Nearly two decades ago a charismatic man called Colin controlled an isolated community hidden in foothills north of San Francisco in what was supposed to be a life free of materialism. Instead, Colin turned The Refuge into a mass grave as he completed a sinister plan to exterminate his followers --all except three children, who slipped through his fingers and escaped with his secrets.
Today, Nick Board and the two beautiful sisters, Sarah and Aurelie, who escaped with him, are living quietly under the radar in the little bayou town of Point Judah, Louisiana. But when the bodies at The Refuge are uncovered, the nightmare of the past forces the friends out into the open. To survive, they must stay one step ahead of the man who has been waiting for them to surface. Driven by greed and anger, he intends them to take his secrets to their graves.
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About the Author
Stella Cameron is the New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post bestselling, award-winning author of more than 45 historical and contemporary romantic suspense novels and novellas. Each of her single-title releases has appeared on the Waldenbooks
Read an Excerpt
In the Pointe Judah News seventeen years later:
MASS GRAVE UNCOVERED IN CALIFORNIA Skeletons of thirty-three recovered: Workers stumble on abandoned gold mine.
In one of the most horrific mass-death discoveries in California history, a sudden ground collapse during installation of a new cell tower has revealed multiple human remains.
Tangled skeletons suggest a desperate struggle to escape asphyxia in an abandoned gold mine.
Workers drilling at the site report that they became aware that they had broken into an existing cavity when surrounding earth began to cave in.The drill had pierced what is believed to have been a large vent intended to bring air into the mine. Most of the victims were heaped at the bottom of this hundred-foot-deep vent and are presumed to have been trying to claw their way up.
Officials have already tied the deceased to members of a northern California commune known as "The Refuge." Seventeen years ago, people in the nearby town of Grove noticed the sudden absence of commune members. Until then, people from The Refuge had frequented shops and other businesses in Grove.At that time, police visited the settlement and found trailers still filled with possessions,but the owners had left.
It appeared that these people had supported themselves with extensive marijuana cultivation.
All efforts to track down members of the commune failed until the recent discovery.
Officials have announced that pieces of identification for thirty-three people were found with the remains.Longtime residents in Grove recall some of the people whose photographs are on these documents as commune members.
The public is asked to contact their local police departments with any tips, And to be advised that intensive efforts are under way to complete positive identifications.
If you think one of your friends or relatives may have been among the dead, the police would like to hear from you as soon as possible.
Pointe Judah, Louisiana
This was it. Decisions had to be made.
Nick Board didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he was afraid, but he'd be a fool if he wasn't. He had to protect the lives of the people he loved, and his own.
He turned his Audi from Main Street into the forecourt of Ona's Out Front, the bar and diner side of Ona's business. In the same building, Ona's Out Back, an unlikely tea shop, lay directly behind the diner. He parked next to a familiar, bright yellow Miata that reflected dazzling sun-bursts off its spotless paint.
Inside, her elbows propped on the stainless-steel counter that spanned the windows, sat Sarah Board, one of his supposed sisters and the owner of the Miata. From the direction of her glance, she couldn't see him for the glare.
Nick got out of the car and faced Main Street, just to give himself a little time to settle down. Vehicles and people passed through the white-hot haze of midafternoon. He poked at the nosepiece of his sunglasses.
Two weeks ago the headline and lead article in the Pointe Judah News had stunned Nick, stunned Aurelie and Sarah and thrust them back where they'd learned not to go: to the day when Mary Chance had sent them to Georgia. He could not get past the conviction that she had suspected they were all in deadly danger. She had stayed to make sure he and the two girls got away. Nick had no proof, would never have proof, but he knew what he knew. While they escaped, she covered for their absence.
Today, after a relentless national media feast since the grave was discovered, a new story twist had come out. He had read about it on the Internet a couple of hours earlier.
He thought back to when he, Muriel and Ena set off for Savannah. By the time they arrived, the sisters had chosen new names, Sarah and Aurelie. In their fabricated lives, all but four people thought they were his sisters. The fourth was Delia Board, Mary's old friend, the CEO and primary shareholder of Wilkes and Board Cosmetics. Delia had taken in three teenagers and raised them as if they were her own children.
Even members of the Board clanall retired now accepted the story that Delia had quietly adopted the three children of an old friend. Delia was the "whippersnapper" of the family and the old brigade didn't question anything she did as long as they didn't have to become actively involved in the business. The Boards had bought out the Wilkes, but the name of the company was too famous to change.
He couldn't have guessed then how grateful he would become that although they had taken the Board name, adoption was automatically out of the question. They had continued to hope his mother was alive, and to this day he and Delia didn't know whether Sarah and Aurelie had a family somewhere. They had steadfastly recoiled from the subject.
Aurelie was never far from his thoughts. he'd made up his mind he had to do something about his feelings for her. At least test the waters. But he would wait until this nightmare passed.
Delia had insisted on moving the teenagers away from Savannah soon after they arrived. She was too much of a public figure there, she said.
First they'd gone to Portland, Oregon, where Delia's cosmetic company had offices. Again, she decided her profile was too high and they'd moved on, this time to settle in Pointe Judah. Delia continued to run the business from there and built a small research and development lab outside the town.
The second move had worked. After initial curiosity, the community accepted and mostly ignored the quiet folks who lived in antebellum Place Lafource, a mansion on a lush estate backing onto Bayou Nezpique. "Nick Board, how much longer are you going to stand out here gaping at nothing?, Sarah, almost six feet of her, was already raising her voice at him when she came through the doors of the diner. "I believe you think I'm the least important person around. You said to meet you and Aurelie in Ona's half an hour hour ago but I find you wandering around outside with no concern for my feelings."
"I didn't see you coming," he said. "I'm enslaved to your feelings, Sarah, my love. I was sort of waiting for Aurelie to get here. I'm glad she decided to come home and stay until we figure out how big a problem we've got." Aurelie was a New Orleans insurance lawyer.
"Nick! you're really scaring me."
When he turned his head, Sarah put her face so close to his that her eyes distorted into one fuzzy blue thing between her eyebrows. He drew back to see her properly. She wore her short, bleached hair in spikes and used dramatic makeup on a face composed of upswept lines and sharp bones. A fascinating face and a build like a tall dancer attracted a lot of attention.
They were both chemists and worked at the Wilkes and Board labs just east of Pointe Judah. Nick's position had expanded into taking over direct administration of the facility and being Delia's right hand whenever she wanted it.
Sarah crossed her arms and tweaked at her hair, signs that her temper was about to reach gale force.
He look a step backward. "Okay, okay, settle down. We probably don't have a thing to worry about." Sometimes even the peace-at-any-price guy ended up on the battlefront.
"I'm so mad at you." Sarah landed a fist on his shoulder and he jumped. "Now what?, he asked. Scrubbing at his face didn't help calm him down.
"You dither around, lost in who knows what, while I worry myself to skin and bone. You are a thoughtless, self-centered bastard."
"It's not nice to remind me about the circumstances of my birth," Nick said, but his humor was thinning rapidly.
"You told us to meet you here because we've got to talk. I don't want to stand around imagining the worst. Tell me the latest."
"I'm not saying it twice," he told her. "As soon as Aurelie gets here we'll go somewhere private and decide what to do next."
"You love controlling things."
"You don't get it, do you?, Nick said. "I want out of all this intrigue we've lived with as much as you do. Maybe more."
A black Hummer, the giant kind they'd stopped making, cut across Main Street in front of oncoming traffic and howled into the parking lot. "Shit," Nick said.
"Look at that," Sara said, clearly grabbing for a diversion. "Dangerous driving."
The driver's door opened slowly and Aurelie Board slid her feet into blurry waves of heat rising from the ground. Nick said, " Shit."
Sarah elbowed him. "You already said that. Why are you so late?, she called to her sister.
"Go easy," Nick said. "Aurelie's usually prompt. Something she couldn't get out of must have kept her."
"Sometimes I think you get sucked in because she's little and looks helpless. you're always making excuses for her." Sarah pinched up her mouth.
Aurelie had the same pointy nose as Sarah, that's where the similarities almost ended. "There you are," she said loudly. "Don't start on me. Just don't start."
Half a foot shorter than her sister, Aurelie's hair was as dark as Sarah's would be if she didn't use bleach.
Aurelie leaned back into the car and called, " Hoover, get out here." A Bouvier, around 120 pounds, black with a white blaze on his chest, lumbered to the ground like a small bear. He definitely outweighed his boss.
Nick tried not to grimace at Aurelie's straw hat, the brim tipped up all the way around. He loved looking at her and had to make sure he wasn't too obvious. She had a wide, soft mouth that looked as if a smile was never far away. Her eyebrows were upswept like Sarah's and very dark. She sparkled. She melted people just with her presence.AndAurelie might be short but she wasn't exactly "little," not entirely.
He pulled himself together. "Let's get on with it, shall we?, "I've been at Poke Around," she said. "I came as fast as I could." A passing truck honked and she put her fingers in her ears.
A gift boutique, Poke Around occupied the conserva-tory in the original Oakdale Mansion at what was now the Oakdale Mansion Center. Some of Nick's condo windows, in a complex built to blend with the older buildings, overlooked the shop.
"We're waiting, Nick," Sarah said, raising her voice again to overcome a noisy truck that was passing by.
"Do we have to yell this conversation?, Nick said, exasperated.
"It's not my fault it's so loud," Aurelie said and pulled her dog onto a shorter leash. "I mean, it's not like, well, it's just not my fault it's hot and noisy out here."
"My sister, the bigmake that small lawyer," Sarah muttered.
Aurelie's mouth turned sharply down. "What does that mean?"
"Nothing," Nick said.
"It means that for a smart woman you wear a good disguise. The hat doesn't help. You had the thing when you were in high school and the kids laughed at it then." Sarah gave one of her, " top that," looks.
Nick said, "Sarah." "Could we keep this on topic, please?, Aurelie said. "I believe in wearing my clothes out. This hat is fine. Hoover needs water." She led him to the big enamel bowl Ona kept filled for the purpose.
"What does it cost to feed that dog?, Sarah asked.
"I don't trust people who don't love animals," Aurelie responded, finding a wad of tissues in a pocket and wiping her pet's dripping mustache. Her thick hair reached her shoulders and fanned out in tight curls beneath the brim of her hat. "Neither of you even has the decency to give him a kiss and you know how he looks forward to that."
"You've had him at my place ever since you came home. Doesn't that make me an animal lover?, Sarah said. She lived in the guesthouse at Place Lafource. "He's been there for ten days and I can prove it."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoy Stella Cameron's books. I believe I have read them all - but this one was disappointing. The story line was all over the place with several off-shoot story lines written in but not complete. The brother/sister thing was just a little too weird since the entire town thought this couple was related.
As usual, Stella Cameron had me hooked from the eerie beginning. I can personally think of no worse 'ending' than the beginning of this story. 'I don't want to spoil anything for future readers' The odd love triangle that develops tugs at the heart. Where does Ms. Cameron come up with this stuff? The story was fast paced, the sex scenes sizzled everything a reader wants. Simply wonderful. I'll read anything this author writes.
I've read many of Stella Cameron's books and have enjoyed most of them. This one had a very good story plot but I found the way she worded things to be very difficult to understand at times. Causing me to reread paragraphs to try to understand what she was saying. I kept thinking at the beginning it'd improve but never did, through out the book I was often lost about what she was trying to say. Not a total loss since it had a good story to it.
Nick Chance left the commune known as The Refuge when he was sixteen years old with an envelope from his mother and two homeless girls brought there by commune leader Colin Fry. Nick¿s mother made him promise to get to Savannah, Georgia and to never return to the compound. When Nick arrived in Savannah he found his mother's friend Delia Board, who took in all three of the teenagers, giving them her name and protection. Now, seventeen years later, a mass grave has been uncovered at the compound and Nick finally knows the fate of his mother and thirty other commune members. However, there should have been thirty two sets of bones and Nick fears the missing bones belong to Colin Fry. Now the peace that Nick, Sarah, and Aurelie have finally found has disappeared. They know that Colin will come for them, as they are the only ones left alive who can identify him. --- Nick promises Sarah and Aurelie that he will protect them, as he always has, and he vows vengeance for the murder of his mother. Nick also knows that they will no longer have to pretend to be siblings when the truth comes out about the compound. He is grateful for that, at least, because he can finally tell Aurelie how he feels about her. When Nick tells Aurelie that he is in love with her and has been for years, she panics. While she feels the same toward Nick, she also knows that Sarah, her true sister, thinks that she is love with Nick. Aurelie knows that her world is about to change drastically, and she doesn't want to do anything else to destroy the only family she has ever had. When a woman who works with Nick, Delia, and Sarah is murdered, their lives begin to unravel as the past catches up to them. --- TARGET is a tale filled with menace and suspense. Truly evil villains manipulate those around them to terrorize Nick, Sarah, and Aurelie. Nick has always been the dominant protector, Aurelie has always tried to gain a sense of independence, and Sarah has been the most emotionally needy. All three have their personal secrets and fears which they now have to expose in order to survive, and they will fight anyone that threatens the fragile peace they have finally found. Mysterious, tragic, flawed, and heroic characters are abundant and several characters from previous books in the series return. The story is well woven, with several twists and surprises. The torrid atmosphere of the bayou country adds to the tension and romance. Dark and passionate, TARGET is a must read. --- Jennell for Romance Reviews Today
Near San Francisco, high in a remote mountainous area Colin controls the members of the isolated commune Refuge. In spite of his strict rule, people join to escape from American materialism in order to return to nature. However, the egomaniacal avaricious leader has a different plan for his followers than a simpler lifestyle. He turns The Refuge into a giant cemetery killing everyone except three children, Nick and two sisters Sarah and Aurelie.--------------- Trying to forget the tragedy, the three survivors live quiet lives in Point Judah, Louisiana. However, the mass graves hidden by their remoteness for nearly two decades has just been found. The threesome realizes they will not be able to stay concealed much longer as names are tied to corpses. They also know Colin still waits for their surfacing so he can finish the job he started as he wants no survivors testifying what he did to his cult followers.------------------ The eerie opening sequence stays with readers throughout sort of the way the mass suicides and murders at the Jonesville compound orchestrated by Reverend Jones still haunts people. Thus the plot provides an interesting look at the impact a cult has on escapees long after they have left the compound. Although, why the avaricious Colin needed to come after the three survivors, why his targets surface, and how the small town Bayou residents ignore strangers in their midst seem a bit nebulous, Stella Cameron provides her fans with a tense and exciting suspense cat and mice thriller.------------ Harriet Klausner