Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Gold Valley #2
Published by HQN Books on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In Gold Valley, Oregon, love might be hiding in plain sight…
Some things are too perfect to mess with. Bennett Dodge’s relationship with Kaylee Capshaw is one of them. They work together at their veterinary clinic and have been best friends for years. When Bennett’s world is rocked by the appearance of a son he didn’t know he had, he needs Kaylee more than ever. And he doesn’t want anything else to change. But then Kaylee kisses him, and nothing will ever be the same…
Kaylee’s done her best to keep her feelings for the man she’s loved since high school hidden away, but one unguarded moment changes everything, and now there’s no more denying the chemistry that burns between them. But the explosion of desire changes all the rules, and what’s left could destroy their bond—or bring them to a love that’s deeper than she ever imagined…
Untamed Cowboy combines a trope I really love with a trope I usually hate into a romance that just turned out to be the right book at the right time.
Bennett and Kaylee have been friends forever. Or at least since they were both 13, from the minute that Kaylee moved to Gold Valley. Even more miraculously, they stayed friends, through high school, college, veterinary school and into their current veterinary practice.
They’ve gone from friends to business partners, always being there for each other no matter what.
But Kaylee has a secret that she has kept from Bennett for the entire time they’ve known each other. She loves him. She really, really does. Not just as friends, not just as besties, not just as the person who gave her stability and family when she had none, but as the only man she’s ever loved. Or probably ever will.
She’s just spent a year in torment, watching as Bennett got engaged to Olivia Logan, and then watching it all fall apart in the previous book in the series, Smooth-Talking Cowboy. But Olivia is now pregnant and marrying someone else, and Bennett doesn’t seem to broken up about it.
Because he’s not. His heart isn’t remotely broken – it’s not even dented a bit. He’s just upset that his life plans have been thrown out of whack.
And that’s where the other trope comes in. Because Bennett also has a secret. Back in high school, his girlfriend got pregnant. He intended to give up his dream of vet school, marry her and settle down (and just plain settle) at his family’s ranch. But she told him she lost the baby, and he lived his dreams.
But she didn’t. Lose the baby, that is. That baby arrives on his doorstep, now a scared and scarred 15-year-old boy who has no place left to go. His ex is a drug addict and her parental rights have been terminated. Bennett Dodge is all that his son Dallas has left.
And Bennett is all in for that. The problem on that front is convincing Dallas that he has finally found not just one but a whole set of adults who won’t let him down. Not just Bennett, but also his brothers and sister. And especially Kaylee, who knows more about what Dallas is going through than she ever let on.
I don’t normally like the “secret baby” trope but it works this time, probably because Dallas’ mother is far out of the picture, and Bennett’s secret, as far as he knew, was that he’d almost become a father at 16 but fate intervened. Only to have it intervene again, and for Bennett to finally realize that life can’t be planned, and it can’t be controlled.
It can only be lived.
Escape Rating A-: In the end, this feels like a story where, like the quote says, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
Bennett and Kaylee, in their completely different ways, are both fairly firmly fixed on planning their lives, because both of them have seen what happens when people lose control, and just how much damage that loss of control leaves in its wake.
Bennett lost his mother when he was a little boy. She died unexpectedly of complications after the birth of his baby sister. As an unacknowledged and unintended consequence he’s spent his whole life trying to do two things, fix everything and everyone he can, and keep control over his own life so that he isn’t hurt by anyone again.
His almost-marriage to Olivia Taylor was part of that careful planning. The introduction of his son into his life is the opposite, it’s the result of one of the few times he lost control. But as much as he regrets that lack of control, he can’t regret Dallas, only the years that he lost with his son due to his ex-girlfriend’s lies.
Bennett has done his best to keep his relationship with Kaylee firmly under control in the friend-zone, because she is the one person he trusts and cares for outside of his own family. But Kaylee is an adult child of alcoholics, a syndrome which breeds its own needs for control.
Bennett is the one person who strips away her control. She can’t help what she feels. She can only control his knowledge of her feelings, because she fears that she doesn’t deserve anything more than his friendship, and that reaching for more will cost her the only stable relationship in her life.
They are both emotional messes, and in ways that both pull them apart and keep them together. They need each other, but are both afraid of committing too much and getting hurt and being betrayed again. While neither Bennett’s mother’s death nor Kaylee’s parents alcoholism are under their control, that doesn’t mitigate the enduring consequences inflicted on their child-selves and how they deal (or don’t) deal with those consequences as adults.
Dallas upsets all the balances. Bennett’s feelings for his son are out of his control, and those feelings make him realize that his control has left him half-living his own life. The difficulties that Bennett and Kaylee have in reaching for each other feel real and heartfelt and I loved the way that they earned their happy ever after.