After his discharge from the Army, Ranger is struggling to settle back into life at home. He is experiencing PTSD, which is leading to anxiety, depression, and a lethargy that makes getting motivated to do anything near impossible. On top of the traumatic service experience, Ranger is also struggling with his feelings toward a fellow solider who was killed in action. It was only after Alex’s death that Ranger realized what he thought was friendship was really an attraction between them, but now it’s too late. It has all left Ranger feeling overwhelmed and he isn’t sure how to get himself back on track.
When Ranger reaches out to his brother, Lucky, for some help and advice, Lucky suggests Ranger get a service dog trained to work with veterans with PTSD. There is a local trainer with dogs ready to find new homes, and Ranger decides to give it a chance. He contacts Julian, the trainer, and Julian is able to match Ranger up with his new dog, Benny. Having Benny in his life gives Ranger some structure to his day, and the need to care for the dog helps to drag him out of his listlessness. Not to mention that when Ranger starts experiencing panic attacks and other complications from his PTSD, Benny is there to help ease his nightmares and get him through the attacks.
Ranger and Julian begin to develop a friendship as Ranger starts working with his dog. The two men hit it off right away, and Ranger loves Julian’s sunny personality and the way he just makes Ranger feel happy and alive. As their friendship grows, the men realize an attraction between them and want to act on it. But Ranger doesn’t feel like he is in an emotional place to handle a relationship, so the guys decide to keep it casual. Ranger is excited for a chance to explore his attraction to men for the first time, and Julian finds Ranger a gorgeous and solid presence in his life. However, the more time Ranger and Julian spend together, the more they are falling for each other. Now they must figure out if they can turn what was supposed to be a casual relationship into something lasting.
Ranger is a sweet, easy story, even as it has some more intense moments, particularly with Ranger’s PTSD. The story has a loose connection to Heart from the authors’ Ballsy Boys series. That story focuses on Ranger’s brother, Lucky, and apparently Ranger was a side character there. However, this story fully stands alone and, while Lucky does appear here, I could easily follow along without having read his book.
As I said, this story feels sweet and easy, which is somewhat surprising given the challenges Ranger faces with his PTSD and danger Julian experiences from a wildfire. I think the tone is set mostly by Julian, who is just so endearing and lovely. He is kind and sunny and caring, and his presence brings so much light into Ranger’s life. For his part, Ranger is solid and is able to be there to support Julian when he needs it. The guys are sweet and super sexy together, and there is a nice evolution to their relationship. It is clear, even as they intend to keep things casual, that both men are all in pretty quickly. I appreciated that there isn’t a ton of angst about it, and the men are good about being open and honest with one another about their feelings. I really loved both these men, both together and individually, and I enjoyed watching them fall in love.
I also loved seeing Ranger’s relationship develop with his dog, Benny, and learning more about how the support dogs worked with vets. The authors go into enough detail to really develop this part of the story, without overwhelming with too much information. We get some nice scenes where we can really see how Benny works and the way he helps Ranger work through his anxiety, fears, and nightmares. The dog is adorable and has a lot of personality. We also get to see Julian’s various menagerie of animals that live on his ranch, both those that are pets and those he trains for tv/movies. I appreciated that while we can see right away the benefit Benny is bringing to Ranger, the story doesn’t make the dog an instant fix. There are still times Ranger struggles, but we can see the progression of improvement in a satisfying way. There are some other challenges these guys face and I love the way that they are there to support and care for one another.
Overall, I found this such a lovely story. It is sweet and sexy and romantic, and Julian and Ranger and incredibly likable guys. I really enjoyed their journey.