Always an outsider…
Armed with only her suitcases and secrets, Tess Spencer arrives at Bell River Ranch. She'll work temporarily at their spa and never tell the Wright sisters her true connection to them. Meeting gorgeous carpenter Jude Calhoun challenges those plans, however. Strong and capable, Jude makes Tess want to share the burden of what she knows….
That confession may come sooner than she wants when her past intrudes at the ranch. But if she reveals the reasons she's here, she will definitely be the outsider -- unwelcomed and alone. And leaving Bell River could cost her the one man she wants….
Good book with a solid romance and a touch of mystery. Tess was raised by a single mother in California. She knew nothing of her father until her mother revealed the truth just before she died. Now Tess has come to Bell River Ranch to work as a massage therapist and see what she can find out about the family she never knew she had. She has no plans to tell them who she is, just stay long enough to get to know them, then move on. Then a couple things happen to change her plans. First, thanks to a series of unexpected events her part time job turns into an offer to be the spa director. Second, she meets Jude, gorgeous and nice, who tempts her to stay on.
I liked Tess a lot. She hasn't had an easy life. Her mother had been very strict and controlling of her, trying to keep Tess from making the same mistakes she had made. Instead, Tess married young to a man who she thought was better than he was. She divorced him when his true nature came out, but the effects of the marriage linger. With her mother gone, Tess is searching for her own place in the world, somewhere she feels she can belong. She gets that feeling at Bell River, but is sure that her sisters would not be happy knowing of her existence. I really liked seeing how Tess made a place for herself at the spa. I could see that she really wants to be part of the life there, but she's afraid of rejection.
I loved Jude. He's a native of the town who had gone away for awhile but is now back. He's the kind of guy who steps in to help wherever he is needed. Right now he is taking care of his youngest sister and her baby. Molly is suffering from postpartum depression, plus has left her abusive husband. Jude also has broken things off with his girlfriend, a woman he grew up with, but since her move to Hollywood has become someone he doesn't like very much. He comes to realize that he had only been with her all those years because he was protecting her. He's determined to squash his "white knight" tendencies and stay away from women who need his help.
There's a connection between Tess and Jude right away. I loved their first meeting, where she has to use him as her "interview" massage. He senses a vulnerability in her that draws him to her over and over. He also realizes that though she sometimes seems a little lost, she isn't needy, preferring to stand on her own feet. Tess is equally drawn to Jude, but with her secret she is hesitant to get involved. I really enjoyed seeing them get to know each other and become friends before anything else. I loved Jude's belief in her when trouble arrived in the form of her ex-husband. Their feelings had been steadily growing and giving in to them was both sweet and hot. There were some issues with their exes that had to be dealt with, but the strength of their feelings makes it all possible.
There was a bit of a mystery running through the book also. The sisters have been fighting to make the ranch a success in spite of the scandal created by their father. They have been receiving nasty, anonymous notes that have escalated into some vandalism. Tess also has to deal with the arrival of her ex, who is making unwelcome demands of her, forcing her to reveal her secret to her sisters. A strange twist puts her ex on a collision course with the note leaver, creating a whole new scandal for them to deal with. The culprit was a bit of a surprise, but wrapped things up quite well.
I loved seeing so much of the sisters and their families from the previous books. Their interactions with Tess, both before and after the revealing of her secrets, were quite believable. I especially loved their support after her ex arrived. Dallas's son Alec is still one of the most fun characters of the series.