Cold Night, Warm Stranger

Never Love a Cowboy

Night Thunder

Once an Outlaw

Rough Wrangler,
Tender Kisses

Thunder Creek

Thunder at Dawn by Jill Gregory
(Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-24178-2
I’ve never read Jill Gregory before and was pleased to find Thunder at Dawn a very entertaining and well-written book. The plot is your basic boy-meets-girl, breaks-girl’s-heart, meets-girl-again-years-later kind of thing, but with some interesting twists and complications.

Faith Barclay is returning to her family’s cabin in Thunder Creek, Wyoming, for a much- needed vacation from her job as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s office. Faith feels burned out because two of her cases have had ugly conclusions. A young man she prosecuted and had sentenced to death was later proven innocent, and an evil, abusive ex-cop was released with a slap on the wrist. The ex-cop’s terrified ex-wife is in hiding now and Faith is the only person who knows where the ex-wife is. Preoccupied with her problems, enroute to the cabin Faith almost has a wreck with an old flame, Zach MacCallum, the man who dumped her and broke her heart ten years ago.

No longer the wild boy he was at age nineteen, Zach is now a father and a major landowner in the Thunder Creek area. Originally from Texas, he’s now back in Wyoming forever with plans to move his home and business headquarters there. His plans have run into opposition, though, from the people of Thunder Creek. They’re pleased to have Zach’s business headquarters move into their city, but object strenuously to his intention to also lease land to a camp for inner-city children.

Faith and Zach both react strongly to seeing one another again. The attraction of ten years ago is still there and the love they shared has not been forgotten. Both have been scarred by the events that caused Zach to leave precipitously in the past and are wary of starting a new relationship. Faith is especially bitter because Zach promised to love her forever, then was on his way back to Texas a few hours later to marry another woman.

Before the couple has an opportunity to fully explore the wisdom of becoming a couple again, a woman is murdered right in front of Faith’s family cabin. Faith immediately suspects that Hank Bayman, the ex-cop, has broken parole and followed Faith to Wyoming in an attempt to coerce her to reveal the whereabouts of Bayman’s ex-wife. Zach’s construction area also receives a bomb threat, which makes placing the blame on Bayman seem premature. Zach fears for Faith’s life and insists that she no longer stay in the cabin in the woods all by herself. Their relationship deepens quickly as they are forced to depend on each other when events escalate.

The mystery in this book is good. Although this book is listed as a contemporary romance, I’d shelve it with the romantic suspense novels. There are several possible villains besides the obvious one and the climax is believable and logical. The pacing is fast and the reader is entertained throughout the book.

The romance between Faith and Zach is also a very large factor of the plot, and they make an endearing couple. Faith has many reservations about beginning a new relationship with Zach and has every good reason to be cautious. Her attempts to back off when Zach wishes to become closer are irritating to Zach, not the reader. The reasons for Zach’s actions of the past are valid, but he doesn’t try to make excuses. He knows that Faith is the only woman he’ll ever truly love and does not hide that fact, and Faith has never fallen out of love with Zach either, making this a couple to truly deserve their happily ever after.

There are many strong secondary characters in Thunder at Dawn, a good number of which are involved in the secrets of the past and present. Their stories are skillfully woven into the plot, making this one of the more intricate and well-written books of this summer.

--Wendy Livingston

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