HER RANCHER PROTECTOR
The last person Montana rancher Tyler Hunt expected to see on his ranch was his soon-to-be ex-wife. True, he had yet to sign the divorce papers, but Julie had sworn never to return. One look in her eyes, however, and he knew why she was back. Julie was in desperate need of his help.
She'd left Tyler, fearing the loss of her identity. But that desire for independence had caused her life to be put in jeopardy, and Tyler was the only man she could trust. Yet even as the mystery surrounding her new life brought them back together, a secret from Tyler's own past was threatening their reunion. Would they ever have the chance to recapture the bond they'd once shared?
Good second chance story brought about by a mystery. Julie had left her husband, Tyler, the year before, feeling a need to do something other than be a ranch wife. She got a job working for a professor in Portland, Oregon, one that gave her a chance to travel and to have a variety of experiences. But when she got caught in the middle of a phony investigation, her life was suddenly in danger. The only way to feel safe was to go back to Tyler and Montana.
Tyler never really understood why Julie left in the first place and was stunned to see her come back. Nor was he particularly happy about it. He's still dealing with the pain of her leaving, he certainly doesn't want to risk going through it all again. But as much as he wants to protect himself, he can't turn his back on her.
The initial meeting between Julie and Tyler didn't go well at all. She was exhausted, afraid and hopeful of sanctuary. Tyler's attitude was pretty harsh. I got that he was still hurting, but he was nasty to her. He relented a little bit, but even when she told him what was happening to her he wasn't nice. I liked seeing her stand up to him at one point and make him leave. It showed a little more backbone than I'd seen her have to that point.
Though Tyler is reluctant to get involved with her again, his mother has no such qualms. She sets things up so that Julie has to accompany Tyler when he takes the ranch guests on a cattle drive. This forces the two of them together, with the chance to see if there is anything worth saving from their marriage. From the little pieces of background that were dropped, I got the feeling that both Julie and Tyler had been pretty young when they married. He had one thing in mind for their future, and didn't see her growing dissatisfaction. For her part, though she tried to talk to him about her feelings, she hadn't been very good at making her point. The love was still there, but they couldn't figure out how to mesh the lives they wanted. Even though she had been gone for a year, Tyler still hadn't signed the divorce papers.
I enjoyed watching the revitalization of their feelings. The attraction was still there, but they were wary of trusting their feelings. After a year away, Julie has begun to realize that Montana feels more like home that Portland had. Being near Tyler again reminds her of the good parts of their marriage and makes her wonder if there's still a chance. But she also worries about losing the progress she has made with her own self-confidence. Seeing Julie work the cattle drive with him, he begins to see that she isn't the frail flower he'd thought of her before. I liked the way he was impressed by how she handled herself on the trail. The question becomes one of whether Julie can see that she can make the life she wants on the ranch, or if she thinks she has to be alone to be independent. I ached for both of them at the end, until Julie finally saw the truth of where she belonged.
There were two mysteries going on during this book. The first and most predominant, was the one involving Julie and whatever it was she got mixed up in back in Portland. I thought she had been pretty naive to fall for the story that Trill told her, but I was also a bit suspicious about her boss's reaction when she confessed to what had happened. The attack on her in Portland was definitely scary, and her flight was perfectly understandable. The "accidents" that happened on the cattle drive were worrisome, since it was hard to figure out how someone could know that's where she headed. Each attack got more intense. The final confrontation on the ranch was intense, with an unexpected twist in the attackers' identities. But that wasn't the end of things, as the person behind the attacks still had to be stopped. That was quite a convoluted series of events, which had me on the edge of my seat until it was all over.
The second mystery involved one of the guests on the ranch and why he was there. His interactions with Tyler's mom were interesting, and became understandable once we find out their connection. Though I was suspicious of him at the beginning, he grew on me quickly. I liked his protectiveness toward Julie and his willingness to help however needed on the cattle drive. He really came through when the danger was at its worst. I liked the ending when he was finally able to explain why he was there.