It's not fair to say that trouble happens every time PJ Sugar is around, but it feels that way when she returns to her home town, looking for a fresh start. Within a week, her former teacher is murdered and her best friend's husband is arrested as the number-one suspect. Although the police detective investigating the murder—who also happens to be PJ's former flame—is convinced it's an open-and-shut case, PJ's not so sure. She begins digging for clues in an effort to clear her friend’s husband and ends up reigniting old passions, uncovering an international conspiracy, and solving a murder along the way. She also discovers that maybe God can use a woman who never seems to get it right.
Read an Excerpt
Nothing but Trouble
A PJ Sugar novel
By Susan May WARREN
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2009
Susan May Warren
All right reserved.
Chapter One PJ Sugar would never escape trouble. Clearly she couldn't shake free of it-regardless of how far and fast she ran. It had followed her from Minnesota to South Dakota to Colorado to Montana, down the shore to California, and finally over to Melbourne Beach, Florida, where it rose with teeth to consume what should have been the most perfect night of her life.
She stood on the shore, her toes mortared into the creamy white sand, the waves licking up to her ankles and, with a cry that sounded more like frustration than fury, threw her linen espadrille with her best underhand pitch. It sailed high, cutting through the burning sky, disappeared briefly in the purple haze of night, then splashed into the ocean.
Gone. Along with her future.
A seagull soared low, screaming, pondering the morsel it may have missed.
"PJ, come back inside." Matthew's voice sounded behind her as he trekked out onto the beach, kicking sand into his loafers, looking piqued as the wind raked fingers through his brown, thinning hair, snagged his tie, and noosed it around his neck. He dangled her oversize canvas purse from his hand, as if it might be a bomb.
Ten feet away, he held it out to her like a carrot. "They haven't even brought out the crab legs yet. You love those."
"Oh, sure I do. Right along with brussels sprouts and pickled herring." She'd been so soundly ensconced in happily-ever-after land she'd failed to see that the man she wanted to marry didn't even know she hated crab legs.
Pretty much all shellfish.
Thanks to the fact that she was allergic to it.
Matthew lowered the purse, as if her words stung him. "Really?"
PJ shook her head, her mouth half-open, not even sure where to start. Behind them, calypso music drifted out of Dungarees Restaurant, festive themes for happy couples. Twinkle lights stringing along the thatched roof overhung the porch, and the piquant smell lifting off the grills on the patio snarled her empty stomach. Maybe she should go back inside, pick up the wicker chair she'd knocked over.
He owed her dinner, at least.
She stood her ground, forcing him to march her belongings across the sand.
"Here's your, uh ... suitcase." He held it out to her, letting go before she had her hand on it. It dropped with the weight of an anvil onto the glossy sand.
"Hey, that's my personal survival kit-show some respect." She scooped it up, realizing she'd been entirely too civil during his execution of their relationship. "You never know when you're going to need something." Laugh all he wanted-if a gal was going to haul around a purse, it should be filled with all things handy. Tape to shut someone's mouth, for example. Or a flashlight to guide her way home across a black expanse of shore.
"Sorry." He stuck his hands into the pockets of his khakis, his sports coat like a warning flag as it whipped around him. "C'mon, PJ, come back inside. Please. It's cold out here."
"Seriously? Because ten minutes ago you were telling me how I wasn't the girl for you. How, after nearly a year of dating, on a night when I expected-" Nope, she wasn't going there. Wasn't going to give him the slightest satisfying hint that she might have come to dinner tonight hoping-convinced, even-that he'd actually take a knee and put words to what she thought she'd seen in his eyes. Devotion. Commitment.
How could she have cajoled herself into believing that perfect Matthew Buchanan, church singles group leader and seminary student, might see a pastor's wife in her?
Maybe she wasn't exactly the picture of a pastor's wife, with her curves, dark red hair, too many freckles spraying her nose as if she were still fifteen. She'd never considered herself refined, more on the cute side, her height conspiring against her hopes of being willowy and elegant. But her eyes were pretty-green, and honest, if maybe too wide in her face. And she'd cleaned up over the years. Even if Matthew didn't think her beautiful, couldn't he see past her rough edges to the woman she longed to be-a friend of Jesus, a woman of principle, a servant of grace? a girl who'd finally outrun her mistakes?
She should be flinging herself into the surf right behind her espadrille.
"Expecting what, PJ?" Matthew had a faraway, even stricken, look in those previously warm eyes.
PJ couldn't believe she was actually answering him and in a tone that betrayed her disappointment. "I just thought we were heading somewhere."
"Like the missions trip to Haiti? You wanted to go on that with me?"
She stared at the place between his eyes, pretty sure she still had her shortstop aim. Her grip tightened on the other espadrille. "No," she said slowly, crisply. "Not the missions trip."
"Oh." Wonder of wonders, he got it then, his face falling as he replayed his rejection. "I'm sorry. It just isn't working for me."
What did that mean exactly? Wasn't working? Like she might be a cog that fouled up his perfect image? Clearly he'd forgotten the depths from which he'd climbed. Especially since, in her recent memory, he'd been a Budweiser-drinking surfer.
"You said that." PJ hauled her bag up to her shoulder and curled her arms around her waist as her sundress twisted through her legs. She turned away, watching the ocean darken with its mystery. She never really swam in the ocean, just waded. The riptides and the unknown predators that lurked below the surface scared her. She tasted the salt in the cool spray that misted the air, heard hunger in the waves as they chewed the sand around her feet. She sometimes wondered what lay beyond the shore, in the uncharted depths of the sea.
And if she'd ever have the courage to find out.
"It's just that, I want to be a pastor, and ...," Matthew said, his voice closer to her.
"And?" She wrapped her arms tighter around herself, fighting a shiver.
"You're just not pastor's wife material."
PJ refused to let his epitaph show on her face and found a voice that didn't betray her. "Do you remember the last time we were out on the beach together?"
"What? Uh ... no ... wait-a couple weeks ago, we got ice cream on the pier."
PJ closed her eyes. "That wasn't with me."
Silence. She didn't temper it.
"It was the night of the sea turtles. Remember, we had to use flashlights because they made all the residents along the shore turn off their outside lights? We had our arms woven together to keep from losing each other. I remember wondering if it was possible to read your thoughts, because I couldn't see your face."
"We nearly walked on a sea turtle coming to shore," Matthew said, reminiscence in his tone. She glanced at him, and something like pain or concern emerged on his face, edged in the shadow of whiskers.
PJ turned away, back to the ocean. "I kept thinking-that turtle mama's going to bury her babies onshore and never see them again. She was going to leave them to fend for themselves, to struggle back to the sea, tasty defenseless morsels diving into an ocean where they're the main course."
She stared at her shoe, dangling in her hand. The wind ran its sticky fingers through her shoulder-length hair, tangling it into a nest. Gooseflesh prickled her skin-she was cold and hungry, but she'd wrap herself in seaweed and dig a bunker in the sand before she'd return to the restaurant with Matthew. Probably she could even find something to eat in her so-called suitcase.
"Do you think they made it?" She wasn't sure why she asked, why she prolonged this moment, their last. Probably trying to unravel time, as usual, figure out where it had snarled, turned into a knot.
Matthew dug his foot into the sand, watching it. "If they were supposed to, I guess." He sighed. "Let's go inside, PJ."
PJ ran her eyes over the profile she'd previously-about an hour previously-told herself she loved. His sharp jaw, that lean rectangle frame. Barefoot, she still came to nearly his chin.
She wanted a taller man. "You've got to be kidding."
"I'm not doing this 'let's be friends' thing with you."
"But we were friends before." He reached for her and she dodged him, raising her shoe.
"Whatya gonna do, PJ? Bean me with a shoe?"
"Don't tempt me."
He shook his head. "See, this is why we'd never work out. I need someone who is ..."
"Perfect? Doesn't show her emotions?"
He raised his shoulder in an annoying shrug. "Pastor's wife material."
Now he was going to get hurt. "Oh, that's rich. Coming from a former surfer with a scar where his eyebrow bar used to be. What happened to 'Ride the waves, PJ, and see where they take you'?"
His eyes darkened. "I've changed."
And apparently she hadn't. "Good-bye, Matthew. And by the way, yes, I hate crab legs. Because I'm allergic to them. Pay attention."
She kicked up sand as she marched across the beach, thankful she could see her condo/motel/efficiency-depending on who she talked to-in the distance. She'd give just about anything for her Chuck Taylors to run home in. But she'd dressed to kill, or at least for love, this evening in a floral sundress and new espadrilles that gave her a sort of out-of-body feminine feeling. She needed her Superman pajama pants and a tank top-and fast.
"PJ! Don't run away!" Matthew's voice lifted over the surf.
"Running away is what I do best!" She didn't turn.
"Why do you have to be such a drama queen?"
Okay. That. Was. It. She spun around, dropped her bag to the sand, and with everything in her, hurled her other shoe at him, a hard straight shot that any decent first baseman could have nabbed or at least dodged.
His four-letter snarl into the night put the smallest of smiles on her lips as she turned away.
The restless ocean stirred into the sounds of the club music as she hiked up the beach. She clung to the shadows, avoiding the pool of light from houses and condos, restaurants and cafés.
Not pastor's wife material.
She broke into a little jog, hiking up the confining circle of her hem.
Angling up the sand, she hopped over the boardwalk toward her building. Brine-scented sea grass brushed the walkway, carpeted the trail to the two-story Sandy Acres motel/apartment complex, the half-lit sign now reading only "Sa d Ac es," a term that seemed particularly apropos as she opened the metal gate alone, again.
Around the patio area, rusty pool furniture glimmered under the tinny, buzzing fluorescent lights. A horde of moths flirted with death around the heat of the bulbs; the earthy palmetto smell tangled with the coconut oil smeared onto the deck chairs, tempering the sharp odor of chlorine. Hip-hop thrummed under her downstairs neighbor's door, and wet towels taunted by the wind slapped the metal rail above her as she climbed the stairs to her unit.
Home sweet home.
A temporary home. Three years could mean temporary. In fact, until tonight, she'd already been mentally packing, giving away her garage sale wicker and, finally, her Kellogg High School Mavericks sweatshirt. Maybe even Boone's leather jacket, the one she'd stolen the night she left town. It seemed an uneven prize to all he'd cost her.
Her skin prickled as she fought the dead bolt.
Boone had probably forgotten the girl who wound her arms around his waist and dug her face into the leathery pocket between his shoulder blades as he roared them away from Kellogg on his Kawasaki.
Loneliness met her in the silence, the lights between the slats of the blinds striping the bedsheet that cordoned off her so-called bedroom. Her faucet dripped, and she dropped her key onto the counter, surrendering to the habitual attempt to turn it off. Then she ca-lumped her bag onto the chair, folded her arms, and stared out the window at the dark, hungry ocean.
Almost without realizing it, she clamped her hand over her left shoulder, high, near the apex, where the word Boone marked her in flowery script.
Beep. Behind her, the answering machine beckoned her away from the past and what might have been.
Boone was probably in jail or, worse, reformed and married with children. The great taboo, he wasn't mentioned in her mother's phone calls; his name wasn't scrawled in her letters. She was sure he'd forgotten her, just like everyone else had.
Forgotten that she'd left Kellogg, Minnesota, accused of a felony-an accusation too easily pinned on a high school senior whose reputation indicted her without trial. Her only crime had been abysmal judgment in men and allowing her heart to trespass into places her common sense told her not to tread.
A crime, apparently, she kept committing.
Forgotten that her mother cut a deal with the director of the country club, one that included a full tank of gas and promises of a new kitchen. Her mother's instructions to her included the phrase "just until things blow over."
Perhaps things had blown over long ago. Perhaps she was the one not ready.
She pushed the Play button as she opened the freezer. Please let there be ice-
"PJ, it's me." Connie. The fact that her sister's attorney-solemn voice tremored made PJ close the freezer door.
"Don't panic." Of course not. Because Connie never called her without some earth-shattering joyful news: I passed the bar. I bought a house. I'm having a baby. I'm getting married again!
PJ forced herself to remember that dissecting all that joy was the dark news of husband number one's death. No one, regardless of how successful, thin, wealthy, and smart, deserved to be woken up at 2 a.m. by the police and asked to identify her husband's remains. Or those of his mistress, with whom he'd been traveling when his car went off the road.
Still, PJ could hear panic under Connie's voice. Especially when Connie continued, a little too quickly.
"Okay, listen, I know you don't want to hear this, but ... I need you to come home."
Connie took a breath. And PJ held hers.
"Mom's been in an accident."
Everything went silent-the hip-hop beating the floorboards, the far-off hunger of the ocean, Matthew's criticism in her ear. The years rushed at her like a line drive knocking her off her feet, regrets scattered like dust in her shadow.
Then Connie sighed and hung up. The beep and time signature noted no further messages.
PJ reached for the phone.
* * *
Connie sounded as if she might be on her fourth cup of coffee in some cement-lined corridor, tapping out the hour in her Jimmy Choos.
"PJ, where have you been? Mom's already had her cast set and is in recovery."
"Please, Connie, not now. Just ... what happened?" PJ pressed the phone tight to her ear and paced to the window, the ten-year near estrangement with her mother hollowing her out. Had her mother forgotten her silent pledge to carry on, to be waiting if and when PJ summoned the courage to point her car north?
"She fell on the tennis court and broke her ankle."
The window's cool surface broke the sweat across PJ's forehead. Tennis? "For pete's sake, Connie, I thought ... oh, man ... Don't call me again."
"Don't you want to know how bad it is?"
PJ sank into a chair. "How bad is it?"
"They casted her ankle; her bones are secured with a pin. She'll be out of the hospital tomorrow. But I need you to come home. I'm getting married in a week, and I need help."
Married. Of course. PJ had seen a picture of Sergei, Connie's fiancé, and seriously wondered why a double-degreed lawyer might be marrying her tae kwon do coach. But who was she to question-after all, she, a near felon, had dreamed she might pass as a pastor's wife.
"I thought you two were eloping." PJ had managed to catch her breath and now returned to the freezer, cradled the phone against her shoulder, and dug out the Moose Tracks. As she opened the lid, crystallized edges and the smell of freezer burn elicited only a slight hesitation. She lifted a spoon from the dish drainer cup in the sink.
"We were flying down to Cancún, but Sergei's parents couldn't get a visa for Mexico, so I planned a little soiree at the country club. But the thing is, I have vacation time coming, and if I don't use it, I'll lose it. So we need to get away now if we want a honeymoon, and Mom certainly can't watch David while she's in a cast. I need you, Peej."
PJ leaned a hip against the counter and cleaned the sides of the carton, the chocolate swirls melting against the roof of her mouth-sweet with only an edge of bitter.
Excerpted from Nothing but Trouble by Susan May WARREN Copyright © 2009 by Susan May Warren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved reading this book and would highly recommend it. It was the perfect rainy day read...funny and sassy heroine, lots of twists and mystery and a great message.
A wonderful mystery that is full of twists and turns. PJ leaves town under a heavy cloak of accusation. When she returns 10 years later can she change how everyone, including herself, sees her? The answer can only be found as she tries to solve the mystery of a man’s murder and the accusation against her best friend’s husband. As PJ fumbles her way through trying to solve the case there are hilarious twists and turns to be navigated. There is also a lot of soul searching as PJ faces up to and deals with the past. A fabulously entertaining read that I highly recommend.
PJ's back in her hometown to attend her sister's wedding. Her nickname in High School was NBT-Nothing But Trouble. PJ says this about herself, "Ever since I've been back, I've felt like.like I've been sucked back in time. Like I'm walking around in my old body, but there's this new person inside screaming. However, no matter what I do, she's locked in there, and I'm destined to be the person I left behind." PJ's become a Christian after High School and has changed but the people she used to know still treat her the same; no one knew what circumstances caused her to run. She was facing that reality of that herself. Trudi's husband is arrested for murder - Trudi was PJ's BFF in High School. PJ is not going to let an innocent man be blamed for something she knew he didn't do. She's frustrated with her patience level. She needed God's help more than ever to deal with the pain of her past as she chases down clues to uncover the real murderer. I love how PJ explains her faith. "I'm not talking about going to church. I'm talking about being a different person-thinking differently and wanting different things than I did before. I'm not the girl I was when I left." Her old boyfriend, Boone, tells PJ since she is a Christian now-which means more than just going to church--shouldn't she forgive like Jesus did? Ouch! I could relate to PJ on so many levels, she tried hard to say and do the right things, but it didn't always work out. I enjoyed PJ and this story. She's honest, real and loyal, unlike the friends of her past. This is the first book in the PJ Sugar series. I can't wait to find out what happens next in book two called, Double Trouble. Nora St.Laurent The Book Club Network www.bookfun.org Finding Hope Through Fiction www.psalm516.blogspot.com
Susan May Warren gets better with every book. Nothing but trouble is amazing. If you want a really good read with amazing characters who jump off the page and dance in your reading room, this book is for you. Great gift too!
This book is right up my alley, with a fun, sassy female lead who still has her moments of introspection. Combine that with a summer vacation locale, a murder mystery, and a dash of romance and you have all the ingredients for a great read. What I loved in particular about this book was that in addition to the chick-lit attitude and the suspense, PJ Sugar has real issues to deal with. She has to come to terms with her past, her family, her reputation, and her inability to stick with anything. In other words, she's human and she's trying. Warren's writing is a perfect balance between fast-paced adventure and PJ's attempts to overcome her personal issues. I'm looking forward to seeing what trouble PJ gets into next. Not to mention the two men who have an interest in her.
PJ Sugar is someone I could totally see myself being friends with. She sounds and acts just like I do. I enjoyed reading about PJ's attempted to be an undercover PI. Her disguises were hilarious especially when she stole the lawn care truck. The situation with the goat had me cracking up. The mystery seemed to take a backseat to her story about refinding herself, and her relationships with Davy, her mother and Boone. It was a good mystery, but I felt the real story was more about PJ . Her relationship with her mother was uneven throughout the story. One minute her mother can't stand her, the next she's gushing with pride about PJ . It's an issue worth exploring in more books. I really did not like the school PJ's sisters was sending her son to. The library's privacy act was ridiculous. I could understand if this involved an adult or even a teenager but that was about a 4 year old!PJ was right in questioning how in the world she would find the book if she didn't know the title. I hope her sister changes her mind about still wanting to send him there. I'm not sure which guy I want PJ to end up with. On one hand she has a history with Boone. On the other hand she has great chemistry and a possible job with Jeremy. I can't decide now, will need more books to make decision! We also have discovered what PJ stands for. I'm itching to know. Susan has written another book that is tons of fun to read. Looking forward to reading more of PJ's adventures!
NBT - Nothing But Trouble. That was PJ's nickname when she was younger. Trouble seemed to follow her everywhere she went, all the way up to leaving town immediately following graduation because she didn't want to go to jail. She spends the next 10 years wandering all over the country, moving from place to place and working a string of rather interesting and different jobs in a half-hearted attempt to fit in somewhere. Now her sister calls her, desperately needing her to come home for her wedding and babysit her 4 year old son while she goes on her 2 week honeymoon. PJ finally agrees, goes home and ends up confronting her past head on all the while she learns all kinds of things about her past that end up changing her present and future. On top of that, her best friend from highschools husband is accused of murder and it is up to PJ to prove that he didn't do it... without getting into too much trouble of course! This is a wonderful premise, with an excellent, fun style and enough mystery to really keep you guessing. Most impressive to me was the wrap-up with enough ends tied up to satisfy the reader, but enough let a little loose to leave me ready to join PJ in her next book. What a great story!
This chick lit is a whodunit murder mystery, with a touch of romance and a bit of humor. It's a quick read; the pages seem to turn themselves. I enjoyed it. The protagonist, PJ Sugar, a young lady with major self-esteem issues who returns home afraid that no one will accept her, let alone welcome her. She's NBT--nothing but trouble, according to one person in town. Somehow, PJ handles the curves life throws her way. I like the way she handles her four-year-old nephew, Davy. I look forward to reading the next book in the series. PJ's relationship with her mother is slowly revealed in this novel, and I look forward to reading more about that. Boone and PJ are made for each other, but Jeremy promises to complicate things in the future. This series is off to a good start.
Nothing But Trouble by Susan May Warren is the first book in the PJ Sugar series. PJ is returning home to Kellogg, Minnesota after she left in disgrace and under suspicion for arson the night of her high school graduation 10 years ago. When sister Connie goes on her honeymoon, she needs PJ to take care of her son Davy. PJ wants to use the opportunity to find redemption and maybe reclaim the life she left so long ago, but when her best friend's husband is accused of murder, she can't help but start her own investigation to clear his name. This book is why I love reading! It's filled with fully-fleshed characters who make me laugh and bring tears to my eyes. The story has lots of twists and turns and puts PJ in the craziest situations (substituting a male goat for a dead female one). Most importantly, the book has a huge heart. PJ has been trying to find herself for her entire life, but only by returning home and gaining a new perspective can she see who she really is. PJ's grief and attempts to be a new person make her delightful and completely lovable. I hope that Warren never runs out of ideas for PJ, because I will be there with every turn of the page.
A decade has passed since PJ Sugar crawled like crab legs out of her hometown of Kellogg, Minnesota filled with remorse and guilt. Over the next few years, PJ found no purpose in life drifting from job to job and from trouble to trouble. She is finally coming home for the first time in ten years to attend her sister the attorney Connie's wedding to tae kwon do coach Sergei as mom broke her ankle playing tennis. She is still wearing the mantle of shame. PJ will watch Connie's four year old son Davy while she is on her honeymoon.------------ PJ plans to be on her best behavior while keeping her stay short. However, her intentions implode when her former teacher, Hoffman, is murdered. Police Officer Boone Buckham arrests her best friend Trudi's husband Jack Wilkes because he assaulted the history teacher. PJ investigates though she knows that will put her at odds with the lead cop her former high school boyfriend (and rabble-rouser). ------------- This is an interesting Christian amateur sleuth starring a sort of female Uncle Buck that for the most part avoids over preaching. PJ is a fascinating protagonist who comes home to watch a nephew she never met, care for a mom in a wheelchair due to the busted ankle, work closely with her non English speaking in-laws, and solve a murder mystery while eluding her attraction to Boone with her rep as nickname NBT (NOTHING BUT TROUBLE) to live down. Readers will enjoy the misadventures of PJ Sugar who knows for sure that the person who said you can't go home came from Kellogg, Minnesota.------------------- Harriet Klausner
I may not have chosen this book had I known that it was an Inspirational, but in for a penny - in for a pound. PJ Sugar has been in an out of some sort of trouble seemingly all her life. Her answer ten years ago was to run as far and as fast away as she possibly could. Over the years, she has gained knowledge in all sorts of things. She's been a zoo keeper, a stunt woman, a makeup artist among other things. Now she has come back to her hometown at her Mothers and sisters bequest and trouble seems to find her once again. This time it's murder that she stumbles upon. Plus then there is trouble in the shape of Boone her ex-boyfriend and fellow youthful trouble maker. This is a very cute novel that appears to be a first in a series of other books soon to follow. My fellow readers may have thought that the Christian message was subtle but I think that it (toward the end at least) it was a tad too preachy for me. But don't forget, I'm not the person who would have necessarily bought this in the first place! I will say that I most likely will buy the next one, because I'd like to see PJ grow through her belief in herself. Well that, and I want to see which hottie she may pick in the end! LOL! If I have anything bad to say about this book it's that I was very surprised to find out that this was a first in a series. The way it was written I felt that I had missed a previous book or two somewhere along the line. A lot of it, the emotional stuff was scattered and felt as if it was just thrown in later on for the heck of it and the plotting style was somewhat jerky and left so many things left unexplained. Some first time readers may find that a problem. Some things since they weren't ever explained just seems so out of left field like really - just why did Connie leave her son with a sister she hadn't seen in ten years? And why leave that same trouble causing sister with the in-laws that couldn't speak English? These are some simple things that should have been made clearer, at least in my opinion.