Tanner Harlow is a talented landscape designer, quietly building a name and a solid future when he finds himself needing to be the temporary guardian to his eleven-year-old half-sister. Tanner loves her, but can’t see himself as a father figure or imagine how he’s going to build his business during his busiest season with a child in tow until his newest client—his high school crush who still makes his heart pound—has a proposition that will help them both as long as Tanner can resist the tempting lure of the girl next door.
Elementary school teacher Francie Tate moved back to Marietta to be close to her ailing father. She plans to settle in and fix up her little bungalow before the school year starts, but definitely needs help with the neglected yard. She’s shocked when the landscaper she hired turns out to be a class mate. Tanner used to be shy in school, but he isn't the same kid anymore–he’s tall, sexy, and has the most striking brown eyes she's ever seen. When Francie learns of Tanner’s need for child care, she impulsively offers to watch his half-sister for the summer in return for some landscaping and renovations around the house.
It seems like a win-win, but Francie didn’t bargain on falling in love.
Newell (Falling for the Ranger) skims the surface of emotion with this contemporary novella set in fictional Marietta, Mont. After landscaper Tanner Harlow's mother dies, leaving his 11-year-old half-sister Maddie in his custody, his high school crush, Francie Tate, hires him to work on her new house. Francie's always had a soft spot for the gentle but awkward boy she knew from English class, even though her obnoxious high school boyfriend, Guy, taunted him. Now adults, the two strike up a relationship, and Francie agrees to watch Maddie while Tanner is working. All is progressing well until Guy shows up on Francie's doorstep, cruel as ever. She's sickened that she ever had a relationship with him and fears that his reappearance will scare Tanner away. The plotting is plausible and the characters are pleasant, but the emotion stays on the surface. Readers will likely be fond of the characters but wish they'd gotten to know them a bit more deeply. There are light moments; one of the funniest and most poignant is at a small-town market, where Tanner is charged with picking up menstrual supplies for his baby sister. But otherwise, Newell shortchanges her characters, and thereby her readers.