Cold Night, Warm Stranger

Never Love a Cowboy

Once an Outlaw

Rough Wrangler,
Tender Kisses

Thunder Creek

Night Thunder by Jill Gregory
(Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-440-23735-1
This is Gregory’s second foray into contemporary fiction, reintroducing the reader to Thunder Creek, Wyoming. Night Thunder is a sharply written suspense filled story with a wonderful romance and a cast of characters that enhance the story right to the end.

Josy Warner finds herself in a situation that leaves her wondering how in the world things get so complicated so fast. First, she loses her muse, that wonderful sense of creativity that she uses when she designs some of the world’s best fashions, and her boss is pressuring her to produce. Then her best friend, Ricky, ships her a mysterious package. Ricky is a friend from her foster care days who protected her and taught her to protect herself. He is an NYPD undercover cop who has been messed up in some unsavory business, and is now being sought by police. When he contacts her to drop the package at another location, she finds a man murdered. Upon returning to her house, it had been ransacked and Ricky tells her to run, to leave New York City fast and without being followed, and to take the package with her.

So, Josy runs someplace she thinks no one will find her. A place she has wanted to go for a long time and didn’t have the courage. Thunder Creek, Wyoming is home to a woman named Ada Scott, a woman who may just be her only living relative. Josy’s parents died in an accident when she was just eleven, leaving her to the foster care system. Her father left no living relatives and her mother had been adopted. By accident Josy had discovered Ada might be the woman who gave up her child.

Upon her arrival, she discovers Ada is in Las Vegas for a few days, but then will be back working at Bessie’s diner, the local town gathering place. Thunder Creek, used to strangers coming to their little town to visit the nearby dude ranch resort, accept Josy’s presence. She meets Corinne, the girl who was left behind in Gregory’s earlier story. Corinne is about to marry Roy Hewett and everyone is caught up in her wedding plans. Ranch hand Chance Roper charms her and while she doesn’t feel the attraction, it is nice to have made a friend. Then there is the sheriff, a man who Josy’s finds herself attracted to and nervous around, because of all the secrets she has.

Ty Barclay is an ex-Philadelphia detective who came to Thunder Creek because his family has roots here and because he was looking for anywhere he could forget the horror of watching the love of his life get gundowned in a bust gone bad. It has been three years, and he still misses her. He accepted the sheriff’s job as a getaway and a chance to start afresh. He is, at times, surly and uncommunicative. Yet he cares and the people of Thunder Creek have adopted him as their own. He meets Josy and instantly picks up her nervous vibes. But he is drawn to her like he has been drawn to no one since Meg.

This story is taut, with two mysteries. Ricky has obviously been involved in something over his head that involves mobsters, obsessive businessmen and internal affairs. It is hard to know whom to trust. Yet Josy is sure Ricky is not the bad guy and she is bound and determined to stand by his side, just like he stood up for her when they were younger. The other mystery involves a series of cattle rustlings that have taken place in Wyoming, Oregon and Idaho. Ty is on the trail and is determined to find the bad guys. Gregory’s ability to weave these totally unconnected crimes together and make it believable is a testament to her suspense writing skills.

The romance is also worth the cost of admission. Ty gets over Meg rather easily (and this is really the only thread that seems a little off base) but the sizzle and the build-up of the attraction between Ty and Josy is engaging. They learn to be friendly and, even though they both have some issues of trust, they recognize that the other person is inherently a nice person. This leads to deeper feelings and a satisfying romance intertwined with the mysteries.

Night Thunder is recommended on all levels – for its suspense – for its romance and for its heartwarming connections between people. Gregory just may have found a new niche for her writing too.

--Shirley Lyons

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