Darkness Bound

( 23 )

Overview

WHEN NIGHT FALLS

After her husband's tragic death, Leigh Kelly arrives on Whidbey Island determined to start over. Yet the tiny town of Chimney Rock is not as peaceful as it seems. Women have been disappearing, and Leigh can't shake the feeling that she's being watched . . . especially at night. Soon, she's experiencing visions she can't explain and fighting her attraction to a handsome stranger who seems to ...

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Darkness Bound

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Overview

WHEN NIGHT FALLS

After her husband's tragic death, Leigh Kelly arrives on Whidbey Island determined to start over. Yet the tiny town of Chimney Rock is not as peaceful as it seems. Women have been disappearing, and Leigh can't shake the feeling that she's being watched . . . especially at night. Soon, she's experiencing visions she can't explain and fighting her attraction to a handsome stranger who seems to know her most intimate desires.

PASSION TRANSFORMS THEM

As the leader of the Team, a pack of werehounds forced to hide their very existence, former special ops soldier Niles Latimer is desperate to prove a man's heart beats beneath his predator's body. And Leigh-the mysterious beauty possessing powers she doesn't yet understand-may be the one woman who can help him. But Niles isn't the only one who recognizes Leigh's true identity. Something evil is waiting in the woods-and the hunt has begun . . .

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Editorial Reviews

romancereviewsmag.com
This is a terrific paranormal story with the mix of humans, werehounds, werewolves, vampires and Faes. ...The story never loses fascination and is an excellent read.
Christine Feehan
"Master of Sexy intrigue brings new voice to chilling paranormal realm."
Kerrelyn Sparks
"Welcome to a thrilling new world where suspense runs WILD literally!! I devoured this book, I drooled over the hero, and now I'm panting for the next one in the series... Sexy, spooky, and suspenseful! Read this inside with the doors locked!"
Tess Gerritson
"If you're looking for chilling suspense and red-hot romance, look no further than Stella Cameron!"
—- RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 Starred Review on Darkness Bound
"No matter the genre, you can always count on the gifted Cameron to deliver an exciting tale filled with passion and thrills. Cameron launches her sizzling Chimney Rock series featuring werehounds and other supernatural creatures. Dark things are stirring on Whidbey Island, which means that for lucky readers, chills and thrills aren't far behind!"
—- romancereviewsmag.com
"This is a terrific paranormal story with the mix of humans, werehounds, werewolves, vampires and Faes. ...The story never loses fascination and is an excellent read."
From the Publisher
"No matter the genre, you can always count on the gifted Cameron to deliver an exciting tale filled with passion and thrills. Cameron launches her sizzling Chimney Rock series featuring werehounds and other supernatural creatures. Dark things are stirring on Whidbey Island, which means that for lucky readers, chills and thrills aren't far behind!"——- RT Book Reviews 4 1/2 Starred Review on Darkness Bound

"If you're looking for chilling suspense and red-hot romance, look no further than Stella Cameron!"—Tess Gerritson, New York Times Bestselling Author

"Welcome to a thrilling new world where suspense runs WILD (literally)!! I devoured this book, I drooled over the hero, and now I'm panting for the next one in the series... Sexy, spooky, and suspenseful! Read this inside with the doors locked!"—Kerrelyn Sparks, New York Times bestselling author

"A confident and compulsively readable paranormal romantic suspense series. ... . Cameron compellingly develops the sexy, bold protagonists and Marley's charming family as she strikes the perfect balance of action, sassy dialogue, and steamy love scenes ... just enough to leave readers wanting more."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Out of Body

"Master of Sexy intrigue brings new voice to chilling paranormal realm."—Christine Feehan, New York Times Bestselling Author on Out of Body

"This is a terrific paranormal story with the mix of humans, werehounds, werewolves, vampires and Faes. ...The story never loses fascination and is an excellent read."——- romancereviewsmag.com

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455500154
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/1/2012
  • Series: Chimney Rock Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 409,269
  • Product dimensions: 4.22 (w) x 6.68 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Stella Cameron is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling, prize-winning author of more than sixty novels. She is the recipient of the Pacific Northwest Award for Literary Achievement. English by birth but a longtime Seattleite, Stella happily trips over the many authors who crawl out from every rock she turns over in the area and wouldn't live anywhere else.

You can learn more at:

StellaCameron.com

Twitter @StellaCam

Facebook.com/StellaCameron

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Read an Excerpt

Darkness Bound


By Cameron, Stella

Forever

Copyright © 2012 Cameron, Stella
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455500154

chapter ONE

WE’RE GOING TO highjack this woman, body and soul,” Niles Latimer said. “I feel like crap about it but we don’t have a choice—unless we give up and wait to die, one by one.”

Standing in the bed of his truck beside a small stone cottage, he spoke telepathically to his second in command, Sean Black, who was several miles away, leaping through great, dark trees on agile feet. Sean was in his werehound form and at the speed he moved would arrive momentarily.

Niles paused, flexed his shoulders. From behind him he heard the familiar sounds of the powerful animal grazing past branches, using the dense forest as cover to allow him to move freely, hidden from any inconvenient and curious eyes. Even in his human form, Niles wasn’t tempted to turn around when Sean arrived—werehounds recognized each other instinctively.

“We appear to have no choice about the decision we’ve made,” Sean mind-tracked. “Unless, as you say, we scrap this plan completely and accept the inevitable. There’s still time for you to leave before she gets here. She doesn’t know you, doesn’t expect you to be here, so if you pass her on the way out you can say you took a wrong turn.”

Niles understood reverse psychology when he heard it. “Accept that our numbers will continue to shrink while we cling to the fringes of human society, never allowed to live among them openly, you mean? I’m not ready to do that.” Okay, so he had cold feet about the woman, but they wouldn’t get the better of him.

“We’re living among them now,” Sean said.

“Carefully,” Niles said. He looked over the waters of Saratoga Passage sweeping in beneath the bluff where the cottage stood. Wind spun dead leaves and grit into the cold air. He sighed, loving this place, hating that he and his kind could not find peace there. “We consider every move we make. If they knew what we are we would be forced to leave.”

“Or stand and fight.”

Niles swallowed a curse. “Fight the human world we want to be part of? Back to reality, Sean. We are sworn never to harm a human unless they threaten us. Without them we have no hope of getting back our own humanity. We are not like the werewolves—they are animals and they like it that way. We’re not the men we were meant to be either, dammit, but we’re not giving up, not now. Not ever.”

“They are too quiet,” Sean said. “The wolves. I keep expecting them to interfere with our plans somehow.” On these occasions he wished hounds could hear wolves’ thoughts, but they couldn’t, just as the wolves couldn’t hear them.

“If they knew our plans, Brande and his pack would have every reason to stop us. We know too much about them. He knows we could make their lives hell.”

“It’s getting late,” Sean said. “Are you sure Gabriel gave you the right day for her arrival at Two Chimneys?” Two Chimneys was the name of the cottage the woman had inherited from her dead husband. She was about to come back for the first time since that death.

Niles rarely noticed fading light. He preferred the darkness and had perfect dark-sight, but he glanced around and wondered if Sean might have a point. “Gabriel ought to know. He’s going to be her new boss. She’s supposed to start in his office in the next couple of days and she’ll need to settle in here first. Gabriel said she’d come today.”

“This thing you’re doing could blow everything apart,” Sean said. “It could totally backfire. What if she goes running for the nearest cop the minute she finds out what you are?”

“I’ll feel my way. If she isn’t receptive to me, we’ll forget it—for now. We’d have to anyway.”

“How will you know if she’s receptive?” There was laughter in Sean’s thoughts. “When she arrives, you say, ‘Hi, I’m gonna be your new mate. All the females of my species have died giving birth. I need you—’ ”

“Knock it off, Sean.”

Sean wasn’t done yet. “I need you to have my offspring, and find more females to do the same thing with other members of my team. We want to restock our ranks. Oh, and we can’t be sure you won’t die the same way our own females did.”

“Get back to the rest of the team and bring them up to date,” Niles said sharply. “They’ve got to be on edge. I’ll check in later.”

Niles felt Sean close his mind, and heard him go on his way.

A flash of silver caught Niles’s attention. A small car passing the cottage on the far side. Leigh Kelly had arrived. He stood absolutely still, his eyes narrowed.

He had waited a long time for this day, this meeting. If this woman knew his plans she wouldn’t even get out of her car.

The thought of what lay ahead scared the hell out of him.

Leigh left the front door of the cottage open to let in fresh air. The little house had been closed up for eighteen months since her husband, Chris, died, and a musty smell inside made her eyes sting.

Or she told herself it was the smell that caused the start of tears.

Can I do this? She had thought she could, thought she was ready.

She glanced at the open steps leading up to the sleeping loft and nearly lost it completely. A recollection shouldn’t be so clear you could see it. But she could see Chris climbing down those stairs early in the morning, his dark blond hair mussed, beard shadow clinging to the grooves in his cheeks and the sharp angle of his jaw—and that half-sleepy, half-sexy and all impish smile on his lips.

Leigh shivered and hunched her shoulders. No matter how hard this was at first, she would get past the waves of hurt, even disbelief. She had come too far not to make it all the way back to a full life.

For a few moments she leaned on the doorjamb and made herself take in the main room of the cottage, and the two fireplaces, one on either side. This would be a happy place again. Sure it would take time, but Chris would want her to make it and she would, for both of them.

They had almost two years of wonderful time together before their marriage—only days together after they had married. But she wouldn’t wipe out a moment of that time, except for losing him.

Shaking away the memory, Leigh walked inside, dropped her bag, and had started shrugging out of her green down coat when a thud, followed by another, and another, froze her in place. Her dog, Jazzy, still sat on the edge of the cottage porch, unperturbed, even though his head was turned toward the noise. Nothing moved beyond the big front window.

The thudding continued.

Carrying her coat, her heart thundering, Leigh tiptoed into the kitchen to peer through the window over the sink, then the one in the door, covered by a piece of lace curtain held tight at the top and bottom of the glass by lengths of springy wire.

Her stomach made a great revolution. Late afternoon had turned the light muzzy but in front of a wall of firs that was acres deep in places stood a shiny gray truck with a long cab and a businesslike bed piled high with chunks of wood. In that truck bed stood a tall, muscular man in a red plaid shirt who tossed the logs to the ground beside the lean-to woodshed as easily as if they were matchsticks.

Leigh put her coat back on and crossed her arms tightly.

What was he doing here?

The door stuck and it took several wrenches to get it open. The ground was muddy from recent rainfall. Crossing her arms again, she kicked off her shoes and stuffed her feet into a pair of green rubber boots by the wall, where they were always kept—beside a larger pair.

Leigh glanced away from Chris’s boots at once.

“Afternoon,” the man called.

Leigh shaded her eyes with a cold hand and squinted to see him. He was very powerfully built, with dark wavy hair, long and a bit shaggy. The sleeves of the red wool shirt were rolled up. His Levis clung to strong legs, a dark T-shirt showed at the neck of his shirt. She couldn’t make out much more.

“What are you doing here?” she said. And she felt vulnerable since he could probably throw her as easily as one of the chunks of wood.

“Well—”

“Are you planning to squat here?” she asked, keeping her voice steady and sharp. “Because if you are you can forget it. This is my place. Get on your way.”

She wished she weren’t alone and kept herself ready to rush back the way she had come if he threatened her somehow.

“Hey, sorry. I’m just delivering wood like I told Gabriel Jones I would. I meant to do all this before you got here.” He had one of those male voices you don’t forget. Low, quiet, and confident. And now that he had stopped moving wood an absolute stillness had come over him, a watchfulness. He was taking her measure. “I must have my days mixed up,” he added.

That explained it, right? Gabriel had asked this man to bring the wood. “I see.” She felt like an idiot, but she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t trouble and likely to turn on her.

“The shed was full when… the last time I was here.” The day she and Chris had left, never to come back together.

“Apparently your stash got borrowed,” the man said. He flipped up one corner of his mouth. “With the house empty for so long you probably hosted a few beach bonfires. It’s starting to get cold. You’ll need this yourself now.”

She didn’t care about how cold it might get. The man sounded reserved but sure of himself and he made her edgy. He was probably right about the beach fires. Kids from the quiet little town of Langley and the outlying areas needed a way to let off steam and there were worse ways than having beach parties around Chimney Rock Cove.

“I’ve already stacked some of this by the front door,” the man said. “Easier to get it to the fireplaces that way.”

She had been too busy forcing herself to go into the cottage at all to notice details.

The man didn’t seem threatening—not really. Except for that stillness that didn’t feel quite natural. “You sound as if you knew I was coming,” she said. Of course he did. He had already said as much.

“You know how things are around here,” he responded without looking at her. “Everyone knows everyone else’s business, but your new boss, Gabriel, he said you took some sort of office job at the bar. He mentioned it to me when he got me to clean your gutters.”

The blood that rushed to her face throbbed. It would look awful, splotchy and bright red around the freckled bits where her skin stayed pale. “Clean the gutters?” she said, and swallowed. “Gabriel thinks of everything.”

“I was glad to do it. Niles Latimer—” he hopped down from the back of the truck and wiped his right hand on his jeans, and wiped and wiped, then hesitated and put the hand in his pocket. “I’m in the cabin by the beach.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “That way.”

Leigh felt his stillness even more strongly. Something restrained by his own will. If he didn’t want to hold it back, what then?

A rapid but stealthy current of energy invaded her, touched her in places and ways beyond understanding. She was responding to him. The most subtle yet definite change in light, an intensity, sharpened the lines and shadows of his features.

These things didn’t really happen. Fancy had taken over because she was tired and anxious. Strange and fascinating men didn’t set out to charm a woman they had only just met—or to possess her. The presence of danger. Leigh gave an involuntary shiver.

Shape up!

She advanced on him with wobbly determination, only she’d make certain he never knew she was not sure of herself. “I know the place,” she told him, shooting out her own hand. “I’m Leigh Kelly.” She used to be so confident, at least on the outside. To a fault, some said. The same people might have called her a “smart mouth” and she knew some had.

He glanced at her face with bright blue eyes, lowered that gaze quickly and yanked his hand out again. He wrapped very long, workman’s fingers around hers and she winced when her bones ground together. Niles Latimer pulled back as if she had shocked him.

“Nice to meet you.” There was no particular accent that she recognized. He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry you lost your husband.”

“Are you?” She closed her eyes for an instant. “Forgive me—my social skills are a bit rusty sometimes. Thank you, but Chris has been gone quite a while now and I’m back in the swing of things.” She surprised herself by adding, “Wonderful memories can’t be so bad.”

She followed his gaze to her left hand where her wedding ring still looked new and three embedded diamonds glinted.

Leigh had never considered taking the ring off.

Once more she felt his unwavering attention on her. That was it—he watched her as if she was the only other person in the world and he had to commit her to memory.

And that, she thought, was a ridiculous conclusion on her part. He paid attention when he talked to someone was all. That was polite and probably too rare.

Niles pushed his sleeves higher on the heavily muscled, weather-darkened forearms of a physical man. “Is it all right if I carry on unloading now?”

“Of course,” Leigh said. “Thank you. But tell me how much I owe you for the gutters and the firewood.” Whether she’d asked for them or not, both things were needed.

“Nothing,” he said airily, sweeping wide an arm. “Housewarming present. Rewarming. This tree had to come down and I’ve already got enough wood for half a dozen winters. Anyway, neighbors look out for neighbors.”

Refusing the kindness would sound churlish but it made her feel very uncomfortable to accept. “Um,” was all she could think of to say. Leigh felt iron determination under Niles’s calm manner, determination and control drawn as tight as a loaded crossbow. It didn’t make her comfortable.

He laughed and it suited him—and made her smile. “I reckon I scared you. That was dumb. I should have thought of that possibility and come to the door to introduce myself,” he said. “Sorry about that. But let me get back to unloading. Then I’ll stack it.”

“Oh, no.” She shook her head. “No such thing. Leave it on the ground and I’ll do it. I’m tougher than I look and I need the exercise.”

“Stacking wood is a man’s job,” he said, showing no sign of realizing his own reminder that she was alone now. “You’ll have plenty to do giving the house a good clean.”

She dithered but said, “Well, thank you, then.” At another time she would have told him a woman could stack wood perfectly well. Today she didn’t mind having a man do something for her.

She only glanced over her shoulder once on her way back and he was already making the first layer of wood in the lean-to. Gabriel would never send anyone untrustworthy, and Leigh decided she liked having Niles there, doing ordinary things and making the place feel less empty.

chapter TWO

BLUE STRIPED MUGS and matching plates lined shelves built into a kitchen alcove no more than two feet wide. A heap of clean silverplate flatware worn dull by use remained atop the small chest fitted below the shelves. And white pottery canisters, complete with yellow duck knobs, stood in a cluster on a scrubbed wood counter beside the speckled green enamel sink. One side of the sink was chipped all the way down to dark metal. Everything was exactly the way it had been when Leigh had last left the kitchen—with Chris at her side.

More than eighteen months ago.

Everything was the same? No, everything had changed. Leigh was alone now, had been for what felt an eternity. She and Chris would never again run into this house, breathless after chasing each other around outside, and race for the kitchen to make hot chocolate or pour a glass of cold wine.

But she would start over. She would learn to remember Chris without wanting to cry.

She took the carnival glass vase from the center of the round table and filled its pencil-width well with water. With the New Year firmly settled in, the deep cold of winter turned the ground to stone. The only thing in bloom outside was a hardy fuchsia bush, but she had picked a short branch with a few vivid red flowers that would do just fine. Whenever she and Chris came here, the first thing she had done was to put a flower in the vase, sometimes a purple cosmos, or a snapdragon in summer, a couple of leggy impatiens in fall.

Chris’s chair was left pushed out from the table and he had forgotten to take his scarred leather bomber jacket from the back. He had only used the coat up here and kept it on a hook in the broom closet.

Leigh’s eyes stung again and she blinked. The brown leather felt so soft beneath her fingers. The inside of the collar was darker where it had rested against his neck over a number of years. She touched the collar, picked up a sleeve, and squeezed the knitted band at the wrist in one fist.

The jacket was cold but she could see Chris wearing it and striding along the beach below the bluff, laughing up at her.

Blinking didn’t hold back tears this time.

This was breaking the promise she had made herself. It was okay to feel nostalgic and even a bit choked up, but there could be no falling apart or letting the terrible hurt take over once more.

She fumbled in her pockets until she found tissues and pressed them to her eyes just as they completely misted over. The pain in her throat was as much from fighting for control as struggling not to put on the coat and go curl up with the tears until she fell asleep.

No. This was her new beginning. Choosing to return to the area known as Chimney Rock Cove and the house called Two Chimneys (because of the two fireplaces, one on either side of the same room) might take more guts than to go to a fresh, strange place, but in time she would be glad of the familiarity.

And she had not really had any choice but to return to see how she did here. The power of remembered happiness would eventually pull her back anyway.

The baggage she had brought in, one suitcase, still stood just inside the front door that opened into a well-worn and cozy living room where she and Chris had spent hour after hour. She had left the case there when she heard Niles but if she decided not to stay she wouldn’t have far to carry the bag back to her car.

The only sound was the distant pounding of the waters in Saratoga Passage onto the driftwood-strewn beach beneath the bluff in front of the house—and the thump of Niles Latimer’s logs. These and some loud sniffing from Jazzy, her Sheltie-Yorkie mix. Jazzy didn’t settle until he had explored every corner and cranny of new digs.

Jazzy was seeing the house on Washington’s Whidbey Island for the first time.

Chris had never met the dog.

Leigh tapped a foot, summoning up the energy she was famous for. It had been on the rocky beach below the cottage that she met Chris for the first time. She had come by chance, looking for a retreat. A pin in a map was her guide to Chimney Rock Cove, even if she had rejected the first two places her pin landed, and from the moment she saw the place it seemed familiar and she wanted to be there. Chris was the clincher.

Sometimes she had been convinced it wasn’t the pin that brought her to Whidbey Island, but fate—not that she believed in fate. Or did she? Even the air in the place felt different and colors took on their own fresh brilliance.

Now there was a job waiting for Leigh at Gabriel’s Place, a bar and grill in a forested setting a few miles south of Langley. She had found the help-wanted ad in a discarded newspaper at a Seattle coffee shop and called on impulse before she could change her mind.

Gabriel Jones had interviewed her on the phone and told her she was hired. Just like that. Of course she knew him from the times she and Chris had eaten at the restaurant north of the little stone house Chris’s grandfather had built almost entirely with his own hands.

As soon as she had hung up the phone from speaking with Gabriel about the job, and to make sure she didn’t find an excuse to back out, Leigh gave notice at Microsoft and took her software engineering skills north to the island she had tried to stay away from in case she couldn’t deal with the memories. But after all, thanks to Chris, she owned the house and land at Chimney Rock, and knew the area intimately. And she didn’t care if designing a web page for a local bar and eatery, getting the accounts computerized, and generally trying to drag the place out of the red was a huge step down from what she was trained to do.

The measly pay would cover expenses, not that she cared about that either, and she wouldn’t be the first woman to be way overqualified for a position.

This was where she had been happier than at any other time in her life and sadness had become so old. She was ready to laugh again, maybe make a friend or two.

She was talking herself into this. Perhaps she was succeeding.

The least she could do was see how she did spending a night alone in the house. She filled her lungs with crystal air and shivered at the tingle that whipped over her skin.

Time to pick up and make a life again, that’s what she had told herself, many times, until she finally got the message and knew she was right.

The phone rang, and rang, and rang. She picked it up on the fifth ring, figuring someone didn’t intend to leave her alone until she answered—not that anyone was supposed to know she was here.

“Hello.” The wintry evening snapped cold outside but she could see a steel blue moon rising beyond the windows, even with all the lamps switched on.

“You okay?”

Leigh didn’t recognize the voice. “Who is this?”

“Gabriel Jones… at Gabriel’s Place. I’ll be there in an hour or so. I picked up a few groceries for you. Enough to get you started. Sorry to be so late coming.”

Of course it was Gabriel. Who else would it be? Puffing air into her cheeks and holding it, Leigh tried to think coherently but failed. She wanted to tell him not to come, didn’t she? Yes, definitely.

“I’ve got a couple of phone numbers for your neighbors just in case you need to call someone,” he said. “You can always reach me if you’ve got a problem.”

She and Chris had only come up on weekends and she didn’t recall ever talking to a neighbor. The nearest house, which must belong to Niles Latimer, was built farther south on a piece of land that jutted out to the water’s edge beneath the bluff. Chris said he didn’t think he would like it there when the tide was in and water lapped around concrete bulkheads built to protect the foundation of the big cabin.

“You still there?” Gabriel said. He had one of those deep, vibrating voices that sounded as if he would sing baritone—and as if he smoked. Leigh didn’t know about either. She did know he was an ex-football player who was imposingly huge.

“You don’t have to do all this,” she said. But she couldn’t be rude. “I’d be very grateful for the groceries but you don’t need to bother with anything else. It’s all fine here.”

“I’m not checking the electricity,” Gabriel said. “Niles will do that. He knows all that stuff.”

“We already met. The power seems fine. Thank you, both of you, for getting the gutters clean and the wood in.”

Leigh tried to ignore Jazzy, who was scratching the front door. The dog should not need to go out again.

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Good. Wanted to make sure I told you how glad I am you’re here. I couldn’t believe my luck when you took the job. It’s real different from what you’re used to. Could be a breath of fresh air for you. Different air anyway. The pay’s not much but by the time you’ve started bringing in more customers—and I know you will—I’ll be able to afford more. You do know all your meals are found. That’ll help.”

She didn’t know how to answer.

“Anyway, Leigh, give yourself a few days to settle in. Start here when you’re ready. I’ll be over with the groceries.”

Leigh opened her mouth to say she intended to begin work tomorrow but Gabriel said, “Bye,” and hung up the phone.

The scratching continued, and an uncharacteristic whining. Leigh made her way back from the kitchen and through the living room with its assortment of slightly sagging armchairs covered with a fabric resembling tartan carpet in shades of rust and green.

She let Jazzy run outside, where he only went as far as the edge of the weathered gray porch and sat with his head raised, sniffing. The fringes of blond fur on his ears and above his eyes stood straight up in the breeze.

The open door let in a whiff of air off the water. Very little about the house had been changed since Chris’s grandparents’ time. He had liked it that way and Leigh still did.

She wasn’t ready to climb the stairs to the loft yet. That’s where they had slept and felt so cocooned and isolated in their own world—safe in each other’s arms and in their love.

Leigh did look up at the patchwork quilt draped over the loft railings. Even that was grungy-looking. Many months of neglect had coated the whole place with dirt, but cleaning would help her adjust and keep her mind busy at the same time.

A while later the downstairs had begun to feel the way Leigh liked it. She had tied her hair back with a scarf and rolled up her sleeves and the legs of her jeans. Sweating from physical labor helped ease the tension.

Illuminated by the yellowish porch light, buckets of dirty, sudsy water made a river through mud near the porch. Leigh wiped her face on a sleeve. The house smelled clean. Within days it would be its old shiny self.

She heard the powerful engine of Niles Latimer’s truck start. By the time she got to the kitchen door his taillights were disappearing through the canyon of firs as he drove up the track leading to the road. Leaving him alone like that for hours without as much as the offer of some coffee stank. She had been so preoccupied she got used to the sounds of him working and now she was sorry he had left. He had been there a long time.

She grabbed a flashlight and stepped outside the door. The woodshed was full and extra logs stood in piles covered with tarpaulins. The whole area was raked free of debris and he had pulled out the jungle of weeds from behind the shed. No wonder he had spent a lot of time there. She would take him some cookies or a pie, or both, and write a thank-you note.

“Neighbors look out for neighbors.” His voice came to her clearly, and the vision of a vibrant man with steady, amazingly blue eyes.

Loneliness could become a dangerous companion.

Losing herself in work again was the best way to shut out unwanted thoughts.

Darkness became complete and milky mist rose off the water to curl up over the bank. Seat cushions from the chairs had been vacuumed and stood propped on the porch to air out. If she didn’t bring them in they would get damp.

Followed back and forth by Jazzy, she hauled in the cushions and replaced them. The bookshelves were dusted, including the books, and the crystal birds Chris had inherited and liked had all been washed in ammonia until they sparkled. Every table had been polished, the big Oriental rug vacuumed and the wooden floors washed. Leigh had done the dark boards on her hands and knees.

Dragging stiffness dug between her shoulders. She looked up at the unlit loft. If she was to have a place to sleep, there was no putting it off any longer. Clean sheets and the swipe of a duster over the obvious surfaces would have to do for now. She had already freshened up the one bathroom in the place, a shower combination that was downstairs.

Moving rapidly, she climbed the stairs and coughed when she pulled the hanging quilt from the railings. It must go to the cleaners. She would have to do something about getting a washer and dryer here—if she stayed. Not that she knew where they could be hooked up other than outside.

Using a set of sheets she had brought from the condo in Seattle, she changed the bed in record time and gathered everything for the laundry into a pile in one corner.

Gabriel hadn’t come with the groceries. Smiling to herself, Leigh went wearily downstairs again. The main reason Gabriel needed help was that he was disorganized and disinclined to attend to detail—like milk and bread for Leigh. She got her keys and bag, hoping there would be somewhere open in Langley. If all else failed, the gas station carried a few things.

“C’mon, Jazzy,” she said. “We’re going for a ride.”

Jazzy rolled his eyes. Leigh couldn’t tell anyone her dog did that, but he did—sort of—if there was something he didn’t want to do. Jazzy didn’t much like riding in the car, particularly not when he was already curled up and comfy on one of Leigh’s freshly cleaned chair seats.

She opened the front door and barely stopped herself from falling over a box and a small ice chest. Gabriel must have sensed on the phone that she wasn’t ready for visitors. “You’re a good man, Mr. Jones,” she said aloud, hauling the box, then the ice chest to the kitchen. A potted poinsettia with leaves in two shades of deep pink nestled between coffee, bread, and several boxes of cookies.

Leigh sighed. This was all part of tackling a normal life again, and she had better get used to it. Gabriel was being thoughtful and kind and the plant was beautiful, obviously one of the many that had not been sold over Christmas.

“Doggy treat,” Leigh called out, producing a surprising box of rawhide chews.

Instantly, Jazzy raced into the kitchen, his black currant eyes shining behind the wispy fringe of beige hair. He stood on his hind legs and danced, until he could grab the chew and take off.

Leigh put the poinsettia on the draining board and gave it some water. When she turned around, Jazzy was back—without the chew—and standing on his hind legs again, pawing the air like a miniature wild horse.

“Pig,” Leigh said, knowing her shaggy friend’s penchant for hoarding. “Okay, but don’t come back again.” She gave him another, bigger chew and scratched his head.

Half an hour later, the groceries put away and a cup of tea in hand, Leigh headed into the living room, sat down, and stretched out her legs. If she wasn’t careful she’d fall asleep in the chair, and appealing as that might be, it wouldn’t feel so good in the morning.

The front door was still open—just a few inches—and a cold draft slid through.

Leigh got up and trudged across the floor. She could hear Jazzy gnawing on his chew. Arching her back, she listened again and held her breath. The sound of teeth scraping across something hard got louder—too loud to be made by her little dog.

She looked outside and it took all the restraint she had not to scream.

Side by side on the porch lay Jazzy and a new companion. Jazzy chewed the little piece of rawhide. His friend gnawed the other one.

“Jazzy, come here,” Leigh croaked.

Her contrary buddy stared at her, then licked the face of the other animal… wolf, giant mutant dog, something escaped from a zoo somewhere, or whatever it was. Leigh wanted to slam her door on the blue-black creature with massive shoulders, hard muscle that undulated with even the slightest move, and lion-sized feet.

It stared at her with soft golden eyes while she shivered and poised herself to grab her silly, trusting little dog and pull him to safety.

The giant rose slowly, backed away a step or two. He was a magnificent dog, she decided, and very scary. With one paw he batted Jazzy on the butt, sending him toward Leigh a whole lot faster than he ever moved by choice.

Back rippling beneath the wiry fur along its spine, what was left of the chew delicately balanced between his teeth, their bizarre visitor lumbered from the porch and was instantly absorbed into shadows.

She thought she heard soft, measured footfalls that entered the forest and kept on loping. Only, of course, she couldn’t hear an animal walking on spongy ground from this distance. Or see a faint, gauzy trail of silver slipping from the bluff to follow in the dog’s wake…

chapter THREE

LEIGH WROTE ROADSIDE SIGNAGE on a list she had started in a new, college-ruled notebook.

She found the notebook waiting for her on top of a teetering, foot-high pile of bills in the office at Gabriel’s Place. Or she assumed it was for her. The computer didn’t appear usable but she would manage for today and bring in her own laptop tomorrow.

Her eyes felt heavy. After confronting the monster-sized dog, followed by a night when she dealt with memories of other times in that bed, with Chris, sleep had not come easily.

The dog would be a puzzle until she could prove to herself that she hadn’t been hallucinating.

Thoughts of Chris had been inevitable, but more sweet than bitter. She couldn’t hope to move on unless she learned to remember the best of what they’d had without letting grief take away the smiles.

It was a great goal but she didn’t kid herself she would always succeed.

Gabriel put his head around the door of what he had called his office when she arrived. In the next breath he had told her he was giving the chaotic little room to her—he didn’t need that much space for the paperwork he had to do.

There wasn’t actually any free space in the disaster area.

“Hey, how are you doing?” he said, just a bit too cheerfully.

“Good, I think.” She figured Gabriel didn’t plan on doing any paperwork from here on out—evidently he hadn’t done much in the past. The office was around ten by ten and littered with stacks of files, opened and unopened envelopes, overflowing wastebaskets, a shredder that couldn’t be used because it was jammed and spilling ripped paper, and pill bottles, mostly vitamins and aspirin. “I may need to get a few supplies if that’s okay with you.” The pen in her hand was one of many she had tried before finding one that worked.

He grinned and she saw him relax his big muscles. “Anything you want. Just take money from the till.”

Any gentle lectures about not telling people to take money from the till for miscellaneous items could wait—a little while. Money was obviously the commodity that needed most attention around here.

Leigh looked around. When she felt the time was right she would beg to take down the major league football posters that covered every wall—and the ceiling. The one on the door had a hole punched through for the handle.

Gabriel followed her glance over the room. “You’re all settled in,” he said, inching all the way into the room. “You look as if you’ve been here forever.”

Leigh didn’t say that it was everything other than her that looked as if it had been there forever—including the computer with its chunky, bullet-shaped monitor and, she figured, a ten-inch screen. Decorated with many faded stickers—all football related—the monitor sat on top of the box with a keyboard stored behind it. She already knew the entire unit was unplugged. The total absence of response when she tried plugging it in told the whole story.

“I’m enjoying the smell of raw logs,” she said. No point getting started here with nothing but a litany of complaints. “Is the whole building made of cedar?”

“Sure is.” Gabriel looked pleased. “I wanted a real log place all my life and finally got one. I reckon a man couldn’t want anything more.”

If he didn’t do something about the organizational mess she could already see he was in, he wouldn’t have his pretty sprawling building as long as he wanted to.

“You making lists?” Gabriel said, obviously trying hard for a good beginning to their professional relationship. “I like lists. Always put a bunch of things on there I’ve already done so I can cross ’em off quick.”

“I bet that really gets you revved up and going on the rest of your list,” she said. “I’m just jotting things as they come to mind. I figure I’ll do that each day and discuss them with you before I go home.”

The big, craggy-faced man immediately looked uncertain but he smiled and she noticed again that he had a smile that would melt marble, and he was nice-looking in a rough-hewn way. He had muscles on muscles and he was fit. Gray tipped the ends all over his tightly curled black hair, and his dark skin shone.

“I want you to feel free to put your own mark in here,” he said. “What you don’t want, chuck it out. And let me know what you want to make it feel more like home.”

“Thanks.” As if she knew where to start.

“It was Sally who talked me into putting that ad in The Stranger. She’s Cliff’s—he’s our cook—she’s his assistant. I didn’t want to do it but I’m sure glad I did. I couldn’t believe it when it was you who called. The last time I saw you and Chris… ”

“That was a long time ago,” she said quickly. Gabriel’s Place had been their favorite place to grab a meal.

Gabriel glanced away from her and the smile disappeared.

“Anyway,” Leigh said tentatively, “will that suit you? To go over things at the end of the day and—”

“Sure will,” he said in a rush. He turned his head sideways to see what she had written so far. “Roadside signage?” He crumpled up his face.

“So people will see we’re here and drive in. It’s nice to be a ways off the main road but it’s too bad if you aren’t noticed. You could be losing a lot of custom that way.”

His puzzlement deepened. “I’ve got a sign.”

“Yup,” Leigh said. “Two by two. Bet that’s a nice cedar board you’ve got down there by the ground where a driver couldn’t see it if he wanted to. And I like the tasteful green fir trees and tiny “Gabriel’s Place” in black. Black on brown, Gabriel? Think about it. It’s just a thought, but could we be going overboard with tasteful?”

“What do you want then, neon?”

Offense overtook the puzzled expression. Men had a way of misunderstanding the obvious sometimes.

“There’s neon and there’s neon. Don’t worry, ‘You Want It, We Got It!’ wasn’t what I had in mind. Not even, ‘Drop In For A Good Time.’ ”

Gabriel narrowed his eyes and gave her one of those looks that suggests a meeting with an alien life form.

He would have to be dragged up to date. “Or we could start with a simple, ‘Open,’ if you want to stick with the elegant approach.” She smiled up at him to soften her teasing.

“Yeah,” he said, but he cracked a little smile. “I get it. You’ll be having your dinner here, too, so you can tell me more about it all then.”

“I’ll go home and cook for myself,” she said gently to take away any sting.

“Some days you will,” Gabriel said, unperturbed. “Some days you won’t. It’s my job to make sure you stay fed and from the look of you it’s time someone did.”

She didn’t reply but nodded. Eating wasn’t something she always remembered anymore but that was one more thing she intended to change.

“I’m responsible for you, see,” he said, not looking right at Leigh again. He kind of lowered his eyelids and let his gaze slide away. “You’re taking a big step to start over and all. It can’t be easy to come back here. Your Chris was a helluva man.”

Leigh couldn’t help blinking. “Thanks. He was a helluva man.” She smiled a little. At least there weren’t too many people up here who knew anything about her life. Even Gabriel knew very little other than the obvious. “Coming back here could be just what I need. It’s not good to keep living in the past. You aren’t responsible for me, though. I’ve been looking after myself… most of my life.” Out of habit she had almost said: all of her life.

“You think Jazzy likes her new bed,” Gabriel said, not changing the subject too smoothly.

Bringing her dog to work with her had been about the only condition she had put on taking the job.

“Jazzy’s a boy,” Leigh said. “He looks as if he’s wearing eyeliner but I think it suits him. And the blond bangs. I think they’re cute. It was sweet of you to think of him with the bed—and the treats yesterday. Totally unexpected and Jazzy appreciates it. So do I.” She was glad Gabriel was too busy waving off her thanks to notice the scruffy little dog roll his eyes.

“You got here before seven this morning,” Gabriel said. “No need to show up until nine or so.”

“I’m an early bird.” And she hadn’t felt like hanging around the house any longer. “I get a lot done before sunup.” That was true. The dark Welsh pony masquerading as a dog could not be forgotten easily, but she wasn’t ready to risk sounding paranoid by outing her visitor to Gabriel.

She could see him deciding what to say next.

“Leigh,” he said at last. “This is no big deal but I’d rather you weren’t out in the dark on your own. There’s always someone coming past your place who’d be glad to give you a ride in the morning. I can take you home.”

Her twin sister, Jan, had been the closest Leigh had to a mother. They had looked after each other, and she didn’t need a new surrogate now. “Thanks, but I like driving my own car.”

“That’s not the point.” He closed his mouth in a hard line.

Gabriel was saying a whole lot less than he was thinking and Leigh wondered how reassuring the rest of his thoughts might be.

“What is the point?” she asked, looking quickly behind her and immediately feeling ridiculous.

He shrugged. “Nothing. I’m just fussing. C’mon, it’s time you had breakfast.”

Leigh didn’t like lying so she said, “I’m ready for coffee,” rather than pretending she had already eaten breakfast. “I’ll get it and bring it back here.”

There was something about the way Gabriel talked about not being out in the dark alone that made her uneasy. Darn it, she had never been afraid of the dark and she wanted to feel safe and at home here. She needed to feel at home. She told Jazzy to stay and followed her boss into the bar. A big room, it did smell strongly of cedar, with beer mixed in. Tables dotted the room around a tiny dance floor in the center. The fire, only just lit when she had arrived and it was still dark outside, curled its way fiercely inside a huge, brick-faced fireplace. A single downward step led to the area reserved for restaurant customers.

Gabriel pulled out a chair at one of the oak tables and made her sit. The heat felt good. “You relax a bit,” he said. “No reason to take a break in the office when you can be out here. Besides, you gussy the place up.” He smiled.

Chris had liked to sit by the fire in this room. She stared into the flames.

“Coffee, ma’am?” Cliff Ames had come from the kitchen himself to take care of her. Leigh already knew he was a great cook. Short and all muscle, with a close gray crewcut, he had placed a mug on the table and stood with the coffee pot poised to pour.

“Yes, please,” she told him. “Can I call you Cliff if you call me Leigh?”

Cliff turned the color of poppies in full bloom and his brown eyes crinkled up. “That’d be good,” he said.

She wondered if all the men around here blushed and immediately doubted if Niles Latimer did.

A woman appeared from the direction of the kitchens and rocked her way rapidly across the room as if her feet hurt and her hips were fused. A tan hopsack apron covered a fair amount of the floral dress and shapeless cardigan she wore.

“This is Sally,” Cliff said. “She helps me in the kitchen. Couldn’t do any of it without her. She don’t say a whole lot when she’s busy but she likes seeing people happy with their food.”

With one hand Sally slid down a plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and gravy. With the other hand she plopped already buttered toast and two muffins beside the bigger plate. Deftly, she swooped honey, jam, and marmalade from a serving trolley.

“Thank you,” Leigh said. “It all looks wonderful.”

Sally wiped her hands on the apron and nodded. “Got ’em ready to go right after Gabriel went to get you from the office,” she said. “It’s a good thing you came back to Chimney Rock.”

“A good thing?” The comment confused Leigh.

“It’s always best being where you belong.”

No less confused, Leigh studied her food. One of the first things that came to her mind when she woke up that morning was that she felt right—comfortable, despite some misgivings about the big dog’s visit and the difficult memories of Chris. The sensation, when she isolated it, had felt very strange. Sally’s remarks sounded as if the woman had some way of knowing what Leigh felt.

She drank more coffee. Jazzy would make short work of the sausages but Leigh would have difficulty not leaving most of the rest of the food on the plates.

“Cliff here decides what we’re doing for each meal,” Sally said in a hoarse voice. Except for the roots, her curly hair was white blond and she applied makeup with a lavish hand. “Can’t have a big variety. There’s not room out there. Cliff’s clever at making a few choices sound like a lot. But if there’s something special you fancy, just give me the word.” She nodded and returned the way she had come, disappearing behind the log wall loaded with shelves of spirits that backed the bar.

“Well, I’ll be,” Cliff said quietly. “She’s taken a shine to you. Sally never says that much to anyone she doesn’t know.” He followed Sally, muttering to himself.

The logs were stripped raw on the inside as well as the outside of the building’s walls. Leigh liked the way it looked, and the snug atmosphere in the place. Last night might not have been easy, but with each passing hour she felt hope grow.

What Sally had said was a coincidence.

The front door of the bar opened and two men walked in. Niles and another man, who was just as tall but leaner. The second man also had a visibly powerful physique beneath the wool jacket he wore open over a T-shirt. But Niles’s musculature seemed more massive, more powerful, as if he was no stranger to physical work. The second man wore thick, dark blond hair pulled straight back in a band.

Niles saw her and nodded. She waved and he hesitated before heading for her table. He said something to the other man, who followed but looked reluctant about it.

“You’re an early bird,” Niles said. “Got your breakfast already, huh?”

“Mine and six other people’s,” Leigh said. She had hoped to see him today and ask him about a possible stray dog. The stranger with Niles made her less comfortable about asking questions.

Two unsmilingly watchful, very noticeable men, standing close beside her, didn’t make for a relaxed feeling, yet when she looked directly at their faces, they weren’t actually watching her at all.

Leigh cleared her throat and said, “Would you like to join me? It’s nice by the fire.” Despite his seriousness, seeing Niles again pleased her. He felt familiar.

Niles sat down at once, tipped his chair onto its back legs, and gave her a slight smile.

He did have the bluest eyes, and one of those rare male mouths you couldn’t look away from. Niles had a habit of keeping the edges of his top teeth pressed into his bottom lip. Leigh raised her eyebrows. She was surprising herself. It had been a very long time since she responded to a man but she was very aware of Niles.

His companion shifted from foot to foot a couple of times and remained standing.

“This is Sean Black,” Niles said. “He’s our next closest neighbor. His place is in the forest—literally. If you didn’t know where to look you’d never find it.”

Sean’s quiet, unreadable expression didn’t suggest he cared if no one ever found his house, but it was the way his light brown eyes passed over her, never making total contact, that made the biggest impression on Leigh. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from studying him—repeatedly. His beard shadow, brows, and thick lashes were much darker than his hair.

Coffee arrived for the men, delivered by Gabriel himself. “I need a word with both of you later,” he told the men. “I’ll give you a call.”

From the artificially neutral tone of his voice and the intense look he gave Niles and Sean, Leigh figured he had something important and private to discuss. She also sensed that Gabriel was tense.

“Later,” Niles said, breaking his gaze with Gabriel and turning his attention to Leigh again.

She looked at her plate and gamely ate several mouthfuls of eggs, then drank some coffee.

Gabriel walked away.

“I burned the first of that wood last night,” Leigh said. Trying to read these people was senseless and not her affair. “Why don’t you let me pay for it? I thought I’d bake you something but that doesn’t seem enough.”

“I’d rather you didn’t do anything,” Niles said, letting the front legs of his chair smack down on the floor. “It was Sean here who told me that tree needed to come down—and about your woodshed being empty. Gabriel thought you’d be glad to have the logs.”

Sean kept his face half turned away and his weight on one leg. “Worked out well all the way around,” he said.

“Well, thank you both, then.” Leigh wished he would look at her but she could feel how eager he was to get away.

Sean gave her a sudden, piercing stare, excused himself, and went outside.

“He’s always quiet,” Niles said. He frowned a little. “Interesting guy, huh?”

“I don’t know enough about him to have an opinion.”

“I think most women would like to know Sean. I have it on good authority that he’s a hunk. Or so Gabriel’s girlfriend, Molly, tells me.”

Leigh raised her eyebrows. She wasn’t sure why she said, “I don’t tend to be impressed by the silent type.”

“Really?” His frown disappeared.

“I don’t suppose I could get you to eat some of this food?” Leigh said. Talking about her taste in men suddenly felt uncomfortable and she was eager to change the subject. “I don’t want to upset Cliff and Sally.”

“You aren’t hungry?”

She grimaced. “Not hungry enough to eat all this.”

Niles actually grinned, and Leigh thought he ought to try it a lot more often. He demolished the bacon. Leigh rolled one of the sausages in a paper napkin. “For my dog,” she explained and inched the plate closer to Niles.

He watched her with a little too much concentration for Leigh’s comfort.

She couldn’t ask him about anything. He was a stranger.

“What?” he said, his blue eyes never leaving her face. “Tell me.”

Leigh sat straighter. Goosebumps shot out on her arms. “How do you know I wanted to say something?”

He shrugged. “Just a hunch.”

A hunch that made him seem as if he had read her mind.

“Are there a lot of stray animals around here? A really big… ” She hesitated. In a low voice she went on, “dog, a really big dog came to my door last night. He was big enough to be scary.”

Niles looked at her and said, “Almost black. Shaggy guy with big feet?”

“Huge. Bigfoot with a dye job.”

“Blue,” Niles said, finishing the last sausage. “That’s the name on his collar. He’s mostly Irish wolfhound, I think.”

“The rest must be horse,” she said. “He really freaked me out.”

Niles wiped his hands on a napkin. “Don’t be scared of him.” He put a hand over hers on the table but quickly took it away again. “He’s a pussycat. Hangs around with me when I’m working. If you’re worried about anything at all, just give me a shout on the phone.”

The door opened again and three men came in, heading for a table in one corner but talking loudly enough about their plans for the day to be heard all over the room. “Amateur hunters,” Niles said as if that explained everything. “Looks like they starched their duds. Any wildlife should have a good laugh at that bunch.”

Leigh nodded and sipped her coffee, but she was too distracted by thoughts of Blue to concentrate on what Niles was saying. “That dog was massive—biggest dog I’ve ever seen. But he was gentle enough. I hope he’s got someone taking care of him.”

“Sure he does. He wouldn’t keep all that muscle and meat on him if he wasn’t being fed.”

Niles’s tone was light, but when Leigh looked at him she saw his gaze was locked on the hunters, his eyes slightly narrowed. Leigh decided he looked Slavic, all angles and upward-slashing brows. Handsome—whatever that meant—and she had long ago decided that a positive reaction to male looks was more about the vibes you got from them than anything else.

Gabriel stood behind the bar while Cliff went to take the hunters’ orders. Obviously the staff was lean and everyone doubled up.

Niles touched her hand. “Hey, don’t talk about Blue to anyone else, okay? I’m always afraid some yahoo will get pie-eyed and pick him off when it’s getting dark one evening. They’d probably say they thought he was a bear or something. I keep an eye out for him.”

“Pick him off?” Leigh’s tummy made a sickening roll. “Shoot him, you mean?”

“Keep your voice down,” Niles said. “It’s not a big deal. I just wouldn’t want to see something happen to him is all.”

“Um,” Leigh looked for the right words. “He is safe to have around, isn’t he? He wouldn’t do something… to my dog or anything?”

Niles laughed and tipped his head back. “No! Geez, no. If I thought otherwise I’d tell you right off, but, no. So forget that. If anything, Blue would look after your guy.” Taking a drink of his coffee, Niles stared at Leigh, all humor in his expression gone. “What time did you get in this morning?” he asked.

“Around seven or so.” She hadn’t forgotten Gabriel’s anxiousness about her driving around alone when things were really quiet.

“Dark then,” Niles commented.

“My car does have headlights,” she said with a smile. But his frown was back and she had the feeling he was stopping himself from saying more.

“It’s a good idea to lock your doors as soon as you’re in the car,” Niles finally said. “And make sure they’re locked when it’s parked.”

“Right.” There was no mistaking the menace in all these warnings, or her own queasy reaction.

They fell silent. Leigh looked at Gabriel and saw how closely he watched the three men at their corner table.

“Gabriel told us you worked for Microsoft,” Niles said, his voice returning to a lighter note. “What did you do?”

“Games,” Leigh told him, her attention still on Gabriel’s watchfulness over some of his customers. “Developer.”

“But you just gave it up?”

“I felt like a new challenge.” And if she didn’t push herself to change, she could spend her forever between an office and an apartment in Seattle where she didn’t know or speak to a soul.

“You’ll settle here,” he commented. “You’ll make friends.”

Leigh began to wonder if her thoughts were written on her forehead. “I’m sure I will.”

“If you organize Gabriel, you’ll be doing me a service.”

“You?”

“I worry about him. He gives the farm away. Never learned how to haggle over prices with his suppliers so he pays top dollar. And he’s got a long list of people who come in here every day to drink his booze and run a tab that rarely gets paid. Change some of that and you’ll be making a bunch of us real happy.”

Before she could mask her reaction, Leigh realized she’d set her jaw and was giving one of the glares she was told turned people off.

This time Niles’s smile was soft. “I take it that look means you aren’t pleased?”

“My trouble is I want to cure everything yesterday. I’ve got to go a bit slowly on this but I’ll sort it out. I may look like a wimp but I can be tough.”

“I’ll remember that,” he said, with a mock salute.

“Have you always been a handyman?” she asked, looking straight at him. “If that’s what you are.”

“Nope. Not always. But I’m Mr. Fixit now. Learned everything I know at my grandpa’s knee on the ranch in Wyoming.”

“And you just decided to move from Wyoming to Washington State?”

His steady stare let her know she was being too nosy. “It’s not my business,” she told him, squirming. “Sorry.”

“I went a lot of places in between Wyoming and Washington, Leigh. I got back from the Middle East eighteen months ago.”

She could imagine him in fatigues, even maybe marching in the sand, or climbing over huge obstacles as if they were nothing; it was the leaping to attention that didn’t come easily to mind. “What did you do there?” Maybe he was in one of those groups that built buildings or something.

“I killed people,” he said.



Continues...

Excerpted from Darkness Bound by Cameron, Stella Copyright © 2012 by Cameron, Stella. 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.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 16, 2012

    Outstanding Paranormal Romantic Suspense!!

    Just finished DARKNESS BOUND by Stella Cameron. Whidbey Island in Washington State. Werehounds, werewolves, fae creatures kept me turning the pages fast. The hero is Niles and he is to die for. Dark but strong and he would do anything for for Leigh, a human who is widowed and searching for a new start. I love the twists and turns in this book. I hope the next one won't be long coming.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012

    Terrible

    I have always liked Stella Cameron. That is why I bought the book. Big mistake. There are too many werehounds, werewolves, vampires, fae people etc. The story is hard to follow. I finally just started skimming the book to finish it. If you are a Stella Cameron fan, be warned, it is not her usual type of book. If you like the supernatural stuff, then go for it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    Still scratching my head going "huh?" Darkness Bound

    Still scratching my head going "huh?" Darkness Bound has a good story line, but is so convoluted with too many characters and abrupt changes in action that the reader is left wondering what happened? I liked the characters, but it seemed like the author felt she had to cram it all in quickly, and in no particular order. So much going on with no apparent resolution, and while I know this is a series, you still need to have some sense of closure to the story. The romance itself had so much potential, but again, the author rushed through it and it ended up falling a bit flat. A shame really, because the series has potential. So I guess my review is "Great idea, but poor execution."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    What a joke........

    Please can i have my money back $7.99....the book is just not worth it ...... would not read another book even it is free.... do not waste your time or money

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    Darkclan Apprentice's Den

    ~Shimmerstar

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    Tarin

    She passes through, glancing into the rooms

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  • Posted January 11, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Molly Reposted by permission from Reviews by Molly R

    Reviewed by Molly
    Reposted by permission from Reviews by Molly
    Review originally posted at Romancing the Book

    Stella Cameron has a new fan! I loved this book and everything in it. I’m, of course, becoming a SERIOUS paranormal lover….it’s coming close to taking over my love of mystery thrillers. Seriously, ya’ll. The more I read of vamps and weres, the more I fall in love with the sexy men and their awesome mates. Anyway, back to this. Stella Cameron has created a suspenseful, mind-blowing, captivating novel that will knock your socks off!

    Chimney Rock #1 is a fantastic start to an awesome new series. From the start, Ms. Cameron incorporates the suspense into the story with Niles Latimer and his friend Sean. Their werehounds, who want nothing more than to gain the trust of the human world and live among them in a peaceful manner. The thing is…there’s also the werewolves. Their not so keen on the idea of making peace with the humans, for they wish to turn the humans into wolves and create a werewolve pack that is bigger than ever. Wiping out the human race. Dominating the island.

    But, then Leah Kelly moves back home after the death of her husband, Chris. Niles knows she’s the human mate for him. Leah doesn’t know about Niles and Sean, and that the island she’s returned to is filled with weres, both hounds and wolves. Niles has to mate her to safe the werehound race, for there aren’t any female hounds left to reproduce.

    The wolves have other ideas on that. That’s were the suspense takes off like crazy and really makes the reader feel a part of the middle of the story. With twists and turns, ups, downs, ins and outs, like a fabulous romantic suspense novel should have, this story will leave you with a shocked feeling through out as the whirlwind ride intensifies. But, by the end of the novel, you’ll be so glad that you read this start to a fabulous new series!

    Most definitely recommended! A 5 Rose worthy novel that is filled with passion and suspense, and fabulous shifting characters, you’ll instantly become a fan. I know I did! I am already anxious for the second book in this series, Darkness Bred, Sean’s story. FANTABULOUS job, Ms. Cameron! I am a forever fan!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2013

    Can't say I love it

    I really like this type of supernatural/romance genre I am always so eager to see what people's imagination can come up with, I gotta say the story line is enticing and draws you in, I read the reviews before buying the book and I could see what a lot of people were saying about too many characters but that didn't really throw me off I could follow the story fine what didn't convince much was in my opinion there were parts that the author skimmed and didn't really explain or jump from one tempo to another without really going into it or even hintung at what might be on a sequel or just as an after thouoght, the sex scenes felt a little technical and just you know kind of like following the steps, it doesn't have to be all nasty but didn't feel the strong connection they supposedly develop in a matter of days, unfortunately I don't think i will follow this series I might try another one of her books just to give her the benefit of the doubt, it's a fast read if you want something short took me just 2 days and I work and have 2 kids

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    It kept my attention.

    Excellent!!!!

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  • Posted June 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Anne B. for Readers Favorite This is a review of th

    Reviewed by Anne B. for Readers Favorite

    This is a review of the audio version of "Darkness Bound: Chimney Rock" by Stella Cameron. Stella Cameron’s new series "Chimney Rock" is off to a fantastic start with the first book, "Darkness Bound". The setting is Washington State, Whidbey Island’s Chimney Rock. The small town is the center of paranormal activity. Werehounds, werewolves, the fae and vampires all struggle for the control of the island. The werewolves care little for humans and are willing to use them and destroy them. The werehounds are smaller than werewolves but are very strong. All of the werehounds are male and their numbers cannot increase unless they can locate viable females. Leigh Kelly moved to Chimney Rock to begin a new life. She found herself drawn to Niles, not knowing he was a werehound. Unknown to Leigh, she has powers that make her invaluable to the werewolves, vampires, fae and werehounds. The werewolves, fae and vampires knew she was a tool they could use to destroy the werehounds.

    There are a lot of characters in "Darkness Bound" but I managed to keep up with them. Cameron provided plenty of twists and turns to keep me eagerly turning pages to see what would happen next. The lead characters in this book are Niles and Leigh. Leigh is a strong woman with a sense of who she is, yet she is also aware of her weaknesses and willing to reach out to Niles when she needs him. Niles is handsome, sexy, strong and a true leader and yet he is vulnerable. Leigh is his weakness. The author left one particular thread not answered to my satisfaction. I guess she is going to complete the thread in the next book. This is an excellent read and Suehyla El-Attar’s voice is perfect. I can hardly wait for the next book in this series.

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  • Posted May 5, 2012

    Highly Recommed, love the story lne

    This book was very entertainng and I've already preordered the sequel. Love Stella Cameron's books

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  • Posted April 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Stella Cameron creates a fascinating world in DARKNESS BOUND. H

    Stella Cameron creates a fascinating world in DARKNESS BOUND. Her werehounds are more human than the average paranormal character which makes them even more believable. They do not live to kill or kill to live. Niles and his Team are tough warriors and nice guys, PTSD and other human traits included. Leigh doesn’t know until well into the book that paranormal creatures exists and she was one herself. These plot twists make for an interesting story. The cast of supporting characters includes some diverse, fun and eccentric personalities. I really liked that Leigh was strong and stubborn and Niles was no less Alpha for his caring side. Niles and Leigh must make some monumental decisions that felt a bit hurried and the climax was a little weak because it was setting up the next book but these points in no way diminished my pleasure in reading the novel.

    This book was submitted for an honest review.

    Heat Rating: Hot (A few detailed sex scenes, profanity and/or graphic violence.)

    Rating: 4

    Reviewed By: Jeanne Stone-Hunter for My Book Addiction and More

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    I just finished DARKNESS BOUND and while I thought it was a good

    I just finished DARKNESS BOUND and while I thought it was a good book with an interesting paranormal concept I felt like I had picked up a book that came later in a series without reading the earlier ones. It felt like you should know what is going on between the different factions without having it really explained, that you should know the characters already. Also, the storyline with the brother-in-law was just left hanging with no real explanation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    Uninspired writing

    Story did not hold my interest. Made it to page 143 before giving up.

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  • Posted March 21, 2012

    A New Paranormal Series Begins

    The author has written a slightly choppy and sometimes disconnected love story/paranormal story about a young woman who just lost her husband. She has returned to their cottage to stay and recoup from the tragedy. She meets a man who seems immediately interested in her. No one comes right out and tells her that their are problems in the small town, but she soon finds out that things are not as they seem. This is the first in a projected series. A good premise, but thw writer needs to tighten up the plot in the projected books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2012

    I expected a completely new approach to paranormal romance and I

    I expected a completely new approach to paranormal romance and I wasn't disappointed. Niles and Leigh are so perfect together and they kept me going even when the story was really tense.

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  • Posted March 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Stella Cameron Fan For Life!!

    Stella Cameron has a new fan! I loved this book and everything in it. I'm, of course, becoming a SERIOUS paranormal lover....it's coming close to taking over my love of mystery thrillers. Seriously, ya'll. The more I read of vamps and weres, the more I fall in love with the sexy men and their awesome mates. Anyway, back to this. Stella Cameron has created a suspenseful, mind-blowing, captivating novel that will knock your socks off! Chimney Rock #1 is a fantastic start to an awesome new series. From the start, Ms. Cameron incorporates the suspense into the story with Niles Latimer and his friend Sean. Their werehounds, who want nothing more than to gain the trust of the human world and live among them in a peaceful manner. The thing is...there's also the werewolves. Their not so keen on the idea of making peace with the humans, for they wish to turn the humans into wolves and create a werewolve pack that is bigger than ever. Wiping out the human race. Dominating the island. But, then Leah Kelly moves back home after the death of her husband, Chris. Niles knows she's the human mate for him. Leah doesn't know about Niles and Sean, and that the island she's returned to is filled with weres, both hounds and wolves. Niles has to mate her to safe the werehound race, for there aren't any female hounds left to reproduce. The wolves have other ideas on that. That's were the suspense takes off like crazy and really makes the reader feel a part of the middle of the story. With twists and turns, ups, downs, ins and outs, like a fabulous romantic suspense novel should have, this story will leave you with a shocked feeling through out as the whirlwind ride intensifies. But, by the end of the novel, you'll be so glad that you read this start to a fabulous new series! Most definitely recommended! A high 5 Book worthy novel that is filled with passion and suspense, and fabulous shifting characters, you'll instantly become a fan. I know I did! I am already anxious for the second book in this series, Darkness Bred, Sean's story. FANTABULOUS job, Ms. Cameron! I am a forever fan! This review originated at Reviews By Molly in part with a blog tour.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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