She Can Kill (She Can Series)

ALSO BY MELINDA LEIGH

She Can Series

She Can Run

She Can Tell

She Can Scream

She Can Hide

He Can Fall
(A Short Story)

Scarlet Falls Novels

Hour of Need

Minutes to Kill

Midnight Novels

Midnight Exposure

Midnight Sacrifice

Midnight Betrayal

Rogue River Novellas

Gone to Her Grave

Walking on Her Grave

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Melinda Leigh

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781503948693

ISBN-10: 1503948692

 

Cover design by Jason Blackburn

For Sunshine

In any world I create, dogs live forever

 

CHAPTER ONE

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been eighteen months since my last assassination.

Christopher slowed the car as he approached the turnoff. A visit to his father-in-law’s
estancia
triggered equal amounts of guilt—and fear. The ranch was the last place he wished to be. Franco had a job for him. The kind of job he’d been avoiding since his daughter was born eighteen months before, the kind of job that required his expertise with a weapon.

But that’s what happened when you married the daughter of an arms dealer.

“Mama,” Luciana demanded from her car seat.

Christopher glanced in the rearview mirror. Small white sandals kicked, and her tiny mouth bowed with impatience.

“Yes, my princess,” he said. “Mama is here. We’ll see her soon.”

Eva had driven the seventy kilometers from their Buenos Aires apartment to the
estancia
early that morning to attend a family meeting, while Christopher had made excuses. His economics paper wasn’t finished. Luciana needed a nap. The truth was something he couldn’t share with his wife or his father-in-law. He couldn’t do the job. Whatever sharp edge he’d had in the past had vanished the day his daughter had been born. He’d lost it, plain and simple.

But it was no sacrifice. Love expanded in Christopher’s chest. Luciana was perfect. His daughter had made him feel things he didn’t know were possible. The moment of her birth had altered him forever. Holding her squalling, brand-new life in his hands had spun his perspective one hundred and eighty degrees. The first time he’d looked into her trusting eyes, he knew his life would never be the same.

He
would never be the same.

But as Eva had pointed out in their heated argument that morning, an invitation from Franco Vargas wasn’t a request. It was a demand.

So here he was.

He stopped the car at the entrance. Was it instinct or sheer reluctance that made him hesitant to turn down the lane? Two long rows of trees lined the gravel-and-dirt drive leading to the house. Staring down the gauntlet, he lowered the window. The warm breeze sweeping off the pampas lifted the hairs on his neck. Where were the guards? Franco kept surveillance at the ranch as invisible as possible. His father-in-law enjoyed the illusion of being a regular family, but usually, Christopher could spot the sentries. Wary of any deviation from normal, he hovered his foot over the gas pedal. But he had little choice. His attendance was mandatory. The last thing he wanted was for Franco to become suspicious. If he ever guessed that Christopher wanted to take Eva away . . .

That couldn’t happen.

He turned between the brick pillars, pausing midway down the long drive to point out a mare and foal in the pasture. From the backseat, Luciana clapped and shouted, “
Caballo
. Horse.” With her parents speaking two languages, Luciana seemed to flow between English and Spanish with no effort.

If only the Vargas family really earned their living from polo ponies and wine. But Franco’s hobbies were merely a front. The Vargases’ trade in illegal guns went back generations. They were more militant gang than family.

The ranch house was built traditional style: square and low. The barns and polo fields sat to the left of the whitewashed, concrete house. Terra-cotta red tile roofs brightened the landscape. A few outbuildings of similar plain design were sprinkled around the property. Christopher parked in front of the house, amid a cluster of vehicles. The sounds of splashing, music, and the occasional squeal of a child floated on the hot breeze from the back of the house. Near the end of an Argentinean summer, the family would be enjoying the pool. Franco had only two daughters, but there were cousins, uncles, and in-laws involved in the business. For the most part, Eva and the men would gather inside for a business meeting while the other women and children enjoyed the warm afternoon.

Silently, he hoped the business was finished for the day. He’d never admit it to Franco, but since Luciana had been born, Christopher much preferred swimming with his daughter. He felt more comfortable in the backyard with the women, children, and old men.

He liberated the baby from the backseat. Clutching a stuffed brown rabbit in one hand, she kicked her feet.

“You’re bringing your bunny with you?”


Bebé
.” As usual, she insisted the rabbit was her baby.

Impatient, she called her cousins’ names.

“You hear your playmates.” Christopher set her on her feet, straightened her yellow, flowered sundress, and took her firmly by the hand. The ranch had its perils. Water, horses, dogs, and sharp tools created lots of opportunities for a curious toddler to be injured.

He bypassed the front door. Franco’s head of security and most trusted employee, Nicolas, would be in the hall. Christopher preferred to avoid his scrutiny and silent disdain. Nicolas did not believe a man should be at home while his wife took care of business. His contempt stung. Nicolas had been a mentor to Christopher for years. He’d taught him to handle weapons. He’d taught him to kill.

Heading directly for the backyard, he led his daughter along the side of the house. Luciana’s tiny white sandals slapped on the path as they rounded the corner.

An explosion split the peaceful air. The ground rolled, and people screamed. Then the
rat tat tat
of machine-gun fire sounded from the back of the property. Christopher scooped Luciana off the ground. He turned toward the car, but the sounds of engines and tires on gravel stopped him. Pivoting, he ran in the opposite direction. The closest shelter was the barn. More screams, his child’s included, pierced his heart.

He raced to save his daughter, but his heart bled for the wife he left behind.

Screaming, gunfire, and the frightened whinnies of horses carried over the lawn. Holding his child, Christopher ran across the grass toward the barn. Just outside the entrance sat a horse van. He glanced into the van’s interior as he raced by. A cartridge of bullets lay half-buried under a pile of hay. The intruders had used the arrival of a new horse to launch their attack. No doubt the van’s true drivers were dead, their bodies dumped somewhere along the highway. If Christopher had been planning the attack, that’s exactly how he would have gained access to the ranch. Horses were his father-in-law’s number one weakness.

He entered the cool shade of the barn. A horse neighed. Luciana
sobbed. Her cries rose to a terrified pitch.

“Shh, my princess.” He needed to quiet her. The commotion covered her screams for the moment, but the second the shooting was over, someone would hear her wails. He turned her face to his chest. Her arms and legs wrapped around his body. Christopher flinched at every spurt of bullets, waiting for one to punch into his own flesh, rendering him incapable of protecting his child. Questions bombarded him.

Who was shooting? Was Eva still alive?

And more importantly, where could he hide? There was nowhere other than the barn. The ranch sat on a flat square of grassland. Few trees dotted its green vastness. The views were spectacular, but the open ground left no way to run without being seen. He had no weapon. Nothing with which he could protect his baby girl. He ducked into the tack room, and grabbed a sharp knife from the worktable in the center of the room. Stowing it in his belt, he returned to the aisle.

He turned into the first stall, closing and locking the door behind him. Nervous from the noise, the chestnut broodmare inside shied away. Christopher soothed the animal with a calm voice. He crossed the straw-covered floor and rose onto his toes to look out a small window high on the wall. From here he could see part of the house’s rear yard. Bodies were strewn across the lush grass. More than one floated in the bright-blue pool water.

Everyone. The whole family. Dead. Mowed down in the middle of a barbecue.

Men dressed in black made their way across the grass, nudging bodies with the toes of their boots. Christopher watched a man roll Uncle Paolo onto his back and fire a shot into the old man’s chest. Tears ran down his face into Luciana’s hair.

“You must be quiet,” he said into his daughter’s ear. “Can you do that for Papa?”

Nodding, she hiccupped, her brown eyes opening wide in solemn promise. Did she understand? She was only a toddler, yet she seemed to sense his desperation—his terror.

He glanced at the horse pawing at the bedding. The mare had quick hooves. Nervous sweat gleamed on her side, but he’d delivered her last foal. She trusted him. And Christopher had few options. With a gentle pat to the horse’s neck, he carried Luciana into the shadows. A bulging net full of hay blocked the view from the door.

“Close your eyes, do not move, and be as quiet as you have ever been,” he whispered.

Her teary nod sliced his heart into pieces. A burst of gunshots reported. Luciana recoiled and turned her face into his shoulder.

Christopher stopped his imagination from conjuring images. He could not afford to grieve with his daughter in danger. He hugged her closer as footsteps pounded on the packed dirt of the barnyard. She lifted her head, and he put his finger to his lips. Luciana’s mouth trembled. Her tiny arms circled his neck and held tight. And they waited.

Footsteps rushed into the barn.

“Check every stall. Quickly,” a voice called out in Portuguese.

Hinges squeaked. Horses snorted and whinnied. Hooves shuffled in straw. Doors slammed.

Sweat soaked through the cotton of Christopher’s shirt. Luciana’s eyes were squeezed tightly closed. If she made a noise, they were dead. The thought of a bullet finding his child gripped him with enough fear to stop his heart. The stall door opened. A man’s shadow fell across the straw. The chestnut mare spun around, putting her head in the corner and presenting her hindquarters to the intruder. A hoof rang out on wood as the animal kicked. With a curse, the man retreated and the door closed.

Christopher waited until the barn went silent of human sounds. Hours seemed to pass, but likely it was less than thirty minutes. Engines started, tires grated on dirt, and the rumbling of vehicles faded, and still he waited. He needed to be sure. Finally, he moved away from the wall.

Leaning over the half door, he peered around the wall. No men in black. What should he do?

He ran toward the house. He had to make sure there was no one who could be helped. Covering his daughter’s eyes, he walked through the carnage. She was limp in his arms, her head lolling on his shoulder.

She sobbed softly,
“Bebé.”
She’d dropped her toy. Somewhere. All Christopher could see were the people he’d loved, the only family he had. Everyone in the yard was dead. Women, children, old men. None had been spared.

He felt the numbness wash over him. The horror was simply too much for his mind to process, more grief than one man could bear. Christopher clutched his child close and wished he could shield his own eyes. The scene before him was instantly etched into his mind. There would be no erasing it, ever. Instead, he walled off his heart. Later. He would grieve later.

He went inside. His shoes rang on the tile floor as he made his way to the doorway of the main dining room. He didn’t need to go into the room to know all the family members inside were dead as well. This part of the house was covered with rubble. The explosion had brought the roof down. Broken tiles and beams piled high. Dust drifted in the soot-scented air. Christopher could envision the scene too clearly. The ceiling caving in. Men bursting through the door. People ducking for cover. Machine-gun fire spraying the Vargas clan. Blood and grunts and screams and death.

He spotted a few bodies in the debris. One of the uncles was the closest to the door, the lower half of his body lying under a thick collapsed chunk of wood, his torso riddled with bullets. The heavy chair behind him rested on its back, as if he’d jumped up and knocked it over. Christopher’s gaze darted to Franco’s position at the rear of the room. Franco always sat with his back to the wall and a clear view of the doorway. Eva would have been at her father’s side. Christopher moved deeper into the room, his eyes roaming the destruction. His heart lifted with the small possibility that maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t here. Even as he thought it, he knew it was impossible.

He saw Franco on the floor ten feet away. He’d dived away from the explosion, toward his daughter. Under Franco, Eva lay on her side. Her father had tried to shield her with his own body. Beyond Franco’s head, Eva’s long, dark hair fanned across the tile. She faced away from the door. Blood darkened the back of the bright-red dress she’d been wearing this morning when he last saw her—when they’d fought. Christopher’s breath locked in his chest for two heartbeats.

Before he got close enough to touch her, he knew.

Luciana sobbed into his shoulder, “Papa,” breaking his trance.

Eva was dead. His body moved toward his wife, instinct propelling him across the floor. His feet stopped at her side. She was riddled with bullets from head to waist. Averting his eyes from her ruined face, he reached out and placed two fingers on her neck. The blood on her skin was still warm, but her heart did not beat. He rested his palm on her back for two seconds. Just above his hand, a few skinny rays of the Sun of May tattoo that adorned her back peeked out from the torn sleeve of her dress. The smiling face on the symbol of Argentine independence broke his heart.

I love you
.

He tucked Luciana deeper into his shoulder. He couldn’t bear for his precious daughter to see every member of her extended family massacred. She should never witness such a horror. This nightmare had already permanently stained Christopher’s mind. As long as he lived, he would be able to picture every detail of this scene. Such a fate he could not bestow on his child. Yet leaving his wife felt wrong.

The decision was taken from him by a noise outside. Was someone coming? Friend or foe?

He had to get Luciana to safety.

He turned his back on the room—on the carnage, on his wife. If he were dead and Eva had survived, he would want her to do only one thing: save their child.

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