Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas
Katie Ruggle opens what looks to be a fresh, funny and sweet series about the Springfield brothers, firemen living in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado, with Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas.
On his first day as a firefighter in his hometown of Borne, Colorado, Steve Springfield finds himself taking part in a search and rescue party for Camille Brandt, a folk artist and the town eccentric, with whom he went to high school – though he was a senior when she was a junior. Camille isn’t missing at all, but is in fact creating art in the woods by her house; her boss was wrong about her not coming home the night before. While Camille is easily found, she’s quite embarrassed to have been the subject of a search party; when Steve tries to show her a little kindness she’s even more embarrassed to have drawn that much attention and avoids further examination. When they bump into one another at the supermarket afterwards, it’s in the feminine hygiene product aisle.
In the years since Steve left Borne, Camille has slowly become an insular person, leaving behind the saucy girl she was in high school. To Camille, Steve is still Steve “Freaking” Springfield, the super cool jock who wasn’t anywhere near her social equal – it’s a mystery to her as to why he’s even spending time with her. But Steve desperately needs friendship and advice from people who aren’t fellow burly firemen or troublesome siblings, and Camille, whose artistic life means she doesn’t get out much and who possesses a socially crippling shyness that means she never goes out – finds herself enjoying his company.
Steve recently moved back to town with his four kids and is occupying the family Christmas tree ranch, which he co-runs with his brothers Ryan, Joe and Nate, who work as firemen as well. Although he’s come to terms with the death of his wife eight years earlier, he hasn’t felt ready to begin a new relationship, but meeting Camille changes that.
Unfortunately for Steve, his brother Ryan – who’s one of Camille’s few friends – calls ‘dibs’ on Camille and declares his intent to date her. But Camille – shy and awkward as she is – is slowly but surely falling for Steve and Steve’s family alike, only liking Ryan as a friend. And Steve, between trying to keep his job and kids together, is starting to fall for Camille’s charm. When Camille’s workshop burns down, she moves in with Steve and his family, and slowly they begin to change each other’s lives. Will Ryan fulfill his vow to make Camille fall in love with him by Christmas? Or will Camille and Steve end up declaring their feelings? There’s more than a few things they need to untangle before Santa comes down the chimney.
Family comedies are hard to pull off without them going too goofy; it takes effort to be funny and give your reader fine characters on top of it. Ruggle manages to pull off a beautiful piece of work here, a very strong accomplishment.
Camille is kind of a space cadet, and sometimes her frantic nervousness can be annoying, but she’s the RIGHT kind of quirky and nervous, in that she’s a human being and not a series of caricatures; and with a little prodding she does come to the surface as an interesting person. Her anxiety feels real, and Steve’ isn’t held up as some kind of comparative paragon of non-awkwardness in response. She’s introverted without being lost in her own world, and the book doesn’t shame her for wanting to have alone time to create; she’s strong in some ways, weak in others.
Steve is a solidly strong hero who tries to love his family and do the right thing; he’s wonderfully fallible for a romance novel hero, making multiple parenting mistakes, and being a humanly imperfect firefighter.
The romance is mostly wonderful. Camille is socially awkward and Steve is clumsy; they’re amusing together, and not the typical hero and heroine one might expect from reading a contemporary western romance. I loved how slowly their connection built up.
There are only two flaws in the story. I did find the mid-book choice to throw in a suspense plot a little too melodramatic for what was otherwise a very lighthearted story. It felt like a cheap way to introduce more sexual tension, get something dark going, and get Camille out into the world more; I would’ve rather she’d chosen to do it instead of being forced to it. And that plotline’s ultimate conclusion is a little unsatisfying – hopefully the perpetrator won’t be reformed into another hero in the pantheon of the series. Thus, that portion of the story is the only reason I can’t give this an unreserved A rating.
The kids don’t quite sound right for the ages they’re supposed to be; they’re thankfully not treacle-y moppets, either, but they sound a bit advanced for their age. I do like their personalities, even if their vocabulary is slightly sophisticated for their ages, and they still feel like real kids.
Alongside the kids, there’s a lot of fun side characters – grouchy busybody Mrs. Linn, Camille’s neighbor, and the equally nosy Mrs. Murphy; all of Steve’s brothers, especially hapless Nate. There’s even Lucy, Camille’s cat, who is bad at catting.
Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas is funny and good and tender and feels as sturdy and colorful as one of those hose sculptures Camille has dedicated her life to making. As I said initially, comedy done the right way can be rarer than a copper pan cooked steak, and this book is a full course meal for the heart.