Series: Second Chance Ranch (Book 1)
Nestled in the sunny fields of Tennessee lies the McDaniel family's Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue. Two new arrivals are on their way, but only one is the four-legged kind.
Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski wants only one thing after he gets home from Iraq: to sleep in a king-sized bed with clean sheets. But first, he has to hand off his fallen commander's dog, Trooper, to his family without handing off his heart to Sierra...
Sierra McDaniel needs a break. Her family life is crazy, and when she's not mucking out kennels, she's slogging through grad school. Sierra certainly doesn't want another dog, especially one that reminds her of her father. And she definitely doesn't want to see Mike with that charming smile of his...
But Trooper has a mission of his own. Before too long Mike is moving to the ranch to lend a hand--and hoping for his own second chance with Sierra.
Wonderful book, with several relationships to focus on. The main one is the one that develops between Mike and Sierra, but there are also family relationships and one potential romance that are included. There are multiple points of view, including my favorite, the sections that are seen through the eyes of the dog, Trooper.
The story begins with how Trooper joined Colonel McDaniel and his men in Iraq, and became an important part of their lives. Then his confusion at the Colonel's disappearance, followed by his journey to America to become part of the Colonel's family,
It became Mike's mission to get Trooper to the US and deliver him to the family. It wasn't easy, as he had to sneak the dog aboard the plan, putting his career at risk. He's determined to get it done, then take advantage of his leave time to sleep and relax. His biggest worry is seeing the Colonel's daughter, Sierra, again. They had had an intense relationship before his deployment, but he had broken it off before he left. His attraction to her is still strong, but he's not the type of man she needs in her life.
Sierra has an incredibly busy life. She's going to grad school, teaching classes, and helping out with her mother's animal rescue. Since her father's death she has also been dealing with her own grief, her younger brother's increasingly bad attitude, and helping with her grandfather who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The last thing she wants is another dog to care for, especially one that reminds her so much of what she has lost. Having to see Mike again doesn't help.
Delivering the dog doesn't go quite as smoothly as Mike had hoped and his encounter with Sierra is somewhat awkward. It doesn't help anything that Trooper gets away from the ranch during the night and finds his way back to Mike. When he returns Trooper to the ranch, he notices that there are a lot of things that need attention, even though Sierra tries to deny that they need help. I loved the way that he insisted on sticking around to help while he was on leave.
The attraction between Mike and Sierra is still there and still strong. Both try to resist it because the issues that parted them are still there. Having grown up in the military and seeing what her mother went through with her father's frequent absences, Sierra doesn't want that life for herself. She knows that Mike plans to make his career in the military. Besides the known issue of his career, Mike has never felt that he really deserves someone like Sierra. He was raised by a grandmother who was a con artist, his teen years were troublesome at best, and he feels strongly about the differences in their educations. But he can't deny the protectiveness he feels toward her and her entire family, so he stays. I loved seeing the two grow closer as Mike helps her through the ups and downs of her life as it has become. It was really terrific to see the way that Mike finds a way to help Lacey and Sierra with their fight to preserve the rescue. As his leave time grows closer to the end, both Mike and Sierra have to face the reality of their feelings and decide if they can find a way to be together, or if that will be the end. I loved the realistic look at their options, the potential problems, and the possible benefits.
The rest of the family and their lives as they are now added more depth and emotion to a story that was already heartbreaking at times. Lacey is dealing with the loss of a husband she loved, but who she rarely saw. She has buried herself in her animal rescue work, hoping to find peace. Instead, there is more frequently a feeling of being overwhelmed, but she's determined to push through. As the story goes on, we see more of what her life had been like, both good and bad, and how it has affected the way she feels now. Her unexpected attraction to the vet, Ray Vega, adds another layer of stress and confusion to what she is going through. At times I wanted to see her give in and take the comfort he offered, but at others I was sure it would be a mistake. I loved her self-awareness and how she eventually decided what she wanted. Lacey is also worried about her father-in-law, who seems to be losing his battle with Alzheimer's, and her son Nathan, who hasn't been handling his father's death well.
I loved her father-in-law, the General. When he was having a good day, he was wonderful to be around. I ached for him, as he knew that he was having trouble, and it both scared and angered him. It was heartwarming to see the way that Mike was able to help him through his episodes. It was especially hard to see him, Trooper and Mike as they dealt with the combination of the war movie and the fireworks, but the realism of it was incredible. I enjoyed the relationship the General had with Trooper, and how the dog tried to look out for him.
Sierra's brother Nathan was another character that was having trouble coping with the loss of his father. At the beginning he just seemed like another teenager with an attitude problem. It isn't until we get the point of view of Trooper that we see that there is something more going on. I loved Trooper's part in helping the family see that Nathan needs help, and then Mike's involvement also.
I really felt like Trooper was truly the star of the show. His views on what was happening around him were simple and direct. I loved the way that he maneuvered things so that Mike would have to stay at the ranch. I loved his memories of the Colonel and the insight they gave to his relationship with Lacey. And it was Trooper's senses that gave the first indication of the trouble that was coming with Nathan. It was great to have the epilogue done from his point of view. I loved seeing the family a few years down the road.