COWBOY TO THE CORE
Jake Dalton believes in worthy causes -- like opening his Texas ranch to inner-city kids for the summer. But there's a catch…that involves a woman. Dedicated do-gooder Carolina Lambert can hold her own against any man…Jake included. Except now someone with a nasty grudge who's been waiting for the perfect moment to strike has the beautiful widow in his sights.
R.J. Dalton's estranged son is the last man on earth Carolina wants to trust with her life. But the rugged single father has sworn to keep her safe. As passion ignites -- and a killer closes in -- Carolina and Jake may lose their chance at a love neither expected to find again.
Good conclusion to the series. Carolina is the mother of the men from the first three books of the Big D Dads series. She is also the neighbor of R.J. Dalton and a good friend of his. She was instrumental in reuniting him with his estranged children, Jake being the only holdout. She has tried several times to get Jake to visit R.J. without success, and considers him to be a cold-hearted man to ignore his dying father. She's surprised when Jake offers his ranch as a training site for her at-risk teen program.
Jake is the widower father of a teenage girl. He has a successful ranch and a good life. However, he is tired of Carolina's nagging attempts to get him to reconcile with his father. He has his reasons for his attitude, and she isn't going to change his mind. He figures that a rich socialite like she is has her own motivations and he isn't interested in helping her with them. He's surprised to discover that she's in charge of the at-risk program and isn't too sure about having her on his ranch. But he figures he can stay out of her way for the short time she'll be there.
Things change when he witnesses Carolina and her friend Mildred being threatened by Mildred's ex-husband. He steps in to protect them. When he later learns of further threats against Carolina, he discovers an unexpected determination to keep her safe. There is also an attraction that he hasn't felt for another woman since the death of his wife.
I really enjoyed the development of the relationship between Jake and Carolina. Both of them had had definite opinions about each other, based on the few meetings they'd had. It didn't take long for them to discover that the truth was vastly different. I liked seeing Jake get surprised by each new thing he learned about her and start to see her in a new light. Carolina has not been involved with anyone since her husband's death, certain that he had been the only one she would ever love. Jake was never on her radar that way until she spent time with him. I liked seeing him demolish her opinions of him with the way that he cared for his daughter and his relationships with others. Both of them were strong individuals with their own way of doing things. I loved seeing them cooperate and compromise during their efforts to track down Thad. That also extended to the feelings that were growing between them, as they both dealt with the strength of them. Both were a bit tentative about trusting what was happening, but willing to see where it would go. In the end, both realize that life can be too uncertain and embrace what they have found.
The suspense of the story was good, with the looming danger of the man who had a grudge against Carolina. The danger is obvious from the beginning as his actions and thoughts are revealed. Jake and Carolina are determined to find him and put an end to his threats. I liked that they didn't go it completely alone, that they involved the sheriff and others all along the way. Everything that they found out just added to the sense of impending danger. Even when it looked like he was far away, there was still enough uncertainty to keep me turning the pages. The final confrontation was intense and fast paced with a very satisfying resolution.
One of the things I enjoyed most of all was that Carolina and Jake were older than the usual romance couples. It was great to see that, at fifty-five, she is still considered to be a vibrant and sexy woman. Though I don't recall Jake's age being mentioned, it seems to be close to that of Carolina's. He is also still quite attractive to the ladies.
I also enjoyed the secondary characters of Lizzie, Edna and Mary. I felt bad for Jake as he was trying so hard to be a good dad for Lizzie, but was out of his depth dealing with her actions and attitude. I thought she was portrayed quite well, and the cause of her behavior was believable. I loved Edna's running of the ranch house and how everyone hopped to her bidding. Her awe of Carolina was pretty sweet. Jake's mom Mary was fun with her stories of her travels. I also liked seeing her with R.J. at the end of the book.
The only problem I had with the book was that there were several places where the wrong man's name was used. This was jarring enough to pull me out of the story for a moment as I'd have to reread to see if I had missed something.