All the King's Horses - Lauren Gallagher I loved this one. I suspect part of it is because I grew up around horses. My sister was a hunter-jumper, so horses were really her thing, but by default, I hung around them. Such wonderful animals. I can't imagine people harming them to the extent someone like Dustin has to come in and help them relearn to trust humans.

In this story, we have Amy, who is escaping from her life. She's leaving everything behind on the day of her husband's funeral -- before the funeral even -- to take a job eight hours away as a farmhand on a horse farm. This work is a bit below her pay grade. Her husband would flip his lid to know she's going to be mucking stalls and feeding horses and such. After all, he turned her into a top notch rider and trainer. And it's all about appearances to him. But he's dead, and Amy can't even feel anything about that. She's been numb for so long about everything, and she can't deal anymore, so she's bolting. That she doesn't feel anything, even for the horses she once so cherished, scares her.

Dustin runs the horse farm. He trains and boards horses for others but also takes in rescues -- horses who have been so severely abused, they may not let people get near them, much less put a saddle on or ride. His most recent acquisition, Blue, is going to take a lot of time, but Dustin is incredibly patient and compassionate. He's always been the rescuer, even bringing home birds with broken wings as a child to rehabilitate.

At first, Dustin and Amy don't hit it off. As I said, Amy is numb. She doesn't feel anything anymore, and when Dustin realizes she can't even give the requisite "awww" when some babies nuzzle her hand, he thinks she's a sociopath and isn't sure he wants her near the horses. But she's a good worker so far, and he needs help, so he's willing to give it a little while to see if she warms up. Chip is another of Dustin's rescues, and he's very mean. Dustin told Amy to stay away from him, but when Chip bites her and then recoils as if he expects the beating he would have gotten from a prior owner, Amy gets into his stall and is able to coax him to eat out of her hand. When Dustin finds them, he freaks out (he really thinks Chip can seriously hurt someone), but then he gets curious. She did have Chip eating out of her hand and calm. So he Googles her and realizes she's an acclaimed trainer. He starts to give her a bit more leeway with the horses and even asks her to work with Blue and Star.

And then the romance starts. Even with people, Dustin has been a rescuer. The women from his past were all hurting when they found him, and he always "rehabilitated" them, and then they'd leave. He knows this about himself, but he can't resist the draw of Amy. Nor she him.

Not only was their love story sweet and steamy and urgent and all those good things, but the surrounding story of Amy learning to feel again and Amy forming a bond with Blue, in particular... it was all just beautiful. Dustin is a rare breed to have such patience with his rescues as well as his ability to let go when he knows he needs to. I was so glad that Amy ultimately stood up for what she wanted and they worked out the details and got their HEA. Great story.