THE ONLY PLACE SHE FEELS SAFE…
After her capture by human traffickers, international reporter Arden Wilkes should have felt safe back in her small hometown. Blue Falls, Texas, feels comfortingly familiar -- and painfully foreign. Disoriented, Arden struggles to regain her sense of self and deal with the aftermath…only to find a sense of safety in the last place she ever expected.
Rancher Neil Hartley knows too well the kind of scars that trauma can bring. However, what started out as warm friendship with Arden is quickly turning into a deepening attraction. But despite Arden's slow recovery -- and the promise of love -- her old life still awaits her return. Now Arden must choose between the woman she used to be…and the safety of her rancher's arms.
Very good book. Arden has spent years traveling the world as an international reporter. Then she was captured by human traffickers while doing a story and held for weeks. After her rescue, she has come home to recover, but she isn't finding the sense of safety she expected. Instead, the only place she feels any peace is with rancher Neil Hartley.
From the very beginning of the book, the effects of the trauma on Arden were very obvious. Far from being the fearless reporter she had been, now she is nervous in crowds or in wide open spaces, and strange noises have her ducking for cover. During an incident at a convenience store, Neil comes to her rescue, easing her out of a panic attack and flashback.
Neil has some experience with trauma of his own. Thanks to his adoptive parents, he's overcome most of the effects, but it has made him very empathetic to what Arden is going through. Fate throws them together a couple times, where Neil can't deny the connection he feels with her.
Arden feels very alone, still caught in the nightmare that happened to her. She's dealing with the memories that still ambush her, night and day. She also feels a boatload of guilt, blaming the heart attack her dad had and the resulting medical bills on herself. She wonders what she's going to do with the rest of her life, because the thought of going back to her old one scares her to death.
I loved the development of their relationship. It starts out simply as friendship, a man who has come back from his own problems wanting to help someone else through theirs. Neil can't deny the attraction he feels, but is sensitive enough not to push. I loved the scene at the rodeo, where he sees her distress and provides a little distraction and buffer against the rest of the world. Arden is relieved by his presence and feels a sense of peace with him that she doesn't feel anywhere else. She also notices how good looking he's become, and feels a spark of something that makes her feel alive again. Over the next few weeks the time they spend together helps Arden begin to feel normal again. And the sparks that both feel are getting brighter and harder to resist. Neil has visions of a future with Arden in it, but fears giving his heart to a woman who will eventually find the courage to resume her old life. I loved seeing how Neil's support helps Arden regain a bit of her old self. There's a terrific scene where her growing feelings for Neil bring out her own protectiveness, combined with her old instincts, as she faces down a threat to his livelihood. That scene also brings her to the question of if she's really ready to give up her old life. I ached for Neil as he realized that he had to let her go if that was what she wanted. I loved Arden's conversation with her Southern friend in a London pub and the truth it made her see. I loved her big moment at the end, it was so romantic and sweet.
I fell completely in love with Neil's family. His parents are awesome with the way that they opened their hearts to the kids they adopted. It was such a loving family, that accepted everyone for who they were. I especially enjoyed how they so quickly made Arden a part of their group. I also loved Neil's brothers and sisters. It was obvious that they all loved and supported each other, but there was also a fair amount of teasing that went on. I hope that they all get their own stories, too.
I liked the attention that was paid to Arden's struggles. We got just enough information about what she'd been through to make it real, without it overpowering the romance. I especially enjoyed the visit with the puppies and hoped that there would be one in her future.