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Northern Deception by Laurie Wood
ABOUT THE BOOK
Reunions can be deadly.
After a savage attack in university, Kira Summers fled to the safety of northern Canada and her work as a polar bear scientist. But when her whistleblower brother dies in a mysterious car crash, she must return home to bury him and pack his belongings. Unaware she’s carrying explosive evidence someone’s willing to kill for, she has no choice but to rely on the one person she never thought she’d see again.
Lukas Tanner, a widowed single father of a special needs toddler, moved to Churchill five years ago. As the proud owner of Guiding Star Enterprises, a wilderness tour company, he and his daughter lead a simple life. But when Kira comes crashing back into his world, he realizes God has other plans. Now, Lukas and Kira must confront a merciless killer as their past and present collide in a deadly race—a race they must win if they have any hope of a future together.
Take a peak!
KIRA SUMMERS SHIVERED AS she stood beside her brother’s open grave. Winnipeg Memorial Cemetery stood bleak and empty. The November sky churned with rain clouds as purple as bruises.
Her fingers trembled on the handle of her black umbrella. Sleety snow swirled across the grass and lashed around the ankles of her short dress boots. Kira’s pulse roared in her ears, and for a split second, she swayed, feeling light-headed. She stifled her sobs with a tissue.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Oh,” she gasped. Her heart thrummed against her chest. She didn’t need to turn around to know who was behind her.
“How long have you been standing there?” She jammed the tissue into her pocket.
“I just got here.” His hand grasped her elbow and gently turned her around. She looked up into ice-blue eyes she’d never forgotten. “Kira, I’m so, so sorry Michael’s gone.”
She raised an eyebrow at his hand on her elbow. He let her go and thrust his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, rocking back and forth on his heels.
Here he was, Lukas Tanner, her long-lost love and the last man she expected to see today. Or any day, for that matter. She tried to force a smile and failed. “How did you find out?”
“The world’s a small place.” He shrugged. “We’ve still got newspapers up north. I saw his obituary.”
She huffed as she turned away and blew her nose. “I meant, how did you know I was here? At the cemetery?”
He took the umbrella from her and placed his hand again on her elbow, turning her away from the flower-drenched coffin. “Where else would you be? And where’s Aunt June?”
“Her arthritis is acting up. The rain. She didn’t want to leave but…” Kira paused. “She did most of the funeral arrangements.”
Lukas filled the space she hadn’t realized felt like a gaping hole. She had company now. Someone who knew her down to her soul. He stared into her eyes, with the space between them crackling like lightening in a hot summer sky.
“I’m sorry. My flight was delayed, or I would’ve met you at the church.”
She stiffened. Her throat worked at trying not to cry again. She didn’t want to leave her brother, Michael, her only blood relative. He would be all alone, buried in this lonely place. She didn’t live in Winnipeg anymore. She’d left for a job and run away. Run away from the man who now stood beside her on the frozen grass.
“You’re freezing. Let’s get you someplace warm.” His hand on the small of her back guided her to the black rental car he’d parked behind hers. “Is there anywhere in particular you want to go?”
She snatched the umbrella back. “Everything I need is in the car. I’m flying back to Churchill now. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing.”
She resisted the urge to reach out and touch him. He wasn’t dressed for a funeral or the weather. A worn, brown bomber jacket covered a red plaid shirt. He stood as solid and reassuring as she remembered: his hands shoved again into his front jean pockets like he always had. Sun-bleached highlights rimmed his hair. “He was the brother I never had.” Those arctic-blue eyes pierced her heart. “How could I not come?” The left side of his mouth still quirked up when he was nervous.
Kira clutched the neck of her jacket tighter against the sleet sweeping across the manicured grounds. He’d come. Lukas and Michael had grown up together, inseparable and always in trouble when they were young. Then there was her and Lukas. She pressed her lips together. Those thoughts led to pain.
“I need to get to the airport.”
“I want to know how he died in a car accident. He was a great driver.”
Tears threatened to spill over again. She looked away. “It was a rollover on the Perimeter Highway. He must’ve been going too fast that afternoon. The police said he rolled twice.” Her cheeks were numb. “The ditch had water in it, they said.” Her voice cracked. “He drowned in a couple inches of water.”
Kira could see Lukas’s throat muscles working. Pain contorted his face.
“I have to go. I’m late,” she said. If she stood in front of him a second longer, she’d fall apart. She didn’t owe him anything. Kira turned away and headed up to her own car.
“I’ll meet you at the airport.” His voice fell away behind her.
Kira tossed her purse and umbrella into the car and swung her legs in beneath the wheel. Plastic totes filled with Michael’s books and memorabilia filled the back seat of the small sedan. Her luggage was in the trunk. She’d be paying a pretty penny in freight charges to fly everything home to Churchill.
A van screeched up beside her driver’s door, sliding sideways onto the grass as it came to a stop. She glimpsed a male driver with sunglasses and a ball cap just before her door was thrown open by another man.
“Out, out, out!”
The man wore a navy blue ski mask. He grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her halfway out of the car. Muscle memory allowed her to shove her right palm hard against his nose. It gave a satisfying crunch even as he pulled her from the safety of the driver’s seat. He clasped her arms like a vise, but she kicked hard and felt the solid heels of her boots connecting with his shins.
With a yell, her captor let go of her arms, and she fell to the pavement on her left side, rolling towards the open door of the van. Lukas grabbed the man from behind while tightening his right arm across the man’s throat.
“Come on!” The driver pounded his fist on the sliding van door.
“Lukas, you’ll kill him!”
Lukas shoved her attacker away from him. The guy leapt into the open side door of the van. The driver peeled away with the other man cursing as he struggled to hold on to the van’s door.
Kira pushed herself up from the pavement. Her tights were in shreds, and her hair had come undone from its bun. Panting, she stumbled upright. Lukas grasped her shoulders.
“Stupid question, but are you okay?”
What was that? It was like walking into her college dorm room and feeling the knife shoved against her throat by the man in black. No, no, not again. Dear Lord, protect me…
She wavered on her feet and drew in a shaky breath. “Sure, yeah—no, no I’m not!”
He pulled her against his chest. “Just take another breath.”
Adrenaline surged through her body, electrifying her blood vessels. Her legs wobbled like a newborn foal. She refused to give in to the warmth and the delicious scent of his leather jacket, even as her cheek registered the soft flannel shirt poking out from the open zipper. Where were his pressed and preppy clothes? His heart pounded too; she could feel his pulse beating at the base of his throat.
“Who were those guys?” The deep timbre of his voice rumbled against her hair.
She clutched the edges of his jacket. “No idea.” Her boots raised her to underneath his chin. “Now I’m really late.” She tilted her head back enough to look at him. “Thank you.”
Now it was his turn to huff out a breath. “Thank you? You were nearly dragged off—we’ve got to call the police.”
“No, I’ll miss my flight.” She pushed away from his chest. Call the police? They hadn’t bothered to help her five years ago when she reported the vicious assault on her in her dorm room. She despised the police. Why would they believe her this time?
“Kira. We have to report this. I’ll go with you.”
She shook her head and hefted her purse onto her shoulder.
“At least make a phone call.”
I’ll miss my flight. I’ll miss my flight, echoed in her head. Great. She was losing her mind. Her stomach roiled. No way was she going to pass out, throw up, or fall into his arms.
“I’ll call from the airport. I gotta go.” With unsteady steps, Kira picked her way across the gravel driveway and made it to the car door.
“Kira,” Lukas shouted behind her.
Escape… run away… it was what she did best. She fired up the engine, slammed the door, and raised a hand to wave at him in the back mirror. Then she squealed her tires away from the side of the cemetery driveway and left him standing in her dust.
Lukas gave up on flipping through the travel magazines from the back pocket of the airplane seat in front of him. Kira sat two rows ahead of him, although on the twenty-two seat Calm Air plane, they were almost the only people on board. He could see the back of her head. She’d scraped her hair back into a severe bun. When it had hung in waves about her face after the attempted kidnapping, he’d noticed bright streaks of teal underneath, which belied her cool, detached scientist demeanor. She’d always been a wild child until everything changed in university. He still didn’t know why.
He’d scrutinized every other passenger on the plane but saw no guys dressed in black. November was the end of the tourist season in Churchill, Manitoba, and these passengers looked like wilderness types coming up for the last tours of the year. Churchill was known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World because the bears traveled through town in the fall to reach ice floes on Hudson Bay. His tour company took clients out to see the polar bears and other wildlife.
He drummed his fingers on his armrest. Then he motioned to the flight attendant.
“Can I have a pop, please?” She nodded and moved away. He tried to lean back, then shifted sideways in his seat, but no matter how he sat, he couldn’t avoid seeing the back of Kira’s head. She sat ramrod straight. Everything about her screamed do not approach.
Kira had made a big show of calling Winnipeg police from the airport. She gave the details and location of the attack and wrote down a police officer’s name and number, waving the paper at him as if to say, “See? It’s no big deal.” And she’d crushed the paper into a ball and shoved it into her leather backpack. None of her behavior made sense to him.
He took the can of pop from the flight attendant and nodded his thanks.
Michael Summers had worked for Webster Technologies’ head office in Winnipeg. He’d been planning to fly north to see Kira and had called Lukas to arrange a quick visit.
Lukas let the sweet, cold drink soothe his throat on the way down.
Michael knew Lukas and Kira hadn’t spoken in five years. She’d arrived in the spring to work at the Arctic Science Research Centre about twenty kilometers east of town. Lukas had kept his distance after he spotted her grabbing a coffee to go at Ruby’s Café on the main drag. Even though his tour groups often crossed paths with the scientists conducting research out on the tundra, he hadn’t run into her all season—which was just as well. He figured she’d just run from him again like she had when he proposed.
As the flight settled over the plains heading north, Lukas chewed on the attack on Kira at the cemetery. And the car accident. Michael was—had been—an exemplary driver. They’d raced each other on that highway many times as teenagers. Lukas didn’t buy a rollover accident in broad daylight. Were the two events connected? And would she talk to him about the accident, or should he leave her to grieve for a few days?
They flew over the open tundra and banked west. He knew every lake and river below them. The Canadian Shield turned into lush, boreal forest as they headed northeast towards the wild beauty of Hudson Bay. He’d flown to Winnipeg on a whim, jamming a suit into a garment bag for the funeral, after reading about Michael’s sudden death. A stupid, freak accident. Unless it wasn’t—unless it was tied to Michael’s last message, “Hey, I’m flying up Thursday, November 1st. Need to talk to you stat but not over the phone. Kira’s not answering, so she’s probably out checking her beloved polar bears. See you.”
That was all. A cryptic message that could’ve meant anything. He crushed his pop can in his right hand.
The plane banked left and flew around the town of Churchill, revealing the choppy water and ice of the bay. Lukas loved seeing the expanse of shoreline and rocks every time he was in the air. The wilderness always freed his spirit, as if he’d been holding his breath whenever he’d been away from it. The pilot set the plane down on the asphalt runway and taxied to the terminal.
“Thank you for flying Calm Air today. We look forward to seeing you on your next trip.” The flight attendant stood at the front of the plane with a big smile.
Kira stood from her seat and threw her purse over her shoulder. Lukas sighed and grabbed his backpack, motioning another passenger past him. He’d give her some space. A bit of space.
They’d left Winnipeg in sleety rain and freezing temperatures. The sun was still out here and hit him square in his eyes as he went down the few steps of the plane to the tarmac. Although it was -7°C, the late afternoon sun cut across the tundra in watery waves of light, making it seem warmer. Lukas drew in a deep breath. He loved this small, northern subarctic town. Gathered along the shoreline of James Bay, Churchill welcomed travelers going north and south. The people who made it their home were a hardy breed, and he was proud to call it home.
Before he could take another step, Kira planted herself in front of him.
“Are you following me? Or are you going to tell me you live in Churchill?” Her eyes held shadows of fatigue. Now she picked a fight about him being here? He shifted his backpack to give himself time to think.
“Yes, I live here. I’ve lived here for five years now. I own Guiding Star Enterprises.” He could see the instant spark of surprise in her eyes.
“Ah, yes, Daddy’s money. I see.” She turned away. He couldn’t help himself; he put his hand on her arm.
“Not Daddy’s money. Mine.” She tilted her head towards him but didn’t acknowledge his hand on her elbow. “I bought the business from Uncle Henry.” He wanted her to understand. He wanted her to see what he’d accomplished.
She gave a hollow laugh. “Guess the joke’s on me. I’ve been itching to take one of your whale tours all summer. Now it’s too late in the season. Too late for a lot of things.”
He dropped his hand and stared hard at her.
“How many of you are there out at the science centre? Do you have a ride?”
“I have a ride, and I’ll be fine.”
“That place is isolated. You’re a good twenty-five minutes out of town.” His throat tightened. She’d always been so stubborn. “I want to make sure you’re safe.”
“Safe from what?” She heaved a sigh, although he could see her ‘so what’ attitude didn’t quite carry to her eyes. “The doors lock from the inside because of the bears. No one’s going to get to me in there.”
“You don’t even know who’s trying to get you out here. Men in black don’t just abduct people in broad daylight, not even in Winnipeg.” He stayed in place, forcing people to move around the two of them. He could be stubborn, too.
Lukas stared at her clear, hazel eyes framed by the wide brows that arched over them. Her skin pinked up in the fresh cold air.
Don’t look at her lips. He’d be a goner for sure.
“It happened down there, and now I’m here,” Kira said.
She really was stubborn.
“Let it go, Lukas.” She turned and headed towards a truck with a young guy in the driver’s seat. The sight of her back was just as painful as it was five years ago. Then, she’d jumped up from her restaurant chair and run out the door. She was walking now, but it still punched a hole in his chest.
Let it go, Lukas.
Not very likely.
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