Katy Templeton left Thunder Creek, Wyoming thinking she'd never return again. But her ailing grandmother gives her a reason to return home, to heal from her broken marriage and a miscarriage. It also makes her face the past, a past full of memories of her brother Matt, who was killed fourteen years before, devastating her life. Even so, she's hoping her return home will help her pull herself together, to decide what she wants and where she wants to go. One thing she does know, she wants out of the restaurant business that she owns with her ex-husband and she dumps it in his lap when she returns home hoping to find peace.
Arriving in Thunder Creek, Katy decides to reopen her grandmother’s diner, which has been closed during her illness. She's not about to see it closed for good and puts all her expertise to work by taking over the diner until her grandmother's on her feet again. Not only is she there to reopen the diner, she's there to take care of her grandmother so her parents can get away on a vacation, though her father's very reluctant to go. Katy and her mother finally persuade him, though, when Katy convinces her father she can take care of everything while they're gone.
What she didn't expect was to run into Matt's best friend, Jackson Brent, who left Thunder Creek years earlier and who she wasn't aware had returned to become the town vet. The last person she wants to see every day is Jackson, who she blamed years ago for her brother's death, after he fell from a barn that he was painting while covering for Jackson, so he could go on a date. There's no ignoring him, though, because he's taking care of their horse Cloe, who's going through a risky pregnancy. So, she's forced to deal with him, which stirs up memories of her brother Matt, who she idolized. While walking by Matt's closed bedroom door one day she decides to go in and try to put things to rest and come to terms with the past. Everything in his room is exactly the same as it was the day he died, as if it were yesterday. Even his school backpack is still slung over the back of his desk chair, bulging with school books, as if he was still alive. Deciding to go through some of Matt's things, not wanting to keep photo's of Matt and the family locked up in his room, Katy goes through Matt's backpack only to discover something disturbing in one of Matt's notepads, a sketch that Matt drew with a cryptic note written at the bottom, Call Alison, Study the Calc quiz, Tell Dad and Sheriff Harvey. Kathy is chilled by the sketch that Matt drew. What appears to be a dead girl.
Knowing she has to share what she's discovered with someone, she decides to confide in Jackson, even though things are still touchy between them. Together they fight to find out the truth, who the girl is that Matt drew so many years ago and what really happened the day that Matt died. Was it really an accident or was it more? Did something sinister happen that day and was Matt's death really an accident? Along the way to discover the truth Katy and Jackson come to an understanding and discover they share more than their love for Matt. They discover a love of their own when the last thing either wants is to love someone so much that they open themselves up to the pain of losing, like they lost Matt.
Jill Gregory's first foray into the contemporary field is a guaranteed hit! I've always been a huge fan of Jill's historicals and was just as eager to read her first contemporary. One thing that is different in Thunder Creek, as apposed to her historicals, she's painted a riveting story of mystery and murder that is compelling and intriguing. There's her trademark characters, Katy and Jackson, who are strong and passionate, and you'll love watching them fall in love through their love of Katy's brother Matt. It was almost as if Matt was playing matchmaker for two of the people he loved the most. Though Matt was never a character who lived in this book, he was a character Jill made come alive through Katy and Jackson's memories. I found that a very sad part of the book, coming to love him through their memories and feeling his loss.
The mystery of Matt's death is gripping and you'll never guess who the murderer is. Jill did such a great job of keeping it hidden well into the book. Katy and Jackson's investigation into the truth takes up a good part of the story, and though their romance was very well done, I wish there had been a bit more focus on their romance than there was. Don't get me wrong, it was beautifully done, I just felt the love scenes could have been played out a bit more and not been as brief as they were. That's the only thing I'd like to see improved upon. I didn't think the love scenes were as strongly written as some of her historicals, though I still had no trouble getting sucked in by Katy and Jackson and falling in love with their love story, and this book. Thunder Creek is an outstanding book, a definite keeper, and I can't wait to see what Jill has in store for us next.