Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: contemporary western romance
Series: Hot Cowboy Nights #2
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Two loves …
Janice Combes has two loves, bucking bulls and Dirk Knowlton. But Dirk only has eyes for a dazzling rodeo queen. How can Janice ever compete while mired ankle-deep in manure? Exchanging playful banter with Dirk is all Janice can expect-until the stormy night he knocks on her door dripping wet and needing a place to crash.
Dirk Knowlton is living the cowboy dream. Life should be good-roping, branding, backing broncs, riding bulls, but there’s a void he can’t seem to fill. After getting hung up by a bull, he wonders if this is really the life he wants. Restless and rebellious, he bolts…but there’s a certain cowgirl he can’t forget.
When a battle-scarred Dirk returns to his Montana ranch he’s determined to hang on at any cost. Janice has come back home to lick her own wounds. When old dreams turn to dust, can two wary hearts take another chance on love?
While I enjoyed this story, as usual a lot because it’s Victoria Vane, I will say that this is definitely one of those books/series where you really need to have read the first book (Slow Hand, reviewed here) before you start this second one.
Having read both, it feels like Slow Hand takes place in the middle of Rough Rider. Literally in the middle. Half the action in Rough Rider is in the past, and shows us some of the reasons that Dirk and Wade’s relationship is so fraught at the beginning of Slow Hand.
Wade married Dirk’s just-barely-ex, way back when, because she was using the two brothers to get at each other. But she’s dead and since they can’t settle it with her, they keep beating up on each other.
In Slow Hand, Wade is finally able to make peace with his past, which makes it possible for him to work things out with Dirk.
In Rough Rider, we get both the story of how Dirk got to be his curmudgeonly self at the beginning of Slow Hand, and how he finally gets beyond it by going back to some of his own unfinished business.
Ironically, it was never about Rachel, the rodeo queen who was looking for some cowboy arm-candy and a way to just keep on getting what she wanted. Dirk always had someone else in his rear-view, and the regrets that were eating him alive were all about Janice Coombs and not about Rachel Carson.
What we get in Rough Rider is the story of Dirk, Janice and Grady, Dirk’s rodeo circuit roommate. Janice was not one of the rodeo queens. Her father bred bulls for the events. She fell for Dirk way, way back, when she was just a little girl and he was a seemingly grown-up teenager. But she never grew out of that love, even though she felt she had no chance against the prettied-up Rachel. Janice was just one of the stock hands around the rodeo, and half the time the cowboys didn’t even see her as a girl.
Grady saw her as a meal-ticket. Her father owned a nice little ranch, and Grady was looking for a way to stay on the gravy train when he was forced to hang up his spurs. Dirk, on the other hand, saw a lovely young woman who needed protection from Grady’s not-exactly honorable intentions. He also saw a woman much more genuine and real that the always-made-up Rachel.
But Dirk doesn’t believe that men and women can be just friends. He’s sure that sex always comes into it sooner or later. And between himself and Janice, he’s right. Dirk turns to Janice for comfort, and then can’t figure out why he can’t stop thinking about the night they shared.
He also can’t make up his mind what to do about it until it is too late. He plays the “come here go away” game with Janice just a bit too long, and isn’t there for her when her father is diagnosed with cancer and her world falls apart.
Grady steps in and marries Janice, while Dirk takes his regrets and his empty heart to the Marines. On his second tour he steps on an IED, and loses his leg and any desire to he ever had for happiness. He retreats to the ranch to become an occasionally nasty recluse.
Janice has a child, loses her father and the ranch, and eventually loses the husband she never should have taken on. Or been taken in by. She comes back home, ten years later with a young son and a ton of regrets.
Her biggest regret is that she and Dirk never figured out what they might have together. But in spite of everything that has happened in between, it still might not be too late. They just have to start from who they are now.
Until one last secret threatens to break them apart – again.
Escape Rating B: As I said at the beginning, Rough Rider feels incomplete without having read Slow Hand. While there is a part of me that wonders if Rough Rider shouldn’t have been released first, I can also see why it wasn’t. Slow Hand has a very clear beginning middle and end. It is complete in itself. While it is interesting getting more of the background, the detailed backstory wasn’t necessary to enjoy Wade and Nikki earning their happy ending.
However, a big chunk of the impetus for Dirk’s turnaround is in Wade’s story. Not necessarily the details, but that Wade finally letting go of the past and Rachel’s death allows the brothers to relate to each other in the here and now and stop having the past continue to screw up the present.
The fascinating thing is that after reading the beginning of Rough Rider, it’s clear that most of what is eating Dirk is in his own head, and his own past, and doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Rachel after all. She becomes more the excuse for the brothers’ long-running feud than the actual reason.
Dirk is mostly just kicking himself for his own separate mistakes. He’s also a lot uncertain about his own worth after his disfiguring and disabling accident. The bear retreats to his cave and sucks his hurt paw, rather than letting anyone in to pull some of the painful thorns.
Because Dirk’s relationship with Janice starts in the past, when they go from zero to boiling hot in 60 seconds it doesn’t feel like insta-lust. More like the lid finally blew off a long-boiling pot. But Dirk’s redemption and turnaround would feel a bit too quick without the knowledge of what happened in the first book.
The story ends on a reveal that involves one of my least-favorite tropes. It also didn’t feel necessary for Dirk, Janice and Cody to become a real family for them to become a real family, but others may feel differently.
Still, for anyone who read Slow Hand and needs to see Dirk’s story get resolved, Rough Rider tells a good story of simmering love that finally gets its day.