Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cowboy at Arms - Carla Cassidy (HRS #1887 - Mar 2016)

Series: Cowboys of Holiday Ranch (Book 4)

When single mom Trisha Cahill fled her deadly ex, she never expected to feel safe again. Yet Dusty Crawford is the protector she's always yearned for. She can't deny her attraction to the rugged cowboy, but how can she start a new beginning with evil lurking in her past?

Dusty has been intrigued by Trisha since she and her infant son arrived in Bitterroot, Oklahoma. When her life is threatened by a stalker, he won't hesitate to act as guardian. Trisha may be running from more than her bloody past, but Dusty will go to extremes to keep the vulnerable beauty safe.

Good addition to the series. This time it is Dusty's story. He is the best friend of Forest, from Cowboy Under Fire. We learned in that book that Dusty has a pretty big crush on Trisha, one of the diner waitresses. In this book he finally works up the courage to ask her out. 

Trisha has kept pretty much to herself, just working and taking care of her son. She came to Bitterroot while running from her ex, who she believes is responsible for the deaths of her best friend and her mother. She is constantly looking over her shoulder, expecting him to show up at any time. She has started to relax a little, and going out with Dusty is her first step to resuming a normal life.

I loved Dusty. Like all of the cowboys at the ranch, he has a turbulent past. He was raised by an abusive father, leaving emotional scars that still affect him. I loved his hints of vulnerability as he tried to work up the courage to ask Trisha out, and his nervousness when he finally did so. 

The development of their relationship was really sweet. Dusty is so careful to treat her with respect and his own brand of cowboy honor. I also liked the way that he immediately made her son Cooper an important part of the relationship. There were some really wonderful scenes of Cooper and Dusty together, as Dusty became the father figure he wished he had had himself. When the appearance of an apparent stalker freaked Trisha out, Dusty's protective instincts kicked in. I loved seeing the way that he took charge of her safety and that of her son. Trisha has spent so long doubting herself because of one bad relationship that she's a little extra cautious around Dusty. It didn't take her long to realize she could trust him. I loved seeing her allow herself to lean on him, as he gave her the courage to stand and fight rather than run again. I also enjoyed seeing the two grow closer as they shared the traumas of their pasts and began to hope for a better future. Things are moving along quite well until something happens that brings all of Dusty's insecurities flooding back and he tries to pull away. I loved seeing Trisha decide to stand up and fight for what she wants, and Dusty's reaction when she does. The epilogue was sweet.

The suspense of the story was good. There are two mysteries running through the book. The first is the mystery of the seven bodies that were found on the ranch. This one will run through the series. The investigation is at a bit of a standstill as there have been no new clues found. That is, until Dusty pulls up a skull at the end of his fishing line and it turns out to be the one missing from the collection of bones under the shed. However, there is nothing that indicates how it got into the pond.The police chief is frustrated but determined to solve the crime. I currently have two frontrunners in my suspicions, so we'll see if I'm right about either of them.

The second mystery is that of who is stalking Trisha. There are multiple suspects, from her ex to assorted customers at the diner. Trisha's fears for her safety and that of her son are real, especially after someone breaks into her hotel room and destroys it. As the attacks escalate, she fears more for Dusty's life than her own, as she's sure that she has brought danger to him. The occasional glimpse into the stalker's point of view only serves to increase the sense of danger. The final confrontation was intense, with an unexpected twist in the identity of the stalker. Help in finding Trisha also came from a truly unexpected source.

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