Book 1 in the Holiday, Montana Series
Jordan Cross left town with hellfire hot on her heels when her magic backfired. Now she’s returned to Holiday, Montana to find that not much has changed—except everything she hadn’t wanted to leave behind.
Matt Cooper isn’t pleased to see Jordan back in town. Not only did she break his heart when she left, he’s been keeping secrets from his family and friends and he knows the moment he’s left alone with his ex, he won’t be able to keep them in anymore.
Only one look and he knows he’s lost. Again.
But magic has a way of turning on a dime and if they’re not careful, they might lose everyone once more—even before they have a chance to make it theirs.
“The road to salvation is found through cleansing your heart and finding the right path. Turn your back on those with wicked ways.”
Jordan Cross switched off the radio in her ’68 Mustang.
“Really? They’re still preaching that garbage? It’s 2012 for freak’s sake,” she mumbled to herself, and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.
She came up to a sign and rolled her eyes at the message.
“Yeah, sure. Welcome to Holiday, Montana. Right. Like that would ever happen. And, Jordan, you really need to quit talking to yourself or they’ll think you’re crazier than they already do.”
On second thought, maybe adding new quirks to her repertoire would enhance her wickedness. She smiled and took a sip of her Coke, her gaze on the empty road ahead of her. She practiced her cackle and looked out on the barren hills and plains of Holiday, Montana.
Okay, so it wasn’t barren. She just hated it so much she wanted it to be barren so it would reflect that. Trees reached to the sky, their fall colors reminiscent of a harvest sunset. Deep greens, burnt oranges, and crisp apple reds dotted the tree line. Mountains carved through the skyline, towering over the valleys beneath them. Rivers and streams cut through the rolling meadows and beautiful clearings creating a freaking stunning landscape. Any second now Bambi would frolic through.
She knew she needed to stop the bitter attitude. After all, her life’s work—well, the one she hid from peering eyes—depended on nature and all its bounty. Still, that didn’t mean she had to like the fact she’d returned to Holiday.
She rolled her eyes and squinted until she saw the first building. Ah, downtown Holiday. Still as adventurous as ever. With the ten buildings on Main Street, it was a regular old metropolis. She already missed take-out and late-night movies. No matter, she’d only be here for a few weeks. Two months tops. Then she’d drive off like a bat out of hell—again.
Jordan let out a sigh and forced herself not to turn around and step on the gas and run. No, not race away exactly; just strategically not be anywhere near the place that had stolen so much of her life. She’d lived in Holiday for eighteen years, five with her folks before they’d crashed their plane into the side of a mountain, the rest with her grandmother who doted on her with sharp-as-glass type of love.
A pang shocked her heart, and she bit her lip. She couldn’t think about that now or the fact that the only reason she was even here was because her grandmother was gone. She’d been overseas at an event for her old employer and hadn’t even known her grandmother was sick. In fact, she hadn’t spoken with her in years. Not since the last fight that had torn them apart. Jordan hadn’t wanted to return to find her legacy, but her grandmother had wanted her by her side. It was only because of a lost phone message that Jordan had even heard that her grandmother had passed away. She’d missed the funeral and all the arrangements. Thankfully, her grandmother’s friends, the Coopers, had taken care of everything.
Now Jordan was left to clean an old, abandoned house and sell it in a small town where all the citizens hated her. She blinked back the tears she refused to shed and pulled into a parking spot in front of the general store—not a Walmart in sight. The town looked as though it had a modern tilt meshed with an early twentieth century flair—with the small-town attitude that came with it.
Jordan turned off the car, the dull hum of her engine quieting. People milled past, casting curious looks her way.
They all gave her a look that reflected the same thing: ‘Who is that stranger?’ A look of recognition soon followed, and a look of contempt replaced curiosity.
Hmph. If they looked beneath the surface, they’d see the girl they’d kicked and poked until she ran. They’d see the girl who’d tried to stand tall but hid behind the brown-haired boy who loved her.
She cursed and got out of the car. Already, the memories of why she’d left assaulted her. How was she supposed to make it through a couple months? She grabbed her purse, slammed the car door, and walked into the General Store.
Old Mr. Clancy stood behind the counter, a smile on his face and a story on his lips. God, some things never changed. When she was young, and when Matt hadn’t been around, he’d sneak her bubble gum or Tootsie Pops when the other kids had teased her.
She closed her eyes and fought to breathe. He couldn’t be on her thoughts; she wouldn’t let him. Yes, he still lived here, but for all she knew, he was happily married with his three point five babies and a puppy. He, above all others, deserved that.
Jordan took a deep breath and grabbed a pack of gum and a Coke. She really didn’t need anything, but if there was one way to announce her presence, it was to show up at town central and wait for the busybodies to do their jobs—whispering through the grapevine to announce her presence. She could have shown up with a bang, maybe on a broomstick or something, just to live up to her name. But witches didn’t fly… Well, at least not in her case.
Jordan Cross might be a witch, but she wasn’t a pointy-hat-wearing, card-carrying member of the green-skinned race. Nope, she was just a normal woman with a few extraordinary talents.
Those talents had scared the hell out of the bigoted townsfolk and caused her to run like a frightened little girl. Energy pooled within her, and she inhaled again, calming herself. The last thing she needed was to welcome her townsfolk with a display of magic.
At least not yet.
She’d keep that up her sleeve, just in case.
Jordan perused the aisles, waiting for someone to notice her and, if she were honest with herself, procrastinating about going home—no, her grandmother’s home. If just going down Main Street had made the memories so fresh they were like gaping wounds, she couldn’t imagine seeing the two-story cabin. People strolled in and out of the store, not paying attention to her.
“Did you hear about last night?” A woman in her mid-fifties who Jordan didn’t recognize was talking to Mr. Clancy.
The shop owner nodded, his eyes bright under bushy white eyebrows. “Another sighting.”
Jordan’s interest perked up, and she dragged her fingers over a bag of M&M’s, trying to look nonchalant. A spy she would never be, but she could try.
“This time it was by Betty across the street. She swore she heard chains!”
Mr. Clancy let out a bellow of a laugh. “Really? So, this is Jacob Marley, now?”
The lady sniffed but smiled. “Who knows what Betty saw? But I think something should be done about the old Marlow place. Kids are forever trying to break in and damage things. I know we don’t want to tear or burn it down because it’s been deemed historical, but it’s dilapidated and a menace to this town.”
“Ah, now, Mrs. Jacobs, don’t think that. That place has history. It just happens to have a ghost.”
“But really, we would be much better off without that eyesore, we should just burn the thing down. We have enough historical things around town as it is.”
The old man shook his head. “You really need to stop thinking that way. We can’t do it.”
Jordan started and almost dropped her gum. Had she heard right? A ghost in Holiday? Oh, that was rich. The town that had kicked her out for being a witch wanted to burn down a house because they thought it held a ghost in it.
She shook her head and walked toward Mr. Clancy to check out. She’d seen a few ghosts in her time, but they’d been harmless, just pale shells of their former selves who couldn’t let go. Not a reason to tear down a building. Maybe she’d check out the old Marlow place while she was here. It would give her something to do other than bury herself in memories and avoid Matt.
Jordan dropped her gum and unopened Coke, the can rolling to the booted foot of the man with the voice that haunted her dreams.
She raised her head, unable to speak, as he picked up the can. He had the same brown hair with honeyed streaks. It was longer now in the front than it had been when they were younger. Perfect for her fingers—no, she couldn’t think that. His blue eyes looked even sexier with his aged face, not old, but not an eighteen-year old boy either. No, this was a thirty-year-old man with the hard body to prove it.
She straightened her shoulders and met his dumbfounded gaze head-on. “Matt.”
She gave a wry smile, pushing down the urge to throw herself into his arms or run from the crowd that had gathered around them.
“Looks like it.”
He held out his hand, and she grabbed her Coke, careful not to let their skin touch. Even after all these years, she didn’t think she’d be able to handle that.
“I was sorry to hear about your grandmother,” Matt said, his sympathy reflected in his eyes.
She ignored the dull ache gripping her heart. “Thank you. I know she loved you like her own.” Damn, why did she have to go and say that? Now even more memories flooded her. Memories of her and Matt sitting at her grandmother’s table, drinking hot cocoa or making cookies, or planting flowers in the flowerbed on a warm spring day.
She wasn’t going to make it. Damn.
“Well, isn’t this nice?”
And, so it begins.
Jordan turned slightly as Stacey St. James sidled past her and ran a finger down Matt’s arm. He looked down at the stacked blonde-haired woman and gave a slow blink then looked right past her like he didn’t care, but he didn’t move when she linked arms with him.
Great, it was high school all over again.
“Oh, Jordan! It is you!” Stacey batted her eyelashes, and Jordan wanted to punch her…hard. “I almost didn’t recognize you. Why, don’t you look…like you’ve been driving?”
Yep, even after all these years, Jordan wanted to smack-a-bitch. But, apparently, law enforcement frowned upon that, especially when said bitch was the daughter of the most prominent family in town. Well, other than the Coopers, of course, although Matt and his family had always been warm to her.
And now thoughts of just how warm Matt had been with her flooded her mind. Her cheeks heated, and she coughed. Enough of that.
“Well, I drove here all the way from Denver, so, yes; I suppose it would look like that.”
“How long are you staying?” Matt asked as he extricated himself from Stacey’s clutches.
“As long as it takes to clean out the house and sell it.” Jordan couldn’t stay any longer than that; she wouldn’t make it.
Could that be disappointment in his gaze? No, it had been too long. He couldn’t possibly care if she came or went. It had been eleven years. Besides, she’d left without a world. He didn’t owe her anything beyond this brief encounter, while she owed him everything.
She hated being in debt to anyone.
Mr. Clancy finally took her purchase, and she slid over some cash before the older man had a chance to speak. Good thing since he looked like he’d seen a ghost—ha, funny.
“Have you seen the house yet?” Matt asked, his brows furrowed.
She shook her head and took her Coke and gum back with a small smile to Mr. Clancy. “Not yet. I was on my way over there. I just wanted to stop by for a drink.” She squared her shoulders and started toward the exit.
“You might find more than you bargained for if you want to get out quick.”
Jordan stopped and pivoted toward him. “Why? It should only take a few days to clean it out then slap on some paint, right?”
Matt shook his head and put his thumbs in his belt loops—too sexy. “Your grandmother got real sick at the end, and none of us knew.” Sadness washed over his face, and Jordan held back any similar feelings. “It may take more than you anticipated to get it ready.”
She let out a sigh and closed her eyes, counting to ten. “Then I’ll just have to deal with it, won’t I? I’m here for the duration in any case.” After all, she’d quit her PR job, a job that she hated, so she could find herself. God, how pathetic did that sound?
“Well, if you need anything, I’m here. And I bet my brothers would help out in a second.”
Jordan nodded, a smile forming. Damn those helpful, sexy Cooper brothers. “Thanks, if I need anything, I’ll holler. But I hope to do most of it on my own.”
Matt nodded, a knowing look on his face. Damn, he could always tell her emotions and he knew she was out of sorts. She hated their connection now. “Of course. Well, I need to head back to work, but it’s good to see you, Jor.” He reached out then looked like he’d thought better of it.
She bit her tongue to keep herself from saying anything, or worse, touching him.
“Good to see you too, Matt.”
Matt turned, stopped suddenly, and turned back. “And I’m an idiot.” He grabbed a pen from the counter and jotted something on a piece of scrap paper near the register. “Here’s my number. Call if you need anything.”
“Thanks.” She took it from him and watched him walk away, his muscular legs encased is snug jeans. Yum. She stuffed the number in her back pocket and walked toward the door. “Thanks, Mr. Clancy.”
He winked. “Good to see you, Miss Jordan. Stay out of trouble.”
She gave a huge grin. “You know me.”
“That’s why I said it, hon.”
Jordan laughed and walked past a fuming Stacey and through the exit. The sun beat down on her though the wind chilled the atmosphere quickly.
“Just so you know, I’m going to marry Matt. So keep your claws out of him.”
Jordan stopped at her car and turned, her body aching at the thought of Matt marrying that shrew. “Good luck.” What else could she say? I hope you break a nail and die, you bleach blonde bitch?
Stacey sniffed. “And you better be on your way out of town as soon as you’re done. Because no one wants you here.” Jordan held back a flinch, but remembered the look of compassion on Mr. Clancy’s face. Maybe not everyone hated her. Maybe. “No one did before, and nothing has changed. So you can get your witchy butt back in that old clunker of yours and leave.”
Jordan put her Coke on the hood of her car and forced herself not to retaliate, at least not physically. Oh sure, she could use magic or cast a spell on her, but Stacey wasn’t worth stirring up trouble. “I don’t know what I ever did to you, Stacey.”
“Don’t you?” she spat.
“I honestly don’t.”
“Do my eyes deceive me? Is that Jordan Cross in my town?” A too-smooth voice broke the tension between them, and Jordan wanted to vomit.
“Hello, Prescott, your sister was just welcoming me to the town.” She clenched her keys in her fist, ready to escape. God, she didn’t want to be here, not with him.
“Ah, Stacey is quite the helper, isn’t she?” He wrapped an arm around his sister’s shoulders and gave a perfectly fake, megawatt smile.
“As always. Well, if that’s all, I’m going to go. Thanks for the welcome.” She opened her car door and slid inside. A hand caught the doorframe before she could close the door, and Jordan inwardly cursed.
“Now that you’re back, just know that I’m the mayor of this town,” Prescott sneered. “And we don’t need any of your kind here. So watch your step, and I’ll be sure to watch it as well. You aren’t welcome here, Jordan Cross. And if you cross me or my town, I’ll stick Sheriff Tyler Cooper on your ass so fast you won’t be able to hex anyone this time.”
Prescott looked up and narrowed his gaze. “Ah, there is our Sheriff now. You’re lucky this time.”
Jordan bit her tongue. She didn’t hex people. It was a moral rule of hers. But damn Prescott and his insults anyway.
“If that’s all…” She tugged on her door, and Prescott pulled away, his fake smile back on his face.
“Welcome to Holiday, Jordan.”
She slammed the door closed, revved her engine, and pulled away. Jesus, what had she been thinking coming back?
Holiday wasn’t her home, not anymore. She’d do her job and leave. She had to because, if she didn’t, no amount of spells would protect her heart or her sanity.