Read an Excerpt
Every Step She Takes
Who's Watching Now Series
By Jannine Gallant
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Jannine Gallant
All rights reserved.
Grace Hanover dropped her cell phone on the counter and happy danced around the apartment. Fists pumping in the air, she kicked an empty pizza box and let out a hoot. "Oh, yeah, oh, yeah! Pulitzer Prize, you're mine, baby."
Collapsing onto the old leather couch, she pictured herself wearing a killer black dress, long hair swept up in an elegant knot and diamonds the size of her thumb sparkling at her ears. She smiled graciously at the tuxedo-clad presenter.
All in a day's work. I uncovered the story quite by chance ... Who would I like to thank? Why, my family for their loving support, my longsuffering editor, and a reliable source who made this story possible.
Her brows drew together as the vision faded. Calling her source reliable was a gross exaggeration, although Tia had come through for her in the past. She prayed the girl was merely stoned and not tripping on some hallucinogen when she overheard the rumor about Casey Sutton. A sober Tia was too much to hope for, about as likely as palm trees growing in Alaska, but Grace was willing to risk a wild goose chase for the story of the decade.
Thinking about the possibilities sent a quiver of anticipation skittering down her spine. She, Grace Hanover, would have an exclusive interview with the man who had stumbled upon a billion dollar drug exchange and witnessed the murder of a government agent. For an investigative reporter, it didn't get any better. San Francisco native Casey Sutton's testimony was the key to bringing down Colombian drug lord Juan Estrada, and she would tell the public Sutton's story in his own words.
Both the national and local media were panting for details, but no one had a clue where the man was sequestered. Until now. If Tia could be believed. If the woman shooting off her mouth at some party really was Sutton's girlfriend.
Grace bounced off the couch and stared out the window through the marine layer obscuring her view of Golden Gate Park. Summer in San Francisco was nearly always foggy. Biting her lip, she wondered what the weather would be like in the wilds of Alaska. Sutton was idling away the weeks before the trial at a fishing retreat in the back of beyond, for God's sake. She'd read the man was a nature freak, a hippy throwback, but couldn't the feds have found someplace a little closer to home to hide him?
The things I put myself through for a story.
She flipped her hair over her shoulder and scowled at a chip in her nail polish. She'd rather have bamboo rammed under her fingernails than sleep in a tent. Thank the good Lord there was supposedly some sort of lodge at this camp. If Tia's source wasn't making up the whole freaking story. She'd check the place out online, pack and book a plane ticket on the next flight north. Chortling with glee, Grace headed for her computer.
Casey Sutton wouldn't know what hit him.
* * *
"You want me to handle it personally?" Travis Barnett ran a hand through his hair and frowned at the piles of paperwork on his desk. "I don't have time for fieldwork anymore, Fritz, and my staff is top rate."
The voice of his old buddy from SEAL Team Six rose in volume on the other end of the secure line. "I want you, not one of your staff. This is a hell of a lot more important than bodyguard duty for some two-bit celebrity, for Christ's sake. The man's location has been compromised. You're close, and you're the best. I don't have time to screw around, and I'm not certain any of our men in the Anchorage office has the experience to get the job done. If Estrada's goons get to Sutton first, we can kiss a conviction good-bye. Hell, we can kiss Sutton goodbye. I've spent months putting this case together, and I won't see it flushed down the crapper because that hippy wannabe texted his girlfriend!"
"You won't get an argument from me, but I need the man alive. I want you in Alaska yesterday! God, I was a fool to leave him up there alone, but the man I had on him was whining about the isolation. Then his wife went into early labor ..." He sighed. "I was short staffed and made a bad judgment call, but let's face it, no one would have found him at that lodge if he'd kept his mouth shut."
The fully loaded appointment book on his desk taunted Travis.
"I suppose I could rearrange my schedule." Thinking about the meetings he had lined up with potential clients and updates required for existing ones, he turned and stared out his office window at the Seattle skyline. A steady drizzle hadn't let up in two days. A wet spring had turned into a soggy summer, not unusual for the Pacific Northwest, but this year the damp and gloom grated on his nerves. A fishing retreat in Alaska sounded like heaven.
Phone in hand, he stood up to stretch his legs.
Maybe getting away would improve his mood. Too bad he'd be working.
"Rearrange, cancel, whatever you need to do to make it happen. I don't care if you have to drag Sutton back to the lower forty-eight kicking and screaming. Get to him before Estrada does. I'll personally take him off your hands the second you get home. With any luck, you won't be away longer than two or three days at the most."
"Fine. I'll be in touch as soon as he's secured."
A breath whooshed through the phone. "I owe you one, or is this payback for the time I saved your hide in Iraq?"
Travis grinned. "Carting your sorry ass twenty miles through a Nicaraguan jungle covered that debt."
Fritz's voice turned gruff. "Be careful. If Estrada has a man headed north — and we have to assume he does — the whole situation could turn ugly real fast."
"Gee, why didn't I think of that?"
The phone went dead. Travis closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. For a while now, he'd considered delegating more of the company's managerial workload to McNally. His second in command would tackle the new responsibilities with his usual efficiency. Plus, it was way past time to loosen his grip on the reins. Now that Barnett Security and Investigations, Inc. was flourishing, Travis really, really needed a break.
Turning away from the window, he dropped into the seat of his leather desk chair. When was the last time he'd had a vacation? Two — no three years ago he'd spent five days on a rafting trip down the Snake River. Maybe after he handed Sutton over to Fritz ...
Still holding the receiver, he punched the intercom button. "Donna, can you track down McNally for me? Tell him I need to see him immediately."
"I'll take care of it right away."
He kept the button depressed. "Thanks. Oh, and book me on the first flight to Anchorage. I'm going to be out of the office for a few days."
* * *
"There'll be tourists around if it's a fishing camp. A bunch of yahoos in hip waders." His lip curled. "Collateral damage could be an issue. Let's hope Estrada isn't squeamish."
He listened to the accented voice and smiled. "Whatever you say. If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, you have to take your chances. I'll handle it. Estrada knows I always get the job done."
Hanging up the phone, his fingers flew over the computer keyboard, pulling up flights. A redeye would get him to Anchorage by midmorning. From there he'd take a puddle jumper to Moose Flat. If Estrada's flunky wasn't offering him a fortune to take care of the problem, he'd have told him to go to hell. Still, it didn't pay to piss off a good client. Word would spread.
Moose Flat, for God's sake. Could it get any hokier?
Booking the flights under an alias, he drummed his fingers on the desk as he awaited confirmation. An onyx ring gleamed in a shaft of light shining through the high window. He'd have to stop at a sporting goods store for suitable clothing and gear. Grimacing, he smoothed a hand down his Egyptian cotton shirt. In the attire he favored, he'd stand out like a diamond in a dung pile in Bumfuck, Alaska.
The shit I put up with for the sake of a job. As much as he disliked the whole damned idea, he'd survive a few days of roughing it.
Casey Sutton wouldn't.CHAPTER 2
The hunk in seat 4B was seriously hot. Not cover model handsome the way Grace usually liked her men, a little rough around the edges with a day's growth of stubble on a hard, square jaw. Very sexy nonetheless.
Glacier blue eyes surveyed her with ill-concealed interest as she squeezed past his knees and dropped into seat 4A. She judged his height at a couple inches over six feet, weight pushing two hundred pounds of firm, solid muscle. Which left her little room to maneuver in the cramped quarters of the ridiculously small plane.
She snapped her seatbelt closed and studied her companion for the flight from Anchorage to Moose Flat. Dark hair cut short, a scar high on his right cheekbone — intriguing rather than disfiguring — short, black lashes rimming those pale blue eyes, straight nose neither big nor small, lightly tanned skin. Either he didn't get outside much, or he wasn't from a sunny climate.
Might as well start a conversation, or it'll be one boring flight. "I've seen pelicans bigger than this plane. Do you think we'll get off the ground?"
"You must not be from around here."
Chiseled lips curved in a brief smile revealing gleaming white teeth. She'd bet her last dollar he used one of those whitening products, though he didn't look the type to bother.
"God, no, I'm not from around here." Leaning back in the corner of her seat, she stared out the window at luggage carts bustling by, driven by attendants sporting fluorescent orange vests. When one of the workers dropped her designer suitcase onto the tarmac and gave it a nudge with a booted foot, she scowled. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to live in this Godforsaken place."
"Then why visit?"
Her phone trilled the theme song from The Twilight Zone. She fished it out of her purse to glance at the display. Rachel. Holding up one finger, she smiled apologetically at Mr. Ruggedly Handsome and pushed the connect button. "Hold that thought. Hey, Sis, what's up?"
"I was talking to someone else. Sorry I haven't returned your calls. I've been on work overload. How is everyone?"
"Despite having a lot going on, Kane is doing great. The girls are busy, which cuts down on the bickering. Lark is giving me gray hair, as usual. Ever since she got her driver's license ..."
Grace grinned, picturing Rachel's mane of gorgeous auburn hair. Of all her nieces and nephews — and thanks to four siblings she had a slew of them — Lark was the one most likely to give a mother nightmares. "How bad can it be?"
Her sister's voice held a hint of desperation. "You don't want to know."
"I do, but not right now." She eyed the sole flight attendant who probably doubled as co-pilot on this feeble excuse for a plane. "We're about to get the turn off all electronic devices lecture."
"Are you flying somewhere?"
She tapped a pink, polished nail on the knee of her white pants. "Yep. The decision was very last minute."
"My editor is punishing me for ruffling the city council's tail feathers with my last article." The lie slipped easily past her lips. Ever since her sister's encounter with a stalker two summers before, Grace downplayed any element of danger she might subject herself to in the pursuit of a story. Not that Rachel hadn't survived her ordeal in kick-ass style, but she worried. "I'm writing a puff piece for the travel section on a fishing camp in the middle of Alaska."
Grace held the phone away from her ear as her sister hooted with laughter.
"The woman who thinks a four-star hotel is roughing it is staying at a fishing camp? You've got to be kidding!"
"I wish. Hey, the flight attendant is going to skewer me. Tell Mom and Dad not to freak out if I don't call. I'm not sure what sort of cell service is available out in the boondocks. I'll give you a ring after I return to civilization."
"You do that. Bye, Gracie."
She clicked the phone off and shoved it back in her purse.
The man in 4B stared down at her with a hint of suspicion darkening those beautiful eyes. "You're a reporter?"
"You picked up on that, did you?" She certainly wasn't going to mention Casey Sutton to a complete stranger, so she went on with her hastily concocted story. "It's a piece on rustic Alaskan retreats for the travel section. My paper is doing a series."
"Let me guess — Moose Lake Lodge."
Her eyes widened. "How'd you know?"
"It's the only fishing camp near Moose Flat, where we land. I'm headed there, too."
She stuck out her hand. "Grace Hanover from San Francisco."
His big palm swallowed her fingers, sending a little thrill shooting up her arm. No wedding ring on the hand resting on his left knee.
"Travis Barnett, Seattle native."
Their gazes locked, and she squirmed in her seat. "Nice to meet you, Travis." She would not encourage hunky Mr. Barnett. Anyone who voluntarily went to Alaska was all wrong for her. Not to mention she'd recently promised herself no more meaningless relationships. Keep it casual. "Are you on vacation?"
"Something like that. I'm meeting ... an old friend."
Relief swept through her. No doubt the friend was female. Temptation avoided. She pressed against the seatback as the plane taxied down the runway and lifted into the cerulean blue sky. Even she had to admit the vista of majestic snow-capped mountains in the distance was breathtaking.
"How many days are you staying?"
She glanced over at Travis. "The second I have my story, I'm on the next flight out."
He grinned. "While you're up here, you should give the place a chance. Fishing is very relaxing."
She cocked her head to one side. "Do I look tense?"
"If you clutched the seat arm any tighter, you'd rip the whole thing off the floor."
She loosened her grip. "It's this dinky plane. Big ones don't bother me in the least. As for the fishing retreat, I'd rather have a root canal. Camping is more my sister's thing."
"The one you were talking to on the phone?"
"Yep." She shuddered. "Rachel and her husband like roughing it on the weekends. Me, I go for resorts with room service and a full gym."
"Hiking is great exercise."
"If you don't mind bugs, dirt and poison oak."
They smiled at each other. The man was easy to talk to. He hadn't once let his gaze drop below her neck, which was highly unusual. And extremely refreshing for a change. Without being vain, Grace knew she had a terrific figure — and worked diligently to keep it that way. Staying in shape and the exhilaration of a hard workout ranked high on her favorite things to do list. The downside was attracting the wrong sort of interest from Neanderthals whose brains resided below their belts. What a concept — having a man talk to her without ogling.
A larger smile flashed. "We'll have to agree to disagree."
"It takes all kinds."
They lapsed into a comfortable silence as Grace took in some breathtaking scenery below. After a while, the drone of the plane's engine lulled her into near slumber. She'd been up well before dawn to catch a flight from San Francisco to Anchorage via Seattle. Probably the same plane her seatmate was on, though she hadn't noticed him before switching to the puddle jumper. The blond college kid in 2C looked vaguely familiar, as did the guy sitting in the single seat across the aisle with his nose buried in a copy of Fishing the West.
She closed her eyes.
A deep pocket of turbulence jarred her into full consciousness. Reaching for the hand rest, she grabbed onto a muscled forearm. "Sorry."
"Not a problem." He pulled back his arm and clasped her hand in his warm one instead, giving it a squeeze. "A bouncing plane can be nerve-wracking."
"You've got that right." She managed the comeback between gritted teeth.
Her stomach dropped and pitched in concert with the gyrating aircraft. He didn't look one bit bothered. His blue eyes were steady and confident as he held her gaze. She focused on breathing evenly. When the jostling stopped, she reluctantly released his hand.
"You bet. Feels like we're starting our descent." He leaned against her shoulder and pointed out the window. "See those buildings way down to the right. That must be Moose Flat."
Excerpted from Every Step She Takes by Jannine Gallant. Copyright © 2014 Jannine Gallant. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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