Turn and Burn
James’ Blacktop Cowboy series centers on the rodeo competitors who travel around the country with their horses and gear, searching for another win and ultimately a championship belt buckle or trophy. Her latest follows injured barrel racer Tanna Barker who’s come out of her accident afraid to get on a horse, a disaster for a multiple award winner.
Like all the hard-hitting rodeo champs, Tanna heads for the bar and a one-night stand, leaving the lusty cowboy before he wakes up in the morning. She’s shocked when she’s introduced to her nameless cowboy, Dr. August “Fletch” Fletcher, the local livestock veterinarian.
Fletch, on the other hand, is delighted to learn the name of the woman he’d been with, especially since he’d been fantasizing about her after their tryst. He’d also been kicking himself because he’d agreed to her no-name policy. Now he’d have a chance to wine and dine her, and find out if she was the perfect woman for him or not.
Tanna, however, doesn’t have time for Fletch since she’s come to Wyoming to work with Fletch’s cousin, a horse whisperer, to see if she could get back on a horse and eventually resume her barrel racing rodeo career.
While readers needn’t have read the previous Blacktop Cowboy books, those who have will delight in seeing all the previous couples together, having children and interacting like family. Good-hearted Tanna is accepted into the fold and becomes one of the gang right away while Fletch has always been part of the ranch community.
Both Tanna and Fletch are genuine products of the West, hard-living and hard-loving, so James’ forays into sex are just as graphic as her scenes of ranch life. These are people with no pretensions, who agree that the inability to be around horses is a detriment to anyone’s life. Everyone agrees and tries to help Tanna solve her predicament, including a handsome rodeo rider whose attentions spark Fletch’s easy-going courtship.
Of all the Blacktop books, this is my favorite since Tanna’s brutal accident which resulted in her championship horse, her constant companion, having to be put down added so much more angst to her story. Tanna may come off as jaded and cynical, but inside she’s a mess of regret and terror. Anyone who has ever competed will sympathize with her.
Fletch, while the perfect match for her, has his own issues as a workaholic who prides himself on being available 24/7. Trying to delegate and prioritize are two lessons that he must learn and accept if he’s to marry and have a family, which he sees as possibilities with Tanna. All readers will know Fletches in their lives, and many will enjoy Fletch’s struggles to balance his life while trying to persuade Tanna that love and marriage are for her.
In essence, James adeptly delves into what we all know as modern big city problems on a country level, making her story universal. In the West, however, the men and women are used to more dirt, bad weather, and physical work in playing out life’s dramas.