Home to Texas
Home to Texas was my first experience with Kaki Warner, and although it’s is book two in a series (Brides of Rough Creek, Texas), it works perfectly fine as a standalone. There are other characters in the story who have clearly appeared in other books by this author, but they’re very much secondary to the main plotline, so I didn’t feel as though I’d missed out on anything that had gone before. I’m not a great reader of m/f contemporary romance, but the synopsis of this one appealed to me, and I enjoyed the book a lot; the characters are appealing, the settings are well described and the humour and banter between the two leads feels very natural and unforced (which isn’t always the case!) It’s a solid romance as well; two people who meet under very inauspicious circumstances are drawn to each other, and together, find purpose and a fresh start on a sprawling Texas ranch.
When the book begins, Lieutenant KD Whitcomb is just coming to in a hospital bed, groggy, sometimes in pain, sometimes nauseous, but somehow comforted by the steady beeps of the machines surrounding her. She knows she’s in hospital but doesn’t know how long she’s been there, and the memories as to how she got there are disturbing to say the least. Unusually however, there is someone at her side when she wakes this time, a tall, dark-haired man with tired blue eyes she doesn’t know but is sure has been there before. He tells her he’s a Warrant Officer from the army criminal investigations division (CID) and that he’s there to ask her a few questions about the incident that landed her in a hospital bed if she’s up to answering them. But she isn’t and he is asked to return another day – and KD knows she’ll have to be ready with her answers then.
The story then skips back a few days to when KD and her superior officer, Captain Natalea Mouton were approached by Samira, one of their Afghani interpreters, to ask them if they could help a local woman retrieve her eight-year-old son from Asaf Farid, the captain of the local unit of the Afghan National Police, who has taken the boy from her intending to use him for sex. Nataleah points out that the army has a policy of non-interference when it comes to cultural issues (no matter how abhorrent they are), but agrees to go to speak with Farid to see if he will return the boy. When they arrive at Farid’s concrete hut, Nataleah sends KD into the back room to look for the boy while she speaks with Farid – and then all hell breaks loose. While trying to help the bruised, battered and terrified boy out of the window, KD hears gunshots – and is then confronted by Farid, who shoots her in the leg and is advancing on her to finish her off. Before he can do so, she shoots back – then blacks out.
The first part of the story is tense and exciting as Warrant Officer Richard Murdock, who has been assigned to investigate the killings of Mouton and Farid, realises that the army is looking to avoid the scandal of two of its officers being shot by someone trained and weaponised by the US military by using KD as a scapegoat, casting doubt on the legality of her actions and basically hanging her out to dry. But no way is Richard going along with that; even though his own career is on the line if he doesn’t reach the conclusion he’s been instructed to reach, he’s determined to find a way to present the facts of the case without ending both their military careers.
Once she’s back Stateside, Richard offers to help KD prepare for the hearing she’s been summoned to, and to find her a good JAG lawyer, and as they spend a few days together, the attraction they’d both felt as KD started to recover develops into something deeper and full of mutual understanding and respect. I really liked the way their romance progresses, both of them being wary of jumping into something new at a time of such uncertainty, but also unable to deny their growing feelings for one another.
It’s not a spoiler (it’s in the blurb) to say that they both end up leaving the army, and then the action moves to the Whitcomb family cattle ranch in Texas, KD having invited Richard to visit while he gives some thought to what he’s going to do next. Their relationship develops at a believable pace and I appreciated the lack of misunderstandings and miscommunication to create drama and tension; there’s enough of that in the plotline concerning the threats made against KD and Richard by the drug-lord and Taliban sympathiser Khalil Farid, who has vowed revenge for the death of his son.
I enjoyed the book and the romance is undoubtedly well done – KD and Richard are well-matched, they communicate well and are wonderfully supportive of each other – but the pacing flags in places (mostly the second half/around the middle), and the climax to the plot falls rather flat when, despite all the detailed planning as to how to handle Farid and his men, the author pulls one of the oldest tricks in the book which made it all look completely pointless. After the skilful way Kaki Warner explores KD’s (and Richard’s) treatment by the military, KD’s complicated relationship with her family, and the equally accomplished way she develops the romance, that felt really clunky and amateurish by comparison.
The characterisation is excellent across the board; the secondary characters are well-rounded and the familial relationships and family dynamics are very well written. KD and Richard are likeable and easy to root for, both wounded in different ways – she from her physical injuries and subsequent anxiety issues, he as the result of a family tragedy and an early marriage that went badly wrong – and both have some healing to do as they move into the next stage of their lives.
Home to Texas is an enjoyable combination of contemporary romance and suspense, and although there are places in the second part of the story where things slowed down a bit too much, the book held my interest and kept me turning the pages. Richard and KD have terrific chemistry and the depth of the emotions that lie between them are palpable whenever they’re on the page together. Despite the pacing issues I’ve mentioned, I’m happy to recommend Home to Texas, especially if you’re looking for a contemporary romance with a slightly different spin to it.