Dark Vision (The DARK Files Book 1)

By: Susan Vaughan

Chapter 1

THE SIGHT OF her slammed Matt in the chest.

When Nadia Parker climbed into the limo, he slid from the backseat to the rear-facing one, just catching a whiff of flowers, like the lilacs his mom used to fill bowls with. He stretched out and crossed his ankles. He’d steeled himself for this first meeting, but with every muscle tensed, it was a hell of a hard job looking like he didn’t give a shit.

The hip-clinging top and skinny pants she wore showcased her long, curvy body. The rust color brought out the highlights in her dark-gold hair. Reminded him how her fire and beauty had sidetracked him five years ago.

As if he needed reminding.

She took the seat beside Princess Sarika. When she saw him, her high-boned cheeks paled and hurt flashed in her green eyes. Like on the day he’d arrested her father for treason.

Her hand trembled as she stowed her go cup — black, no sugar if he remembered — in the holder. A vigorous shake of her head flicked hair onto her cheeks and across her shoulders. Longer than he remembered. Touchable. Sexy.

She was fiddling with her collar pin, an autumn leaf, so his one-eyed once-over shook her. Or maybe the fidgeting was just her. A bright-eyed dynamo, she was never still. Once she learned the reason for his presence, she’d be more than rattled. He couldn’t let their past distract him. A life hung in the balance. Probably more than one. He couldn’t fail, not again.

“Nadia,” Sarika began, “I believe you know Matt Leoni.”

“Yes. We’ve… met.” Nadia wouldn’t meet his gaze. No surprise. Her father’s downfall had been a shock. She resented Matt for his part in the case, thought the worst of him. “What is he doing here?” Her voice, honey-over-velvet with a trace of Virginia southern, ignited a slow burn inside him.

Her green gaze flickered to his eye patch, then away. Having his vision limited pissed him off, even if the damage was temporary. Even if it wasn’t. He sure as hell wanted no pity. Not from Nadia. Not from anybody.

“I’m here at Her Highness’s request.” That should be enough. He’d rather not explain that the Domestic Antiterrorism Risk Corps, better known as DARK, had a deeper role in his mission. He schooled his features into a noncommittal expression, with eyes that gave away nothing. His G-Man face, she’d once called it.

He clicked the intercom on the panel beside him. “Take us north for a while.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Embassy of Modena’s limo rolled away from Nadia’s small Bethesda, Maryland, hotel and turned onto Massachusetts Avenue, where buildings reflected the October morning sun. Encased in well-upholstered silence and the aroma of fine leather, they tooled past banks and posh businesses and cross streets that led to ritzier neighborhoods in this D.C. suburb.

A few of Matt’s missions, like the one Sarika was bound to mention, had dumped him in with the ritzy crowd, but he preferred blue jeans to black ties. And this sure wasn’t his kind of neighborhood. Or his kind of ride. No, give him the rumble of a bike beneath his butt and the freedom of the open road.

Shaking off his thoughts, he checked the windows. Normal shopper and business traffic.

The princess had vouched for her long-time chauffeur’s loyalty and sealed mouth, but the jockey-size guy couldn’t be much protection. Matt would beef up security. Give old Stefan a vacation until the princess’s safety was assured.

“Matt is here because I know I can trust him,” Sarika said, her upper-class British accent infusing the statement with gravitas.

Nadia huffed. “Trust is relative.”

Apparently ignoring the bitter tone, the princess continued, “Matt’s unfortunate injury is the reason we are lucky to have his services. Stopping a terrorist plot in Belgium, a successful mission, was it not, Matt?”

Successful, but at too high a price. “That particular reign of terror ended permanently.” At Nadia’s slight shudder, he mentally kicked himself. His harsh tone must’ve conveyed the violence of the outcome.

“But your poor eye.” The princess clucked her distress. “Three months on and you’re still not healed.”

“I’ll be fine. And the eye patch gets me lots of female attention.” He kept his expression guarded as he stowed his chewing gum in his cheek. “The DARK assistant director assigned me to light duty until my eye heals. I owe the princess and her father for unchaining me from a desk. Even with half of twenty-twenty, I’m good to go.”

Apart from Nadia’s resentment of his very presence, the adrenaline rush and challenge of an op was what he needed. He’d have the rebel traitor in the bag in a few days. After this, the AD would see it his way and put him back in the field. Freedom. His soul needed to be back out there. The tightness in his chest was merely due to his need to protect the princess.

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