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The Deadliest Strain
Cover of The Deadliest Strain
The Deadliest Strain
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What can stand between America and a plague that devours human bodies from the inside out?

Cases of sudden, unexplained deaths--marked by rapid decomposition--are cropping up across the U.S. Their cause: a supermicrobe that causes flesh-eating disease so aggressive that victims die within an hour and infect dozens more.

Suspecting bioterrorists at work, Homeland Security is willing to bend any rule to find the source of the deadly infection, even if it means resurrecting a "dead" Iraqi biochemist, long held in a CIA ghost prison. The disease's unwitting creator risked her life trying to destroy it. Her sister tried, too, and landed in prison. But time is running out as they search for the one person who might hold the key...

What can stand between America and a plague that devours human bodies from the inside out?

Cases of sudden, unexplained deaths--marked by rapid decomposition--are cropping up across the U.S. Their cause: a supermicrobe that causes flesh-eating disease so aggressive that victims die within an hour and infect dozens more.

Suspecting bioterrorists at work, Homeland Security is willing to bend any rule to find the source of the deadly infection, even if it means resurrecting a "dead" Iraqi biochemist, long held in a CIA ghost prison. The disease's unwitting creator risked her life trying to destroy it. Her sister tried, too, and landed in prison. But time is running out as they search for the one person who might hold the key...

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    Moosehead Lake, Maine

    As the sun rose, setting the eastern sky ablaze, the northwestern hills ahead of them grew bright against the deep blue to the west. It had been three hours since they'd started out from her sister's house in Portland. Haley knew they should be getting close to the lake now.

    The sunny weather forecasted for the week had sounded like a good omen to her. She glanced at her husband, but Neil was focused on the road ahead. With good weather, Haley knew the two teenagers in the backseat would soon get over their complaining about being taken away on this "forced" family vacation. Their friends and sports and the zillion electronic gadgets were so important now.

    Still, they'd been coming to this same island, renting the same cabin, for eight years now. The boys had been five and seven when they first started. Eager for a week of hiking, fishing, swimming--and having a hundred percent of their father's attention--the boys had always regarded this vacation as a special treat. That made it worth it to Haley. Neil needed this more than any of them. He traveled nearly fifty-one weeks a year for his job, and going to an island in the middle of nowhere in Maine, with no electricity or Internet or cell phone service, was the only way he knew of getting a full week to devote just to his family.

    "I think you should wake them up," Neil said in a low voice as he turned onto the familiar road that took them to the lake's edge in Greenville. From there, they would take a rental boat out to the cottage.

    Haley looked over her shoulder and smiled. At the sound of Neil's voice, their eight-month-old Lab was doing the job for her, stepping all over the boys, going from one window to the other.

    "What the heck!" the younger one whined, waking abruptly. "Mom, Trouble's gotta pee. He'd better not go on me." At thirteen, Stevie was in the throes of a love/hate relationship with their dog.

    "Be nice to him, moron," Bobby snapped at his younger brother. "He's not going to pee on you."

    The silence of a moment earlier erupted into a full-fledged brawl as the dog joined in, barking louder than the boys could argue.

    In a few minutes the van pulled into a space in the gravel lot by the docks, and Haley scrambled out, taking the excited animal with her and leaving the peacemaking to Neil. She stretched and took a deep breath as the dog darted toward the water.

    The cool scent of the lake and the pines was welcome and familiar. Haley followed the dog to the water's edge and marveled. It still affected her, just as it had when she'd first seen it eight years ago. The morning sky was a deep, cloudless blue, the air crisp and fresh, the water dark and clean. To her left, the sun was shining, bright and warm, on the trees and cottages along the Point. Here and there, the light flashed off a cottage window or a boat tied to a dock. Beyond the Point, where the lake extended for forty miles or more, pockets of mist could be seen rising off the water as the sun chased the darkness from the tree-lined eastern edge. Moosehead Lake was so different from the South Jersey suburb where they lived the rest of the year. Over the years, there'd been some development in Greenville, but not much seemed to change really. And almost nothing ever changed on the dozens of islands that dotted the huge body of water.

    The dog ran back toward the car. Haley saw Judd McCabe's pickup truck had pulled in next to their van.

    Judd was the owner of the cottage they rented. He also owned about fifteen other rental places scattered over the area. Every year, he made a point of meeting them at this very spot the first morning they...

About the Author-
  • Jan Coffey is a pseudonym for Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick. Nikoo, a mechanical engineer, and Jim, a professor of English with a Ph.D. in sixteenth-century British literature, are living the life of their dreams. Under the name of Jan Coffey, they write contemporary suspense thrillers for MIRA and Young Adult romantic thrillers for HarperCollins/Avon. Writing under the name May McGoldrick, they produce historical novels for Penguin Putnam, and Young Adult historical fiction for HarperCollins/Avon. Under their own names, they are the authors of the nonfiction work, Marriage of Minds: Collaborative Fiction Writing (Heinemann, June 2000).

    Nikoo and Jim met in 1979. Nikoo was six, and Jim was 30-something. (Just kidding...Jim was in his early twenties.) One morning, after a wild storm had ravaged the New England shoreline, Nikoo was out walking along the seawall in Stonington, Connecticut, and came upon a young man (early twenties...honest!) who was trying to salvage a battered small boat that had washed up on the rocks. Jim needed help dragging the boat up over the seawall and across the salt marsh. Anyway, by the time the two had secured the boat on higher ground, a spark had ignited between them. It was instant electricity...and Jim's been chasing Nikoo ever since.

    Now, 25 years later, they live in Litchfield County, CT, with their two sons and their golden retriever, Max. They love writing, they love Harlequin/MIRA, and they love the friends (both readers and writers) they've made through their writing.

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