The Love of a Cowboy
I thought I would like The Love of a Cowboy. It’s a contemporary romance, with no suspense or crime elements. It’s pretty well-written, eschewing purple prose in its several original and steamy love scenes. And it’s set in rural central Idaho, where I lived for years. But I did not like this book.
Dahlia Montgomery’s world was shattered when her husband died in a car accident, accompanied by his latest mistress. He left Dahlia alone, bankrupt, and embittered. Two and a half years later, Dahlia and her best friend have gone to spend the summer in tiny Callister, Idaho, working as surveyors for the U.S. Forest Service. The trip is planned to jar Dahlia out of her depression and self-pity. In Callister, Dahlia meets a sexy local rancher named Luke McRae. Luke is attracted to Dahlia and would like to enjoy a no-strings affair with her; after quite a bit of agonizing and resistance, Dahlia acquiesces to a summer fling. But Luke has a very full life – two teenaged daughters and a handicapped son, a viperish ex-wife, a controlling mother, and of course that big ranch that needs to be run. He doesn’t have the time, energy, or desire to make Dahlia a permanent part of his life, and he makes this clear.
My problems with this book start with the characters. A very strong, arrogant hero needs an equally strong heroine to stand up to him. Dahlia’s efforts to stand up to Luke are pathetic; she comes across as a petulant and waspish. The inequality between their two personalities is part of what puts an ugly spin on their romance.
Here’s a sample of the contents of Luke’s mind:
Women. A diabolical joke Nature played on men. He wished he could live without them, without that Lorelei between their legs. But he was weak and it was sweet, as hard to resist as a bear trap baited with honey. And just as treacherous.
The Lorelei between my legs and I think that Luke is an old-fashioned misogynist swine. I don’t like the way, when they first meet, he comes on to Dahlia sexually before he even knows her name; nor the way, after one kiss, he eagerly suggests they go get a room. I don’t like the way, once their relationship is under way, he hides Dahlia as though he’s ashamed of her. They go to lots of hotels, but he only takes her home when his family is out of town. In my opinion, he treats her like trash.
My most un-favorite part of the book is the chapter in which Dahlia finally submits to Luke (and I do use that word deliberately). Luke softens her up with such sweet nothings as, “You’d be a superior brood animal. If you were a mare, I’d put my best stud on you.” Oooh, sugar, talk to me like that some more. Dahlia emits a few indignant protests, and then docilely follows Luke to the hotel room. I found this episode unromantic in the extreme.
In case you hadn’t guessed, I also don’t like Dahlia. She’s pure doormat. She was married for many years to a cold and unfaithful husband, and she endured it because “belonging to some one and some thing as time-honored as marriage had been more important than a few glitches in probity.” Not having learned from this experience, she falls in love with Luke. Even though she’s hurt by the way he keeps her a secret from his family, she pretends she doesn’t mind. Pretending that everything is okay when it’s not seems to be Dahlia’s chief way of coping with the world. Here’s another annoying thing: Luke frequently tells Dahlia that he doesn’t want any more children, but he also frequently has unprotected sex with her. Dahlia, who yearns to belong to Luke and raise his babies, doesn’t suggest he use condoms. She doesn’t take any birth control steps of her own. You couldn’t say that she got pregnant on purpose, but she didn’t try very hard not to, either.
I can’t say much more about the plot, but if you guess it features various romance novel staples used to manipulate readers, you’d be right. And most of those staples are ones that it seems our readers don’t particularly enjoy. At least three of the most oft-used (and complained about) series romance premises are found in the remainder of this book. And so, rather than being manipulated into caring, I felt bored and angered by the story as it developed.
The book isn’t a total failure. For one thing, the love scenes are sexy as all get-out. And some readers may see Luke as attractively angsty rather than ugly in his bullying while others will no doubt admire Dahlia and see a quiet dignity instead of a whiny doormat. The author has a fresh voice, and her descriptions of rural Idaho show that she knows the territory. (She makes Idahoans quite a bit more backwoodsy and xenophobic than the ones I knew, but I guess that’s for dramatic purposes.) The reconciliation is reasonably nice, with Luke admitting to some of his mistakes and actually trying to woo Dahlia. But he never acts as though he loves her or wants what’s best for her. From the beginning of the book to the end, Luke treats Dahlia like someone who has something that he wants, and whose objections he has to get around.
For me, this book’s good points are overwhelmed by my intense dislike for its characters, but I do think Anna Jeffrey has talent. The Love of a Cowboy aggravates and annoys, but it does so with a certain style. I don’t recommend this, but I’m somewhat interested to see how her next book is reviewed; it would almost have to be better, but who knows?