Box Set #70: The New Crescent Collection (All 3 books for $2.99)
In Trouble, Gillian Watson wakes from a coma with a hazy memory but a powerful gift. In order to recover, she moves to the little town of New Crescent where she is welcomed by everyone…except much admired sheriff Travis Sinclair. Travis knows that Gillian is trouble, he feels it in his gut, yet he can’t stay away. But when a serial rapist begins to terrorize the town, Gillian uses her uncanny ability to help Travis, intimately involving herself in the investigation and with the sheriff. Will Gillian’s mysterious power make her the rapist’s next target?
In Spirit, Reggie Stanton has always felt connected to the old Bennett House, and it feels like a dream come true when she’s asked to restore it. Unfortunately, Chase McCann has also been hired to do the landscaping, which wouldn’t be a problem…if Reggie hadn’t secretly been in love with him for years. Meanwhile, strange and dangerous things begin to happen around the house. Reggie enlists the help of the meddlesome, matchmaking ghost haunting the garden to help her unravel the mystery of the soul-sucking evil lurking in the library, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes.
In Prey, Jade Adams is finally free to return home to New Crescent after her abusive father dies. She even lands a plum job working with her childhood crush, Sam Daniels. Sam is still as devastating as ever, but does he still think of her as the tubby kid who’d thrown herself at him years ago, or does he see the vibrant woman she’s become? With Christmas approaching and Sam taking an unexpected interest in Jade’s sex life, things are looking up. At least until several people are found brutally eviscerated. Is the killer human or animal? Even Sam’s skills as a vet and Jade’s ability to communicate with animals fail to uncover the truth. But after a few close calls, Jade begins to suspect she is next.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Click on each cover for detailed blurbs, awards, ratings, excerpts, and reviews for each book in The New Crescent Collection.
Speeding down the highway in her convertible Beetle, the wind playing havoc with her long hair, Gillian Watson glanced at her companion.
“Well, Hank, this is just what the doctor ordered.”
As usual, her comment was met with silence. Unconcerned, she laughed and pressed a little harder on the gas pedal. It was a perfect summer day. Looking content, Hank edged away from the windshield. The wind hit him full in the face and his hair went flying. Gillian gave him a warning look and he inched back.
“Oh, yummy, food. I think it’s time for a pit stop,” she said.
The Molly’s Famous Barbeque sign was too tempting to resist, so Gillian took the exit indicated. The smell emanating from the place was divine. Hank vaulted over the passenger door, landing handsomely on the gravel.
“Show off,” Gillian said.
He merely grinned in reply.
Molly’s wasn’t filled to capacity. The twitchy, purse-lipped hostess hurried over as soon as they walked through the door.
“You can’t come in here!” the hostess wailed, waving her arms and gesturing to the door. “You’ll have to leave. Read the sign.”
Hank seemed to find the situation rather enjoyable and calmly took a seat. He looked at the gesticulating woman the way only Hank could, with patient dignity and absolute innocence. She gave him a wide berth and addressed Gillian, “You’ll have to leave him in the car. He can’t come in here.”
Unconcerned, Gillian reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a neon vest, the words “Guide Dog at Work” emblazoned on the back. She held it up to the woman’s face and put the vest on Hank’s accommodating form.
“Surely, you allow guide animals in here? Do I have to make a phone call?”
Suspicious, the woman looked at Gillian, obviously trying to figure out why she would need a guide dog. She glanced over her shoulder at the diners looking at her with curiosity and blushed.
“Uh, um, in that case, this way please.” Walking around Hank, the nervous hostess showed them to a table in the back. “Your waitress will be with you in a moment.” She sniffed audibly and stalked off.
“Do you think she smelled something bad?” Gillian asked Hank. “I don’t understand what the big deal is. You kinda look like a man in a big, white, shaggy dog suit.”
Hank wasn’t amused. He sat down beside Gillian and rested his head in her lap. A renewed feeling of security and warmth washed over her as she stroked his majestic head.
Their waitress was a plump, pretty teenager who looked thrilled to be serving the interesting couple. She greeted them with a warm smile and, referring to the prim hostess, said,
“Don’t mind her. She’d wrap the whole place in cellophane and wear a HazMat suit if she could.” She giggled as if the thought gave her pleasure.
Gillian smiled. “You can reassure her Hank here is, in fact, a certified assistance animal.”
“I didn’t doubt you for a moment.” She grinned, flipped the page on her notepad and got down to business. “My name is Pansy and I get to be your server today. Can I bring the two of you something to drink?”
The food was good, hot and came fast, just the way Gillian liked it. She left Pansy a healthy tip, wiggling her fingers playfully at the hostess on the way out and they were back on the road in no time. After about fifty miles, Hank’s large lunch kicked in. He stretched his massive body across the passenger side and laid his head in Gillian’s lap. She stroked his white fur and the familiar feeling of well-being wafted over her. The dog must have felt it too, for he sighed deep in his sleep. The two were meant for each other.
With Hank on hand, Gillian felt she could cope with what each new day would hold for her. She’d needed to get away from her life in the city and vowed to take the time needed to recover from what she’d endured these past few months—the fear and loss of control.
Nearing the outskirts of her destination, she pulled off the road and stopped in front of the brightly painted Welcome to New Crescent sign. A warm ocean breeze caressed her hair, the salt air invigorated her. An odd feeling of homecoming washed over her, as if the town had known she was coming and opened its arms wide in welcome, like an old friend. She embraced the feeling and gave silent thanks to her friend Marcus, who had generously offered her the use of his empty house. In that moment, Gillian knew coming here was the right decision. She threw her head back, hugged herself and laughed with pure delight. The wind carried her laughter out to sea. Joy was something she hadn’t been able to feel in quite some time. It was liberating. She was ready to face her future, head on, wrestle it, if she had to. This was her destiny, come what may.
* * * *
At that same moment, in the sheriff’s office on the main street of town, Travis Sinclair was not nearly as euphoric. He gasped as though he’d been hit hard in the solar plexus. He hadn’t felt like this since sixth grade, when Tommy McIntyre, an eighth-grader twice his size tackled him on the twenty-yard line. This time there was no Tommy. No football game. In fact, there was no one. He was alone.
Heart racing, head spinning, Travis rushed out of his office and burst into the reception area. Business as usual. Caroline was answering phones at the desk, and his deputies were calmly performing their regular duties. There was no crisis, no reason for panic. His staff looked up at him in surprise. This was not their usual unflappable sheriff.
At a good six feet, five inches of muscle, Travis Sinclair moved with a grace most men his size were unable to achieve. Somehow he never looked gangly or out of place. He owned every space he occupied and, in this instant all eyes were focused on him.
Ignoring his staff’s surprised glances, Travis peered outside and assured himself that no unmentionable tragedy had befallen the residents of the sleepy seaside town. There was no plague of locusts or frogs. The sun still hung in the sky and people weren’t murdering each other in the streets. He turned on his heel and strode back to his office.
Alone again, Travis’s senses screamed. As sheriff, he couldn’t afford to be reassured by mere appearances. He knew something was wrong and if it wasn’t now, it would be soon. The feeling was potent. Birthright and experience had taught him to heed his inner voice. Stomach churning, he opened the top drawer of his desk, fished out the half-finished roll of Tums and popped one in his mouth. The chalky taste hitting the back of his throat was familiar. He’d been eating these things like candy for the past three weeks. Something was going to happen and he wasn’t going to like it. It felt like fate and he braced himself for what was to come.
“I do.” No two words were ever spoken so decisively and with them Regina Stanton became Regina Stanton McCann.
It was about time too. Jade Adams finally had the sister she’d always wanted. Her stepbrother Chase had been in love with Reggie since they were kids. Everyone was overjoyed he’d finally won her love.
Jade turned her head smiling at her new friends Hank and Maggie as they stood next to her. She rarely saw one without the other these days. It made her happy to see them. She figured everyone should have a mate, or a best friend, or whatever. Weddings seemed to bring out that desire in most people…except Jade. She knew that Hank and Maggie were as happy for Chase and Reggie as they were for recently betrothed, Travis Sinclair and Gillian Watson. The people of New Crescent were pairing off, but Jade had no desire to follow suit.
“Here, have some before Reggie eats it all.” Sam Daniels stood before her with a piece of wedding cake in his hand. He smiled crookedly. “You’re way skinny. Don’t you ever eat?”
Jade grinned back at him, but she had to tilt her head up, way up, in order to do so. At 5’ 2” she was much shorter than him. “I eat just fine.” She wrinkled her nose.
Sam shook his head. “It doesn’t look like it. It looks like you haven’t eaten since you left here ten years ago.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, I was so tubby I didn’t need to eat in ten years.” Jade had been a roly-poly little girl, but happily not anymore. Now she had a lithe boyish figure without an inch of excess. Just to make sure that hadn’t changed in the last few minutes, she pressed a hand to her abdomen.
Gaining confidence, she took a second and looked him up and down boldly. He was physically beautiful. It was hard to take her eyes off him. Six feet, two inches tall, Sam still maneuvered his perfectly proportioned body with great ease. He was an elegant man who fit in surprisingly well anywhere he chose to be. She’d had a wicked crush on him when she was a kid. So much else had changed since then, but one fact remained, Jade loved to look at Sam.
He raised his glass of champagne and saluted her. They both laughed when he spilled some on his chin and had to wipe it up with his handkerchief.
Jade’s eyes widened as a perfectly manicured hand took hold of his handkerchief and dabbed at his face. The owner of that hand leaned in and pressed red tinted lips against his. Sam’s date, Michelle Thompson, was just as beautiful as he was and hadn’t strayed far from his side. To Jade’s uncritical gaze she seemed okay, if a little out of place in their small town. They made a stunning couple though, both so impeccably turned out. Her long blond hair was the perfect foil for his thick dark hair. They belonged in a bridal magazine.
He spared a quick glance for Michelle, but still addressed Jade. “I’d ask you to dance, but I’m afraid I might snap you in half.”
In a low voice, she said, “Your dance card is full.”
When she spoke, he blinked a couple of times then smiled at Michelle.
“I can’t leave you alone for a minute.” Michelle pressed her incredible body against him. She grabbed his arm, stepped around Hank and Maggie and looked at Jade.
“I go to the ladies room and he’s already found another woman.” She kissed him.
Sam shook his head. “Jade could never be another woman. She—”
Michelle interrupted him with a laugh. “Glad to hear it.” She smiled at Jade. “You don’t look the type, of course. You make a lovely bridesmaid.”
Jade decided it was a compliment and smiled at her. “Thank you.” She touched the silk of her dress with her fingertips, enjoying the feel of the natural fiber against her skin. “Reggie’s always had wonderful taste.”
Instinctively knowing when they were persona non grata, Maggie and Hank walked away silently. Jade wanted to go with them, but was too polite.
Sam opened his mouth to speak to them as they melted away, but was interrupted by a gushing Michelle.
“I love what she’s done to this house! I’m positively green with envy.” She squeezed his arm and pouted at him. “Now, when are you going to find a lovely house like this for me here in New Crescent?”
Sam raised his eyebrows at her. “Believe me, there are no other houses like this one.” He exchanged a glance with Jade, and they both laughed.
“This one comes with its very own ghost,” Jade explained.
“Don’t all old houses?” Clearly, Michelle wasn’t impressed. “I swear some realtors create them just to sell decrepit old places. People love that kind of stuff these days.”
“I wonder if Constance, Reggie’s ghost, will make an appearance. Have you ever seen her?” Jade looked at Sam.
He narrowed his eyes. “I’m not sure. Maybe on the night Chase and Reggie announced their engagement. I saw something suspicious in the garden. I didn’t investigate. I’ll leave the ghostbusting up to Chase and Reggie.”
Michelle looked skeptical. “Surely you don’t believe in ghosts?”
Jade smiled serenely and said quietly, “This is New Crescent. Of course I believe in ghosts.”
Sam lifted his glass to salute her, and she took a dainty bite of the wedding cake he’d brought her.
“Ah, that looks divine.” Michelle nodded at the cake. “Does it taste as good as it looks?”
Jade closed her eyes with pleasure and nodded her head. “Mmmm.”
She heard a noise from Sam and opened her eyes, but he was looking at his date.
Michelle ran a hand down one hip and caressed her own thigh. “I don’t dare. There isn’t a spare inch in this dress.”
“Well, you’re right there, sweetheart. How are you holding this thing up? Glue?” He laughed.
She narrowed her eyes, looked at Jade smugly then turned back to her date. “We girls have our secrets, darling. You’ll find out exactly what’s keeping this up later tonight.” She took his hand. “Come and dance with me.”
Between bites, she explained her experience in the library and summed it up by adding, “That room is wrong, on a level we can’t even comprehend right now. It’s messed up. There’s something mad and unnatural in there.”
Chase narrowed his eyes and paused before saying, “I believe you. I’ll check it out myself after lunch.”
Her stomach dropped, and she regretted taking such a big drink of water as her throat clenched. She didn’t want him to go near that room, but she didn’t know what to say to stop him. She’d sound so stupid, and knowing Chase, he’d surely ignore her concerns.
Inspiration hit. She said, “I’ll go with you.”
Bless him. He walked right into her trap. “No, you won’t.”
She almost began to enjoy herself. “Oh, yes I will.”
“No, you won’t.” His voice was firmer this time, and he ignored her provocative smile.
“Oh yeah? If you’re going in there, then so am I.”
“Reggie, you’re not going into that room again.” Chase’s jaw clenched revealing an agitation that only spurred her on. Excitement flickered in her eyes.
Standing inches from him, and just for the hell of it, she challenged him.
“You can’t stop me, so accept it.”
“No.” He stood.
With her heart racing, she did the same.
“And how in hot and humid hell are you going to stop me?”
The tension between them was a writhing, tactile thing as they faced off. She knew he was just as keyed up as she was. She could see it coming and did nothing to prevent it. Damn it, she wanted it.
He took her by the shoulders. At the same time he pressed her body to his, he took her lips. He wasn’t gentle, and Reggie was glad because that was the last thing she wanted. She returned his passion, kiss for kiss. His mouth made love to hers, his tongue, teasing, demanding, exciting, all in one. He even used his teeth. It was glorious. Lost in each other, he was hot and hard and more than ready. Reggie wanted him to sink into her right there in the garden in broad daylight.
A low whistle permeated their sensual haze, and they pulled apart just far enough to peer into each other’s dazed eyes. They ignored the whoops and cheers of the amused workers around them and stared at each other.
Without taking his eyes from hers, Chase told their enthusiastic audience to get back to work. After a few more taunts, they moved off. Still, he held Reggie.
Her heart broke just a little when he shook his head as if clearing his mind of something unwanted. When he looked at her again, he’d reverted to the Chase she’d always known, the damnable frustrating one. He backed away from her in embarrassment. She saw the apology in his eyes and before he could say anything she said, “If you apologize, I swear, I will find something really heavy and hit you with it...twice…and just for the hell of it, I’d hit you again. Trust me. I’d go for the triple.” She poked his chest with a finger.
He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “What would you have me do then, Reggie?”
“I don’t know. Admit that it felt good maybe?”
He looked down at his still-aroused body. “I would have thought that was obvious.”
She gave him a little smile. “Good.”
His laugh was filled with self-deprecation. “For you maybe. But I’ve got to face my guys like this.”
Their shared laughter broke the tension, and they sat down on the bench again.
He avoided her eyes when he said, “I should explain myself.”
Amusement gone, she tilted her head and challenged him. “Do you want to?”
“Honestly? No.” He held up a hand and prepared to continue.
She didn’t want to hear it and ignored his gesture. His grudging desire for her wasn’t something Reggie felt up to discussing. She interrupted him and changed the subject before he could say anything that would smart. “What I felt in the library sure proves I’m back in New Crescent with a vengeance.”
“Yeah.” he nodded and swept out his arm. “Alas, people, I give you our hometown, the source of all things strange. I still don’t want you going into the library again.”
“And I still don’t want you to go there without me.”
He nodded with defeat. “How about a compromise?”
When she looked at him, she narrowed her eyes, and he chuckled. “No tricks, I swear. I’ll get Duncan’s guys to clean it out and we’ll go in together when they’re done. Deal?” He held out his hand to her. She hesitated a second then placed her palm firmly against his, and they shook on it.
For a split second, she saw her hand and his joining and becoming one. She thought she’d been hallucinating until she looked up and realized that he’d seen it too.