Thursday, October 26, 2017

Outlaw's Honor - B.J. Daniels (HQN - June 2017)

Series: Cahill Ranch (Book 2)

She never expected this Cahill to be her hero -- or the only man she'd need

It's hard to forget a beautiful woman who picks your pocket the first time you meet. Darby Cahill recognizes Mariah Ayres the moment she walks into his bar looking for a job. He shouldn't hire her…or crave more after one impulsive kiss. But what starts as curiosity about her motives turns to concern when he senses how much danger she's in.

Mariah has been running ever since she left her fiancĂ© at the altar. Now she's playing the part of the perfect employee, terrified that her past will catch up with her. But Darby has already seen through her act. He's the kind of guy who saves people. And even if Mariah's given him no reason to trust her, he's determined to protect her -- and he'll risk his life to do it…

Terrific second installment in the Cahill Ranch series, about six siblings in the tiny Montana town of Gilt Edge. The first book, Renegade's Pride, was the story of Lillian, the only girl. This book is mostly about her twin brother, Darby. Darby has been feeling restless, not sure that the bar he co-owns with his sister is enough for him anymore. Then, during the annual Chokecherry Festival, a beautiful young woman tries to steal his wallet and ends up leaving a valuable family heirloom behind as she flees. When she shows up at the bar looking for a job, he knows he should just give back the bracelet and send her on her way. But he is intrigued by her, so he hires her.

Mariah has been running for months, never staying long in one place before moving on. She's heartbroken at the loss of her grandmother's bracelet and is determined to get it back. She plans to hire on, figure out where the bracelet is and take it back, then get out of town. She knows that her ex won't give up looking for her. But there is something about Darby that has her lingering, not quite ready to move on.

I loved the interactions between Darby and Mariah. They both play it cool when she shows up at the bar, pretending that they don't know why she's really there. Darby is watchful, just waiting for Mariah to make her move, while she tries to wait him out. Their conversations, actions, and reactions have a fun cat and mouse lightness to them, but there is also attraction simmering under the surface. It doesn't take Darby long to realize that he has fallen hard for Mariah and that there is something bad that is driving her. I loved his protectiveness as he convinces her to stay and fight. Mariah is equally taken with Darby, which causes her to linger far longer than she intended. She knows that the best thing to do is leave before she puts Darby and everyone else in danger, but she lets him talk her into staying.

The suspense of waiting for her ex to show up had me on the edge of my seat. From the moment Mariah confessed all to Darby, I could feel the tension start to build. The scenes from Rafael's point of view were chilling, and I completely understood Mariah's fear. The confrontation was intense, with so many twists and turns I wondered how it was going to work out. Both Mariah and Darby were amazing, but it was an unlikely hero who came through at just the right moment. I liked the realism of what Mariah went through afterward, and that Darby was there to help her through it. His big moment at the end was sweet and romantic and perfect for them. I also loved Lillie's reaction and her suggestion for the wedding.

There was also more going on than just the romance between Darby and Mariah. The Cahill patriarch, Ely, still insists that he has had encounters with aliens, while Flint tries to convince him that it was military related. A health scare keeps him out of the mountains for a short time. Meanwhile, sheriff Flint has his hands full with a rash of burglaries. I loved seeing his detective work as he figures out who the culprits are. With it being such a small town, he knows everyone, and I really enjoyed watching him set and spring his trap. His love life is still in trouble also. In the previous book, his ex-wife's antics had succeeded in driving Flint's girlfriend away, thanks to Flint's reluctance to believe what was happening. He has finally seen the light, but without hard proof, there isn't anything he can do. I liked seeing his patience pay off as he and Maggie get back together. Unfortunately, Celeste is still up to her old tricks. I definitely agree with Maggie that Celeste's actions are not harmless and expect to see them escalate further. I liked Flint's discussion with Celeste's husband and wasn't surprised at how it turned out.

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