The Trouble with Cowboy Weddings
I’m just gonna say it right off the bat – your enjoyment of The Trouble with Cowboy Weddings will depend on how easily you can swallow a few of its’ more tortured marriage of convenience trope twists and its message of forgiveness-will-set-you-free.
Gavin Tyler is a rancher whose brother runs their family’s spread, so he’s happy to help out his neighbor Louisa – Lou – Fairchild with her flower nursery and family ranch as she recovers from injuries incurred in a barn fire.
Lou’s had a difficult couple of months. Her grandfather passed just before the barn fire and she’s just gotten out of a long term abusive relationship with Rex, who cheated on her and set the barn fire that almost killed her, so she’s had emotional scars piled atop her physical ones. When she tells Gavin her aging grandmother refuses to sell the family’s land to anyone who’s not a Fairchild – by marriage or by blood – and Lou refuses to marry to satisfy these requirements (yes, this plotline makes pretty much NO sense whatsoever) – Gavin’s mind starts churning. He’s always wanted to work land of his own, and he’s always loved Lou. Ergo, the two of them should get married so they can keep the land from falling into the hands of her deadbeat father, then, after a decent interval and the land is transferred into Lou’s name, they’ll divorce.
Lou is furious with Gavin for suggesting such a thing, but when baby sister Emma offers to throw herself on his sword to save the farm – and suggests they should have their grandmother declared incompetent (which is frankly the best twist I’ve ever seen in an elderly meddling relative romance), Lou insists on marrying Gavin herself. They even fake a one-night stand between them to make things seem more legitimate. Lou’s reluctant to get close to anyone after the physically scarring fire and her emotionally devastating childhood – (not to mention the abusive ex), plus Gavin has a bad temper that keeps complicating things. But as the wedding is planned and they get closer, might their feelings be more genuine than they originally believed?
The trouble with The Trouble with Cowboy Weddings is that it attempts to play it safe with its central message of healing by giving a voice to the abused and the victimizer alike which only ended up irritating me no end. These muddled, infuriating messages get the story nowhere and end up taking center stage from a combative romance that only turns winning in the last quarter of the book.
I liked that Lou is an experienced heroine, who’s had sex and boyfriends before, who’s seen a lot in her life and isn’t shy about talking about it. She’s driven, goal orientated, bitter and angry and not afraid to be so. Maybe she’s a tad too stubborn, but I liked her determination.
I occasionally felt pretty bad for Gavin, who devalues himself so thoroughly he thinks this arrangement is the only way he’ll be able to convince Lou – the woman for whom he’s carried a torch for years – to marry him. Sadly, his temper makes him seem like yet another angry man that Lou was stuck living with, because, for all of his insecurity, Gavin is kind of an ass to Lou. He teases her; she bites his head off; this is misconstrued as spicy chemistry, and as horny as they get for each other they still feel like teenagers. He hides his anger issues from Lou and often gets mad because she won’t take off her shirt and bandana and reveal her barn fire scars to him, both of which make Gavin feel like controlling asshole. (Note to the book designer: if the heroine has scarring that requires a bandana and blouses to cover it, maybe don’t depict her with an exposed forehead and chest).
But the book’s biggest problem is its super flimsy set-up. What kind of person would rather hand the land over to a jerk who was never there for his kids, and was in fact was a neglectful, woman-beating addict, instead of handing it over to a trusted and beloved grandchild? Lou tries to excuse it away as grief addling her grandmother’s sense of reason but I couldn’t buy it; all of her appearances in the novel were too reasoned. Why deliver the ultimatum at all when you can’t even lace your own boots? I absolutely wanted to strangle Lou and Emma’s grandmother for making absolutely no sense.
On top of that there’s a forgiveness plot for their father and no, after beating a woman, putting your addiction over your kids and leaving your children to fend for themselves, he does not get a pass and the book should NOT give him one. Grandma putting her selfish need to reconcile with her ex-addict son because he’s old and life is so short over Lou’s emotional well being unnecessarily gums up the cogs of the plot; Lou loves this woman, but we have no idea why. It very much feels like her grandmother is trying to manipulate Lou into reconciling with an abusive man for her own sake because life is short and forgiveness is good for the soul and all of that rot; just no. In fact, except for one minor character mentioned by Lou, the abusiveness of all of the main male characters in the novel is excused because the women are more stoic and stronger than the offending men are; Rex is pathetic, Lou and Emma’s father is wet-eyed with a need to belatedly kiss up to his mom; Gavin goes from brawling with his brother to crying at his wedding. While it tries to portray the uneasy way families of abusive addicts reconcile or don’t with their families, NONE of this excuses the fact that the author wants us to forgive an addict who abused the heroine verbally and emotionally as a vulnerable child who had already been through physical abuse. Grandma’s intense attachment to her son made no sense, because we get no scenes of them together but only hear later that they’re spending time together.
Worse, to try to soften the harsh picture of their bio-dad, the author drops in a mention of Lou and Emma’s mother and her creepy child molesting boyfriend.
So in short: grandma is a jerk and a bad plot device to boot. What I could buy was Lou playing big sister and stubbornly handling the situation so Emma, wouldn’t have to deal with the problem.
The romance at the heart of The Trouble With Cowboy Weddings might have – with a little more work, been compelling. But even as the author tries to say there’s no wrong way to heal from abuse, selling the notion that you have to forgive your abuser – for peace, for solace, because with age it’s the ‘mature’ thing to do – is a huge falsehood.