The Cowboy Way
Candace Schuler’s Good Time Girl was one of the better early Harlequin Blazes, offering a strong combination of truly hot sex and a good love story. Its long-awaited sequel, The Cowboy Way, only gets it half right. If you’re looking for a really red-hot read with sex that’s much steamier than most Blazes, then this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a believable love story and characters who are more than stereotypes, then this is not a good bet.
Jo Beth Jensen is boss of the Diamond J Ranch. She’s a tough woman who has no use for cowboys, ever since she was betrayed by one. Everybody expected a neighboring rancher to propose to Jo Beth after he came back from a summer on the rodeo circuit. Instead, he came back with a buckle bunny he found over the summer and married her (this was the couple from Good Time Girl). Left in the lurch, Jo Beth decided that cowboys are no good and can’t be counted on. She’ll content herself with having an occasional fling, with only two rules: she never does it close to home, and never with a cowboy.
Her resolve is tested when rodeo cowboy Clay Madison arrives for a mutual friend’s wedding. He’s a good-looking charmer she can’t help but be attracted to, but since he’s a cowboy, she wants nothing to do with him. But he’s the best man and she’s the maid of honor and they’re thrown together quite often. One afternoon, Jo Beth is in a particularly bad mood and decides to go out on horseback to an isolated part of the ranch. Arriving at a water tank, she strips off her clothes and gets in to cool off. She hasn’t been with a man for a while, and Clay’s presence has her feeling horny, so she starts to pleasure herself. Naturally, Clay happens to ride along nearby. When he sees what she’s doing, he starts to watch, unable to believe the wanton woman in the water tank could be the rough-and-tumble Jo Beth.
This scene kind of caught me off guard, and when it was over, all I could think was, “Wow. That’s better than usual.” The scene packs more of an erotic charge than most recent Blazes and there’s a boldness and frankness to the book’s sex scenes that’s very effective. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, and when Clay and Jo Beth get together, the effect is combustible. With one exception I’ll get to in a moment, the encounters between them are all scorching, making this one of the hottest Blazes I’ve read in a while.
For a while, I considered recommending this book for the sex alone. That’s how effective it is. Then the sex would end and I’d realize that there wasn’t much else I liked about the book. It’s readable enough, but when the characters aren’t having sex, it just isn’t very interesting. There are books that manage to pull off the Western setting well and make the cowboys and ranchers feel like real people, Bethany Campbell’s recent Superromance title Wild Horses did that did just that. But then there are those books where the ranch characters feel cheesy and cartoonish, like they just wandered out of a Western-set theme park or off the set of an old movie. This is one of those books. Schuler goes overboard with the cowboy schtick, laying the cornpone on thick. For one thing, the book has too much “cowboyspeak,” that dreaded dialect syndrome where the letters at the beginning and ending of words mysteriously disappear whenever the cowboys are talkin’ ’bout somethin’.
The hero and heroine of Good Time Girl were stock characters, but Schuler managed to humanize them enough that I cared about them. That wasn’t the case here. Clay and Jo Beth are two walkin’, talkin’, ridin’ and ropin’ Western cliches. Clay is a good-lookin’, smooth-talkin’ rodeo cowboy who’s basically perfect in every way. Jo Beth’s the kind of persnickety cowgirl who constantly seems to have a burr up her britches. Jessie from Toy Story 2 showed more human dimension than Jo Beth, and she was a toy in a cartoon. The character development is almost nonexistent, and we learn very little about them as people.
In addition to a somewhat slow pace, the romance isn’t developed much either. For most of the book, it’s just sex, then in the final quarter of the book, the author suddenly tries to whip up evidence that they really do care about each other (and makes Jo Beth increasingly irrational and annoying in the process). It’s too little, too late. I could kind of believe they had some feelings for one another, but love? When they’d only been together about a week and their relationship was almost entirely based in sex for most of it, I couldn’t buy it. There’s a very nice moment at the end where they each say they love the other person. It would have been even nicer if I’d believed it.
The sex scenes really are the highlight of the book. Not only are they legitimately “red-hot,” but the characters display more believable human reactions during these moments than they do when they’re not having sex. I liked them more as people during the more sexually charged scenes than when they were hanging around the ranch acting like cliches. There’s some fun banter and nice moments, and their responses seemed more real. However, I have to mention one exception. Late in the book, there’s a sex scene that some readers may be uncomfortable with, as Clay gets rough with Jo Beth. While the author is careful to have Jo Beth say that what’s happening is foreplay and not rape, the way the scene begins made me verrrrry uneasy, and some readers may wish to be warned.
Blazes that are truly red-hot are far less common than they should be, so that alone may make this one worth a look. If what you’re looking for is steamy sexuality, The Cowboy Way delivers, but that’s about all it delivers.