Review: Big Sky, Loyal Heart by M. L. Buchman

Review: Big Sky, Loyal Heart by M. L. BuchmanBig Sky, Loyal Heart (Henderson's Ranch, #5) Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Henderson's Ranch #5
Pages: 256
Published by Buchman Bookworks on November 30th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

-a Henderson Ranch Big Sky romance-

Major Emily Beale struggles to excel in her new role as both mother and wife.

Colonel Michael Gibson’s career reaches a crisis, not that he’s talking about it.

Trainee military war dog Rip naps—he was named for Rip van Winkle, after all—while awaiting inspiration.

Film student turned cowboy Patrick Gallagher just keeps riding through life...until the woman of his dreams threatens to ride off into the sunset without him.

Recently retired war dog handler for Delta Force, Lauren Foster sets herself a simple mission: forget about the Army, get back to New York City, and try to be a civilian.

But first, Lauren must escape Montana before she gets caught by the Big Sky and a loyal heart.

My Review:

Big Sky, Loyal Heart may be the fifth book in the author’s Henderson’s Ranch series, but it calls all the way back to the first book of this author’s that I ever read, The Night is Mine, all the way back in 2012.

Not that one has to have read the entire oeuvre, or even all of the Henderson’s Ranch series to really fall in love with this one, but a little background might help.

As the long, overarching story stands in 2017, Mark Henderson and Emily Beale, the hero and heroine of the military suspense romance The Night is Mine, have moved on, not merely to the second chapter in their lives, but actually the third. In their second chapter, they flew firefighting hotshot crews to wherever the fires were hottest (and conducted a few secret quasi-military operations on the side) in the Firehawks series.

After that chapter, they have moved back to Mark’s family ranch in Montana, where they provide cabins, horses, and guides for guests, as well as jobs for some of their fellow special operations veterans.

Big Sky, Loyal Heart is all about one of those veterans, and the cowboy she falls for. Right after he falls into a mud puddle.

Lauren Foster has mustered out of Delta after 15 years. She left with a dog-sized hole in her heart that she doesn’t know if she can ever fill, a humvee-sized load of guilt and whole lot of confusion.

Jupiter was killed by enemy action. But it was action that he should never have been in. The order was wrong. Lauren knew it. Even the dog knew it. But Lauren followed orders, and Jupiter followed orders and now he’s dead. And Lauren has had enough.

But as she stands on the tarmac at Ft. Bragg with no clear direction for her return to civilian status, Colonel Michael Gibson swoops her up and tells her to follow him. He was her commanding officer in Delta, so she follows in his wake, all the way to Montana and Henderson’s Ranch.

She has no idea why she’s there. She has no idea why Gibson is there. And less than no idea why he brought her with him.

Lauren Foster expects to go home to New York City and surf her brother’s couch until she figures out what her civilian life is supposed to be.

It turns out that she’s already found it. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Escape Rating A-: This is just a terrific romance. I loved every minute of it, as I have pretty much everything I’ve ever read by this author, starting with The Night is Mine all those years ago.

This story rides on the backs of its two leads, Lauren Foster and her film student turned cowboy, Patrick Gallagher. While they both hail from New York City, they have found their respective ways to Montana by completely different roads.

Lauren is fascinating because she is one of this author’s trademark military women. She’s tough and strong and has spent years not showing weakness, trying to make everyone around her lose as much sight as possible of the fact that she’s female. She’s had to be “one of the boys” to earn the respect she’s needed to do her job, and it’s never been easy.

And yet she’s never a caricature or the stock character of the”strong heroine” that so often appears these days. She has her weaknesses and her flaws, she’s just used to hiding them. And she’s properly confused about why she’s at the Ranch and what she’s supposed to do with her suddenly open future.

Patrick is, in many ways, her opposite. He’s certainly her perfect foil. Where Lauren has been forced to tamp down all of her emotions, Patrick is charming and wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see. He also has a strong whimsical side. His background in film makes him see life, even his own life, as a movie, and he’s usually been cast as the comic sidekick in his own life. When Lauren drops into Montana, the ranch, and his heart, he has the chance to play the romantic hero, if he can just find a way to make the role fit for him.

Part of what makes this story, and so many of this author’s romances, work so well is that while Patrick is not anything like a ‘beta-hero’ he recognizes that Lauren is going to be the ‘alpha’ in their relationship – and he’s fine with that. There aren’t nearly enough heroines like Lauren, nor are there nearly enough heroes like Patrick. A romance where a strong woman finds a man who loves and respects her exactly as she is always appeals to this reader.

Although I have not read any of the previous books in the Henderson’s Ranch series, I have read most of the Night Stalkers and Firehawks books that came before it. It is marvelous to continue following Mark and Emily through their lives as they transition (more or less) from being elite soldiers to a still very active, but different, civilian life. And it was interesting to see Colonel Gibson, a background character throughout the Night Stalkers series and the hero of Bring on the Dusk, start changing directions in his life.

It’s always good to visit old friends.

Even if you haven’t dipped into the previous series (but do, they are all awesome) Big Sky, Loyal Heart is a lovely contemporary romance all on its own, and is complete in itself. But it will give you a yen to read the backgrounds of the marvelous crew that you will meet within its pages.

For those of us who have followed Mark and Emily through multiple series, there’s a hint at the end of Big Sky, Loyal Heart that their saga not only continues but moves into a new phase. I can hardly wait!

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