Desert Isle Keeper
‘Tis a good day to be a romance book reviewer; A.M. Arthur hath stole my heart. (Post-reading afterglows bring out the poet in me.) I’m not sure how Arthur’s Clean Slate Ranch series has escaped my notice, but now that I’ve found her, I shan’t let her go.
Sweet ‘n’ steamy gay interracial romance Hard Ride opens with a lustful one-nighter between Clean Slate Ranch cowboy Kendall ‘Slater’ Stamos (fun nod to #80s90s #popculture) and weekend wedding guest Derrick Massey. This impromptu hookup comes on the heels of Derrick’s realization that he wants to find a committed partner, but neither Derrick nor Slater regrets their brief but passionate encounter.
While protecting a young camper in his charge, Slater sustains a serious injury that sidelines him from working on the ranch. A concerned Derrick, spurred on by genuine caring and by the dread of attending five family weddings solo, proposes a fake-dating arrangement. The plan is decidedly beneficial to both parties. Derrick gets a hot plus-one and a ‘boyfriend’ who will appease his family who wants him to settle down, and Slater gets to convalesce at Derrick’s comfortable apartment in the city. It doesn’t hurt that he finds Derrick adorable. As the pretense plays out, the faux couple’s physical attraction heightens and deeper feelings develop, but although a bona fide ‘DerrickSlatership’ is a tempting proposition to both men, they each have their reasons for preferring the fantasy to reality. The conflicted lovers must ultimately decide whether or not sharing their lives together is worth the potential rejection and heartbreak.
Arthur writes a well-paced, captivating romance that scores high in protagonist likeability. Derrick and Slater are decent, honorable men whose differences beautifully complement each other. Derrick is a sweet, open-hearted extrovert, while Slater is a salty introvert with a heart of gold. Their thoughtful deeds, romantic gestures, and playful humor lead to swoony moments that caused my inner cheerleader to raise her arms in a high V motion. And as for Derrick and Skater’s off-the-charts chemistry, it runs the gamut from chaste forehead kisses to ‘wrestle-each-other-to-the-ground’ amazing sex. #rideemcowboy
While Arthur deserves praise for writing a compelling relationship, I do admit that her decision to write Derrick and Slater as an interracial couple is curious. While a few issues pertaining to sexuality are discussed, the fact that Derrick is black and Slater is white is barely mentioned. I had fully expected the author to raise the stakes by writing either a set of racist parents, or other racist relative to vehemently disapprove of the mixed-race couple, but that doesn’t happen. By omitting real-world racism from the story, the author perhaps misses an opportunity to deepen Derrick and Slater’s respect and love for each other in the face of injustice. Nevertheless, I appreciated the reprieve from the bigotry and intolerance of the non-fictional world.
The cast of secondary characters creates a cozy atmosphere of security and comfort. My hands-down favorite of the group is Dez, Derrick’s non-binary neighbor-friend. Dez is a “clothing designer-slash-upcycle blogger” who breaks down gender stereotypes, and is a source of unwavering support and encouragement to Derrick and Slater. (Honorable mention goes to Lucky, the toilet-trained stray cat.) A slew of random characters, some with inordinately detailed backstories, overcrowd the pages now and again. I’m not a fan of ‘character dumps,’ but I’ve come to understand why later books in a series, such as Hard Ride, contain them. But, seriously, there are only so many cool cowboy names that I can remember in one sitting.
Character dumps aside, I took my time reading each chapter because I simply didn’t want it to end. A.M. Arthur’s Hard Ride is an unputdownable, super sexy read with lots of personality and a ton of heart. I enthusiastically recommend it to all readers, especially to those who may not normally read m/m romance. #bestof2020sofar