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By:Cherry Adair

Blush - Cherry Adair

Chapter One

No gun. Cruz Barcelona didn’t require a weapon. Death by natural causes was his trademark. His specialty. Speculation had his target currently somewhere in Europe “on vacation.” Read plastic surgery.

Amelia Wellington-Wentworth, aka Mia Hayward, was neither in Europe nor having surgery. Currently his target resided in Bayou Cheniere, Louisiana. His for the taking.

Her death tonight would be clean. Uncomplicated. A tragic, unfortunate accident. He was being paid a king’s ransom to ensure that it appeared that way. The balance of his kill fee—7.5 mil—wired to his offshore account on proof of death. He didn’t give a shit about the money. Cruz considered what he did a public service.

He didn’t need the shelter of night to do his job. But he enjoyed the thick darkness of the Louisiana night, and the unfamiliar sounds and smells surrounding him. The chirp of crickets, the hollow bark of a dog, the intermittent splash of water in the nearby bayou, were the subtle musical score for the evening. The air smelled a little like overripe strawberries and a lot like stagnant swamp water with a touch of ozone. The bug-laden air was thick enough to eat with a spoon. It was going to rain long before he started the three-mile return trek back to town.

Without benefit of a flashlight he edged down the side of the house. Ducking under a thick, curved branch, he shoved his way between dense, dripping vegetation. All the windows on this side of the overgrown walkway were dark, and he couldn’t get near enough to look inside the house without a fucking machete to slash his way through the foliage.

Oh, how the mighty had fallen. From a thirty-million-dollar Pacific Heights mansion in San Francisco to a run-down plantation house that hadn’t seen a renovation, from what Cruz could tell, since the Civil War. And next door to a graveyard, of all places.

The odds against anyone other than himself finding her here were astronomical. No one would imagine or believe that the powerful Amelia Wentworth would detour through this small town, let alone live there.

No security lights to illuminate a skulking killer. How convenient. Of course, out here in the heart of rural bayou country, no one expected a skulking killer. Here people left their doors unlocked and let their children play outside until well past dark.

The hundred-plus-year-old house was crumbling around her diamond-studded ears, from what he could see by the iffy moonlight playing tag with heavy rain clouds. Fixer-upper was an understatement. Two stories of broken siding, peeling paint, and encroaching unidentifiable flora. The house was too big for a woman by herself. No hot and cold running servants. Not presently, anyway. Was she expecting a large group of houseguests or just so used to living in a mansion, she forgot it needed people to maintain it?

The chatty gas station attendant—while repairing the “broken” manifold on Cruz’s truck—had told him about the new woman who’d bought the old Broussard plantation house three weeks ago. Killer legs. Pretty. Single, he thought. The heavy-set, middle-aged owner at the diner told him Mrs. Broussard’s place had been “empty these last ten years, a money pit; mark my words that uppity Yankee woman will live to regret it,” as she poured lukewarm coffee and lingered to chat. And the friendly woman at the B and B said Miss Mia kept to herself but had nice manners.

Cruz had an unshakable code. He accepted jobs to off only people who deserved to die. He was judge, jury, and executioner. The dossier he had on Amelia Wentworth filled in details that would disturb the people of Bayou Cheniere. Deeply disturb.

Driven. Obsessive. Manipulative. Power hungry. Considered herself above the law. None of which were grounds for her death. However, keeping underage kids in horrific working conditions in her factories in China was a different story.

The woman was directly responsible for numerous deaths in her factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China. Not that she gave a fuck that hiring kids under the age of sixteen was illegal, even in China. Her factories were staffed by minors working under subhuman working conditions, in cramped living quarters, with too little food, forced to work killer hours with few breaks. All in the name of bigger profit margins and bigger dividends for herself and her shareholders.

Yeah. Deciding to accept this job—whether she deserved to die—had been easy. The transgressions were so heinous, they could’ve paid him less. It had been a bitch to find her due to her wily and convoluted disappearing act, and the number of underworld creeps she’d paid to keep changing her ID across first Europe and then back into the US. Cruz had finally caught up with her in Atlanta, then followed her to Louisiana.

He was eager to kill her. Move on.