A COWBOY'S PROTECTION
Rancher Wyatt Marshall always does what's right. He raised his three brothers and is currently hosting at-risk teens on his family's ranch. So when Susannah Bradley and her children seek refuge at the Circle M, fleeing an abusive husband, Wyatt immediately invites her into his home… His heart, though, is off-limits.
Susannah is drawn to the stoic cowboy, but the ever-honorable Wyatt keeps her at a distance, refusing to get in the way of Susannah starting a new life. But for the first time, Susannah is free to go after what she really wants…and increasingly what she wants is the life she has on the Circle M -- with Wyatt.
Good conclusion to the series. Wyatt is the oldest of the Marshall brothers and the one who runs the ranch. He is currently recovering from a riding injury which broke his back, and is rather testy at having his activities limited. His brothers have stepped in to help run things on top of doing their own jobs. They have also been hosting seven at-risk teens on their ranch for the summer. At the beginning of the book, one of the boys, Nate, has gone missing. He went home to check on his mother and little sister, and found them being abused by his father. When Wyatt's brother Ford ad social worker Caroline arrived, they brought Nate and his mother and sister back to the ranch for safety. Wyatt offers Susannah the job of cooking and running the house, while she and her kids stay on the ranch for the summer.
I really liked Wyatt. He's the quiet one of the family, keeps things running smoothly. When Wyatt was sixteen the boys were orphaned and Wyatt went to work to keep them together. They were all taken in by the previous owner of the Circle M, who then left the ranch to them when he died. They have chosen to honor him by helping the teens. Helping Susannah is just an extension of that calling. I loved at the beginning, when he was grumpy, because it was so realistic of guys when they're sick. I liked his protectiveness and how he watched over everyone. He's also carrying a load of guilt around, because he feels responsible for their father's death.
I also liked Susannah. She is much stronger than she gives herself credit for. She married her husband young, running away with him before she was eighteen. He turned out not to be a good husband, drinking too much, unable to keep a job, and ultimately being abusive. She feels guilty about her poor judgment in men, and that it put her kids in danger. She's grateful to the Marshalls for the sanctuary. She also regrets that her trouble has brought trouble to them.
I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Wyatt and Susannah. There were sparks of attraction from the beginning, but Susannah is still married, so Wyatt tries to resist. He's also a bit cautious, having been burned once before in a relationship. The first thing that comes out is the protectiveness that Wyatt shows for Susannah and the kids. Besides just giving them a place to stay, he also gives Susannah a purpose, which helps her feel more comfortable staying there. There are also some sweet scenes between Wyatt and Susannah's little girl Amber, who has him wrapped around her fingers. As the summer goes on, Wyatt and Susannah build a good friendship, but the attraction simmers underneath. When it bursts forth, Wyatt tries to pull back, not wanting to keep her from experiencing the freedom she now has. He wants more, but not at the expense of her happiness. Meanwhile, Susannah has grown to love Wyatt and her life there at the ranch. She sees past the gruff exterior to the man who cares so much. But she's afraid that he's just being nice, so she makes her plans to leave the ranch by the end of the summer. I loved seeing how both of them get an added push to go after what they really want. I especially loved the lecture Wyatt got from Susannah's son Nate. I loved seeing how both of them finally found the courage to speak of their feelings. I loved the last chapter, with the December reunion with the teens, and the surprise that Wyatt and Susannah had for the whole group.
There was some added tension in the story provided by Susannah's ex. He was determined to get her back and made a couple unwelcome appearances. The final confrontation with him was a bit intense, and I wondered how it was going to end. I loved that Wyatt was so calm throughout.
There was also a fair amount of time spent with the teens who are staying at the ranch. I enjoyed seeing the changes they'd gone through during the series. During this book there was some boy/girl tension, as one of the girls had turned into a real flirt. Another girl was a bit insecure and had a serious crush on Nate. I really enjoyed seeing the interactions among them all.