To Protect & Serve (The Courage Series, Book 1) by Staci Stallings

To Protect & Serve: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel (The Courage Series, Book 1) by Staci StallingsTo Protect & Serve surprised me in many aspects with pretty much all of them good ones. It was heavily Christian at times and leaned on one of those aspects I don’t agree with (of giving up autonomy for God’s will)…and then turned it around until I agreed with the concept entirely by making it a trust issue rather than a “sit back and wait” issue. Even more, despite direct conversations with God in which there was a response (though unclear whether the response came from God or within), the inspirational aspects supported rather than overwhelmed the story.

This is not a light and fluffy read in any definition of the type. The story delves into the darker side of life with the burden of unreasonable guilt, bullying, and even a mention of date rape. Then it takes on the very real traumas of being a firefighter and of loving one, pulling no punches as characters you quickly grow to love throw themselves into danger time and again…and don’t always beat the odds. This is where trust comes in most heavily because Lisa must trust that however long or short she has with Jeff, her life will be better for loving him than not.

As you might have deduced, this is a powerful novel, but Staci Stallings wasn’t done with just the above aspects. No, she took on a hero who has little sense of self worth, thinks his heroic efforts driven by a childhood mistake rather than strength of character, and who cannot talk to women and is still bullied as an adult, though by well-meaning friends rather than enemies. Jeff is a complicated figure as a person and even more so as the hero in a romance novel where for every step forward he takes a step back.

Lisa has her own reasons for backing away, ones that have made her devote her life to work and ones that are re-enforced by practically every guy she comes across. Her first brushes with the group of firefighters at her sister’s bachelorette party only prove her reservations, except for Jeff. The man hardly spoke to her, but something about him draws Lisa when all other men make her want to run away.

It’s an awkward love story with both of them stumbling forward only to leap back, but there’s nothing awkward about their connection. It’s their social limitations and fears that make the process so difficult for both Jeff and Lisa, and which make it so beautiful as well.

More than most, this book is a perfect example of romances that can demonstrate how people work through the obstacles to accept love. Lisa and Jeff face numerous serious barriers, both internal and external. They have only an amorphous connection to drive them, but it’s enough to give them both the strength to step outside their comfort space and take the leap of faith true love requires.

A beautiful story filled with lovely and loving people who struggle with the harsh reality of the firefighter life to find, and keep, love.

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