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By:Cherry Adair

Tucked under a freestanding carport was the truck she’d purchased in Atlanta last month. A shiny, new black F-150 pickup with all the bells and whistles. She’d had her own chauffeur since the age of six. He doubted she’d bothered with a driver’s license.

Driver, bodyguards, and little kids dying were the norm for her just to maintain her multibillion-dollar world. His fee was half her annual income of thirty mil minus the perks—fifteen million dollars. Half up front. Balance on completion.

Cruz understood money. Had plenty of it. Only the world he used to obtain it rotated on a completely different axis than Amelia Wentworth, aka Mia Hayward. He disposed of evil individuals who deserved to die. She killed and exploited innocent children.

He turned the corner onto a large, open area sloping down to the water. A pale gold square, shining from a cracked window, illuminated scraggily grass and the twisted wheel of an ancient bicycle as Cruz emerged like Bambi through the goddamned undergrowth onto a wide expanse of mud, dirt, and weedy grass passing for a back lawn.

The moonlight glinted off the water of the bayou, which was filled with alligators, water moccasins, and assorted other useful creatures as backup should he need to make the scene look more convincingly accidental. He wasn’t fond of snakes and kept an eye open as he walked.

He was dealing with the situation in China himself. The kill, the cash, all of it had been set up on a fast track. Just the way he liked it. Anonymity all the way. Cruz was the best. He didn’t give a fuck who hired him. As long as the target met his strict criteria, his unique skill set could be bought.

The bayou side of the house was littered with the body parts of toys, garden implements, and assorted debris scattered among tall weeds. A pirogue and what appeared to be a gator lay on a sliver of dirt near the water, both barely visible for the thick grass and deep shadows.

A scattershot of fat raindrops struck his bare head and shoulders with the portent of a deluge. The impending rain would effectively wash away any sign of an intruder. As far as the town knew, his truck was still at Bucky’s Repair Shop, and he was in his room at the back of Miss Gracie’s B and B drinking beer and watching the game.

He’d be done and gone in less than fifteen minutes, and in time to get back to the B and B to catch the end of Stanley Cup Finals with his team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Which was ironic, since he hasn’t lived in Chicago in more than twenty years.

Keeping his steps nimble and light despite his height, Cruz made his way toward the deep, shadowy wraparound porch. The sagging steps needed replacing; the rickety handrails were dangerously useless. A bullfrog croaked as he quietly crossed the porch to peer through an uncurtained window.

The living room, illuminated by light coming from the hallway, revealed scant furnishings, a swaybacked red velvet sofa, a stepladder, paint cans, and drop cloths that looked like rippled beach sand on a scarred, worn wood floor. With her money, she could easily afford to have an army of workmen and decorators flown here from San Francisco to restore the old house to something special. Why hadn’t she done so?

For a nanosecond, Cruz had an insane desire to get his hands dirty in another way, and could almost feel the vibration of the sander, smell the sawdust and tung oil. A throwback to his youth working at his father’s construction sites.

Then that life-altering moment that had changed everything. He checked his memories. Water under that bridge. All he wanted these days was to breathe in salt air and the perfume of an uncomplicated, naked woman. Hot, sunny, uncomplicated. This time tomorrow, he’d be basking on a beach on Fernando de Noronha, Brazil.

New name, new look, new life. This was Cruz Barcelona’s last job. Retirement was in reach.

As he quietly made his way to the next window, the brightly lit kitchen, he paused as music suddenly blared through the open window. No one in the kitchen, a throwback to the fifties, with harvest-gold appliances and crap piled on every flat surface. The smell wafting through the heavy night air changed to that of hot, baking cookies.

Then he saw her.

Amelia Wentworth, one of Forbes magazine’s top ten richest women in the world, danced into the kitchen wearing a skimpy silky burgundy robe and high animal-print shoes with gold heels. Creamy legs, long and toned, kept the beat as she danced to the radio, twirling around the room with an imaginary partner.

Chin-length dark hair, shaggy and sexy as hell, arced around her head, catching the light as she spun. He knew her eyes were blue, stood five six, and she was left-handed. What Cruz hadn’t known was that her mouth was lush and a little too big, and just looking at that mouth made his dick twitch to life as he imagined what she could do with it.