a Georgetown Law grad to boot. She was paying her dues in a cutthroat profession, which for now meant babysitting a freshman congressman. Given Bryce’s smashingly successful first campaign, Sarah had no doubt Mandy would be moving up the Beltway ladder soon.
The toaster popped out two perfectly browned bagels. Bryce fingered one clear and began slathering it with butter. When he turned toward the fridge, Sarah noticed his leg.
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
“What?” He looked at her, then followed her gaze to his right calf. A crescent-shaped cut, three inches long, smiled up at him. “Oh, that. There was some construction on the path and I had to climb over a fence to get around it. Must’ve gotten nicked. It’s just a scratch.
“Want me to clean it up?”
“I can handle it. I’m highly trained in battlefield medicine.”
“And I’m highly trained in overconfident husbands. I could at least—”
“Mom!” Their conversational thread snapped as if cut by a machete. Alyssa’s voice, terse and demanding. They looked up the wooden staircase in unison, knights staring into a dragon’s lair. Only a teenage girl could suffuse one word with such peril.
“Guess she’s awake,” Bryce said. “I gotta go shower.”
“Don’t tell anyone. It would ruin my well-honed warrior image.” He started up the stairs, coffee in one hand, warm everything in the other.
Sarah found herself distracted by the scrape on his leg. It didn’t look bad, yet she kept staring.
“I can’t find my brush!”
The thought misted away. “I’ll be right there, baby . . .”
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