Synopsis: Rugged and tough deputy sheriff Eli Bishop isn't scared of anything. Except dogs. When he’s assigned a K-9 partner, he thinks things can't get any worse. Then he learns who'll be training him. Local vet Mary Travis is sweet as sugar...but she's also Eli's ex-fiancee's sister. Revealing his humiliating phobia to her is not an option. Neither is developing feelings for Mary – who's built her career around the dogs Eli fears. When a terrible storm hits their town, Mary and Eli must find the courage to work together and save lives – and fall in love.
First line: Serendipity, Texas, had gone to the dogs.
Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Love Inspired Books, releases in January 2014; 215 pages; purchased through Harlequin Reader Service subscription.
My thoughts: The Serendipity police force is getting it's first K-9 officer, and Eli Bishop is horrified to learn that he has been chosen to partner with the dog. A frightening encounter with a wild dog when he was very young left him with physical and emotional scars, and the thought of being around a dog still scares him. But he isn’t about to turn down a promotion, not to mention allow himself to become the butt of his fellow officers' jokes and teasing. He's still smarting from the jokes and teasing that followed his ex-fiancee jilting him, and he's not pleased that her sister will be training him. But he keeps his misgivings to himself and stoically accepts the new position.
Mary Bishop is excited about starting a K-9 training program, and if her first pupil and his partner do well, she hopes to get contracts from other local police forces. She's nervous about working with Eli, whom she had a crush on in high school, and she's still angry at her sister for the way she walked out on Eli and their engagement to be with another man.
Eli doesn’t tell Mary about his dog phobia, leaving her to ponder and wonder why he's so reserved and resistant to interacting with Bullet. She needs Eli and Bullet to become a cohesive unit in order to get the new training program off the ground. I'm fascinated by police dogs (well, by any dogs!), and Deb Kastner appears to have done some research into what makes them tick, and I enjoyed this brief glimpse into how the canine officers – and their human partners – are trained. And Eli's first training session with Mary and Bullet had me laughing page after page.
Mary quickly realizes her teenage crush on Eli is still going strong, but she doesn't think he would ever possibly be interested in someone like her. In fact, she spends a majority of the book convinced that he's fallen for her friend Alexis, and determined to be happy for them. Meanwhile, Alexis and Samantha, the other member of the Little Chicks, as the three girls are known around town, plot and scheme to get Mary and Eli together.
The storm scenes were descriptive and realistic, and I got a little tense but very immersed in the story. Thinking back, this is the first book I've read that featured any tornadic activity since my own city was devastated by a tornado back in May, and Mary and Eli heading out with their dogs for Search and Rescue made me emotional. But not in a bad way – with the happy ending it was also cathartic.
Overall an enjoyable and engaging read. I gather from Harlequin’s website that this is the second book in the “Serendipity Sweetheart” series, the first book having been Samantha's story, THE SOLDIER'S SWEETHEART, which thanks to my excessive subscriptions to Harlequin's Reader Service I already have in my massive TBR pile. But scrolling through synopses of Ms. Kastner's other books it looks like many of them are set in the same little town, such as MEETING Mr. RIGHT, which is the fourth book in the “Email Order Brides” series and is about Eli's sister, and which I'm pleased to realize is also in my TBR pile, along two more of her books. So, you know, just what I need. Another bunch of books to move to my “to be read next” bookcase, which is almost overflowing as it is.