After leaving an abusive marriage four years ago, Dory Finn received support and comfort from a local organization in her small Oklahoma hometown. When her uncle died and left her his house in Fortuna, California, mortgage free, she packed up and moved there with her kids to start a new life. Things have been going well for her. She has a decent job and has been working with some other women to start an organization for single moms, similar to the one that helped her, and she finds the volunteer work very fulfilling.
When Clay Kennedy, a hunky firefighter, moves in next door, he asks Dory out. Still not trusting her judgment regarding men, she makes it clear that she's not interested in dating. Clay starts doing nice things for her without asking, like mowing the grass, which Dory increasingly sees as a threat to her independence. It takes some unexpected changes in Dory's life for her to finally open up to Clay about the past and learn to trust him, but once she does, she finds a gentle man worth risking her heart for.
Sheltering Hearts is a sweet romance novella that contains no objectionable content. The story was inspired by one of the winners of the Harlequin More Than Words contest in which Harlequin awards a cash prize to women who are working tirelessly to make a difference in their community. This novella is also considered to be a side story in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. It takes place in the nearby town of Fortuna, where Virgin River residents frequently visit. Mel and Jack (Virgin River) and Preacher and Paige (Shelter Mountain) put in brief appearances, but this novella easily stands on its own. The reader wouldn't have to have read previous books in the series to understand what's going on.
The heroine, Dory is a strong woman. She is a single mom with two kids who left an abusive marriage four years earlier. Inspired by the Zoe Institute, the real life organization to which this novella is dedicated, she moved to Fortuna and has been working with Mel, Paige, and another woman to create a community center to support single mothers. She's wary of dating, still not trusting her judgment where men are concerned, so when her hunky new neighbor starts being a little too neighborly for comfort, she has to decide whether he's a good bet for finally getting back into dating or if he poses too much of a risk to her already battered heart and psyche. Her choice is made more difficult by other unexpected changes in her life.
This novella is primarily about Dory's journey, so there are only two or three short scenes from the hero, Clay's POV. He's a sweet guy who's a firefighter, loves kids, and is very protective of women. When he moves in next-door to Dory, he notices that she's a a busy single mom, so he steps in by doing things like mowing her lawn, taking out the trash, or playing catch with her kids. Of course, Clay thinks he's just being nice and helping out, but she initially sees his actions as a threat. Needless to say, he's rather baffled by her less than pleased reaction to his kindness, but eventually his patience and gentleness win the day.
Overall, Sheltering Hearts was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours of my reading time. It didn't necessarily grab me in any sort of intense way, and I occasionally found my mind wandering. However, it was still a very heart-warming story with a light, cozy feel. Anyone who likes these types of stories should enjoy this novella. Sheltering Hearts is available as a free eBook download from most major book retailers and can also be found in the print anthology, More Than Words, Volume 6.
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