Authors: Susan Vaughan
Tags: #Dark Files, #antiterrorism, #Susan Vaughan, #romantic suspense, #gullwod press, #Washington, #billionaire, #thriller, #undercover, #romance, #series, #government officer, #suspense
Copyright © 2016 Susan Hofstetter Vaughan
Published by Gullwood Press
Digital formatting by Nina Pierce at
Cover design by
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from the author at [email protected] This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Revised and Updated. First published as
For more information on the author and her works, please visit:
A traitor’s brother, an undercover fiancée—and a terrorist’s
Nick Markos has inherited the burden and shame of his brother’s dealings with terrorists, who demand he return the millions he skimmed. Hoping to uncover a plotted attack, the Feds install DARK Officer Vanessa Wade undercover as Nick’s glamorous fiancée.
Despite her expertise, Vanessa has grown to dislike undercover work. Under orders to make sure the sexy and tortured tycoon is no traitor, she soon realizes that instead he’s determined to regain his family honor—and his own. She tells herself to stay detached, but this man’s kisses make her emotions spin out of control. As they work together amid gala social events and terror threats, Nick and Vanessa cannot deny their mutual attraction, but her deception makes Vanessa feel as false as the rock on her finger.
Is their relationship only a charade? One that could explode—along with a terrorist bomb?
To my friend Beth Chamberlin, who gave me my first romance novel. Little did you know.
As always, to my husband, Warner, my once and future hero.
“YOU WILL RETURN the money your brother stole from us, or we will take action.”
“It’s three in the morning. Who the hell is this?” Nick Markos slammed down his half-empty glass. Glenfiddich splashed onto the mahogany desk that dominated one end of the library.
Damn. A waste of single malt Scotch.
He’d spent the day torn in two directions — running his own business long-distance and trying to sell another. Sleep eluded him this autumn night, but he had no patience for demands in the wee hours. He didn’t know the voice, but recognized the Middle Eastern accent and the menacing tone.
The quicksand of his brother’s dirty dealings was sucking him deeper and deeper. Would he ever be rid of the muck?
“My name is not important.” The sly smile in the man’s unctuous voice scraped Nick’s nerves. “Are you not the brother of Alexei Markos? The
Regrettably. Although they hadn’t spoken in years until Nick visited Alexei in the District of Columbia jail, he did regret his younger brother’s untimely death — for many reasons. This phone call among them.
“Who wants to know?”
“You are conducting his affairs at present?”
“If this is about business you had with my brother, call the office tomorrow. Markos Imports, on O Street. During business hours.”
The cordless headset at his ear, he paced the length of the library. Books on antiques, history, art and artifacts filled the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Their musty odor permeated the room.
He stopped at the modern globe in the Victorian oak stand. Though Alexei had lacked integrity, he’d known value and he’d had taste. Nick spun the globe, stopping it with his finger on a tiny Middle Eastern country — about as far from suburban Chevy Chase, Maryland, as you could imagine.
If, as he suspected, the caller was the leader of an ultra-extremist group from that land, no records of those transactions were in the office or anywhere else Nick had searched. His temporizing tactic would serve only as a chance for more information.
If he were given more luck than he’d had lately.
“Your brother conducted transactions for us, but he kept ten million dollars that is ours. It matters not where you get it.” The falsely pleasant tone vanished. His caller fired the words out hard and clipped, bullets. “You know who we are. It is not wise of you to feign ignorance, Mr. Markos.”
“Ignorance is all I have to offer.” Nick forged steel into his voice. “Alexei and I weren’t close. He didn’t confide in me. He left no money and no investments. Only debts, which will be paid as much as possible once his business and this house are sold. Get in line.”
He stalked back to the desk and downed the rest of his drink. The Scotch, smoky and rich, slid heat down his throat. He’d rather have savored it slowly.
Silence hung at the other end of the line. Would the bastard give up so easily? Not bloody likely.
“I see you do not yet understand the precariousness of your position. Your brother also thought he could cheat us and get away with it. Alas, the warrior sent into the jail to persuade him otherwise went too far.”
The meaning of the words chilled Nick’s bones. The D.C. jail was notoriously overcrowded and dangerous. A knife fight had broken out during a recreation period. After the scuffle, Alexei was found stabbed, although he hadn’t been anywhere near the two men fighting. The altercation made grim sense in light of the caller’s words.
Nick had hoped to settle his brother’s estate quickly and quietly and return to his business in London and New York. He wanted no breath of the scandal to reach their ailing father in Greece. The depths to which Alexei had sunk sickened him and steamed his blood.
But redeeming the family honor seemed impossible in the short run.
First Alexei had sullied the family name by dealing with these scum calling themselves New Dawn Warriors. To help them fill their war chest, he sold valuable imported art and artifacts. He murdered two people and tried to kill a third. Four jurisdictions charged him with crimes. Enmeshed in greed, Alexei stole from the extremists and had gotten himself killed. More than anything, Nick wished he could erase the whole sordid affair.
“Are you admitting to murder?”
He should’ve agreed to the wiretap suggested by the Homeland Security agency called DARK, but he’d hidden his head in the sand and denied the need.
The man barked a laugh. “I am merely saying that the few who cross the New Dawn Warriors often meet with unfortunate accidents. We are the chosen, the enlightened ones who will lead the way. No one thwarts our ordained path.”
“Sounds like a threat.” He fished through the desk drawer for the card from the DARK officer. “It won’t work because I don’t have your money. Goodbye.”
Nick was about to tap the disconnect button, but the caller’s next words stilled his finger.
“You have a fiancée, do you not?”
Nick’s throat closed.
Without waiting for a reply, the caller continued, “A lovely, flame-haired young woman, the Warrior in London said. You had your chance, Mr. Markos. Do not bother to meet her flight. She will not be on it. We will be in touch.”
A quiet click severed the connection.
THE NEXT AFTERNOON, Vanessa Wade entered the office of the Domestic Antiterrorism Risk Corps director.
“Sorry I’m late, General Nolan. Getting this report together took a while, and time got away from me.” She held up a thick portfolio with the agency’s seal in the center.
The DARK director beckoned her closer to his desk, a battered oak monument to his career in the U.S. Army.
“Fine, Wade, your thoroughness is worth waiting for. Relax while I glance at those files.” He leaned back in his swivel chair and chomped on an unlit cigar.
She scooted back into the enveloping comfort of a leather chair. Though her last mission had been a success, their quarry had died in jail before he could spill information about the New Dawn leader. This development eased her disappointment, but the idea of another undercover gig so soon tightened the muscles in her stomach.
When undercover work meant cozying up to the bad guys, staying detached was a piece of cake. The challenge — and the adrenaline rush — came from immersing herself in a persona while remaining vigilant.
But recently she’d mingled with the innocent, involving herself in their lives. This last time she befriended an inn full of good people, including the woman DARK protected.
Slamming the door afterward had felt like amputating a piece of herself without anesthetic.
Duty and responsibility were important, but she needed people. Commitment to friends and family nurtured her soul. Away from her real family in New York, she embraced DARK as her family.
But undercover work cut her off even from her colleagues. In a false persona, she couldn’t help but develop friendships undercover. When the assignment ended, so did those connections. Sometimes painfully. People resented being deceived.
She’d come to hate deception herself. No more. She couldn’t, wouldn’t do undercover work again.
She had to convince Nolan that she wasn’t the woman for the role recommended in the portfolio. Especially not with Nick Markos. She’d participate in another capacity.
Any other capacity.
Trent Nolan fixed her with a steely-gray gaze the same color as his hair. After maneuvering the obscenely large cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, he tucked it in a pocket and laced his fingers on top the file.
“So it looks like a break in the New Dawn Warriors op.”
She leaned forward. “Yes, good news. The trail didn’t end with Alexei Markos’s death. Early this morning we had a phone call from his brother, Nicolas Markos.”
The general listened raptly to her description of Markos’s dilemma. For months DARK had been searching for Husam Al-Din, the New Dawn leader, and the phone call implied he might be not only in the U.S. but nearby.
Nolan patted his pocket for his cigar. “The money’s not our concern other than what it means to New Dawn. If ten million’s what Alexei Markos skimmed, they must have a hell of a big war chest. What are they planning?”
“Stratton’s unit’s working on that one.”
He flipped open one of the folders and tapped a photograph with his index finger. The grainy faxed picture showed a sleek, elegant woman about thirty.
“And the woman?”
“One of our London officers and a couple of FBI agents found her safe in her flat, sipping tea with two Scotland Yard detectives. Since she’s an American citizen, DARK took over from the Brits. We have her under protection at a safe house.”
Mouthing the soggy tobacco, he closed the file as Vanessa continued. “Danielle Le Bec was supposed to fly here this morning to help her fiancé with funeral and business arrangements. On her way to the airport, two swarthy men speaking an unidentified foreign language tried to force her into a car. She hit them with pepper spray and ran like hell.”
“Bully for her. Al-Din wants his money. You think he’ll try again?”
“As you see in the files, sir, intelligence reports indicate Al-Din sees Markos’s fiancée as his Achilles’ heel. We’ll place a DARK officer in the house and post several others nearby for surveillance. More security might ratchet up the violence. We don’t want to endanger civilians. A soft target should lure in our bad guys.”
“Logical. A harder target leads to a harder attack. How will this deployment catch Al-Din?”
“Nicolas Markos is running his deceased brother’s import business and trying to sell it. He’ll be out in society at VIP dinners and receptions. New Dawn is bound to try again to kidnap or harm Ms. Le Bec, and we’ll be ready to grab them.”
“You think one of the flunkies will lead you to his boss.”
She hoped they could get at least one New Dawn underling to talk. The rest of their plan was loose, improvisation the watchword.