I love the Christmas season. I start putting up red and green decorations the second the Thanksgiving table is cleared. Reviewing Christmastime Cowboy allowed me to indulge in the holiday spirit extra-early this year. Although I was jumping into the middle of a series, the standalone setup and familiar feel of small town Christmas romances allowed me to enjoy it without any confusion.
The book utilizes the familiar trope of young love destroyed by disapproving parents. Years earlier, Sabrina Leighton and Liam Donnelly were falling for each other while working at the Leighton family winery. When Sabrina’s father caught wind of their romance, he offered Liam a full ride to college in exchange for breaking up with his daughter. Liam had grown up with a mother who blamed him – or rather, her unplanned pregnancy with him – for sticking her with his unfaithful father and the impoverished life they had together. She tormented Liam, frequently locking him in closets and forcing him to go hungry in order to keep him away from school and any semblance of a normal life. By the time he reached his early twenties, Liam was driven by two thoughts: that he would never be good enough for someone like Sabrina, and that he intended to make a lot of money someday. So, when Jamison Leighton offered that bribe, he took it and got the heck out of Dodge.
Thirteen years later, Liam has returned to Copper Ridge, Oregon, finally as wealthy as he’d hoped to be and ready to help his brothers run the family ranch. Mostly, that means using his business sense to establish them in the marketplace, because his brothers are resistant to him just throwing cash at their operation. This position leads him to the idea of opening a wine and cheese shop in town in partnership with Grassroots Winery. Sabrina still works at the vineyard, and has taken over as manager of the tasting room. Which means Sabrina and Liam are working together again.
While Liam may feel that he did the best thing for everyone involved when he left town all those years ago, Sabrina definitely doesn’t. He was her first love, and after a parting scene where she essentially threw herself at him and was rejected, she’s had some trouble believing in herself and her allure. No man since Liam has fired her up the way he once did – and still does, unfortunately, and she’s a mess of emotions when it comes to this partnership. She’s trying to be strong and just do her job, but she’s hurt and vulnerable after the way Liam treated her. She also can’t help but be excited and hopeful when she focuses on the chemistry between them now.
It’s no surprise to anyone – not the reader, not Sabrina’s friends, not even Sabrina – when she and Liam embark on a fling. They agree on that old cliché of ending things when their work together is done, and while this arrangement is clearly out of the ordinary for Sabrina, it’s also understandable. She’s spent so long comparing men to Liam, that she really does just want to get him out of her system; her dating life is already nonexistent, so she doesn’t have anything to lose. Liam, meanwhile, is just excited to be with Sabrina and doesn’t give much thought to the emotional ramifications.
The way that Liam and Sabrina handle those ‘emotional ramifications’ is really the one flaw I noted in this book. Both characters have let certain family issues lie for years, but their new relationship brings those problems back to the surface, needing to be dealt with. Sabrina finally confronts her father about his meddling in their romance years ago, while Liam finally shares the story of his childhood abuse with his brothers, who never knew about it because they were raised separately. These conversations should mark significant growth for both Liam and Sabrina, but they fall a bit flat. Liam’s talk with his brothers, especially, feels awkward and stilted as his news just bursts out. Childhood abuse and trauma can be extremely difficult to handle, but in order to make it fit the tone of the romance the author has watered down everyone’s reactions a bit. They take in the news and then move on quickly to focus on Liam’s relationship and potential happy-ever-after with Sabrina.
Aside from this, though, I’m happy with Christmastime Cowboy. The moment when Liam realizes he’s come to truly care about Sabrina, and that he’s far from ready for their relationship to be over might have been a bit clichéd but I still found it deeply satisfying. This book was pretty much exactly what I was expecting; a sweet novel filed with charming characters, set in a small town at Christmas. It may not revolutionize the holiday romance industry, but if you’re a fan of Maisey Yates or seasonal love stories, it should be a satisfying read.