When pampered former cheerleader Feenie Malone takes a job writing fluff pieces for her South Texas paper, she has no idea she's about to stumble into a juicy news story that could launch her career if it doesn't get her killed first. Almost as soon as she breaks out her press pass, she crosses paths with Marco Juarez, the macho PI obsessed with solving his sister's murder. The information he has might be the perfect lead but his dangerously sexy looks could be a deadly distraction.
Juarez has zero patience for reporters, especially mouthy blond ones. But with the evidence pointing to Feenie's ex-husband, Marco thinks she could be useful. Confident he can keep her on a tight leash, he lets her in on his investigation. He quickly discovers he's underestimated his new partner, as well as the danger they both face. Now he must protect her to the very last breath....
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Mayfield, Texas Two years later
Feenie stood in the middle of the vacant lot, straining to concentrate as the noonday sun blazed down on her. It wasn't the heat, really, that made concentration impossible, but the way the man next to her was peering down her shirt.
"That's Wolf, no e at the end," he said helpfully, leaning closer as she scribbled in her reporter's notebook.
Feenie stepped back, hoping he'd get the hint. "Thank you, Mr. Wolf. And you said you've been with Lansing Corporation how long?"
"Five years." He flashed his overwhitened teeth. "And I should tell you this development promises to be one of the most luxurious gated communities on the Gulf Coast. We've spared no amenities here."
The talking points were straight out of Lansing's media packet, and Feenie wondered why the PR department never bothered to tell employees to mix it up just a teensy bit so their quotes didn't sound so canned.
"This community will set a whole new standard for luxury retirement," he plunged on, reciting the press release verbatim. "We believe it's simply a question of when, not if, other developers will try and follow our lead. But of course, part of what we're offering is a spectacular waterfront view, and I should point out that properties like these are in limited supply now that the federal government has cracked down on development of coastal wetlands."
"I see," she said, taking notes. Wolf would be expecting her to write an article that would make people want to rush out and buy one of these expensive lots she was standing on. But she'd already been warned not to write a fluff piece, so as soon as she finished talking to this guy, she planned to place a few calls to the Army Corps of Engineers to see if she could get the other side of the story.
Feenie glanced up, and, no joke, Wolf was looking straight at her boobs. What a sleaze. She was beginning to understand why Mary Beth, her colleague at the Mayfield Gazette, had been so eager to drop this story on her desk. Mary Beth had claimed she'd had an emergency dentist appointment and couldn't make it to the interview, but Feenie now suspected the real emergency had been finding a way to avoid spending the afternoon with this creep.
Of course, even if Feenie had known the real reason she'd lucked into this assignment, she still would have come. It was an actual news story, slated for twelve inches of column space on page three. It was Feenie's first chance to write something besides obituaries and wedding announcements, and she couldn't afford not to leap on the opportunity.
Even if it meant spending the afternoon being ogled by a jerk with a fake-and-bake tan.
"Thank you for showing me around, Mr. Wolf. Looks like I've got everything I need here, and I really should be getting back to the office. It's been quite a pleasure meeting you."
She extended a hand, half expecting to get struck by lightning for uttering such a bald-faced lie.
"The pleasure's been mine," Wolf said, taking her hand and dropping his gaze again. This guy was unbelievable. And she wasn't even wearing anything remotely sexy today, just taupe slacks and a white button-down. If she ever had to interview Wolf again, she was definitely going with a turtleneck.
"Before you leave," Wolf said, still holding on to her hand, "I'd like to give you a better idea of the view we're talking about here."
She tugged her hand away, and he started walking toward a flight of wooden stairs leading up to an observation platform.
"I appreciate it, Mr. Wolf, but I really have to get back soon. My deadline "
"Oh, this will only take a minute," he said over his shoulder.
The observation deck was flanked by empty lots. But only about fifty yards away was Fisherman's Grill, a crowded waterfront restaurant. Surely Wolf wouldn't have the nerve to put any moves on her in front of the entire lunch crowd. She huffed out a breath and followed him up the stairs.
"From this vantage point, prospective buyers can see what a magnificent view they'll have when they invest in a Lansing home. Without exception, all our lots are designed for sunset vistas."
Feenie glanced at her watch another hint he probably wouldn't pick up on and then took a cursory look around. Sunlight glistened off the water, and a quartet of brown pelicans soared overhead. The view was nice, she had to admit. And the breeze fifteen feet up felt coolly refreshing. She moved the damp hair off her neck and immediately regretted the gesture. Now Wolf was staring at her with a smug look.
"I notice you don't wear a wedding ring. How's a pretty girl like you manage to stay single?"
Okay, no points for originality. This guy was a loser, hands down, but she didn't want to alienate the primary source for her first actual news story. Maybe, just maybe, if she did a good job with this assignment, her editor would promote her from part-time stringer to full-time features writer. The position came with a salary and benefits, and Feenie sorely needed both. Her desk was awash in unpaid bills and overdue notices.
She forced a smile. "Too busy to date, I guess. Look, I hate to be rude, but like I said, I have a deadline, so "
She lost track of the thought as she glanced past Wolf.
"No freaking way," she muttered.
Wolf turned to see what had grabbed her attention.
A thirty-six-foot Grady-White had just pulled up to the dock at Fisherman's. Feenie watched, mouth agape, as Josh Garland stepped off the boat and tied the bowline to a cleat. Then he held out his hand and helped a blond woman in an impossibly small bikini disembark.
"That lying bastard!" she hissed.
"You know Josh Garland?"
She tore her attention away from Josh. She was supposed to be conducting an interview, dammit, and she'd just lost all semblance of professionalism.
"Uh...yeah." Who didn't know Josh? He was the golden-haired hometown hero who'd gone off to break all kinds of football records as a wide receiver for UT. He was a local celebrity.
"So...he's your boyfriend?" Wolf persisted, clearly wondering how this latest development affected his chances.
"No. He's just...no. Um, if you'll excuse me, Mr. Wolf, I need to get going."
Minutes later, Feenie charged across the dining room at Fisherman's and plowed straight through the double doors leading to the deck outside. She spotted Josh and his most recent plaything strolling up the pier. The girl was busy tying a gauzy cloth around her waist in a vain attempt to appear clothed. Josh had less flesh on display. He wore a silk Hawaiian-print shirt, khaki shorts, and leather sandals. This was his Tommy Bahama look.
Feenie strode up to him and fisted her hands on her hips. "Just how stupid do you think I am?"
Surprise flared in his eyes, but he quickly recovered. "Well, look who's here. Hey, Feenie. Long time no see."
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Josh?"
He draped a proprietary arm around the blonde's shoulder. "Not that it's any of your business, but we're about to have lunch."
He tried to sidestep Feenie, but she anticipated the move and blocked his path.
"Nice boat, Josh." She jabbed a finger toward the end of the pier. "Funny, I think I may have seen it somewhere before. Yes, as a matter of fact, I think it's mine. I think you stole it!"
The girl's eyes widened, and Josh burst out with a fake laugh. "Dream on," he said.
"I'm not blind," Feenie snapped. "I don't care what name you've painted on the side of that thing. It is my boat, and don't even try to act like it isn't!"
Josh sighed heavily. "Please excuse my ex-wife, Tina. She's a little delusional."
"Delusional?" Feenie shot back. "You're the one who's delusional if you think I can't recognize my own boat! You told me you lost that boat in a poker game! Let me remind you, this is a community property state, Josh. And let me also remind you that hiding assets during a divorce is a serious offense! Oh, wait! But you're a lawyer, so I guess you already knew that. Too bad you won't be able to plead ignorance when I take you back to court!"
Josh gave her one of his dismissive looks, and Feenie felt the familiar surge of indignation that had plagued her throughout her marriage.
"Don't mind her," he said in the girl's ear. And she really was a girl, twenty at the most. Feenie wondered where he'd picked her up. Maybe she was the receptionist at his law firm, just as Feenie had been once upon a time before she was stupid enough to get married.
"She's going through early menopause," he continued. "It makes her kind of loco sometimes."
Josh smirked, and Feenie realized he'd said that purely for her benefit. He knew full well she was touchy about the fact that she'd just turned thirty and her biological clock was tick-tocking away.
She shifted her attention to Josh's date and felt a faint stirring of sympathy. "Fair warning, honey, this one's not a keeper."
Feenie turned on her heel and stalked off.
As Cecelia steered her blue Ford Explorer down the Garlands' street, Feenie twittered with adrenaline.
"I can't believe you talked me into this," Cecelia said. "You look like a cat burglar."
Feenie zipped her sweatshirt. It was black, just like the jeans and baseball cap she had on. "So what?"
"So if someone sees you poking around in the dark like that, you could get arrested. Or shot!"
Cecelia cast her a worried look as she neared the turnoff to the Garlands' waterfront estate. Josh's parents lived in a sprawling mansion at the top of the property, while Josh occupied the lavish guest cottage near the water. He'd lived there ever since the divorce.
Feenie checked her watch. It was after nine already, and she didn't have time for a lecture. Josh played poker at the club on Wednesday nights, and Feenie wanted to see his living quarters while he wasn't home. She allotted precisely two minutes to deal with Cecelia's cold feet.
"Celie, I appreciate your concern. But I know what I'm doing, okay? Now, are you in or not?"
Not the most persuasive sales pitch in the world, but Feenie knew it was all Cecelia needed. Ever since Josh had teamed up with some unscrupulous attorneys to screw Feenie out of everything in the divorce, she and Cecelia had been devising ways to get him back. Most involved maiming, but tonight's plan could work too.
Cecelia glanced over her shoulder, as if they were being chased by a fleet of police cars. "I don't like this, Feenie. This is trespassing! Home invasion! If Robert finds out, he's going to kill me!"
Cecelia's husband was an accountant, a real stickler for rules and regulations. Feenie gave Cecelia a pleading look.
"Oh, all right!" Cecelia said. "But make it snappy, okay? Ten minutes. I'll circle the neighborhood and come back. I want us long gone when Josh gets home."
Cecelia stopped the car in front of the Garlands' secondary driveway, which led directly to the guest cottage. Feenie hopped out before Cecelia could change her mind.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as Feenie crept up the drive. Feeling a few raindrops, she moved off the gravel and onto the carpet of St. Augustine grass covering the property. Soon the guest cottage came into view and, alongside it, a weathered boathouse. She ducked behind a clump of sago palms and surveyed the situation.
The driveway in front of the guest cottage was clearly illuminated by a pair of floodlights. Feenie spotted two vehicles: a yellow pickup truck sporting oversized tires and the silver Porsche Cayenne that Josh had been driving around town ever since he'd made partner big shocker at his father's law firm.
Shoot. Had he changed his poker night? Maybe he was hosting for a change. But she didn't recognize the truck, which looked like a Tonka toy on steroids.
She had two options. She could head back to the road and wait in the rain for Cecelia, or she could sneak a quick peek.
Her choice was obvious.
Inching up the driveway, Feenie studied the house. Lights glowed in the living room, which contained a pool table and a big-screen TV. The guys had probably gathered in there, which meant they'd never notice her. She tiptoed around the side of the house until she came to the water's edge. She stayed away from the fishing lights near the dock and approached the boathouse from the concrete bulkhead. Something splashed nearby, and she whirled around.
Just a fish. She needed to calm down.
Turning back toward the boathouse, she crept closer until two slips came into view, both illuminated by fluorescent lights. One slip contained the twenty-two-foot Boston Whaler that belonged to Josh's father. The neighboring slip housed the thirty-six-foot Grady-White that Josh had christened Feenie's Dream. She'd recognize the boat anywhere the pristine white hull, the shiny handrails. The name painted on the side now read Sea Breeze, but that didn't matter. She knew that boat right down to the teak cabinets, which she'd lovingly oiled countless times. It was her boat, or at least half of it was, and Josh had stolen it right out from under her with that ridiculous poker game story. God, how had she been so gullible?
Josh suddenly emerged from the guest cottage. He wore khaki shorts and a navy golf shirt and was talking to a man now standing on the side of the dock closest to Feenie.
Feenie unzipped her sweatshirt, pulled out the camera she'd hung around her neck, and disabled the flash. She hoped the fluorescent lights would be bright enough to allow for a decent shot. She snapped a picture. The rain was coming down heavily now, so she eased closer for a clearer view.
She wanted hard evidence, something she could wave in front of a judge. The last time Feenie had been in a courtroom with Josh, she'd been hopelessly outmatched, thanks to his family's cadre of lawyers and the ironclad prenup she'd naively signed just before her wedding. Feenie thought of all the nights recently she'd spent at home eating ramen noodles and clipping coupons. Meanwhile, Josh had probably been out sipping margaritas on the deck of her boat with a parade of women. He could have the bimbos, but she'd be damned if he'd keep the Grady-White. She'd drag him back into court if she had to.
She watched, fuming, as he activated the boat hoist, lowered Feenie's Dream into the water, and hopped aboard. Beer in hand, he swaggered to the helm.
She wanted to scream. She wanted to wrestle the keys from him and pitch them right into the bay. Not caring anymore whether he spotted her, she stomped closer and snapped another picture, muttering as the camera clicked. "You lying, cheating piece of "
Her feet flew out from under her, and she landed facedown on the ground. All the air rushed out of her lungs, and a hand clamped over her mouth.
"Don't fucking move."
Copyright © 2007 by Laura Griffin
What People are Saying About This
"Gritty, imaginative, sexy! You MUST read Laura Griffin."