Excerpt from Riley: A Kendall Family Novel (#3)

Jordan Hunt gazed through the sight on her sniper rifle and checked a sigh.  “Killing this guy would be a shame,” she muttered to herself, “but a job’s a job.”

Riley Kendall sat shirtless in his living room, six-pack abs rippling beneath a muscled chest as he cleaned a handgun.  His torso bore its share of scars, some looking like bullet holes and others like knife wounds.  Four tattoos covered his powerful arms: a dragon on his right bicep, an eagle on the left, a snake on his left forearm, and a dagger on the right.  She wanted to kiss his thick neck and feel the corded muscles in those arms holding her fast as he manhandled her.  Normally the idea of submitting to a man didn’t sit so well with her, but something about him stirred her interest.  Then again, maybe it was just because she was about to murder him in the prime of his life.  That had never made her feel romantic about her victim before, but there’s a first time for everything.

She used the view port to admire his cobalt-blue eyes, which appeared softer than she would have expected, given his otherwise macho appearance.  A crew cut matched the black stubble outlining his strong jaw.  Even if she hadn’t read his dossier, she’d have known at once that he was a Marine.  A sniper, like her.  Those gentle eyes made her wonder if he was a sweetheart under the typical bravado of military guys.  Part of her had always wanted that even though most of them turned out to be pigs.

“I could just wound him,” she murmured, “and go steal a kiss before finishing him.  Tie him up, have some fun.”  She chuckled.  “Better stop that or I won’t be able to do this.”

To collect her composure, Jordan put the gun down and picked up her binoculars to scan for witnesses again.  Few were likely, for most houses in rural Comus, Maryland sat on at least an acre, and the Kendall family’s property spanned dozens.  Riley’s green and black Harley-Davidson Night Rod Special sat on the otherwise empty driveway of the guest house he called home.  A dog that had been sniffing around had trotted off to the bigger, main house owned by Riley’s brother.  Jordan couldn’t see any activity over there due to the trees separating the houses.

A hundred yards off to one side stood the family-owned Sugarloaf Stables; two barns and other, smaller buildings peeked through the foliage.  In the surrounding fields, a number of horses were grazing, but one of the outdoor riding rings had three riders in it.  They’d been at it an hour so Jordan had been waiting for them to disappear.

“Maybe they’re used to hearing gun shots,” she speculated, “and won’t think anything of it, but then maybe they will.”

Riley had a makeshift gun range set up behind the guesthouse, the targets being just below her perch on a hillside so that she was firing in the opposite direction.  Her shot could be mistaken for his, though when someone’s at a range, they usually fire more than the one bullet she anticipated needing.  She seldom missed, and never had at this close range.  Despite the way movies portrayed them, gun silencers only lowered the decibels of a gunshot from 160 to 130, making them useless.

She trained her gaze on other houses nearby but saw no activity outside.  Behind her, the twelve hundred foot Sugarloaf Mountain dominated the mostly flat landscape.  A trail led back up to a lookout where her rental car sat, but she was fifty feet from there and no one had been hiking in this area when she came down an hour ago, or since.  She could’ve made the shot from farther than she was, as only a hundred yards separated her from Riley, but that invited witnesses.  Besides, she needed proof of his corpse to get paid the other half of her fee.  A photo would do and necessitate going down there once he was dead.

Seeing all of the riders exit the ring, she decided now was the time.

“Okay, baby-blue-eyes,” she said to him, settling into position again, “time to sleep forever.”

She suspected Riley had the window open because many of the cleaners used for gun care needed ventilation.  It didn’t change her shot, but not having to fire through glass would make it harder for cops to determine where a bullet had come from, and she didn’t intend to clean up the place she was shooting from.  The loose leaves and vegetation meant she’d never find the shell casing afterward anyway, but it didn’t have her fingerprints on it.  She’d made sure of that.  She took aim and waited for him to stop moving so much.  When he picked up a gun barrel and rag, the time had come.

Just as Jordan pulled the trigger, Riley dropped the barrel and leaned forward sharply.  Her shot rang out and shattered the glass covering a framed painting behind him.  Keeping her cool, she waited for him to straighten up and look around like many victims did, making a second shot easy, but she wasn’t surprised when he didn’t.  He likely knew better.

Stifling a sigh, she dropped the rifle, pulled a camouflage assassin’s mask over her head, and began working her way toward the house as fast as possible while trying to stay unseen.  Killing him up close and personal would be harder but might just be worth it to get a closer look at those blue eyes before she snuffed the life out of them forever.

* * *

When the picture’s glass frame shattered amid a rifle’s familiar echo, Riley Kendall threw himself to the floor.  No one fired shots at his private range but him and his family, and no one was such a bad shot that the bullet went behind them.  This was no accident.  Someone had just tried to kill him.

Adrenaline pumping, he glared at the ruined picture of his mother.  He’d kill whoever destroyed it.  First he needed a gun, but the bullet’s trajectory eliminated getting the one he’d been cleaning because he’d get shot going for it.  There were only so many places to fire a rifle into the living room, which was at the house’s rear, facing the mountain.  The shot had to have come from near his targets.  That limited his options for reaching the gun chest in the upper guest room, too.

“Stairs are out,” he muttered.  “I’ll just get shot on them.”

His dog Coby scampered down the steps, nails clattering on the hardwood.

“Down,” Riley commanded, and the dog lay at the bottom of the stairs, ears perked up.  He’d trained the canine for more than household stuff, like being a guard dog, but didn’t want it getting shot.

His eyes glanced up at the table; he could have tipped it to slide the remaining parts to him, but he likely didn’t have time to assemble the weapon.  The Nighthawk T4 he used for work was sitting in its holster near the front door.  Solid walls stood between him and the shooter now, and if he went for the hallway, so he did, sliding across the floor.  Then he crawled around the corner with Coby beside him.  Once there, he almost stood up but realized more than one person might be out there.  Crouching, he made it down the hall and grabbed the gun off the table in the foyer.

It would take a minute for a sniper to reach him if trying to remain concealed along the way, and he knew they had to try.  Most snipers knew enough about their target to make the kill easier, and that meant the guy knew Riley was a sniper, too.  If the assassin came across the open field out back, Riley could pick them off.  That meant he had a couple minutes.

Riley had been hunted before.  The key to survival was being unpredictable.  Be where the killer did not expect you to be.  With that in mind, he ducked into the garage and clicked the button to open it.  That should lure the assassin that way.

“Find Quinn,” he said to the dog, and Coby bolted through the garage and down the pavement toward his brother’s house.  He wasn’t sure Coby would bring Quinn back, but he had to get rid of the dog.  When the assassin entered the house, the sound of Coby’s claws would give the dog away and get him shot.

Riley went back inside, locking the door before discreetly peeking through a front window.  No sign of activity except Coby rapidly disappearing.  If he knew the sniper was alone, he might’ve gone out that way.  Instead, he locked the front door and moved to the side of the house farthest from the garage, where he opened a kitchen window and lifted up the screen. Going outside was a risk, especially if the shooter had help, but the garage door should’ve drawn all attention away from his location.

He slipped outside, booted feet landing in the grass between several bushes he ducked behind.  The drop happened so fast no one could’ve shot him had they seen his escape, but he moved away from the shrubbery anyway, moving to the house’s rear corner, where he looked across the back yard.  Again he saw no movement, but the nearby trees had enough underbrush for someone to hide behind.  So did the line of foliage on the garage side.  Nothing but treetops and the rounded peak of Sugarloaf Mountain greeted his eyes.  Never before had he thought it offered many chances to pick off someone.  While he waited for a sign, the summer sun felt good on his bare shoulders and reminded him that his bulletproof vest was upstairs.

With nothing happening, he peered around the corner across the rear of the house just in time to see a single camouflage boot lift from the ground and disappear inside the house’s back door.  The assassin was already inside, faster than expected, having come down the far side, apparently.

“Answers that question,” he muttered, glad for the knowledge.  The advantage was his.  On the other hand, the garage door bait hadn’t been taken, so maybe this guy had some brains.

Suddenly he remembered the smartphone in one pocket of his black jeans.  His cousin Gil was something of a geek and had helped Riley install and set up security cameras at the family businesses.  On a lark, Riley had installed some in the house.  An app on his phone let him see inside when gone and even tilt and pan the cameras remotely.  He fished out the phone, brought up the app, and pulled up a screen that let him see multiple cameras at once.

And there, in the living room, stood the sniper, a silver Colt Defender revolver sweeping side to side in one hand as the head swiveled quickly.  Riley knew the guy was assessing with every second, and listening, too.  The shooter moved right for the camera on the corner table and Riley frowned, expecting what came next as the assassin reached behind it for the plug.  The image went black.

“Oh, well,” he said.  “Time for a Plan B.”

Thinking hard about how to handle this, he waited for the assassin to appear in another camera and suspected it would be the kitchen.  Anyone with half a brain cleared a floor first before going to another.  The seconds ticked by while the guy likely checked the hall bathroom and foyer.  Then the killer entered the kitchen, where another camera stood overlooking Coby’s food and water bowls.  He moved straight for it, head moving back and forth and finally settling on the open window as one hand reached for the camera’s cord.  When the camera went black, Riley realized he had just seconds before the assassin stuck a head out that window and saw him at the corner.

He tucked the gun into his waistband and quietly hurried back to the window.  A little hand-to-hand combat would spice up his morning and keep the target alive for questioning.  He crouched beneath the sill and flattened against the wall.  If he stood to either side, the assassin could see him more easily, but the only way to be certain Riley wasn’t under the window was to stick a head out.

Or so he thought.

While Riley looked upward, the assassin stuck his red cooking pot, which he’d left on the stove, out the window and dropped it even as he began to surge upward.  It cracked him on the head but he still grabbed the gloved hand and wrist.  Then he yanked the assassin so hard that the guy flew out the window and over him into a bush, causing Riley to lose his grip.  The Colt fell beside them in the grass.

In the time it took Riley to grab his Nighthawk, the nimble assassin leapt up and punched his wrist just as he brought the gun around. Numb fingers dropped the weapon, so he swung with the other fist.  His target ducked and then delivered a spinning kick to his ribs, but Riley partially blocked it by grabbing the leg with both hands.

“Got you now,” he said.

“Like hell you do,” replied a woman’s voice.

Riley’s momentary startled reaction was enough for the assassin to kick her other foot toward his crotch despite risking falling to the ground.  Riley saw it coming and closed his legs in time to trap her foot between his muscled thighs.  Showing impressive strength, she didn’t fall.  Instead, she sat up and swung both hands at his ears.  To prevent the ear-boxing, he had no choice but to let go so that she fell to the ground.  No sooner had she struck earth than she rolled for the Colt, but Riley straddled her, sitting down on her lush ass to lean forward and wrap a powerful arm around her neck.

“Time for a nap, sweetie,” he said in her ear, which smelled of lilacs.  Then he compressed her windpipe while leaning on her back to squeeze the air from her lungs.  He felt her holding her breath, but in time it finally exploded from her and she began to resist less until she finally went limp, in stark contrast to his hard cock pressing against her soft rear.  He made sure she was out before relaxing his grip and checking her pulse.

“Can’t have you die on me,” he said to her unconscious body.  “You have information I need.”  He rolled her over, then lifted the mask to reveal a face like fine porcelain, high cheekbones framing eyes that were now closed.  Full, sensuous lips made him wonder who’d been kissing them.  Another tug on her mask and it came off, a tumble of long, wavy, auburn hair cascading around her.  The softness it added contrasted with the hardened killer he knew she was and he grinned, stroking her cheek with one hand.

“And maybe you have something else I need.  I’m really going to enjoy your strip search.  I’d say it’s just business, honey, but believe me, it’s gonna get personal for me in a hurry.”

Chuckling in anticipation, he tucked both of their guns in his pants, along with her mask, and hauled her upright before lifting her over one shoulder.  Then he sauntered toward the back door, patting his conquest on the rump once.  He sensed that although he might’ve captured her, she could still be the death of him.

END OF CHAPTER 1. You can download a PDF of this chapter, too.

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