Series: Outlaw Hartes (Book 1)
Certainly he had been bewitched by women before, but for rancher -- and single father -- Matt Harte, this was the last straw! Because of his daughter's shenanigans, he'd gotten roped into planning the annual Valentine's Day dance. And his partner in crime? Why, beautiful big-city vet -- and recent Salt River transplant -- Ellie Webster. Who he couldn't take his eyes off. And not for lack of trying...
Ellie knew that Matt Harte didn't want her in his town, let alone on the intimate dance committee of two. But this was for her daughter's sake. It wasn't like she wanted to spend all that one-on-one time with the rugged rancher, imagining what it would be like to be his partner -- for real....
Very good "Parent Trap" type of story. Dylan Webster and Lucy Harte are fourth grade girls who have become best friends since Dylan and her mother moved to town. They are such good friends that they've decided that the next step is to become sisters. But to do that, they're going to have to find a way to get their parents together. So without their knowledge, Ellie and Matt get volunteered to co-chair the annual Valentine's Day school fundraiser.
To say they aren't pleased is an understatement. Matt is really busy as a rancher, and not much of a fan of Valentine's Day since his divorce. And to be paired with the big city vet from California, with the woo-woo vet techniques? No thanks - even if he can't keep his eyes off her. But Lucy has been a different kid since Dylan became her friend, one who smiles and laughs more and isn't so shy. When Lucy reminds him that it's also a way for them to spend time together, he can't tell her no.
Ellie isn't too thrilled either. Matt's made no secret of the fact that he doesn't think much of her as a vet, even though she's never treated one of his animals. His attitude is mirrored by other ranchers, making it hard for her to get her practice up and running. She hopes that working on this committee will help ease her way into the community.
I loved seeing Matt and Ellie get tossed together. The two girls are pretty good at creating opportunities, and Matt and Ellie start to soften a bit toward each other. When one of Matt's horses has a problem while Ellie is there, he agrees to let her look at the animal. After normal techniques don't help, he allows Ellie to break out her acupuncture needles and is stunned by the effect. Impressed by her passion for her work, he asks her to become the vet for his horses. Ellie is happy to have Matt's business as her practice hasn't been going so well. It isn't long before some of the other ranchers are following suit.
Between committee meetings, vet visits and their girls, Matt and Ellie find themselves spending a fair amount of time together. There's an attraction that keeps building between them, but both try to resist. Matt was burned in love by his ex-wife, a city girl who never settled into ranch life. She made his life miserable before running off, and he isn't too keen on opening himself up to another woman, especially one from the city. But there's something about Ellie that has her finding her way into his heart. Ellie works even harder at resisting Matt. She has worked a long time to develop the independence and ability to take care of herself. Long ago she saw her mother fall apart when her husband left her. She watched her mother spiral downward in her attempts to find a man to take care of her and swore she would never let that happen to her. Then, after she ended up in foster care, every time she would start to care for someone she'd lose them. Now she won't depend on anyone but herself.
Things start to get really complicated, as Ellie receives threats from someone who doesn't want her there. Matt wants to protect her, but Ellie is still afraid to lean on anyone. Their attraction is growing, as are the feelings underlying the attraction. As the threats and troubles for Ellie increase, Matt is torn between wanting to protect her and believing some of the things that happen are her fault. He says some really terrible things to her, which reminds her of why she doesn't get involved. When a new threat hits way too close to her personally, Matt tries to be there for her, finally recognizing his feelings for what they are, but it's Ellie's fears that have her pushing him further away. She has to be able to overcome them before she can have a chance at the life she would really like to have. Her fears and what they were doing to her and her relationship with Matt were really emotional to read about. Having her finally see it and want to do something about it was very satisfying.
The mystery of who had it in for Ellie really wasn't too hard to figure out. I was a bit surprised they hadn't suspected earlier. Each thing that happened was pretty creepy, but the last was definitely the worst. As scary as it was for Ellie, I loved seeing how everyone supported her. The resolution of it was especially well done.