Once A Cowboy
I generally avoid reading narrowly focused series lines as this one, the Harlequin American, because they seem such blatant marketing ploys. This book, with an obviously appropriate cover to match its title, practically screams, “Cowboys! Cowboys! Get your Red Hot Cowboy Here!” But I try not to judge a book by its cover, started Linda Warren’s Once a Cowboy, and was quite surprised to find it a lovely, moving story.
Alex Donovan is a Dallas private investigator hired by Mrs. Braxton to find her son, now missing for 40 years. She saw a photo in the newspaper of a man she believes could be her son, snatched from the hospital shortly after his birth. Alex is leery about taking the case. She left the police force two years ago after searching for another missing child, only to discover the girl murdered. But she cannot help but notice the sadness and suffering in the older woman’s eyes. Alex has moved on with her life and is partner with her father in the detective agency. She believes she is emotionally stronger now, so she decides to take on the case after all.
Brodie Hayes fell in love with rodeos as a teenager and he began entering bull riding competitions, winning many of them. When he decided to quit college – which he only enrolled in to please his father – and pursue bull riding as a career, his disapproving parents (an Army general and his loyal wife) broke off all contact with him. After many years on the circuit, Brodie is now retired from bull riding, living on a ranch near Mesquite, and recently reconciled with his parents. He’s proud of what he has accomplished and who he is, and that is a cowboy.
But everything changes the day he sees Alex at his ranch. Brodie will later consent to DNA tests to see if he could be Travis Braxton, the missing baby who shared his same hair color and striking eye color. These tests will forever change his life.
You know, in Romanceland there seems to be endless variations on the same silly themes: fake rakes, wimpy kick-ass heroines, “heroes” mean enough to kick their mothers. Once a Cowboy is just a solid, good old-fashioned romance. A man. A woman. Two unique, distinctive people meeting each other and finding a physical and emotional connection. Brodie is a man devastated by the news that his entire identity up to now is not his. Alex is a woman propelled by her caring nature to comfort this hurting man. And the result is a pared down, but memorable story of understated poignancy and emotion. Wry humor and nice banter between the leads add lightness to the otherwise somber tale.
The short format is a liability because it limits the characters’ depth, which means that Brodie’s pain draws out more than what’s reasonable and that Alex seems a bit saintly in persisting to help him. Nevertheless, this was a good book, better than I expected. Once a Cowboy may seem like a little nugget compared to fat, page-laden contemporary and historical single titles romances, but it glows brighter than many of them.