The Cowboy's Claim
Nina Crespo kicks off the Tillbridge Stables series with The Cowboy’s Claim, a Hallmark Movie-esque low-conflict, enemies-to-lovers, country boy-meets-city gal romance.
Crespo introduces readers to the Tillbridges, an African American family of horse stable owners based in Maryland who have achieved renown as rodeo performers. Tillbridge Horse Stable & Guesthouse manager Tristan Tillbridge has dedicated his life to the success of his father and uncle’s legacy, and now that he is about to become co-owner, the sexy ‘n’ serious (and seriously sexy) Tristan works from sunup to sundown. He has neither the time, nor the inclination to babysit equinophobic Chloe Daniels, a Los Angeles actress who wants to shadow Tristan for the next six weeks in order to prepare for a movie audition. However, Tristan’s tough-as-nails cousin/boss, Zurie (a former competitive horse barrel racer who deserves her own book in the series), doesn’t give him much choice in the matter.
Chloe is determined to get cast in the Hollywood film role of a lifetime – a futuristic western directed by the hottest Hollywood director. Since Tristan refuses to give Chloe any of his valuable time, she quickly befriends the staff and learns about the inner workings of Tillbridge Stable, including horse care and food service. Impressed by Chloe’s gumption and her willingness to ‘get dirty,’ Tristan’s attraction to her grows. (But he still doesn’t formally train her on anything until much later.) And Chloe’s heart is all aflutter over the kinder, Stetson hat-wearing cowboy. Tristan and Chloe eventually succumb to their undeniable passion for each other and engage in a little ‘Texas two-step’ (*wink, wink*). The couple recognizes that their lives are headed in two different directions and that their future together is uncertain, and as their feelings for each other grow, Tristan and Chloe are understandably skittish about potentially jeopardizing their life’s ambitions to take a chance on love.
Throughout my book browsing, I have never come across a Western-themed romance novel featuring Black protagonists, especially one that is set in Maryland. Between the unique setup and Crespo’s digestible storytelling, I was quickly hooked. Evocative descriptions and meaningful dialogue imbue the scenes with genuine sentiment and strong desire. (Warning: The Cowboy’s Claim will make you very hungry. Crespo details BBQ foods and sweet treats that will send you repeatedly to the fridge for snack breaks.)
Tristan and Chloe are very easy to like, fulfilling tried-and-true romance archetypes. He is the hunky grump with a heart of gold; she is the affable beauty with indomitable grit. While the main characters are interesting, I was disappointed that Crespo did not discuss Tristan and Chloe’s personal relationships to racism. Their life experiences and public careers – his as a stable manager and former bull rider and hers as a promising movie actress – would have most definitely been affected in some way, shape, or form by the color of their skin. Since neither race, nor culture is explored by Tristan and Chloe, I regarded them as somewhat one-dimensional characters with whom I couldn’t fully connect.
Disappointment notwithstanding, I did enjoy their low-angst, mildly sexual courtship filled with trite, but ‘aww…so sweet’ gestures. To be honest, there were fleeting moments when I felt slightly more invested in Tristan’s rocky relationship with his once-close Tillbridge cousins, Zurie and Rina, than in his love affair with virtual stranger Chloe. But ultimately, I did care about Tristan and Chloe finding a happily-ever-after together.
Although I was largely charmed by Crespo’s work, I did feel short-changed by the ‘neat little bow’ conclusion which follows a major conflict occurring late in the story. The expediency with which the obstacle is resolved does not match the deliberate pacing of earlier chapters. Also, while I am not usually a proponent of epilogues, I found myself in want of one to support the tenuous ending, which left me with some logistical questions.
Nina Crespo’s The Cowboy’s Claim hits all the marks of a good standard romance. Readers who are attracted to strong family subplots and rural settings will find the novel especially satisfying. I look forward to returning to Tillbridge Stables with the October 2020 release of book two, Her Sweet Temptation.
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(Check out the first entry of my new AAR video blog, which I recorded while reading Nina Crespo’s The Cowboy’s Claim.)