Sergeant Mike Kowalski breaks rules, risking his career, so that he can bring his Colonel's dog home to his family after his death. Colonel McDaniel, along with his men, adopted a stray dog in Iraq during their tour and named him Trooper after the Colonel's childhood pet. When the Colonel is killed, the Sergeant must make good on his promise to get the dog home to the Colonel's family in the U.S., at whatever cost to his own career.
Mike has a history with the Colonel and his family, especially with the Colonel's daughter, Sierra. Even though they dated and broke-up prior to his leaving for Iraq, Mike isn't sure whether he can keep his distance from Sierra, especially knowing what the family is experiencing now. A military life is how Sierra grew up but it is not how she pictures her married life to be in the future. Even less so after her father is killed.
Sierra lives in an apartment above the barn at her mom's search and rescue farm, assisting with the animals, worrying about her teenage brother and helping with the care of her dad's father, while teaching at grad school and trying to finish her degree at the same time. The family is a mess from grief as well as from the dreams of the life they had planned together for when her dad retired. Add in some contrary neighbors who don't want an animal rescue as their neighbor and there's enough emotional overload on a good day, let alone when something goes wrong. And plenty goes wrong.
Mike thought he could come home, leave the dog with the family and spend his time on leave at a hotel until he needs to move on to his next assignment. But he can't shake the dog who wants to be with the only person he knows and Mike can't watch this family fall apart without pitching in to help somehow. So he moves into the apartment above their barn to assist with repairs at the ranch during his leave, while Sierra moves back in with her family.
Can these former lovers resist each other even though they both know that their paths are in a direction that's too far off course for them to be together again?
There's a lot going on in this story so it's hard to describe without giving away the entire plot. There's a side story with Sierra's mom, Lacey, who is my favorite character in the book. She has some powerful inner struggles due to the death of her husband, whom she hasn't seen for a year by the time he dies. She feels cheated after raising her son and daughter alone while her husband served his country, only to end up alone in the end. Just when Lacey thought he'd retire and they'd finally have a life together, her husband is killed in Iraq. In addition to her volunteer animal rescue ranch and being a mom, Lacey is also an online teacher, as well as the caregiver for her husband's father, a retired General who has the beginning stages of Alzheimers. Can she hold it together when her whole life seems to be falling apart?
This series has a lot of potential. I love animal rescue stories, or veterinarian stories, and this novel has both. But, I didn't relate to Mike and Sierra as a couple. I think it's because there are at least five points-of-view in this novel, including the dog's, so I never became emotionally invested in this couple. Their story just didn't call to me the way that Lacey's confusion about her life pulled me in. But, that may also be a good thing since this book can appeal to two different age groups of romance lovers. I like the idea of multiple points-of-view in a larger novel; I just don't think it works well for me within 319 pages because it just seemed a bit jumpy and I became confused about which character's head I was in. I don't believe there was enough page time for each perspective for me to become connected to all of them, so I obviously related to the one character who spoke to me emotionally.
The family's loss is palpable and I think their individual coping mechanisms were what kept me reading, along with the suspense from the possibility that they just wouldn't be able to cope at some point and what those ramifications would be. This book is emotional but there's enough humor sprinkled in to keep the story landing on a positive note. The ending of SHELTER ME enhances my anticipation of the second novel, RESCUE ME, so I will look forward to that, hoping to read more of Lacey's journey. If you love animal stories and like unusual circumstances surrounding their well-being, then I think you'll enjoy this eclectic combination with small town values.