ONCE UPON A RANCH IN WYOMING…
After losing his comrade, Sergeant Gil Hanford thought a visit to the man's widow would be the decent way to honor his late friend. But Gil found more than comfort in Kai Tiernan -- he had always secretly desired beautiful Kai, but a sudden, mutual passion helped assuage their grief…until duty reared its head, removing him from her arms, seemingly forever.
Four years later, Kai is starting over at the Triple H Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Born a rancher, she is looking for a new beginning -- but her new boss is unforgivably familiar. Kai has tried to move past the memory of what happened between her and Gil, even though she's never forgiven him for leaving her. But even as they begin their journey toward something new and oh-so-uncertain, a shadow emerges, determined to claim Kai for itself.
Excellent friends to lovers story. Gil and Kai became friends when Kai met and married Gil's best friend and fellow Delta Force operator Sam. After Sam's death, Gil would check in on Kai often. When his brother was killed in action, in his grief Gil went to Kai, who was still grieving for Sam. Their shared grief erupted in passion, and they had five intense days together. Then Gil disappeared without a word, leaving Kai devastated, angry and feeling used.
Four years later, Kai is out of the army and looking for work as a ranch mechanic. Hired by Talon Holt (High Country Rebel), Kai is dismayed to discover that the ranch foreman is none other than Gil. Her hurt and anger return, even as she worries that she could lose this much-needed job if she expresses it. Gil had also never forgotten those days together, and carries a tremendous amount of guilt over the way it ended.
Both Kai and Gil come to the relationship with some baggage. Kai had a miserable childhood after her mother's death, with a father who considered a woman's place to be in the home. In spite of her being able to do everything her brother did, her dad never approved of her wishes. He was also a man who never showed her any affection. When Kai decided to leave the ranch and join the army, her father disowned her. While stationed in Afghanistan, she met and married Sam, a Delta Force operator. Unfortunately for her, Sam was a man who had trouble expressing his emotions, leaving her frequently feeling drained by the love she gave, but rarely having her own needs looked after. Only her friendship with Sam's best friend Gil gave her any of the emotional sustenance she needed. After Gil's apparent desertion of her, she found it difficult to trust again.
Gil had met Kai at the same time Sam did. Unknown to either of them, Gil had also fallen in love with Kai. Being an honorable man, he was very careful never to let either of them know about his feelings. After Sam's death, Gil made a point of checking on Kai whenever he could, happy just to be able to see her. He didn't know if he'd ever be able to tell her of his feelings. His grief over his brother's death sent him running to the only person he knew who might be able to help him through it. He never expected that comfort to take the route it did. Then one morning, a call back to duty came in, with Gil having to leave immediately for an undercover assignment. He wasn't permitted to tell her anything, so he just disappeared. The assignment went for two years, and when he came back he thought it was too late to do anything about it, and never tried to get in contact with her. But he had never forgotten those days together, and seeing her again brings his feelings for her back to the surface. Discovering how devastated she'd been by his actions makes his guilt even worse.
When they met again, each reacted in accordance with their personalities. Kai has never had trouble expressing her feelings and she lets Gil know exactly how she feels about seeing him again. She worries that it could cost her her job, and she insists on keeping their personal history out of the workplace. Gil is a sensitive man, in spite of his Delta Force reputation. He knows he hurt her, and is beginning to realize just how much. He promises that their history won't affect their working relationship.
I was a bit mad at Kai at the beginning that she refused to let Gil explain what had happened. If she had let him explain right away, she might have been able to let go of her anger a bit sooner. I liked the way that Gil was smart enough to know that she had to find her way past her anger at her own rate. Once they actually talked, I could see the healing begin. Both of them realized that the attraction between them was still just as strong. Kai was very wary of giving in to it again, not sure that she could trust Gil not to disappear once more. She was afraid to risk her heart again. Gil knows that what he feels for Kai is more than just attraction, but also knows that she's not ready to hear it. I loved seeing Gil's patience as he works to earn her trust again. It was great to see his patience pay off as Kai begins to open up to him. They got to know each other on a deeper level than they had before. He was also very protective of her.
Part of that protectiveness was in reaction to the attentions of Chuck Harper. Harper has been an ongoing character in previous books, suspected of drug running and human trafficking, though there has been no proof. Both Gil and Talon know of the suspicions, and take steps to protect Kai when she has to be around him. But neither of them bothered to tell her about him, so she saw only the man he chose to show her. I liked that her renewed relationship with Gil made her pull back from further contact with Harper. That pulling back caused Harper to get more intense in his pursuit, and Kai began to sense trouble. When Kai and Gil were attacked one morning on their way to the ranch, the danger they were in was intense and life threatening. I loved seeing Gil's skills as an operator make the difference. It was especially awesome to see how he used those skills to make a point later. It left a bit of a cliffhanger, as the drug and trafficking storyline continues into the next book.
I loved seeing Kai and Gil finally get their feelings out in the open. It was pretty sweet to see Gil's vulnerability as he did so, and Kai's shock at his revelations. I liked seeing them continue to take the time to make sure that their feelings are real and lasting. The epilogue was awesome, with the added twist of a surprise involving two other characters.
I liked seeing Talon and Cat again, and catching up with how things are going on the ranch. I loved the fact that Talon makes a point of hiring veterans to work with him. The camaraderie among Talon, Gil and Cass is awesome. The fact that all three are former special forces makes their bond even stronger. It was fun to see how they would tease each other, but they could also be deadly serious when necessary. I also loved seeing Talon's combat dog Zeke again, and the introduction of a puppy into the family.