The following is an exclusive excerpt from Steve Berry’s new novel “The 14th Colony,” out April 5, 2016.

Vatican City Monday, June 7, 1982

Ronald Reagan knew that the hand of God had brought him here. How else could it be explained? Two years ago he was locked in a bitter primary fight against ten contenders, vying a third time for the Republican party’s presidential nomination. He won that battle and the election, defeating the Democrat incumbent Jimmy Carter and claiming forty-four states. Then fourteen months ago an assassin tried to kill him, but he became the first American president to survive being shot. Now he was here, on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, at the pope’s private study where the leader of nearly a billion Catholics waited to speak to him.

He entered the room and marveled at its modesty. Heavy curtains blocked the summer sun. But he knew that from those windows, each Sunday, the pope prayed with thousands of visitors in St. Peter’s Square. Sparse furniture, the most prominent being a plain wooden desk, more reminiscent of a table, with two high-backed, upholstered armchairs fronting each long side. Only a gold clock, a crucifix, and a leather blotter sat atop. An Oriental rug lay beneath on the marble floor.

John Paul II stood near the desk, regaled in papal white. Over the past several months they’d secretly exchanged over a dozen letters, each delivered by a special envoy, both speaking to the horror of nuclear weapons and the plight of Eastern Europe. Seven months ago the Soviets had declared martial law in Poland and clamped down on all talk of reform. In retaliation, the United States had ordered sanctions imposed on both the USSR and Poland’s puppet government. Those punitive measures would stay in place until martial law ended, all political prisoners were freed, and a dialogue resumed. To further ingratiate himself with the Vatican, he’d directed his special envoy to provide a mountain of covert intelligence on Poland, keeping the pope fully informed, though he doubted he’d passed on much that had not already been known.

But he’d learned one thing.

This cagey priest, who’d risen to one of the most influential positions in the world, believed as he did that the Soviet Union was destined for collapse.

He shook hands with the pope, exchanged pleasantries, and posed for the cameras. John Paul then motioned for them to sit at the desk, facing each other, a panel depicting the Madonna keeping a mindful watch from the wall behind. The photographers withdrew, as did all of the aides. The doors were closed and, for the first time in history, a pope and a president of the United States sat alone. He’d asked for that extraordinary gesture and John Paul had not objected. No official staff had been involved with the preparations for this private discussion. Only his special envoy had quietly worked to lay its groundwork.