One Wrong Step

THE BORDERLINE series, Book 2
Pocket Star
April 2008
ISBN-10: 1-4165-3738-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-3738-0

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The adventure on the border continues with ONE WRONG STEP.

She never planned to get involved with her ex again. Especially not in his murder…

But that’s just what happens when Celie Wells has an encounter with her former husband, and he turns up dead an hour later. Now, after working hard to distance herself from his crooked ways and shady connections, she finds she’s smack dab in the middle of his murder investigation. And it isn’t just the police who have their eye on her, but an enraged drug lord who is seeking payback.

The only person who seems to be on her side is old acquaintance John McAllister. But the sexy reporter has a nose for news, as well as a reputation as a playboy. Is he helping Celie out because he wants a story or a one-night stand? She knows John’s interest is potentially hazardous to her heart. But not accepting his help could put her life at even greater risk—and she can’t afford one wrong step.

Reviewers Say...

FOUR STARS from Romantic Times!
"Griffin's characters are well developed, the narrative complex and the dialogue skillfully written in this suspenseful romance. The supporting characters are also nicely crafted, and the setting is believably drawn."
—Romantic Times Book Reviews

"Griffin has more than proved that she is a force to be reckoned with in the world of romantic suspense novels. One Wrong Step is a sexy and thrilling novel that will keep readers turning the pages…"
—Queue My Review

"One Wrong Step starts with a bang and never let’s up on the pace. Laura Griffin is an exceptionally talented author, who has a knack to keep her readers on the edge of their seats. The twists and turns of the story leave the LaMans racetrack in the dust."
—The Winter Haven (FL) News Chief

“Imaginative scenarios, dynamic characters and countless emotions combine to make ONE WRONG STEP intriguing from beginning to end.”
—SingleTitles.com

“A first-rate romantic suspense story!”
—Fallen Angel Reviews

“Enjoyable, fast-paced romantic suspense.”
—Publishers Weekly Online


Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Celie Wells dropped the fire extinguisher on the floor and gaped at her kitchen through the cloud of yellow dust. How come they never showed scenes like this on the Food Network?

Her lungs tickled. Coughing, she waved away the superfine particles that floated around her. God, she’d made a mess. And a racket. She should probably notify the building super about her little accident.

She eyed the disemboweled smoke detector on her kitchen floor and decided against it. If anyone from the building’s management saw her luxury unit in its current state, she could kiss her hefty security deposit goodbye. And her ceiling wasn’t permanently damaged, nothing a little spackle and touch-up paint couldn’t fix.

She picked up the portable phone, battling the urge to do what she normally did when disaster struck, which was call her mom. Virginia Wells was great in a crisis, and she would be delighted to learn that her domestically challenged daughter was actually baking.

But Celie wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, and that’s just what she’d get if she told her mother she’d set her kitchen on fire while baking goodies for the Bluebonnet House Easter party. It wasn’t that her mother disliked battered women’s shelters per se; she just didn’t believe it prudent for thirty-one-year-old divorcee to work at one.

Celie wasn’t up for the debate tonight. Her self-esteem had taken a hit already when the cheerful, scrumptious bunny cake she’d lovingly created had morphed into a charred, inedible pancake inside of her oven. Throw together a festive Easter party in six simple steps!! the glossy magazine had proclaimed from the check-out line. Celie’s radar should have been on red-alert when she read step one: Create a tasty bunny cake that doubles as a fun centerpiece!

Celie dumped the nontasty, nonfun bunny cake into the sink. Even her disposal rejected it.

She sighed. When it came to cooking--or anything remotely domestic, for that matter--she was inept. Her uselessness in the kitchen was just one more sign that the Suzie Homemaker gene had missed her. It was ironic, really, considering that her lifelong ambition had been to settle down, make a home, and raise a family.

She was being hormonal again.

She fetched the broom from the hall closet and began sweeping up the snowy mess all over her floor. She’d made it through this entire hellacious week without a meltdown, and she wouldn’t lose it now, not over a stupid rabbit cake. If Feenie were here right now, she’d be laughing, not on the verge of tears.

The portable phone rang. Celie glanced at the caller ID and confirming for the umpteenth time that her best friend had mental telepathy.

“Hi Feenie, what’s up?”

Feenie Juarez lived five hours away down in Mayfield, Texas, but she and Celie talked so much, she may as well have lived next door.

“Just calling to see how your meeting went. Did you get the director to recommend drug treatment for your kid?”

Feenie always called the children at Bluebonnet House “her kids,” and Celie hadn’t gotten around to mentioning that it bothered her.

“No.” Celie leaned her broom against the counter and took a clean mixing bowl out of the cabinet. “But I did get roped into being in charge of the Easter party tomorrow.”

“You’re kidding. Don’t tell me you have to cook.”

“You got it.” She started measuring ingredients again. Darn it, she was out of baking soda. She’d borrowed that first teaspoon from her neighbor across the hall, but she dreaded the thought of going back there. That woman could talk the ear off a cactus.

“Hey, you know anything about cake baking?” she asked hopefully. Feenie was no domestic diva, but she’d come a long way in the months since she’d been married. Just last week, she’d been making tamales for her husband.

“I know two things,” Feenie said. “Betty and Crocker.”

Celie sighed, and then explained what was going on, omitting the part about the four-foot flame that had leapt out of the oven and scorched her ceiling.

“I can’t believe you’re making something from a magazine,” Feenie said. “Are you masochistic or just nuts?”

She eyed the April issue of Living sitting open on her counter. The photograph showed a rabbit-shaped cake with jelly bean eyes, licorice whiskers, and fur made of shaved coconut, tinted pink of course. Her gaze shifted to the singed heap in the bottom of her sink.

“A little of both,” she answered, glancing out the window. Even if she hadn’t been wearing threadbare plaid pajamas and waiting on a take-out delivery, she didn’t relish the thought of braving west Austin’s hilly streets in a driving rainstorm.

Especially at night. Celie steadfastly avoided going out alone after dark.

“The good news is I figured out where I went wrong,” she told Feenie. “The bad news is I don’t have any more baking soda, and I want to give this recipe another whirl. Is there something I can substitute?”

Feenie snorted. “You’re asking me for cooking tips?”

“Well you mentioned the tamales, so I thought--”

“It was a nightmare. I was up to my elbows in corn husks all day, and the final product tasted like soggy Fritos. Next time Marco wants homemade Mexican food, he can hit up his mom.”

“Oh.” Celie felt deflated. In the morning her boss expected her to put on an Easter party for twenty-two kids, some of whom had never even received a birthday present. She wanted to do something special and memorable, but the prospects were growing dimmer by the minute. And the thought of picking up a package of generic, grocery-store cupcakes depressed her. Celie’s mother never would have resorted to such a thing.

“Get over it,” Feenie said, reading her mind. “The kids’ll be fine. Bring ‘em some chocolate bunnies, and they’ll think you hung the moon.

“So what are you doing home, anyway?” Feenie asked. “I thought you had a hot date with that grad student.”

And there it was--the real reason for the call.

“I’d say ‘hot’ is an exaggeration,” Celie said. “Think Will Ferrell without the jokes.”

“Well, didn’t he ask you out for coffee tonight? What happened?”

Celie plopped down on the couch. “I told him we’d take a rain check. With this party tomorrow, I didn’t have time.”

Actually, she’d gotten cold feet. Celie hadn’t been on a date since before Google was invented, and she felt woefully out of touch with modern standards. What if this guy wanted more than coffee? What if, say, he wanted to come back to her apartment afterward jump into bed together? Celie didn’t do recreational sex. Even when she’d been married, the recreation part had been pretty lacking.

“Celie.”

“Hmm?”

“That’s chickenshit, and you know it. Who doesn’t have time for coffee?”

Celie heard cooing on the other end of the phone and decided to change the subject. “Olivia’s awake?”

“Yeah.” Feenie’s tone mellowed. “We’re having one last feeding before bedtime. At least I hope it’s bedtime. Last night we were up every hour between midnight and six.”

No wonder Feenie sounded crabby. “You must be exhausted,” Celie said.

“I’m okay. Liv’s just colicky, bless her little heart.”

Feenie could hit the kill zone of a paper silhouette from forty yards away with her .38, but motherhood had turned her into a complete softy. Celie had spent a few days down in South Texas after Olivia’s birth, and had actually caught her getting misty-eyed over re-runs of Seventh Heaven.

Celie felt a pang of envy, and then hated herself for it. Feenie deserved to be happy. She’d been to hell and back over the past few years.

Feenie must have sensed what the silence meant. “So, this cake thing. Here’s my advice: toss the Martha Stewart mag in the trash and stop by the grocery store,”

The buzzer sounded, and Celie got up to grab her checkbook off the kitchen counter. “My dinner’s here. Lemme let you go.”

“I mean it, Celie. Pick up some Easter candy and quit torturing yourself. Those kids adore you, with or without cake.”

Celie punched the intercom button. “Yes?”

“Ms. Wells, we have a delivery down here--”

“Send him right up!” And then to Feenie, “All right, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Celie got off the phone and wrote a check to Shanghai Garden. On her way to the door, she glanced in the bathroom mirror to make sure she looked halfway decent. She didn’t. Her dark-blond hair was dusted with flame retardant, and globs of batter decorated her pajama top. Plus she wasn’t wearing a bra. She grabbed a denim jacket off the hook in the foyer and shrugged into it just as a knock sounded at the door. Out of habit, she patted her pocket to make sure she had her pepper spray handy before going to work on her numerous locks. As she flipped the first latch, she peered through the peephole, expecting to see a stranger in the hallway holding a carton of Chinese food.

But the man who stood there looked all too familiar.

Celie’s hands froze. She backed away from the door and darted a frantic glance around the apartment. Where had she put the phone? He knocked again, and then the doorknob rattled. God, was it possible he had a key? She took out her Mace.

“I hear you in there, Celie. Open up, okay? I just want to talk.”      

Yeah, right. Did he think she was crazy? She held her Mace in a death-grip as she bit her lip and tried to decide what to do.

“Celie, please?” The familiar voice made her chest tighten. Guilt, anger, regret--the emotions battled inside her.

“I just need to talk to you,” he repeated.

Guilt won out.

Instead of locating her phone and calling the police, she moved toward the door. Methodically, she undid all the locks until only one deadbolt remained. She waited a beat, giving herself one last chance to heed the warnings blaring in her head. Then she turned the key and pulled open the door.

Her ex-husband stood before her holding a drooping bouquet of flowers and a baseball cap. He wore a tattered UT windbreaker, sneakers, and wet jeans that clung to his gaunt frame. He desperately needed a haircut.

Not to mention a methadone fix.

“Hello, Robert,” she said. “Rumor has it you’re dead.”

 

Copyright © 2008 Laura Griffin