Nate Del Rio may be falling in love with Rainy Jernagen and her adorable foster childrenóbut before he can allow himself to get close to her, he has to come to terms with his own guilt concerning his younger sister's death. Nate Del Rio is a rancher who does some charity work on the side as part of a church program. A call out to Rainy Jernagen's house introduces him to Rainy, a local schoolteacher, and her four long-term foster children, Will, Joshua, Emma, and Katie. He and Rainy get along reasonably well, and he invites the family to his ranch for a visit, thinking this will be educational for the children.
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Nate's grandfather, Pop, is happy to show the kids around and to meet someone new, and invites Rainy and her children back to the ranch the following weekend. A recurring theme is that Nate is reluctant to pursue friendly or romantic interests with Rainy because he spends so much time working on the ranch in pursuit of a dream of purchasing the adjacent land from a neighbor, and in part because he blame himself for his younger sister's death, but Pop is not willing to turn away friendly faces solely because Nate is uncomfortable with the idea of being responsible for city slickers at a ranch.
The next ranch visit almost turns disastrous when Joshua accidentally turns on the tractor, but a pattern is soon established, with Rainy and Nate visiting one another. A custody dispute soon begins, with Katie's biological mother seeking to regain custody, and Rainy wanting to fight the motion, as Katie's mother was not a good parent previously, but Rainy isn't exactly wealthy and initially despairs of finding enough money to pay a good lawyer to represent her and Katie's interests. Although Nate is determined to convince himself he doesn't have feelings for Rainy, he anonymously donates money to Rainy's legal fund, and tries hard to support her during the emotionally trying court case and its aftermath, in which custody is granted to Katie's biological mother.
Although Nate and Rainy's relationship turns briefly rocky, as he cannot really articulate why is is afraid of making himself responsible for the children (as their potential stepdad, if the two ever started dating), an accident during a storm causes Joshua to get injured, and Will, Joshua's older brother, blames himself. When Nate tries to convince Will that he shouldn't feel guilty, Nate realizes that he himself has been carrying a lot of unearned guilt around, and resolves to work past that guilt.
With Nate's main reason for refusing a romantic relationship with Rainy now dispensed with, he and Rainy become closer friends than ever, ultimately marrying and eventually adopting Will, Joshua and Emma.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's a lighthearted "inspirational" romance, which mostly meant that both main characters were trying to be good people, even if they sometimes failed. The characters were sympathetic, the kids were actually fairly well-characterized (given that they were secondary characters), and in the end, it was just kind of nice to read a lighthearted book that wasn't particularly violent.
Best scene in story:
There's a chapter dealing with the custody case, and after Rainy loses custody of Katie, she's obviously deeply sad and in tears. But she goes to talk with Katie's biological mother to wish her luck anyway and to make sure that Katie's mother has one of Katie's favorite puppets (not one Katie owns, but one of Rainy's). It's an emotional moment, but even though Katie's mother and Rainy have little reason to like one another, they both clearly want what is best for their little girl. It was actually fairly touching, which I hadn't expected.
Opinion about the main character:
Nate Del Rio is kind, hardworking, and friendly. Even though he has his own problems, he tries to treat Rainy and her children with kindness and patience, which isn't always easy when they do things like start up a tractor at great danger to themselves. Nate doesn't have a super strong narrative voice, but he's likable in general, and I can really understand why he acts the way he does with regard to relationships and parental responsibility.