From the USA Today bestselling Catherine Mann comes this beautiful, heartwarming novel about a returning soldier, the daughter of his fallen commander, and a very special dog with a mission. For fans of Jill Shalvis and Susan Mallery.
Nestled in the sunny fields of Tennessee lies the McDaniel family’s Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue. Two new arrivals are on their way, but only one is the four-legged kind.
Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski wants only one thing after he gets home from Iraq: to sleep in a king-sized bed with clean sheets. But first, he has to hand off his fallen commander’s dog, Trooper, to his family without handing off his heart to Sierra…
Sierra McDaniel needs a break. Her family life is crazy, and when she’s not mucking out kennels, she’s slogging through grad school. Sierra certainly doesn’t want another dog, especially one that reminds her of her father. And she definitely doesn’t want to see Mike with that charming smile of his…
But Trooper has a mission of his own. Before too long Mike is moving to the ranch to lend a hand—and hoping for his own second chance with Sierra.
About the Author
RITA Award winner Catherine Mann is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous romances including the Dark Ops novels. She lives in Florida with her military flyboy husband and their four children.
Read an Excerpt
Whoever invented crate training should have to spend eighteen hours in a wooden box strapped inside a cargo hold. Baby, I was born to run.
—TROOPER, OVER THE ATLANTIC
SIERRA MCDANIEL HAD ordered a drug test for a whacked-out Pomeranian, then milked a nanny goat to bottle-feed a litter of motherless pit bull pups. And it wasn’t even noon yet.
The Tennessee summer sun baked her hair faster than the professional highlights she couldn’t afford anyway. She checked the latches of each kennel run attached to her mom’s converted barn/animal rescue, complete with doggie doors and an air conditioner. Someone had tampered with the locks and let all the dogs out last week, torquing off their cranky neighbors even more.
But then who wanted an animal rescue next door? Even if next door was an acre away on either side.
She double-checked the detoxing Pomeranian sprawled on a puppy bed, looking loopy. The fur ball had bitten a teenager, and the cops had soon deduced the dog discovered a hidden bag of pot, started chowing down on the weed and objected when the outraged teen tried to recover his stash. Animal Control had called her mom’s rescue for the pup that Sierra now called Doobie even though his real name was Lucky.
God, what she wouldn’t give to be a regular English Lit grad student at Vanderbilt, living in a crappy apartment with flea-market furniture. Rather than going to the local college and living in her childhood bedroom of pink ruffles and faded boy-band posters. What she wouldn’t give to have her dad come home today with his unit.
But he wasn’t, and no amount of wishing could change that.
She could, however, honor his memory by doing what he would want. So she spent every spare moment between summer classes and her grad assistantship duties pitching in at her mother’s Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue. Not that her mom would ask for help with the rescue or her own job teaching online classes year-round. Even though Sierra saw the pain and struggle in her mother’s eyes, to the rest of the world Lacey was the ultimate independent military wife, giving all for her man. Holding down the home front. Raising Sierra and Nathan to be the perfect military brats.
Oh, hey, and caring for Grandpa McDaniel while Alzheimer’s sucked him deeper into the quicksand of dementia.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mom decided to save homeless and abused animals in all her free time, starting up a nonprofit rescue organization that didn’t pay a dime. The nanny goat—freshly milked—bleated in agreement from across the yard, bell clanking around her neck before she went back to chomping grass.
Seriously, weren’t goats supposed to be gifts for third-world villages?
Huffing her sweaty bangs off her brow, Sierra yanked open the door to the mudroom on their rambling white farmhouse and quickly slammed it closed behind her, muffling the din of barking to a dull roar. Checkered curtains on the door fluttered. Through the window, Tennessee fields stretched out as far as she could see, dotted with other homesteads. Her family only owned a couple of acres total, fenced in, but even still, half the neighbors complained.
Some more vocally than others, threatening to file an injunction to shut the whole operation down at a county council meeting scheduled for next month. Another problem for another day.
She scuffed the poop off her gym shoes once, twice, then gave up and ditched her sneakers in the sink. They landed on top of the black galoshes Lacey used for kennel work, sending their old calico kitty soaring away. Sierra eyed her own purple monkey rain boots with a stab of regret that she hadn’t tugged them on this morning.
She padded into the kitchen to wash her hands and grab another cup of coffee before they had to leave for Fort Campbell. Not that an IV dose of straight caffeine would help her face what waited for them at the Army post when that planeload of returning troops landed. When Mike Kowalski landed with a living, breathing reminder of the father that hadn’t returned.
Her chest went tight and she mentally recited William Butler Yeats to soothe herself. I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made—
Footsteps thundered down the stairs, followed by the reverberation of General Gramps’s Army cadence marching across her ears seconds ahead of him entering the kitchen, overpowering her literary ramble.
“They say that in the Army the coffee’s mighty fine . . .” Her silver-haired grandfather wore a smile and his old uniform, high-stepping his way to the gurgling java maker.
He didn’t so much as shoot a look her way, but she knew the drill. Yeats was done for now. Gramps had his own “poems.” At least it was a clean one today.
She repeated his chant like a good soldier. “They say that in the Army the coffee’s mighty fine.”
They’d played this game for decades. Her life had been military issue from the cradle.
“Looks like muddy water and tastes like turpentine.” He snagged a chipped mug from a mismatched set of crockery as he continued chanting his current Jody of choice.
“Looks like muddy water and tastes like turpentine.”
“They say that in the Army the chow is mighty fine.”
“They say that in the Army the chow is mighty fine,” she echoed, childhood memories curling through her like the scent of Kona blend wafting from the pot as he poured.
He lifted his mug in toast. “A chicken jumped off the table and started marking time.”
“A chicken jumped off the table and started marking time.”
“Hoo-ah!” her grandpa grunted.
“Hoo-ah.” Happy times with Gramps were few and far between lately. Even if this moment ached as it reminded her of her dad, she could hang tough and enjoy a ritual of semi normalcy in the crazy house. “We need to leave in about fifteen minutes. I have to shower fast and change.”
Preferably into something that didn’t smell of dog poop and goat’s milk. She washed her hands, double-pumping the antibacterial soap.
Gramps opened a Tupperware container and scowled, the light mood fading fast. “Croissants? What is this? A fancy-ass French bakery or a real kitchen? I need a soldier’s breakfast.”
So much for normalcy. He’d eaten breakfast three hours ago. Eggs, bacon and pancakes, with their family Labrador snoozing on his feet. Except reminding Gramps of that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Her grandfather, Joshua McDaniel, a two-star general and veteran of three wars, remembered less and less every day.
“How about a muffin on the run, Gramps?” She patted the pan of apple nut muffins still warm from the oven. “We have to get to Fort Campbell.”
He glanced down at his open uniform jacket her mom had aired out for him. Probably at about four in the morning since her supermom insisted she never needed anything so mundane as sleep. But Sierra could see her mother fraying around the edges, the little weakness slipping through, such as lost files and forgotten errands.
And God, that thought sounded petty to nitpick, but this was a crummy day, going to pick up a dog her father had found overseas—as if there weren’t already enough animals here at her mother’s rescue. As if there weren’t already enough reminders of her dead dad. She blinked back tears. Was it so wrong to want some part of her life that wasn’t military issued and full of good-byes?
Sierra pushed aside dreams of Innisfree and patted her grandfather’s shoulder, right over the two shiny stars. “General, you are looking mighty fine today.”
“A good soldier never forgets how to polish his shoes or shine his brass.” He grimaced at the rare second’s understanding at how much of himself he’d lost.
“Mighty fine shiny shoes and brass they are, General.”
“I taught your dad, too.” He looked up at her quickly with eyes as blue as her own. “Maybe he can show you when he gets back today. It’s not too late for you to get a commission, you know. They let women in the Army now.”
“Sure, Gramps.” She didn’t even wince anymore at references to her dad coming home. Alzheimer’s had its perks for some. Like not knowing your son got blown up by a roadside bomb.
Gramps straightened the uniform tie, shirt buttons perfect even though he couldn’t zip his own jeans anymore. General Joshua McDaniel had drawers full of track suits and T-shirts he wore with his American Legion ball cap. All easy to tug on. Yet, his fingers worked the buttons of his uniform jacket now with a muscle memory of long-ago tasks, a mystery of Alzheimer’s that she’d learned not to question.
At least her mom would be happy about the uniform, and Lacey could use some happiness in her life. If getting this dog made her smile, then so be it. Sierra would suck it up and pretend seeing the mutt didn’t make her want to stand in a Tennessee cornfield and scream Emily Dickinson dirge poems at the top of her lungs.
Knowing who brought the dog made it tougher. If things had been different . . . well . . . Hell. She still wouldn’t have been here waiting for Mike Kowalski.
But she would have thought about him returning home today, would have lifted up a prayer of relief that he’d made it back safely, then moved on with her life. Instead, she could only think about her father. His funeral. The twenty-one gun salute still echoed in her ears louder than the pack of barking dogs outside.
Sierra willed away tears with a couple of lines from a bawdy Shakespearean sonnet and grabbed a muffin for herself. The family just needed her to hang on here a little while longer until she could move out in a guilt-free way only her multitasking mother could have devised.
Lacey had used some of the insurance money to renovate the barn loft into a studio apartment. Noisy. But with total solitude for Sierra. She could live there while she finished graduate school next year. She would have some independence, and Mom would still have an emergency backup for when General Gramps wandered off to get eggs, milk and Diet Cokes for his wife who’d been dead for ten years.
Or called out for a son who’d been blown up in Iraq.
Ever the soldier, General Joshua McDaniel marched one foot, then two, then started up again with his coffee on the way out of the kitchen. “They say that in the Army the training’s mighty fine . . . Last night there were ten of us, now there’s only nine . . .”
Her stomach knotted with the realization.
Gramps knew on some level that his son was gone.
She had about three seconds to grieve over that before she also realized—damn—Grandpa was tugging the car keys off the hook by the door. What had her mom been thinking leaving them there? They couldn’t do that anymore.
“Uhm, General, the motor pool is sending over a car,” she improvised.
He looked back, blue eyes confused, keys dangling.
She plucked the chain from his hand and passed him the muffin while hiding the keys in her jeans pocket. “Don’t forget to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” he grumbled, “and I don’t forget jack shit.”
“Of course not.”
“Where are my keys?”
“Haven’t seen them.” Easier to lie sometimes. Safer, too. Gramps may have muscle memory for uniforms, but not so much when it came to driving a car.
“Allen must have taken the Chevy to go out on a date with that girl Lacey. Now Millie”—he stared straight into Sierra’s eyes and called her by his dead wife’s name—“make sure that freeloading son of ours doesn’t leave the car with an empty tank.”
“Sure . . .” She patted him on his stars, something tangible left of the indomitable man she remembered.
Pivoting away, she raced up the back stairs, leaving her grandfather in the kitchen where he was stuck somewhere in the twentieth century. She wouldn’t have minded escaping back a decade or two herself. Or maybe more.
But Innisfree was clearly out of reach today.
* * *
STAFF SERGEANT MIKE Kowalski never had anyone waiting for him when he returned from overseas deployments. And yeah, both times, he’d wondered what it would feel like to be the focus of one of those star-spangled reunions with family all around.
But not this way.
He just wanted to hand over the dog to the McDaniel family. Keep his cool around Sierra. Then dive into bed for a decent night’s sleep on clean sheets.
Well, after he dived into a six-pack of cold beers.
He hitched his hand around Trooper’s leash. Thank God, the short-haired tan and brown mutt looked enough like a Belgian Malinois that most folks assumed Trooper was a military working dog. Shit would hit the fan eventually over how he’d circumvented official channels, but he would deal with that later. He’d spent his life getting out of trouble. Even joining the Army had been a part of a plea bargain with a high school mentor.
Bluffing and bravado came easy to him. After all, he’d learned from the best growing up with a con artist grandmother who’d scammed Social Security checks in the name of three dead relatives.
A hand clapped him on the back just as his battle buddy Calvin “Pinstripe” Franklin hefted his rucksack over his shoulder. “Sergeant Major’s gonna chew your ass over bringing this dog back.”
“Won’t be the first or last time that happens.” Mike adjusted his hold on the leash and his duffel, his guitar case slung over his back. He’d come by the nickname “Tazz” honestly. Wherever he went, a whirlwind of trouble followed.
“For what it’s worth, Tazz, I think what you’re doing for the Colonel’s memory is cool.” Their boots clanged against the cargo hold’s metal floor one step at a time as they filed toward the open load ramp. A marching band played patriotic tunes with a brassy gusto. A John Philip Sousa marching song segued into “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“A lecture and a write-up aren’t all that intimidating after what we’ve seen.” Most folks had flashbacks of sounds, gunfire, explosions. For him? It was the smells that sent him reeling. The acrid stench of explosives. Jet fuel. Singed hair.
Focus on the scent of clean sheets, damn it. “Quit sweating, Pinstripe. You’ll draw attention to us.”
“You must not have been chewed out by the Sergeant Major lately, or you wouldn’t be so chill,” Calvin said, trudging ahead along the metal grating.Clang. Clang. “Just keep your head low. It’ll go a lot easier for you if you don’t make a big deal out of things now. Low-key. Walk down the ramp. Hand over the dog to his new family. Come party with us. There’s a keg with your name written on it. A babe, too, if you play it right, a military groupie ready to give a soldier a warm, lap dance welcome home.”
He winced. Hand over the dog then party as if this was no big deal? Except it was more than that. Facing the family of his fallen commander. Facing the Colonel’s daughter. Sierra.
Keep it low-key.
His hand slid down to scratch Trooper’s head, bristly fur clean and flea-free thanks to the under-the-table care from the veterinarian at their forward operating base—FOB. Mike flipped Trooper’s ear back in place, then patted. He wasn’t sure who it calmed more, him or the dog.
Mutt at his side, he stepped from the belly of the plane and into the blinding afternoon sunlight. U.S. of A. soil. Fort Campbell. The Army post sprawled along the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. The scent of fresh-mown hay rode the breeze, blanketing the smell of jet fuel just enough that Mike could shove thoughts of war to the back of his brain.
He’d made it home alive. Adrenaline evaporated from him like water steaming off the hot tarmac. His arms dropped to his side. His duffel slid from his fingers as he breathed in the scent of wheat and barley so thick it was damn near an intoxicating brewery of aromatherapy.
Soldiers jostled by, bumping his shoulders, but his boots stayed rooted, his body weighted by an exhaustion a year in the making. Then the world tilted. His arms jerked.
Trooper yanked free.
His guitar strap slipped. Mike regained his footing, but too late. Trooper shot forward toward the roped off area of bystanders. Toward families. The band. Official post personnel.
Trooper’s full-grown size, powered by puppy energy and a lack of sense, turned the mutt into a speeding, barking missile. Mike jockeyed from foot to foot, gauging which way to go. Was the dog headed for the big grill puffing burger-scented smoke into the wind? Trooper’s nose definitely lifted to catch a whiff of something as he plowed forward.
The overgrown pup knocked over a tuba stand. Uniformed band members skittered to the side just as the massive brass instrument toppled and “The Star-Spangled Banner” warbled to a premature end.
Calvin jogged alongside him mumbling, “Sergeant Major’s gonna be pissed.”
Screw it. Low-key was clearly out of the question now. Mike hitched up his bag, which conveniently knocked his guitar in place again, and charged forward. He shouldered sideways past the orderly line of soldiers.
“Trooper, come,” Mike ordered.
And the dog ignored the command.
Trooper could sniff out an intruder in the dead of night. The mutt could dodge land mines to fetch a ball. But at heart, he was still a puppy accustomed to free roam of his world.
Mike picked up speed, boots pounding as he raced toward the loping mutt. He didn’t think Trooper would hurt anyone. The dog hadn’t shown feral tendencies since those first few weeks at the camp. But one false move from this dog—already on shaky ground with his entry to the U.S.—and it would be all over. His promise to the Colonel would be broken in the worst way possible.
Where the hell was Trooper going? Mike scanned the crowd of faces. Women with babies on their hips and in strollers. Men, too. Families as well as some hoochied-up girlfriends. A sea of waving flags and signs.
Love My Soldier.
People and signs parted like the Red Sea as fifty-five pounds of dog dodged and wove. Mike could only follow until the masses veed open to reveal . . .
The very family he’d been sent to meet. The McDaniel clan. Except his eyes homed in on the one that had drawn him from the first time he’d seen her at a platoon baseball game cheering in the stands.
Sierra. The daughter of his mentor. Off-limits. Untouchable. And total Kryptonite to a man who’d spent twelve long months dreaming of her citrusy scent to escape the pungent stench of war.
Mike had all of three seconds to soak up the sight of her blond hair shining so brightly in the sun he could almost smell lemons. Three seconds before . . .
Trooper leapt into the air and knocked Sierra flat on her back.
FLAT ON HER back, Sierra McDaniel squinted into the sun, grateful for her rhinestone-studded sunglasses hiding her tears from the crowd. Although she could probably write off any crying to her scraped elbows and bruised butt, thanks to the dog that had trampled over her to get to Gramps.
General McDaniel squatted down on one knee, scratching the dog behind the ears while the pup licked his chin. “Calm, Trooper. Calm.” He spoke with an authority no one could ignore. “Good boy. We’ll find a treat for you soon. Nathan, get a hot dog from that stand, pronto.”
Nathan snatched a twenty-dollar bill from his mother’s outstretched hand and pivoted away, baggy clothes rippling as he dragged his feet toward the concession stand.
As Sierra angled up to sit, she wondered if her grandfather knew which Trooper he was talking to, the new one or the one from her dad’s childhood. Probably the right one, since he’d called Nathan by name. Regardless, this Trooper seemed to accept him, settling, rather than mowing down the homecoming crowd again.
Homecoming. So damn bittersweet today.
She knew the routine after life as an Army brat. The sun baked the tarmac. Homemade signs flapped in the breeze. Kids waved flags. Wives sported fresh manicures and new outfits. Husbands gathered, too, waiting for their military spouses. Excitement crackled in the air like all those people were dancing on Bubble Wrap.
For her, a bigger bubble had burst. All the joy around her felt more like electric snaps stinging her skin. Facing so many people welcoming home loved ones only reminded her of a very different homecoming. Her dad had returned in a flag-draped coffin four months ago.
This part of her life should be over. Yet it had come back to haunt her again. Her dad’s unit was convinced her family needed this dog.
The McDaniel family needed the man—the husband, dad, father, son. However, since that wasn’t possible, they really needed to move forward with their lives. But because her mother was canine crazy, here they were, enduring this ceremony that was one great big patriotic poke in the eye. Sierra wanted to melt right into the tarmac.
A manly, calloused hand slid into sight, a familiar hand making her realize she was still sitting sprawled out on the ground like an idiot. Her eyes traveled up along the hard muscled arm, broad shoulders and a smile that could charm the panties off a woman.
A smile that had, in fact, charmed her undies off more than once.
“Hello, Mike. Welcome home.” She clasped his palm and let him tug her to her feet. But that was all he could have. Her panties and her heart would stay firmly glued in place when she was around him from now on.
Still, her hand tingled from the contact.
Sierra regained her balance and dusted off her denim capris, wishing she could brush away the feel of him as easily. She’d given up being able to will away the physical attraction to this man. Everything about his looks drew her, from his buzzed short hair to his square jaw peppered with a five o’clock shadow that pushed to midnight. His golden brown tiger eyes held her with a bad-boy gleam he lived up to.
And therein was the reason the attraction could only be physical. She had no intention of falling for Sergeant Tall, Dark and Rowdy.
A shoulder bumped hers as a couple flung their arms around each other, reunion in full emotional swing. Reminding her what it felt like to have Mike’s mouth against her ear, singing husky soft love songs as his lips roamed over her, luring her . . .
Hold it together.
She prepared what to say to him next, some polite cluster of words. She would be poised and in control of her words. Except even poetry escaped her, leaving her with little more than “Humpty Dumpty.”
Then Mike turned away before she could talk and spoke to her mother. “Mrs. McDaniel, he wanted . . .” His voice cracked even as his hulking shoulders stayed braced, guitar slung over his back. “The Colonel wanted you to have his dog. He talked of you often, and I . . . I wish I could say something other than I am so sorry he’s gone. Everyone liked and respected him. He is missed, very much.”
Lacey smiled with that forgiving and understanding way of hers that Sierra hadn’t come close to mastering. Her mom’s tangled light brown curls were tossed in the wind as messy as this whole crazy reunion, but Lacey kept her cool. How could someone be so emotional and so poised at the same time?
“Mike, thank you. You don’t need to say anything more. Your being here is enough. Allen would be happy that Trooper is home with us.” Lacey hugged Mike once, hard, holding for a second before taking in a shaky breath. “Let’s meet this special fella.”
Kneeling, she offered her hand for the dog to sniff before stroking his head. Her eyes glazed with unshed tears, but her ease with the strange dog was unmistakable. Her mom had a Dr. Dolittle gift.
“Nathan,” Lacey called up to her son, waving him closer as he returned with a plain hot dog in hand. “Come say hello to Trooper.”
“Sure. Whatever.” Her brother dragged his feet, new deck shoes scuffing and showing bony, sockless ankles. His pants and shirt hung on his body like they’d been draped haphazardly over a coat hanger too small to hold them.
Nathan was a walking, sulking poster kid for “got bullied, went psycho.”
Cameras clicked all around them. Nathan scowled. Mike winced at each flash. But the media kept right on recording. Her mom’s smile was front page worthy with just the right amount of shimmering tears and a nostalgic smile.
The press would write their feel-good piece about a rescued Iraqi dog and a fallen veteran. Everybody would pat themselves on the back for empathizing. The story would probably go viral in some social network.
But no one would stick around to get Nathan from school early when he landed in the middle of another fight or search the neighborhood when Gramps wandered off.
“Sierra?” Her mother glanced up, wind tearing at her light brown spiral curls. “Are you okay?”
“Of course. Let’s give him his treat before he takes off someone’s hand.” She plucked the hot dog from her brother and really looked at the mutt for the first time. She’d seen photos but somehow she’d expected something . . . bigger. Scarier maybe? Or a magnificent beast.
Instead, a medium-sized tan and brown dog with short hair and a black nose soaked up more ear scratches from her grandfather. With his long, lanky puppy legs, the mutt looked like some kind of smaller version of a Lab/shepherd mix. Mostly, he just looked like . . . a regular dog.
The stab of disappointment surprised her. She didn’t see her father’s phantom presence or feel his touch on her shoulder in some other-earthly way. Until this moment she hadn’t realized how much she’d hoped to find a mystical connection to her dad.
Kneeling, she pinched off pieces of the hot dog and passed them to the dog one at a time while he stared back at her with those dark brown eyes that seemed to look right through her. Her throat squeezed tight. She just wanted to finish this and go home. Even milking the goat would be preferable to being at an Army post with her tall father’s silvery blond head and big smile nowhere in sight.
The cameras went on hyper speed and the questions rolled out, all tangled together as she fed Trooper the last bite.
“Your grandfather was a General . . .”
“How is your family holding up?”
“What’s the dog’s name?”
“General McDaniel, how do you feel about your son’s brave service to his country?”
The reporter jammed a microphone in her grandfather’s face so fast his eyes went wild with that freaked-out PTSD look. Sierra searched for an escape route, or at the very least a distraction. This would be an opportune time for the dog to go berserk again.
Please, Lord, don’t let Grandpa go Clint Eastwood on them. He did that a lot these days, compensating for confusion with a make-my-day rage. The explosive anger cost them a flat-screen TV last week.
Standing, she shot Mike a pleading look. “We should take care of the paperwork or something.”
Mike’s smile went tight. “Right. General? If you’ll lead the way, sir, I can in-process.”
“Roger that, Sergeant.” Gramps started humming, his feet picking up marching pace a second before he started bellowing. “I was born in the back woods, raised by a bear . . . Gotta double bone jaw and four coats of hair . . . Got cast iron balls and a big steel rod . . . I’m a mighty paratrooper. I’m Airborne by God.”
* * *
BY GOD, MIKE just wanted this day to be over.
He felt the Sergeant Major’s eyes boring into his back as Mike helped walk Trooper to the dusty SUV covered in paw magnets. At least the Sergeant Major could be trusted to hold off—for now—since going ballistic in front of the press wouldn’t look good.
No question, the media was eating this up from behind the ropes, snapping photos even as Lacey tried to hustle the General into the vehicle before he shouted something else censor worthy. Mike kept Trooper reined in tighter now, close to his leg while Nathan jogged ahead to open the back hatch, exposing the crate. Head low, the teenager ducked into the vehicle without a word.
Mike picked up the pace. He would have to in-process soon—should be doing that now. But since he was already up to his ass in trouble, might as well dive the rest of the way.
A familiar place for him.
“Sierra, I emailed your mom about Trooper’s habits and stuff that should make his transition into a new home easier—”
“Oh,” Sierra interrupted with an over-wide smile, “you noticed I’m here.”
She was pissed? Interesting.
He’d been so focused on delivering the dog and trying not to drool all over her he’d missed her mood. “You expected more from me back there? Surely not a reunion kiss.”
“Don’t play games with me, not today.” She was short, but her legs ate up the ground fast. Sierra had a Tinker Bell look to her, not that she liked it much when he’d made the comparison.
“I’d hoped passing over Trooper could be more low-key for everyone’s sake.”
She glanced up sharply, concern in her sky blue eyes. “Will you get in trouble for this?”
“I’m not the first to bring back a dog from overseas. I won’t be the last.” He paused and slid his duffel from his shoulder. He unzipped it and pulled out an envelope of papers. “For Trooper. His records. They’ve been scanned and sent to your mother, but these are the originals. He has his vaccinations, although he still needs to be neutered. Everything’s in order for him to be in the country.”
She tugged the envelope from him without touching. Too precisely to be anything but deliberate avoidance. “You didn’t answer my question.”
He closed his hand over hers. “I’ve dodged trouble my whole life. I learned from the best thanks to my grandma.” He squeezed her hand and wanted more. No surprise. “I’ll weather any storm. And you? How are you holding up?”
She tugged her hand away. “I’m fine.”
Fine? Such a lame word. Sierra was smoking hot as always, but clearly exhausted, grieving. And angry at him. Nothing new there. Regardless, his part in this was done. He’d handed over the dog. His last connection to the Colonel—to Sierra—was severed.
As Mike leaned in, he caught a whiff of her citrus scent. Such an enticing air mixed with memories. Except a roar of an engine brought the memories rolling back of other scents, ones from his last moments with the Colonel.
His gut twisted. How the hell did memories have smells? Because right now the scent of explosives and dirt gave him vertigo. He needed to get out of here. Fast. Preferably on his own two feet.
He started to turn away and slammed into his friend.
Calvin high-fived him. “Tazz, party at my place after we finish up here? Sierra, are you coming, too?”
Her face closed in a snap. “I’m not in a partying mood. Thanks for the invitation all the same.”
Mike gripped the straps on his bag and guitar. “Count me out. I’m not good for anything more than crashing for the night in a queen-sized motel bed.”
Calvin backed away. “Wuss. We’ll miss your guitar. I’ll drink your share, though.” He shot them both a wave. “Later, Tazz. Lookin’ goooood as always, Sierra.”
Sierra’s hand landed on Mike’s elbow. “You said you’re going to a motel. What happened to your apartment?”
He shrugged. “I gave it up. No need to pay rent on a place I wouldn’t be living in for a year.”
“That makes sense.”
Rhinestone sunglasses tucked in her hair, she shuffled from foot to foot, toenails painted purple with glitter. “I guess this is it then. Thank you for bringing Dad’s dog home.”
“You always were adept at saying the total opposite of what your eyes are telling me. You’re not happy about Trooper. I can tell.”
Her lips went tight for a second before she burst out, “I appreciate what you’ve done and I mean that. Regardless of what you say, I know you risked getting into trouble bringing him to us.”
“Don’t worry. There’s too much good press connected to his story now for me to get into any major trouble. The media coverage is a blessing in disguise.”
“But . . .”
“I told you already.” He rested a hand on her shoulder and left it there this time. Bad move. God, she was soft and felt like home. “I’m going to be okay.”
“Does it really matter to you?”
“You’ve done something special for my mom. I appreciate that.” Her eyes held his for four heavy heartbeats before they heard her mom chanting soothing comments to the General. Sierra shook her head as if clearing a haze and slid her sunglasses into place. She opened the crate and patted the bedding. “Trooper? Come on. Inside, pup.”
Trooper glanced back at Mike, dropping to sit, reluctant. The dog might not be huge, but he was stubborn. When he didn’t want to move, he could turn that doggie muscle into more like a ton of bricks.
Lacey slid from the vehicle into view. “No worries. I’ve got this.”
Sierra’s mom wrapped her arms around the dog, lifting with practiced ease and the same soothing tones she’d used on the disoriented General. She tucked Trooper into the crate and reached into a satchel for a treat, before turning all smiles again. “Easy peasy. We’re good to go. Thanks again, Mike, for everything.”
It was really done. Delivery complete. Mission over. Wide brown puppy eyes stared at him from the crate.
An ache started in Mike’s chest. Damn it, he didn’t need a dog. It wasn’t his dog. He’d done the right thing.
So why did he feel like an ass, like one of those people who abandoned their pets, even though he knew better? Still, Trooper’s eyes seemed to speak to him, which was impossible because dogs didn’t talk.
But if they did, he knew Trooper was saying, Dude, you’re screwing up again.
* * *
LACEY FELT GUILTY about feeding the puppies while drunk. But then she deserved a glass of wine—or four—after a day like this.
Cradling the light brindle–colored pit puppy in her hand, she angled the tiny bottle of goat’s milk into just the right position until the bulldog latched on. The gentle tug assured her the orphaned pup had a good suck going. Relaxing back against the screened window, she sat cross-legged in the middle of a fat dog bed on her enclosed back porch.
Lacey took comfort from the warm puppy belly against her palm. Four other satiated two-week-old babies were lined up in the padded box, warming lamp overhead. She’d named them after fairy-tale characters in hopes that adopters would see them as loving living creatures rather than judge them by their breed.
Cinderella, Aladdin, Pinocchio, Rapunzel and the little runt in her hand, Thumbelina, all twitched in their sleep, a sign of health. Did they already dream of running through fields they couldn’t yet see? Or were they racing through the world looking for their mother?
Their orphaned status tugged at her more than ever with her own two children still struggling with the loss of their father.
She needed more wine. Now.
Balancing the baby bottle against a rolled-up towel, she freed a hand and reached for her glass. Cut crystal Waterford and the last one left of her wedding set. The others had been broken in a transfer from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. She’d railed at the moving company, the Army, her husband and anyone else who would listen. She’d cried for a month.
Such a silly rant now that she looked back with the perspective of worse things the Army could break.
She swirled the chardonnay in the glass once, taking in an oaky scent before tasting. Her mother had sent her to cotillion and etiquette classes with the richest teens in New England. Her parents had high hopes for their oldest daughter.
Lacey had once entertained hopes, too. Of toeing the line with her parents until she was free to leave for college. Except in her last year of high school, she’d fallen for a new senior in a Junior ROTC uniform, gotten knocked up that summer and finished her teaching degree later on when her two kids started school. Her parents had pretended for their friends that they were thrilled. The quickie wedding had been elaborate and pricey.
Only later had she learned her parents couldn’t afford that lavish wedding any more than they’d been able to afford their three-house lifestyle of summers in the Hamptons and winter ski chalet jaunts.
Now her folks pretended they were happily retired in a Tampa condo they’d managed to purchase after selling off Mom’s jewelry. She still wore really good fakes.
Faking it. Something Lacey had inherited from her mother even as she turned her back on their values. She stroked her bare toes along the chocolate Lab sleeping at her feet.
Life should have meaning. Allen’s had. He’d saved five soldiers by throwing himself on the roadside bomb. He’d left behind a stack of medals, a folded flag and a family hanging on by a thread. The insurance money had paid off most of their debt, and she was teaching high school chemistry online to make ends meet, still running her rescue and taking care of her father-in-law. She had fourteen animals on-site, but over fifty were in foster homes. With more money, she could expand. With more time. More help.
She sipped again. And again. Until the alcohol hummed along her frayed nerves, soothing her like the whir of the lawn mower firing to life outside.
Her father-in-law mowed the lawn at night, as close to driving a car as they could trust. The headlight strobed across the two-acre lot. The task gave Joshua a sense of purpose, one of the few chores he could still perform without fear of hurting himself or others. Yard work was somehow ingrained in his DNA like buttoning his uniform. Thank heavens. Last time she’d mowed the two acres, she’d cut crop circles into the yard.
Might have had something to do with the wine.
There were days she wondered if maybe she had a drinking problem. Then life kicked into high gear with another crisis and she didn’t have time to think about herself.
She glanced down at the puppy sleeping in her hand, Thumbelina’s mouth slack with sleep. Lacey tugged a wet wipe and cleaned the little one’s waste before lining her up alongside her brothers and sisters, a mix of brown, tan and brindle babies.
The mother dog had been hit by a car when her litter was three days old. The family who owned the dog had tried to care for the puppies for forty-eight hours before losing three then taking the remaining five straight to the local animal shelter. Since the shelter was overflowing, they’d called Lacey.
Five little lives.
She’d been rescuing for over ten years for other groups before starting her own. But these days, preserving life had taken on a frenetic edge. She tried and tried, yet each success left her feeling emptier. Two friends who volunteered with the rescue told her she wasn’t dealing with her grief.
Like there was a way to get over losing her husband in a war.
She only knew one way to cope. Keep moving forward so quickly she didn’t have time to think. She couldn’t afford to dwell on the past or the present, and most especially she couldn’t think overlong about that new dog asleep in a crate in the family room. Trooper was the final tie to an honorable man more committed to others than his family or even himself. If she gave in to those raging thoughts, she would surrender to the temptation to hurl the last piece of wedding crystal at the wall.
She soaked in the familiarity around her, needing something steady to hold on to in her shredded world. Trooper seemed to be settling in well—other than barking his head off at the cuckoo clock. He hadn’t even protested over being crated in the family room, growling a couple more times at the clock before settling to sleep. He seemed to take comfort in all the animals around rather than feeling overwhelmed.
Some said she should give up rescue work, that it was too draining. They just didn’t understand that saving these abandoned and abused animals hauled her grieving body out of bed each morning.
Her eyes were beyond gritty as she checked each little body in the line of puppies snoozing away in a milk coma. She wasn’t far behind. Exhaustion tugged at her. Her head lolled against the screened wall, and she didn’t have the energy to move from the plaid dog bed. Each breath of barley-scented air drew her deeper into the intoxicating allure of sleep. Just leaving her insane life behind for a few blissful hours. Peace, she craved it all the way to her tipsy toes. Might as well sleep here rather than in her bed with a conspicuously empty space beside her . . .
“Mom?” Her daughter’s voice pierced her sleepy fog. “Mom, wake up.”
Startled, Lacey jolted awake. Sunlight streamed through the screens onto her Lab Clementine sleeping at her feet. Morning? But she’d only closed her eyes for a minute. Or maybe not.
Her daughter stood beside her, wearing a tank top and blue running shorts. Sierra used to wear nightshirts and cute little PJs, but she slept in clothes these days, always ready to face the world.
Lacey looked fast at the puppies, and they all breathed and slept and twitched. Her neck screamed with a crick from sleeping sitting up. She rubbed the kink. “Sierra? What time is it?”
“Six, but Mom, we have a problem.”
Lacey looked out at the freshly mowed lawn, over to the lawnmower abandoned in the middle of the driveway. Panic fired hard and fast. “Has Grandpa wandered off again?”
Sierra shook her head. “Not this time. He’s asleep in his room. But Trooper’s missing.”
SIERRA STIFLED A yawn and scratched her toe along the back of her leg, her brain still foggy even as her heart raced with anxiety over the missing dog. Her days of sleeping until noon were long gone. Life started early around here, Little House on the Freakin’ Manic Prairie style. Of course she might not feel like a zombie if she hadn’t spent half the night tossing and turning with dreams of Mike. Naughty, dangerous, distracting dreams . . .
She didn’t have time for this. Not now.
“Mom,” Sierra repeated, taking in her mother’s tangled hair and the empty wineglass. She would think about that later. They had more pressing problems now, like Dad’s legacy going MIA. “Trooper is missing.”
“Missing? Are you sleepwalking again?” Her mother stood, then staggered. Drunk or were her feet asleep from sitting cross-legged so long in a dog bed? Lacey reached out with steady hands and patted her daughter’s face. “Sierra, honey, wake up.”
“I’m fine.” Sierra batted away her mother’s hands as their three-legged Labrador went out through the doggie door. “Listen to me. Trooper. Is. Gone. He must have gone out through the doggie door, and then from there, who knows. But I can’t find him.”
Her mother frowned and looked past into the kitchen at the cuckoo clock they’d bought while stationed in Germany. “You must be mistaken. Trooper’s in a crate in the family room. What are you doing up at six in the morning? You hate mornings.”
A flash of irritation pierced her fear. Her mother apparently hadn’t noticed she’d been waking before eight to help with the animals for months now. But her mom didn’t need anyone sniping at her.
And they had more pressing concerns.
“I heard barking. Okay, barking’s normal, but this was worse. The crazy, pissed-off kind of barking. I was afraid the dogs had gotten loose . . . again.” It had happened too many times lately to be accidental. “When I came downstairs, I saw Trooper’s crate was open. He must have gone outside, which upset the other dogs. Except he’s nowhere inside the fence. Nowhere. And I’ve looked inside and out. Under every bed and bush. Trooper is missing.”
Lacey turned to look through the screen, palms flat on the mesh, fully alert now. “The gate outside is closed. Secured. I don’t understand how this keeps happening. Heaven knows if he’d gone next door to Valerie Hammond’s house we would have heard already.”
And not in a good way. Mrs. Hammond already had a complaint filed with the county council to shut down the rescue, and they couldn’t afford to relocate the rescue setup—her mom’s dream. Lacey had lost too much. Resolve swept away any remaining grogginess.
Excerpted from "Shelter Me"
Copyright © 2014 Catherine Mann.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for SHELTER ME:
"Col. Allen McDaniel was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and his family is devastated. Sgt. Mike Kowalski brings Allen’s dog, Trooper, back to the McDaniels and the precocious pooch sets about making things right, one person at a time. Sierra McDaniel helps her mother keep the ranch running and the family functioning while carrying a full course load at school. The last thing she wants is her dead father’s dog; neither does she want to remember the passionate moments from her brief affair with Mike. But the connection between the two is still strong, and they to resume their affair. Trooper’s asides expressing his thoughts, memories, and opinions about the family are some of the funniest moments in this romance. The story isn’t just about the love between Sierra and Mike—it also covers the love between mother and daughter, grandfather and granddaughter, dog and human, neighbor and neighbor, and even the army and its troops. There is indeed plenty of love to go around, and animal fans in particular will be swept away by it." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A story about the redemptive power of love told with heart. With Shelter Me Catherine Mann delivers another unforgettable romance." -Cindy Gerard, New York Times bestselling author.
"Shelter Me is contemporary romance done right! Brimming with wonderfully real characters, hard-hitting emotions, and enough sexual tension to light my eReader on fire, I couldn’t put it down! Give me more, Catherine Mann! I’m addicted!' -Julie Ann Walker, New York Times bestselling author
Praise for the Novels of Catherine Mann
“An emotional…story that leaves you wanting more.”—Sherrilyn Kenyon, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A world chock-full of simmering passion.”—Merline Lovelace, USA Today bestselling author
"Catherine Mann's picture should be in the dictionary next to 'superb'" Suzanne Brockmann, New York Times bestselling author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Shelter Me (Second Chance Ranch #1) by Catherine Mann, Trooper is on his way home to his human family, and he has a mission. Help this family heal after the tragic loss of his human, The Commander (Allen) in Afghanistan. Rescued in Afghanistan and on his way to a different life, it is staff sergeant Mike's responsibility to deliver him to Allen's family, including his daughter Sierra...the woman Mike can't forget. Having once been together, Sierra is not ready for the feelings still Mike brings out in her. She's not so sure she's ready for another reminder that her Dad is forever gone either, reminders both Mike and Trooper bring. Sierra has so much going on in her life right now from her father's death and grad school to helping out on her mother's animal rescue ranch, that she doesn't know if she can fit anything else in. Sometimes she feels like she just can't keep everything up. When Mike sees Allen's family is struggling so much, he ends up staying on the ranch for his leave to help out where he can. Sierra and Mike can't deny themselves for long, but Sierra has no desire to be another military family again. She'll take what she can now ...but will it be enough? Can she let go again? The whole family is struggling to move on without a man who was gone more often than he was at home. There is so much going on in Shelter Me and it all interlinks and leads back to their huge loss. Shelter Me is so much more than Mike and Sierra's story. It is a story about a family who is coping, but not moving on. This is just as much the story of Lacey - Allen's wife, their son Nathan, and Allen's ailing father The General, who they struggle to keep well and safe. It is also Trooper's story, and through Trooper's eyes, Allen's story. Catherine manages to effortlessly tell Shelter Me from numerous POV's that transition very easily from person to person. I loved how she did this, making me feel close to everyone. There is great character development and a strong sense of realism in Shelter Me. Catherine writes with great insight. At times heart wrenching, at times humorous, Shelter Me is believable with characters that will stick with you. With her talented writing, Catherine drew me in fast and deep into the lives of Allen's family. Dealing with real life issues and a family left behind from the loss of war, Catherine takes it pretty deep at times, with unexpected plot twists, all of which are very true to life. Trooper is the real catch and the way we see the world from his POV pulled me and my heart strings in even tighter, if that was possible. Shelter Me is very well written, with smooth progression from scene to scene that is easy to follow. Catherine took me on a very emotional journey from both ends of the spectrum in the best possible way in Shelter Me. I'd highly recommend Shelter Me to all romance readers.
Well Ms. Mann you've done it again and I have a bone to pick with you! (pun intended). I foolishly started 'Shelter Me' at 10:00 at night. I had saved the book for my plane ride home after moving my firstborn 1500 miles to his first teaching job in Texas. I couldn't wait so I started it in the hotel room. Well...3:30 am rolls around and I was just finishing my book by the light of my nook. What a wonderful story. I love the telling from different voices, even the canine one. I laughed, cried, and was deeply touched. I quickly ordered 'Rescue Me' and look forward to my email from B&N to tell me the wait is over. February right? Well done!
The Second Chance Ranch easily lives up to its name in this heartwarming tale. The McDaniels family is adrift as they continue to cope with the loss of Sierra’s father to a roadside bomb. To add insult to injury the neighbors want to shut down the Second Chance Ranch because they feel it is an undesirable element in the neighborhood. General McDaniel (Allan’s father) is in mid-stage Alzheimer’s and the family is struggling to cope with his declining health. While this is in theory Mike and Sierra’s story, in reality it is the story of an entire family (both blood and crafted) as they begin to deal with the loss of a crucial family member. This is a story of grief and hope and moving forward and standing on your own two feet all rolled into one: just like life. Mike and Sierra have a history which makes this a reunion story and allows the HEA to become more secondary to the family and Second Chance Ranch aspects of the story. Mike and Sierra definitely have to work for their HEA and the sparks between them are dynamic. It is the many layers that make this such an engaging and touching story. What makes this novel truly unique is Trooper – the feral mutt rescued originally by Allen McDaniel in Iraq and brought back to the family by Mike. Trooper has a strong role in bringing this family back together and starting the healing process in earnest. He also has his own voice. Yes, you read that correctly. Several scenes are told from Trooper’s point of view; and, what a POV it is. Trooper brings his own brand of humor and healing to the story and makes the entire novel richer for it. Mann brings together a variety of engaging characters that leave the reader wanting more. Readers will want to be frequent visitors to the Second Chance Ranch and hopefully Mann will oblige. Personally I’m waiting for Lacey’s (Sierra’s mom) story. We see her move so far forward as she begins to move past her grief that I can’t wait for her to find her second HEA. This is a must read for anyone with a strong love of animals and / or second chances
Catherine Mann brings readers the first book in a new series about a pet rescue operation and a family readers won't soon forget. Shelter Me is the heart wrenching story of the McDaniel family and their struggle to maintain their lives and dreams in the wake of losing their father. Readers who love animals, readers who have lost family members, readers who are just looking for a tender love story, will all find something to cheer about in this book. Catherine Mann delivers a powerful and endearing romance! What I liked: The characters in Shelter Me are so raw and real that readers will have a hard time not being completely drawn in by them. To say that I became emotionally invested in this book was an understatement. It was written with such heart and clarity that I honestly felt every heart break and every joy right along with these characters. Mike and Sierra share a past, that wasn't exactly pretty. He didn't feel worthy of her and broke up with her before he was deployed under the command of her father. As the news shows us everyday, our military is still struggling against aggressor's in Afghanistan and soldiers and their families face loss and grief on a daily basis. I think that was part of what was so poignant about this story. When Sierra's father dies in combat and Mike returns his dog,Trooper to the family, something inside the reader will start to wrench and twist. This book is a love story, but it is a lot more than that. It is about the way a family knits itself back together after such a huge loss. It was just incredible to read about and obvious that the author understands what she is writing about. This is something she lives with and the reader will be able to see it in her words. I am a huge advocate for animal rescue and I was expecting that to be a minor part of this story, but it wasn't. The Second Chance Ranch and McDaniel family commitment to it, was amazing. Readers will get to take a behind the scenes look at what it really takes to run this kind of facility. The difficulties and the decisions that have to be made. The struggles they go through and the deep and endearing love it takes to provide this kind of care. Trooper was amazing! I loved the parts of this book that were told from his point of view. Yes, that's right, part of the story is told from the point of view of a dog and it is something readers won't soon forget. A powerful look at the devotion and love that people can experience through the eyes of their pets. I have to give Catherine Mann props for balancing the many emotional elements of this story. The romance certainly does not take a back seat. It is gritty and edgy and these two characters are both hurting but clinging to each other to help them make it through. I loved the way Mike showed his feelings and relished life. It is too short and I think military men and women have a deeper sense of that than most people. Sierra had a lot of love in her heart and she impressed me as a reader at every turn. I loved the nods she made to some literary greats and her intelligence. A great couple, who deserved happiness. Bottom Line: This is one the best books I have read this year. It will pull at the readers heart strings. It will tear them apart and knit them back together, just like this very memorable family. I can't wait to read more about them. This was an exceptional read. I can't recommend it enough!
While fighting overseas, Mike’s Colonel and unit befriend a stray dog. Mike’s Colonel gets attached to the dog so much, that he asks Mike a favor, if anything were to happen to him, make sure the dog makes it to his family back in the states. So when things go south for the Colonel, that’s exactly what he does. He breaks rules, jumps through hoops and puts his career on the line to get this dog back to the states. It should be an easy task, however, the Colonel’s daughter is the love of his life that he left behind and the family is falling apart at the seams. Mike decides that the family could use a man around the house to not only help fix things but to help run interference when life comes knocking on their door. This was one of those stories where you get multiple points of view. We not only have Sierra and Mike, but we have Sierra’s mother and the local vet, who just so happens to be in love with the mother. Oh, and the rescued pup also has his story mixed in throughout. So I liked that the story didn’t just focus on one story line. However, I found myself bored with Mike and Sierra’s story. I didn’t feel like their problems were really problematic enough to cause all the drama. I mean, her father passes away and instead of grieving or acting out, she’s sleeping with the one guy she knows is leaving. They have a temporary relationship while Mike is around, but the looming date of him leaving hold them both back from really jumping in. I don’t know, I just wasn’t that into their story. Plus, they had some corny lines. It just felt a little scripted to me. I did however gravitate towards the mother’s story though. She was grieving her husband. A man who she buried a few months prior. However, he had been gone for a year on his deployment. So she had been running the family and her business on her own for a year. She starts to develop feelings for the young vet but she’s still grieving her husband and feels guilty over her feelings. I think I liked her story because being a military wife myself, you kind of do go through a “single” period while your spouse is away. You can eat dinner when you want instead of waiting until 8pm when he comes home, you can do what you want to without having to check someone else’s schedule. So, in the end I really just wanted to read the mother’s story. I also liked the grandfather in this story. He too was in the military, he was a General. He actually sometimes reverts back to his time in the military and has flashbacks due to his Alzheimer’s and possible PTSD. A lot of the time it was just sad to read because the General would get disoriented and embarrassed by his actions. Like one time Mike found him hiding under the bed because the fireworks were bringing back some old memories of warfare. So after the General yells for Mike to take cover, Mike climbs under the bed with him. Once the General realizes that he’s not in a war zone he gets really embarrassed and him and Mike climb out. Only to find out that in all the chaos going on in his head, he’d urinated on himself. Those moments were really sad. However, there were some funny ones too where the General would tell his grandson about “them hookers” and would just sort of go off on random tangents. Like the time when Mike landed with the dog and there were news crews everywhere and Mike tried getting the General to go to the car by telling him to lead the way. So the General starts marching off yelling cadence. “I was born in the back woods, raised by a bear… Gotta double bone jaw and four coats of hair… Got cast iron balls and a big steel rod. I’m a mighty paratrooper. I’m airborne by God.” I’m glad that at the end of the book you get an epilogue from the dog. He’s been with the family for 10 years and sort of catches you up on things. He also preludes that the mother is now married to someone else, but you have to wait to read her book to find out. The only down side is, her book isn’t next. So maybe she marries the vet? Or, I think it would be cooler and more of a spin if she DOESN’T marry the vet and instead finds someone totally new. Who knows.
I whilst not a particularly perfect candidate for this book ( not being a dog lover ) throughly enjoyed it. Even the narrative from Trooper the dog , rang true. ,The characters had depth and interest,my favourite was grandpa.A truly good read,Im looking forward to the next in the series . Keep them coming Cathy
I'm going to be honest, I wasn't the perfect audience for Shelter Me. The reason? So many dogs. I know it's really unpopular, especially since the memes on Facebook like to remind me that if I'm not cool with a creature that's just cleaned his bits lick my face, then I'm not a good human. And I'm okay with that. I don't hate dogs, it's just that whenever I'm around them, I break into hives, get wheezy, itchy, sneezy and extremely grumpy. My point is, since I'm not an avid dog lover, the fact that so much of Shelter Me revolves around a shelter, the many daily details of running a shelter, and that the dog on the cover even narrates a portion of the book, didn't exactly work for me. And I know the book does have a dog on the front, but I didn't pick up the all dogs, all the time vibe from the book description. That detail aside, the love story between Sienna and Mike was so good. The McDaniel family's struggles with coping with the loss of a husband, father, son, was heartbreaking. The author did such wonderful job of creating a strong sense of the characters' emotions, how they struggled with their loss, and how determined they were to move forward, one day at a time. I liked that the McDaniel family's depression, disappointment, anger, and despair were in focus. To be honest, though I loved the human side of the story, a lot of it was overshadowed by the shelter and the dog. I love a good second chance romance, so much. I truly enjoyed the moments with Mike and Sienna and would have appreciated more of the focus landing on them more, rather than the various secondary plot points. While I've shared aspects that led to my lack of true enthusiasm in regards to Shelter Me, I do believe it's a nice story. I think those who don't mind an abundance of critters would likely enjoy it a lot. Favorite Quote "Suppose I was trying to win you back to my...mattress, not out of impulsiveness--" he paused, squeezing her hand--"but because we had something good. And even if there isn't a future for us, I can't seem to let go of the past. What would you say to that?" He couldn't deny how important her answer was to him--too much so. "I would say I'm swayed." She stepped closer, until her breasts pressed against him, her face tipped up toward his. He slid an arm around her waist, and she didn't protest or pull away, so he continued, "What if I moved my hand down your back?" Sierra slid her hand over his shoulder to cup the back of his neck. "I would sigh."
Shelter Me is the first in a new series and I can't wait until the next book. The Colonel's men are determine that Trooper , the dog the Colonel saved, gets back home to his family. This book takes you on a lot of great rides, Mike (the man who bring Trooper home) and Sierra the Colonel's daughter have a past but don't know if they have future. Lacey, the Colonel's widow, doesn't know how she will handle everyday problems. Can she have a future? I love a book that makes me laugh and/or cry this book does both.
This book is packed with emotions but it didn't stress me out. I think it's important to say that straight off. This family is hurting after the a huge lose. And this story is about the family. Yes, Sierra and Mike are the main characters and their story takes center stage but I was equally interested in the secondary characters. Some books have secondary story lines have me counting the words till I'm back with the main characters but not this one. I wanted a happy for the mom, Lacey. I loved the vet, Ray. I was worried about the brother, Nathan. They were all important to me. I love books that have real characters that I truly care about, like this one. The story is complex and I knew where I wanted it to go but I was never sure it would get there. It had me turning the pages to find out, and I read it in a day. I'm not normally a third person reader but this author does a great job of making connections with the characters for me. Perspective changes regularly and even falls on a dog with a mind and mission of his own. The animals in this story add to and don't take away from the tale. I loved Trooper. Wanted to scratch his ears and lean close to comfort him. He was so good at giving comfort and completing his mission. I was pretty proud of the pup. This is my first book from this author but it won't be the last. I'm already looking forward to Rescue Me, the second book in this series. If you enjoy romance books at all, then this is great choice.
Shelter Me by Catherine Mann made me laugh, it made me cry, and then repeat several times. I could not put the book down until I finished it. Ms. Mann handles multiple points of view, including the view of a dog coming to the United Steaks of America from Iraq after his person is killed. The family is a military family; the elderly grandfather has Alzheimer's Disease and his actions are very realistic and brought back memories of how my father behaved at times. If you want a light, easy breezy read, this may not be what you want. If you want a read that tugs at your emotions and pulls you deep into the story, this is the one. If you are using an e-reader, tablet or phone, make sure you have a fully charged battery!
.I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of this book and was completely blown away by the deep emotions of it. Catherine Mann delivers a wonderful book that shows her background of military wife and devoted animal rescuer. She starts the book with Trooper telling us about himself, which would not be a big deal except Trooper is a dog in Iraq and he explains how he has a mission. Trooper is brought back to the states after Colonel McDaniel's death. Mike brings the dog to the family as the last thing he can do for the man he admired and looked up to- even to the point of breaking up with Sierra (the colonel's daughter) before he went on the last tour of duty. The story is more than just a love story of how Mike and Sierra come back together. It shows how a family is affected by the loss of a loved one and how they must try to get their life back together and move on. The whole family is affected. Sierra, who gives up moving out on her own so she can help her mother. Lacey- the mother- who is trying to take care of the Colonel's father that has Alzheimer's, raise her teenage son Nathan, and keep her dream of an animal rescue ( Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue). Nathan, a teenage boy that is going through a very rough time in his life and dealing with a lot of issues of his own. And the General- Sierra's grandfather that has Alzheimer's. Even Mike who has lost his mentor. Be prepared to cry and laugh as you read the book. I will definitely be looking for the next book in this series.
My first book by this author but certainly not my last !! I am a dog/pet lover and it was sooo good to find a storyline in my favorite genre that included them. What a story. !!! It made me laugh and cry and I was sorry when it ended. Real life issues no fairytale and it left me feeling so glad that I had met this family and found this writer. Already ordered the next book Rescue Me. TYSM Ms Mann !!!!
Shelter Me is for sure one of those curl up for a fuzzy emotion fed romance reads. Catherine explores beyond just our main characters to the family and its history. Readers get to explore their ties and their emotions and the journey they have been on together and individually. Its both a tear jerker and a content sigh and blanket hug type of book. Those kind of books are always difficult for me to read because they are written so well that once it finds that place in my heart and the tears start to flow its difficult to stop. I really enjoyed this book and I will return to The Second Chance Ranch very soon.
Okay this story is truly unique and enthralling. I can't say I even have a favorite chatacter or part because the entore read was emotional, heartfelt, and hopeful. Loved this one and can't wait for the next on 02/2015.
Shelter Me By Catherine Mann begins a new emotional series around A Second Chance Ranch. Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski is eager to handle is former commanding officers last wish. His is to take Allen McDaniel’s dog to his grieving family and be done with his duty. But its not as easy as he thought, the commanders daughter and his family are struggling. Sierra McDaniel is holding her grieving family together by a very thin thread. Besides her college courses, her troubled younger brother, she also helps with her mom’s animal rescue. Second Chance Ranch Animal Rescue is barely hanging on as well. When Mike Kowalski offers to stick around and help fix things up, Sierra’s mom jumps at the chance. Having Mike around has Sierra struggling with their past relationship. Their chemistry is still there in full force and soon Mike and Sierra restart their romance. But Mike isn’t planning on staying around and Sierra isn’t eager to be a military wife. Can these two come to a compromise and have their happy ending? Shelter Me is a book whose characters and feelings will linger with the reader long after the last page is read. Mike and Sierra’s relationship is tied to their past and is connected to their future. Their chemistry is emotional as well as smoking hot. Loved the view point of the dog, Trooper. He adds another layer to a wonderful story. Eager to read the next book by Catherine Mann.
Catherine Mann's new series A Second Chance Ranch started off with a bang with Shelter Me. Sierra McDaniel and Staff Sergeant Mike Kowalski called it quits over a year ago, but with him returning from his latest deployment and making sure that he takes care of a promise that he made to Sierra's father in the event of his death Mike and Sierra were opening up their hearts all over again. Little does Mike know how much not only Sierra needs his help, but the rest of the family does also. They have had their fair share of troubles and hurts this year and they are barely hanging on. As he helps the family he begins to realize how much they are helping him to heal also. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Lori P
I love animals, any kind, and this wonderful story gives a fabulous view of what rescues and shelters are all about. Trooper is a dog who is befriended by a soldier and sadly one day the soldier does not come to feed the dog. As the dog is rescued and returned as a last wish to the soldier's family(who is still dealing with the grief of losing their loved one), Mike, the soldier who is escorting the dog to its new home, is rescued as well. I have read many of Catherine Mann's books and I would have to say this is one of her best and is a book that I will read over and over again. It's a keeper.