Dark Memories

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DARK: An elite corps dedicated to preventing terrorism … and finding happily ever after

Can they hold onto the heartbreak of the past when he’s protecting her from a killer 24/7?
After museum curator Laura Rossiter witnesses a murder and the cop guarding her is killed, she runs for her life. She survives months by working odd jobs under an assumed name and landing in a Maine resort where she finally feels safe. Until bad-boy Cole Stratton rides his Harley back into her life… Now a government officer, Cole has a mission: protect Laura, the golden girl he’s never forgotten, and flush out the villain, who finances terrorists and who wants her dead. As the danger increases, so does the tension between the ex-lovers. Cole still believes she’s out of his league… and that she’s hiding secrets from him that she never intends to reveal.
Together 24/7, Laura and Cole can’t deny the passion reigniting between them. But as dark memories of their past assail them and a killer closes in, they must find a way to trust each other–before their future is extinguished forever.

Chapter 1

 “SO, LAURA, I see you’re still holding court.” The racquet
slipped from Laura’s shaking fingers to clatter on the tennis court. Ten years
vanished in a heartbeat. Only one man’s smoky rumble could hum like that
through her nerve endings. “Thank you, Kay,” she said to the girl who retrieved
the racquet. “Um, you girls switch opponents and keep practicing.” Simmering
with awareness and trepidation, she scarcely noticed whether they complied or
not. She turned to face him. Cole Stratton lounged against the gate.
Self-assured and arrogant, yet elements of his rebellious youth remained. The
last time she’d seen him he wore leather. His present garb of charcoal T-shirt
and khaki cargo pants appeared almost respectable, except for the scuffed
boots. Military, not the chain-draped motorcycle boots she expected. Why was he
in Maine? She had to get rid of him fast, before he revealed her identity. If
he lingered, she’d have to run again, to find a new sanctuary and a new
identity. Her life was in danger. She’d take no chances with a wild card like
Cole. And what consummate gall he had to approach her after dumping her like a
worn-out tire on his Harley-Davidson. Her pride wouldn’t allow her to reveal
how much he’d hurt her, how much damage his betrayal had caused. She couldn’t
trust him. Her stomach knotted, and her heart raced. It took a minute for
controlled breathing, learned in therapy, to ease the tension. She clutched her
racquet in front of her — useless as protection — as she walked to the fence.
“What are you doing here? Hart’s Inn is a family resort, not a biker bash. Did
your motorcycle dump you, or are you lost?” His ice-blue eyes drilled her
without a hint of the humor she’d discerned in his mocking greeting. His
expression was as chilly and unrelenting as the North Atlantic tide. He hooked
his fingers in the fence above the opening. “Can’t a guy take a vacation?”
“Here? That makes a lot of sense.” She propped one hand on a hip. “The Cole
Stratton I knew traveled only to motorcycle races, certainly not to a staid old
Maine resort. Your idea of vacation was a six-pack and a Saturday afternoon.”
She blinked under his scrutiny. What did he think about the changes time had wrought
in her? Cole might be tracing her shape with his gaze, but at least she could
keep her scars — physical and emotional — hidden from him. She closed the shirt
collar around her throat. Heat leaped in his eyes, and tension flattened the
skin across his angular features as though he were struggling with his thoughts
or emotions. His scent, a mingling of aftershave and soap, and another musky
essence purely Cole, wafted to her, a lure to buried emotions and memories. Oh
God. She couldn’t let her awareness of him erode her vigilance. She had much
more at stake than pride and resurfacing anger. He plunged a hand into his dark
hair, spiking it into disarray. “Hell, I’m not here to hassle you. General
Nolan sent me to protect you.” Laura grasped the fence for support. Trent
Nolan? Her breath came in shallow gulps, and she willed her lungs to drag in
air. “Why on earth would the director of a Homeland Security agency approach
you about me?” “You don’t want these happy vacationers to know how you got
those scars you’re trying to hide. Or how Alexei Markos is hunting the only
murder witness against him.” He jerked a nod toward the goggle-eyed kids on the
court. “Lose the audience. We need to talk. In private.” A tornado twisted
through Laura, leaving in its path the wrecked illusion of anonymity and safety
at this quiet lake. “But how do you know all this? Why are you here?” “Hey,
Laura, how’s the tennis going?” Burt Elwell waved to her from a golf cart laden
with garden tools and painting supplies. His curious gaze earned no response
from Cole, who gave him a stony stare. “Terrific.” She waved off the young
handyman. The fewer people who noticed her with Cole the better. “Laura, are
you coming?” one of the girls called. “Can he come and play too?” Kay cooed.
Although consumed with curiosity, Laura knew she couldn’t cut short the lesson.
Some parent would complain to her boss, and she didn’t want to have to explain
Cole. Even if she could. “I have to finish the lesson,” she said to him. “Then
you’d better have a good explanation.” Hoping that was the final word, she
retreated to her class. Like birds to a feeder, her flock of students gathered
around her, clamoring for her to observe their progress. Kay, the oldest girl
at thirteen, said, “Who’s the hottie? Your boyfriend?” “Just someone I used to
know.” A friend. A lifetime ago. It had been friendship, at least at first.
Maybe she should have remained a timid rabbit like the other girls and not have
approached the leather-jacketed rebel in senior history class. Then she
wouldn’t have fallen for him two years later. For the next half hour, Laura
could scarcely focus on what she did. A robot, she shot balls to each girl in
turn. As they swatted at them, she mumbled inane phrases of praise and
critique. Her brain swirled with questions. How did Cole know General Nolan?
How did he know about Alexei Markos? And how could she get rid of this
dangerous man? For a while Cole stood beside the closed gate. When the parents
of one girl arrived to watch the practice, he strolled away and leaned against
a tree. Keeping him in sight as she tried to pay attention to her charges,
Laura observed wryly that Cole Stratton never actually strolled. He prowled. He
wasn’t overly tall, about six feet, but God knew what kind of labor must have augmented
his lean muscle to render him more imposing than ever. His hair was still as
black as night but clipped ruthlessly short, no longer in a thong-tied
ponytail. What had been taut lines at eighteen and twenty stretched into deep
creases down the lean planes of his tanned cheeks. Thin white scars slashed his
chin and right temple. He’d matured into a man who would invariably draw female
eyes. He looked hard, dangerous and — much as she hated to admit — sexier than
ever. She used to call him cowboy. The soubriquet still fit. Unbidden, the
memory of his rescuing her at their all-night, unsanctioned graduation party
leaped to her mind. When some of Cole’s drunken biker pals had rolled in, he
stopped one from harassing her. He wore a black Western hat instead of a
helmet, and she called him cowboy. Seeing through his tough-guy biker persona,
she was attracted to his protective nature and sense of honor. But that was
before he’d broken her heart. When the tennis lesson ended and the girls dashed
away to their cabins, she turned to confront him. He was gone. Not knowing
whether to be relieved or frightened, she froze. Swimmers’ carefree squeals and
the tang of pine scent floated on the light breeze, cooling the perspiration on
her forehead. Thank God, she thought, giddy with conflicting emotions. Maybe
she’d dreamed him up, this ghost from her past. Or from one of her nightmares.
She emitted a bitter laugh that stopped just short of a sob. Like a ghost, he’d
dematerialized. In a puff of exhaust from his bike, he vanished from her life.
He must have. After zippering her racquet in its case, she hurried toward her

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Susan Vaughan