The Texas Murder Files Series · Book four
An undercover FBI agent and an independent coffee shop owner must team up when a local barista is found dead and danger circles their coastal Texas town in this new romantic thriller from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.
With two brothers on the police force, Leyla Breda is well aware of the rising crime in her small beach town, but she never expected it to show up on her doorstep. When Leyla finds one of her employees murdered in the alley behind her coffee shop, she’s deeply shaken, and as a new law enforcement officer in town begins to circle her place of business, her instincts only sharpen.
Sean Moran is on an undercover mission: The seaside community of Lost Beach may look like a picturesque postcard, but his team suspects it’s a point of intersection for several crime syndicates that the FBI has been investigating for years. Even so, when the brash and beautiful Leyla Breda starts bossing him around, he’s immediately intrigued. He knows her brothers want him to back off, but every time he sees her, he feels more of a spark.
Leyla’s connections in the local community and Sean’s skills allow them to go deeper into the case together than they would be able to go alone. But when a single crime spirals into something much darker, Sean’s carefully planned mission takes a deadly turn.
"Griffin keeps the twists coming right up until the shocking reveal... The result is an undeniable thrill ride."
— Publishers Weekly
"Honestly, part of what I love about these books is that they’re well-written, have great characters, satisfying plots and a twist or two, but they aren’t going to be so intense that they upset my emotional equilibrium. They are the solid, reliable friend who will never let me down. That kind of consistently engaging and dependable reading experience is a treasure for me."
— Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Texas Murder Files Series · Book four
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A cell phone went off during the vows.
Leyla Breda kept her attention on the bride and groom, trying not to react as her aunt leaned forward and glared down the pew. Two seats over, Leyla’s cousin rooted around at her feet and looked dismayed as she picked up a stylish silver clutch.
Leyla’s stylish silver clutch.
Her heart skipped a beat as the phone chimed again. Leyla grabbed the purse and quickly silenced the ringtone-but not before noticing the number on the screen.
Which could only mean one thing.
Leyla stood up and quietly slipped out of the pew. Reaching the door to the chapel, she darted a glance toward her brother, who was so enamored with his beautiful bride that he didn’t notice the disruption.
Yeah, right. Her brother noticed everything. Joel was a police detective. But he had wisely chosen to gaze into Miranda’s eyes and not destroy the moment.
Leyla hurried into the foyer, trying to imagine what level of catastrophe would prompt her assistant to call her right now. She opened the chapel’s outer door and stepped into the late-day sun.
“What’s wrong?” Leyla asked Siena, the second-in-command at her fledgling catering business.
“They haven’t started yet, have they?”
“They started at six.”
Siena gasped. “I thought six thirty!”
“It’s okay, I stepped out. What’s wrong?”
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to-”
“Siena, what’s wrong?”
“It’s the cake.”
Her heart skipped another beat as she envisioned the glorious four-tier tower of buttercream smashed to the ground.
“What about it?” Leyla asked.
“Well . . . I can’t find it.”
“What do you mean? Rachel was supposed to deliver it to the venue at four.” She checked her watch. “It’s six twenty-five.”
“Rachel called in sick.”
“And Wade, too. Rachel said she asked Amelia to fill in for her, but I haven’t seen her yet, and the wedding coordinator said-”
“Did you call Amelia?” Leyla was already striding toward her car.
“Yes, but she’s not answering. Neither is Rachel or Wade and-”
“I’ll get it myself.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m on my way now.”
“I’d go get it, but we’re shorthanded and I’m still finishing the canapé trays. If you want, I can-”
“No, finish the canapés. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Leyla slid behind the wheel of her SUV and glanced at the little white chapel. Any moment the doors would open, and the happy couple would emerge, and Leyla didn’t want them to see her speeding out of the parking lot.
Shorthanded was an understatement. If Wade and Rachel were out sick, that meant only four servers for a reception of an estimated ninety people. But it was going to be more than that. Leyla had counted every last body in that chapel, twice, and she’d come up with a firm one hundred. Why didn’t people RSVP anymore? It was so infuriating.
Four servers wasn’t going to cut it, not by a long shot. Siena would have to help replenish food at the buffet table, and Leyla would have to cut the cake.
Leyla raced down the highway toward her beachfront business. The Island Beanery was known far and wide for scenic views, creative beverages, and mouthwatering pastries that had been written up in magazine features. Leyla had recently expanded into catering. Her brother’s wedding was only her fourth gig, and that was if you counted the bridal shower she had thrown for Miranda. But Leyla didn’t count that because the menu had consisted of finger sandwiches and petits fours-yawn-and anyway, the whole thing had been a gift.
Leyla eyed the clock on her dashboard as she neared the coffee shop. She had probably fifteen minutes to get her cake to the reception venue, unbox it, and decorate the table with rose petals, all before the newlyweds arrived for their big entrance. The endless task of posing for wedding photos had taken place already. As a photographer herself, Miranda had insisted on having the pictures completed beforehand, so the wedding party wouldn’t be held hostage by a fussy photographer when everyone was ready to hit the bar. Once the ceremony was over, it was time to celebrate!
Leyla had wholeheartedly agreed with this approach, but now she wished she had more time to get her act together.
She whipped into the Beanery parking lot and used the key fob to pop open her SUV’s cargo space. Lifting the skirt of her long dress, she dashed up the sidewalk, taking care not to trip. Her sky-blue satin dress and strappy sandals were perfect for a springtime wedding at the beach, but not so perfect for cake deliveries.
A lone pelican perched on the deck rail, looking on as Leyla unlocked the door and let herself in. The café closed at six, and the interior was dim and quiet now, with dust motes floating in the air. Propping the door open with a rubber wedge, she glanced behind the counter to the refrigerated display case and immediately spied the wedding cake with its cascade of sugar-icing roses. Everything looked intact.
“Thank God,” she murmured.
Pride surged through her, quickly followed by panic.
She glanced at the clock on the wall and looked around, wishing she had someone here to help her move the damn thing. The cake was surrounded by a custom-made box with a sturdy base and cellophane sides. Leyla opened the refrigerator, and chilled air wafted over her. She stuffed her key chain into her strapless bra, slid her hands beneath the box, and eased the cake from the fridge. It was heavy. Peering around the box, she maneuvered around the counter and crossed the dining area to the front door. Scooting sideways through the opening, she gripped the corners of the box as a breeze gusted over the sand dunes.
She prayed that she wasn’t about to trip on her hem as she crossed the parking lot to her SUV. Sliding the box into the cargo space, she released a breath of relief. But her relief was short-lived as she rushed to lock the shop, then jumped behind the wheel and checked the clock. Speeding toward the reception venue, her mind toggled between the twin horrors of slamming on the brakes and making the cake topple over and-literally-bumping into the bride and groom with their wedding cake at the moment they made their grand entrance.
Leyla turned onto the palm-lined drive of The Breakers and sucked in a breath. Guests were arriving, and the first few rows of cars had already filled in. She pulled right up to the front and parked, leaving just enough room for Joel and Miranda’s limo, in case they showed up before she had a chance to move. Springing from her SUV, she glanced around for someone to help her.
A man in a black tuxedo leaned against the building, scrolling through his cell phone. He was one of the groomsmen, someone who had been through the police academy with Joel. Leyla had met him at the rehearsal dinner last night, but damned if she could remember his name. Was it Eric? Ethan?
He looked up, startled, and Leyla flashed him a smile.
“I need some help.”
“Yes! Can you give me a hand with this?” She looked around and spied a tall, dark-haired man sauntering down the sidewalk. Leyla had no idea who he was, but he wore a suit and was obviously a wedding guest. “And you!” She waved him over. “I need your help!”
He glanced over his shoulder.
“Yes, you. Can you give me a hand here, please?”
The groomsman was standing beside her car now, eyeing the giant cake box with a look of abject terror.
“You want me to carry that?”
“No. I’ll carry it,” she told him. “I need you to open the doors.”
“I’ll carry it.”
She glanced up to see the man in the suit gazing down at her with the most amazing ocean green eyes she’d ever seen.
He raised a brow.
“And kind of wobbly,” she added. “I can carry it, if you’ll just hold the doors as I go in and clear any obstacles.”
“You’re liable to trip in that dress.” He eased past her and smoothly lifted the cake from the cargo space.
“Careful,” she said, her throat tightening as she watched him casually holding more than a dozen hours of painstaking work-the very future of her business-in his hands.
“Where to?” he asked.
She glanced at the door, which was now being held open by the groomsman-who looked immensely relieved not to be tasked with walking a towering wedding cake across a banquet hall.
“The main room, just past the buffet table,” she answered. “There should be a special table set up and-” She looked past the man’s shoulders as a black limousine turned onto the palm-lined driveway. “Crap, they’re here! We need to hurry!” She clapped her hands at him. “Go go go!”
Sean Moran slipped away from the party. The bride and groom had left under a shower of rice, but people were still milling around beneath swags of white lights, drinking the couple’s booze and enjoying the breeze off the water. Sean would have liked another drink, but he needed to get back to his condo. As he crossed the wooden bridge spanning the sand dunes, he spied a woman on the beach with a champagne flute in hand.
Her formfitting dress looked silver in the moonlight, and it shimmered against her body as she strolled toward the surf. Nearing a piece of driftwood, she dropped her shoes to the sand and sat down. She nestled the flute at her feet, then lifted her arms and twisted her dark hair into a knot at the top of her head.
Sean stopped at the end of the bridge. He had about a hundred things left to do tonight, including contacting his boss.
Instead, he walked over to Leyla.
“How’s the champagne?”
She jumped and turned around. Recognition flickered across her face, and her shoulders relaxed.
“It’s good.” She held up her glass. “You didn’t have any?”
“Nope. Can I get you a refill?”
She smiled. “What, are you a waiter now, too?”
He stepped closer. “I’m Sean Moran, by the way.” He held out his hand. “We never actually met.”
“Leyla Breda.” Her handshake was brisk and businesslike, but the warm look in her eyes gave him hope.
“Joel’s little sister,” he said.
He turned toward the water so he wouldn’t be tempted to stare down the front of her dress.
“I didn’t get a chance to thank you earlier,” she said. “Things got really hectic.”
“Looked like you had your hands full.”
“So, are you here for Joel or Miranda?”
He looked at her. “Joel.”
She tipped her head to the side as she gazed up at him. “And you know him from . . . ?”
She frowned. “Here?”
“No. We go way back. We were in the same academy class in Houston, spent some time at HPD together.”
“Oh. That was a while ago.”
“So . . . the vice squad, then?”
“Yeah. Mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all.”
Sean lowered himself onto the other end of the sandy log. He didn’t like the direction the conversation had taken so he steered it back to her.
“So, how long have you been a caterer?” he asked.
“Hmm . . . let’s see. I guess it’s been about three weeks now.” She turned and smiled at him, and he felt a hot jolt of attraction. “Why? Can you tell?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, the timing seemed a little bumpy.”
“Just a little.” She rolled her eyes. “We had several staffers no-show. It happens a lot in this business. People are flaky. Despite all my planning, you could say we were a bit rushed.”
Rushed was right. No woman had ever clapped at him before. He’d discovered it was a turn-on.
“Well, you pulled it off,” he said.
“Barely.” She closed her eyes and tipped her head back. “God, what a relief.”
A breeze wafted up, and her scent drifted over him-something spicy and sexy. She pulled her knees up and rested her bare arms on them.
“Okay, I want a straight answer.” She looked at him. “What did you think of the food?”
“It was amazing,” he said honestly. “I liked those ham things with the toothpicks.”
“Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic.”
“Those were Miranda’s pick. Glad you liked them.”
Really, he’d liked all of it. The highlight had been the meat-carving station at the end of the buffet. The juicy beef brisket had melted in his mouth.
But Leyla seemed to have moved on from the topic of food. She smiled as she gazed out at the water.
“The waves are up tonight,” she said. “I’m surprised no one’s surfing.”
“Sure, why not? The moon’s perfect.”
He looked at the silvery foam rushing over the sand. He couldn’t think of the last time he’d swum in the ocean. It had been way too long.
“Must be nice waking up to this view all the time,” he said. “I bet it never gets old.”
“I wouldn’t know. I live over a bike shop. There’s a spectacular view of a parking lot.”
“Not Harleys or anything. Those bikes the tourists rent with the little bells on the handlebars. Still really annoying, though.”
She stretched her legs out and stared at the water wistfully, and he wondered what she was thinking. He’d been watching her all night as she glided from place to place, directing people and food. And when she wasn’t directing, she was smiling and laughing with wedding guests. Every person in the room seemed to be a long-lost friend. Except for him. He was the odd man out here.
She drained the last of her champagne and sighed. “Well. I should go.”
“Can I buy you a drink?”
She gave him an amused look. “It’s an open bar.” She glanced behind her. “And anyway, I think they’re closing down now.”
“That place isn’t.” Sean nodded down the beach, where colored strobe lights and music emanated from a thatched-roof building. Several of the tourists walking in that direction seemed to be headed there.
Leyla followed his gaze. “That’s Buck’s Beach Club. I think we’re a tad overdressed.” She turned to him with another smile-this one polite. “Anyway, it’s midnight.”
He stood and offered her a hand getting up.
“Nice talking to you, Sean.” She leaned over to scoop up her sandals and-by some miracle of fashion-managed not to spill out of her dress.
He retrieved the champagne glass and handed it to her. “Sure you wouldn’t like to have a drink with me?”