The Texas Murder Files Series · Book three
After a scandal derails her television reporting career, Macey Burns comes looking for a change of pace in Lost Beach, Texas. She’s ready to focus on her first passion—documentary filmmaking—and has a new job working for the island’s tourism board, shooting footage of the idyllic beachside community. Her plans for a relaxing rebound are dashed when she realizes the cottage she’s renting belonged to the woman whose body was just found in the sand dunes.
Detective Owen Breda is under intense pressure to solve this murder. Violent crimes are rising in his small town, and he can’t stand to see anyone else hurt…especially not the beautiful documentarian who keeps crossing paths with him.
With the clock ticking, cameras rolling, and body count climbing, Macey and Owen must use all their resources to find the killer without getting caught in the crosshairs.
Midnight Dunes has a book club kit!
View/Download the Midnight Dunes Book Club Kit PDF
"Griffin's characters leap off the page, and she throws myriad twists, turns, and red herrings into her taut plot as it rockets to a heart-pounding finale. The result is a high-stakes romantic thriller that’s sure to please."
— Publishers Weekly
"Another gritty and imaginative romantic thriller in the Griffin canon ... wry humor riddled with gut-clenching terror."
— Criminal Element
The Texas Murder Files Series · Book three
Share This Excerpt
Macey Burns drove through the drumming rain, gripping the wheel until her knuckles were white.
“Are you here yet?” Josh asked.
“I’m running late,” she told him over the phone. “I hit traffic leaving town and then it’s been pouring the last two hours. I just crossed the bridge.”
Noise drowned out his words.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s a causeway. No one calls it a bridge here.”
“I can barely hear you. Where are you?”
“At that bar I told you about, the one with the pool tables,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”
Macey tore her gaze away from the highway to check the clock. It was almost eleven, and what should have been a four-hour drive had taken more than five.
“Sounds good, but not tonight. I haven’t even found the house yet, and I still have to unpack the car.”
“That’s okay. I’m about to leave anyway. Where are you, exactly?”
“I think I may have missed the turn,” she told him. “I just passed a sign that said White Dunes Park, five miles.”
“No, it should be coming up on your right. You’ll see it.”
Josh had been on the island all week scouting locations and already knew his way around.
“You need help unpacking?” he asked.
“So, hey, heads up. I just found out that Channel Five is down here.”
“Channel Five from San Antonio?” she asked.
“Yeah, Rayna and her crew. They’re reporting on that woman who went missing two weeks ago. She disappeared without a trace.”
Macey had read an article about it online. It was the type of story that normally would have captivated her attention, but she’d managed to push it out of her mind.
“We’re not here to do news,” she reminded Josh.
“No kidding. I just thought you’d want to know. In case you see them in town.”
Rayna had once been Macey’s fiercest rival, but that was months ago, before Macey walked away from her job and her life and the endless slog of the twenty-four-hour news cycle.
Her tires hit a slick patch, and she clenched the wheel. She didn’t want to think about her old job right now. She just wanted to get to her destination. Her shoulders were in knots from the drive, and she wanted a glass of wine and a steamy shower.
“So, are we still on for tomorrow?” she asked Josh. “Eight o’clock?”
“Assuming the weather clears. No use scouting locations in the rain.”
“It’s supposed to be beautiful,” she said. “Let’s start on the north end. We can meet at my beach house.”
Beach house. She pictured the sun-drenched deck overlooking the surf. She’d been daydreaming about it since she first found the listing.
“Sure you don’t need help with the equipment?” Josh asked.
“Thanks, but I can handle it.”
“Okay, well, see you tomorrow, then.”
She ended the call and squinted through the swishing wipers at the sign up ahead: WHITE DUNES PARK, 2 MILES.
A strobe of lightning lit the sky, revealing empty fields on either side of the two-lane highway. She was well past the tourist center of Lost Beach, past the hotels and restaurants and T-shirt shops.
She hit a bump, and the car jerked right. Her heart skipped a beat as the Honda fishtailed and skidded. She clenched the wheel and tried to get control, but it careened onto the shoulder with a jaw-rattling thunk. She jabbed the brakes and slammed to a halt.
Macey blinked at the windshield, shocked. Her heart raced as she tried to catch her breath. The car was tilted, and the headlights illuminated a patch of weeds and a gravelly strip of shoulder.
Macey put the gearshift in park and shoved open the door. She started to get out, but the seatbelt yanked her back. She unbuckled herself and slid out. Rain pelted her as she looked around in a daze.
What the hell had happened? One second she’d been driving along and the next second it was like aliens had seized control of the car. And she’d definitely felt a bump. Had she hit something?
Glancing at the road, she saw no other traffic. She retrieved her cell phone and slammed the door. Her wet flip-flops thwacked against the gravel as she walked around the front of the Honda and checked for damage. No dents. No sign of an animal.
She stopped beside the front bumper. The right tire was flat.
She switched on her cell phone’s flashlight and aimed it at the tire. Yep, flat as a pancake.
Rain streamed down her face and neck. What now? She turned off the flashlight and called Josh, but he didn’t pick up. She sent him a text:
SOS! Flat tire. Call me.
A car raced past and sprayed her with water. She yelped and whirled around, but the driver didn’t even slow. Cursing, she glanced up and down the highway. This end of the island was fairly desolate—mostly campgrounds and nature parks. She’d passed a marina, but that was a ways back.
When she’d planned her trip down here, she had wanted seclusion. After weeks of scouring listings, she’d been ecstatic when a long-term rental popped up on the island’s north end, just footsteps from the beach. The idea of being away from town, surrounded by sand and waves and the soundtrack of nature, had been immensely appealing. But now she wasn’t sure. Maybe she should have followed Josh’s advice and rented an apartment in town for the summer.
Macey shivered and rubbed her bare arms, chilled from the rain despite the warm temperature. Her tank top and jeans were already soaked through, and she was out here alone and stranded.
I can handle it.
Ha. Famous last words.
She went back around and reached inside once again, this time to pop the trunk. It was a new-to-her car, and she didn’t know the spare tire situation, but surely there was something in back. Macey had helped a boyfriend change a tire in college once. Well, maybe not helped, but she’d watched, and it had seemed pretty straightforward.
She tromped back to the trunk and slid aside the tripod and the suitcase filled with camera equipment. After finding the corner tab, she peeled back the layer of carpet.
Score! A spare tire, along with a heavy metal tool—a lug wrench?—and what had to be a jack.
But the spare seemed… off. She frowned down at the anemic-looking tire. Pressing her fingers against it, she confirmed her suspicion.
The spare was flat, too.
“Crap,” she said again.
Macey checked her phone. Still nothing from Josh. She hated asking a man to rescue her, but it was freaking pouring, and she was out of options.
Another lightning strobe, followed by a clap of thunder. Then a jagged white bolt zapped down from above.
She looked up at the sky, awestruck. The ferocious beauty of it reminded her of why she’d been attracted to Lost Beach in the first place. She’d been lured by the film project, of course, which would pay her bills while she got her life sorted. But beyond that, she’d been attracted by dramatic juxtaposition of nature and people. She’d been lured by the rugged Texas coast and one of the last long stretches of untamed beach and twenty-foot dunes.
Rainwater trickled down her shirt, reminding her of her plight. She stared down at the useless tire.
Her trip was off to a rocky start. She wasn’t superstitious—at least not usually—and she refused to take tonight as a bad omen. She was here for the entire summer, and no matter what happened she planned to make the best of it.
A flash of light had her turning around. A pair of headlights approached, high and wide apart, like a pickup truck. The truck slowed, and she felt a ripple of unease.
But maybe this was just what she needed—some Good Samaritan here to help her.
The truck rolled to a stop and the driver’s-side door opened.
Macey squinted into the glare. Nerves fluttered in her stomach as a man got out. Tall, wide shoulders, baseball cap. She couldn’t see his face, only his towering silhouette against the light as he walked toward her.
As he got closer, she saw that he was very tall—six-three, at least, and he easily outweighed her by a hundred pounds. Oftentimes, Macey liked being short because people underestimated her. This was not one of those times.
“Need a hand?”
The deep voice sent a dart of alarm through her.
“I’m good, thanks.”
He continued moving toward her, and she took a step back.
“Is it your tire?”
She spied something in his hand, something black and bulky, like a club or—
A flashlight. He switched it on and approached the tire.
“It’s fine,” she said.
“I’ve got it handled, actually.”
He took a step toward her, and she stepped back, clutching her phone and wishing it was a tube of pepper spray. She kept one in her glove box for emergencies. She’d never needed it before, but of course now that she did, it was well out of reach.
He walked around her and shined the flashlight into her trunk.
“Spare’s flat, too.”
She eased away from, and he seemed to get the hint because he lowered the flashlight and stepped back.
“You need a ride?” he asked.
She stared at him. Did he seriously think she was going to climb into a truck with a complete stranger?
“My boyfriend’s coming. He’s on his way now. He’s a mechanic,” she added inanely.
The man stared at her from beneath the brim of the hat. The shadows made it hard for her to make out his features, but he seemed to have a strong jaw. Beads of rain dripped from it as he stood there, looking her up and down. He was checking her out, she realized, and the back of her neck tingled.
She disappeared without a trace.
Macey’s heartbeat thrummed as they stood there in the rain. He wasn’t going anywhere. She’d told him she didn’t need his help, and he was just standing there, looking at her.
A distant glow caught her eye as another car approached. She held her breath, watching as the low headlights drew near. Josh’s ancient hatchback came into view, and she felt a rush of relief. He slowed and rolled past her, his taillights glowing as he pulled onto the shoulder.
“That’s him!” Macey slammed the trunk with maybe a bit too much force in her hurry to put some distance between them. “Thanks for stopping!”
She strode toward the Toyota as the driver’s-side door opened. Josh didn’t get out right away, and she quickened her pace. Why hadn’t he parked closer?
She glanced over her shoulder as the stranger trudged back to his truck without a backward glance.
“What the hell happened?” Josh asked as he got out.
“I had a blowout.”
“No idea. Maybe I hit something in the road.”
Relief filled her as she took in Josh’s familiar appearance—the ponytail, the scruffy goatee, the green army jacket. She reached up and hugged him.
“You okay?” he asked, clearly caught off guard. She wasn’t a hugger.
“Fine. Thanks for coming.”
He looked over her shoulder. “Who was that?”
“Some guy.” She glanced back at the pickup as it pulled onto the highway. Shuddering, she watched it speed away.
“Shit, Mace.” Josh walked toward her little blue Honda. “It’s completely flat.”
“That’s what I told you.”
“We’re going to drown out here trying to change this.”
“We can’t.” She strode past him. “The spare’s flat, too. Here, grab a bag. You can give me a ride.”
She opened the back door and reached for one of the two black duffels.
“You’re just going to leave it overnight?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I’m definitely not leaving ten thousand dollars’ worth of equipment on the side of the road.”
Together, they hauled all the luggage to his car. He popped the back hatch, and they managed to squeeze everything inside. Then she went around to the passenger seat, where she shoveled fast-food bags and empty cups onto the floor.
“This is a pigsty,” she said as she got in.
“Thank you, Joshua, for coming to get me in the middle of a thunderstorm,” he said.
She yanked the door shut. “Thank you.” She sighed. “I owe you.”
“I’ll add it to your tab,” he said, starting the car. The engine made a little coughing sound before coming to life.
Macey grabbed a Dairy Queen napkin from the cup holder and squeezed rain from the ends of her dark hair. Josh looked over his shoulder, but the duffels blocked the view. He used the mirrors to check for traffic as he pulled onto the highway.
“You think there’s a towing place open this late?” Macey asked.
“Who knows? You could look.”
She used her phone to do a search.
“You’re on Primrose, right?” he asked.
She glanced up. His car’s wiper blades were in worse shape than hers, but she was able to make out a street sign up ahead.
“Yes, Primrose Trail. That’s it there.”
He hung a right onto a narrow caliche road that wasn’t as nearly picturesque as the name implied. They passed a water tank and a clump of squatty palm trees, then a leaning wooden mailbox. Macey peered out the window, searching for the house that the mailbox belonged to, but it was hard to see past the overgrown vegetation.
The Toyota bumped along as they passed another mailbox. This house was closer to the road, a weathered wooden cabin on stilts. It was dark and empty-looking—maybe someone’s weekend place. Macey leaned forward, searching for anything that resembled the little white bungalow that she’d fallen in love with on the website.
“I still don’t get why you wanted to be all the way out here,” Josh said.
“We came here for the beach. I want to be near it.”
“Um, no. We came here to film commercials for the tourism board.”
“Well, when we’re not working, I plan to hit the beach.”
“You’ll burn to a crisp.”
He wasn’t wrong. Macey’s skin was even fairer than his was.
“Not to sunbathe,” she told him. “I’ll take pictures. Or do yoga. Or maybe take up running.”
He lifted an eyebrow but didn’t comment on the likelihood of her suddenly becoming athletic.
They hit a rut, and she braced her hand on the dashboard as they passed a dilapidated house on stilts, this one with a rusted boat trailer in the driveway.
An animal darted in front of the car.
“Cat!” she yelped.
Josh slammed on the brakes. “It’s a possum.”
“That was a cat.”
He shook his head as the cat-possum disappeared into a clump of scrub brush.
“Seriously, Macey, this is the boondocks. Wouldn’t you rather be in town, near all the hotels and shops and nightlife? Not to mention people?”
Ignoring him, she squinted through the rain-slicked windshield. Josh needed people; she didn’t. In particular, he needed women and bars and things to do after work. Macey wasn’t into all that anymore. She wanted peace and quiet, and a chance to get her life together after a hellacious spring.
A mailbox came into view, and she read the number.
“This is it,” she said.
He pulled into the driveway and parked.
Macey stared up at the little house on stilts. Peeling paint. Sagging gutters. A rectangular gray mark under the window where a flowerbox had once been. The place resembled the pictures just enough for her to know that this was, in fact, the house she’d rented for three months, for an unbelievably low rate that now seemed totally believable.
“It’s a dump,” he said.
She shot him a look. “It lacks curb appeal. So what?”
“You really rented this place? Like, you signed a contract and everything?”
“The inside is nice.”
“It is. I saw the photos.” Macey pushed open the door and gazed up at the house through the veil of rain. “How bad could it be?”