In one night, Shari Hanford’s world is turned upside down. One minute she is jubilant about a dear family friend making the short list for the Supreme Court. The next minute she is the only witness to murder of a federal judge. Her family shattered by the violence, Shari turns to U.S. Marshall Marcus O’Malley for help.
Marcus is torn between his need to protect Shari and her family and his urge to hunt the killer. Things become even more complicated when he learns his youngest sister is suffering from terminal cancer. Duty to his job will keep him away from his family when they need him most. Then an assassin makes an attempt on Shari’s life, and it becomes clear to Marcus that he belongs by her side, because he’s coming to care for her as more than an assignment.
For a gentle love story, one that often focuses on small things like Marcus bringing Shari ice cream floats when she can’t sleep due to nightmares, this book’s plot moves at an amazingly fast pace. There is a very nice balance between action and character development. You never doubt for one moment that these two people could meet and fall in love, no matter the circumstances.
Shari won my devotion when, after she learned she was being hunted by a paid assassin, she calmly agrees to Marcus’ instructions to hide on a remote ranch in middle-of-nowhere, Montana. She makes no silly attempts to sneak out shopping, nor does she whine about the inability to call home to see if her mail is being picked up. She sensibly figures that since Marcus is law enforcement he might just know what’s best in this situation. Therefore the danger she was in never seemed contrived or a plot device.
Marcus is the true jewel in this story, though. Torn between work and family, he finds balance and even inner peace. He’s the eldest of a group of seven orphans who came together to form a family. He has spent two decades protecting this unconventional family, but he doesn’t become clingy as the family dynamic shifts. He opens himself to the changes, allowing the responsibility to be redispersed. Most touching is his relationship with his sisters. For example, to cheer up his sister Jennifer while she undergoes chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he calls her everyday to help plan a practical joke on the rest of the family.
The only real drawback for me was in the beginning, when Shari and two of Marcus’ sisters discuss being believers and their relationship with Jesus. Now I chose to read this book knowing full well it was an inspirational romance, so would be unfair of me to grade down because of this aspect. Nonetheless it pulled me out of the story and got my hackles up. To become comfortable with the story again I had to come at it from a different angle – not just as a reader, but studing the differences in how faith is discussed before I could enjoy the story again.
Although I was uncomfortable at how the characters openly chat about their faith, the handling of Marcus’ crisis of faith was one of the best parts of the story. His learning to trust in God nicely paralleled his learning to let go of his tight hold on responsibility for his family.
I heartily recommend The Guardian. It is a beautiful combination of an action-packed adventure with a character-driven love story.