Amelia Wentworth is in hot water: she didn’t become the powerful CEO of a multi-billionaire cosmetics company without stepping on a few toes in her six-inch heels, and now someone is after her and won’t stop until she’s six feet under. Amelia goes into hiding as Mia Hayward, and thinks herself safe and finally free from the constraints of the high-powered corporate lifestyle. Enter undercover hit man Cruz Barcelona, posing as a handyman so he can ‘take care’ of Amelia permanently. But when the chemistry between them starts to sizzle, will they risk everything in the name of love?
Keep reading for an excerpt from New York Times bestselling author Cherry Adair’s BLUSH, now on sale from Gallery Books, and enter the sweepstakes below to win a Sephora gift card and a free copy of the book!
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-milliondollar Pacific Heights mansion in San Francisco to a rundown 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.
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.
Right now she didn’t look anything like the president and CEO of Blush Cosmetics, with more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime, and hundreds of thousands of employees under her thumb. She looked sexy, innocent, and drop-dead gorgeous.
Cruz swiped his palm over the prickle on the back of his rain-damp neck. A warning. Even more alert now, he stopped in his tracks, looking beyond the dark night reflected in the window to see if he’d been followed. He knew he hadn’t. He was no amateur. Yet that warning itch persisted.
Something was . . . off.
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