In this friends-to-lovers tale featuring a healthy dose of unrequited love and a side of secret baby, Ms. Yates ticks off the tropes in record time while delivering a satisfying HEA. Bennett Dodge has been working with his best friend Kaylee at Gold Valley’s veterinary clinic for a while, which is a great arrangement since they also happen to be best friends. Well, it’s great for Bennett and more torturous for Kaylee, who is absolutely over-the-moon in love with our hero while he has absolutely zero idea. When Bennett is abruptly given care of his heretofore unknown teenage son, all the things he once held as sure seem a little fuzzier and he realizes that Kaylee may just be his best everything.
I find Ms. Yates’ books to be fantastic comfort reads. Like a cozy blanket and a cup of Earl Grey, they just… work. Some more than others, of course, and I tend to like her full-length stories rather than the novellas as she needs time to let some of her plots breathe. However, Untamed Cowboy is another one in that legacy of stories about grounded characters whose HEAs are earned while surrounded by a charismatic tribe of folks who always each get their own story. We met Bennett in the previous installment, which focused on his brother, and I’m sure we’ll see Bennett and Kaylee again as we get more Gold Valley books.
Bennett is an incredible veterinarian and apparently all-around fantastic dude. He focuses on the large animals in their practice, while Kaylee handles the household variety, and does it while also helping to run their family ranching spread. Life is pretty good as far as he is concerned. Due to some machinations in their father’s will, all the Dodge brothers are in Gold Valley and they’re working out a rhythm to doing life together. It was odd at first, Bennett admits to us in his PoV, but now it’s all working out.
Kaylee is a little more unsettled. When we first meet her, she’s on a date with another man, trying desperately not to compare him to Bennett (and totally failing). It doesn’t help that Bennett calls in the middle of the date with a veterinary emergency. Kaylee is treated to an out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire kind of evening, and it only goes to reinforce her deep and true love for Bennett and also her need to get over him and settle for someone else. The reason she’s never spoken up, by the way, is that she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship. This is one of my quibbles with our Kaylee, as it often reads like she’s a masochist who enjoys torturing herself or a coward who doesn’t really know herself. I get the fear of alienating your entire world – which is what she feels would happen if she spoke up – but this ‘crush’ is so deep that it is affecting her quality of life. Does she honestly believe she can work with him every day and ‘get over it’?
Luckily for both her and us, she never has to find out. Early in the book, the police show up at Bennett’s door with a teenage boy in tow. Turns out, Bennett’s high school girlfriend got pregnant – which he knew – and kept the baby – which he didn’t, as she had told him she miscarried. In the intervening years, the girlfriend became an addict and the son, Dallas, has bounced around from foster home to foster home until the authorities figured out who Bennett was. So, after being delivered by a stern but loving social worker, Dallas and Bennett start to figure out a life together.
If this had been just Kaylee and Bennett’s story, I think I would have liked it a lot less. Instead, by exploring all the new and uncomfortable realities that Dallas brings with him, Kaylee and Bennett’s story never feels overwrought or angsty. Kaylee admits her love for him, he for her, they screw it up a few times, they forgive each other, and all the while trying to love a boy who has never really known it before. Dallas feels a little too good to be true a few times, but he rarely got on my nerves, and I’m hoping Ms. Yates is going to give him a book of his own in this sprawling community she’s introduced us to.
Be aware that the ‘bonus book’ attached as advertised is a full length novella, so don’t be shocked when this story ends waaaaaay before the page count does.
Overall, Untamed Cowboy is a solid read, and a good celebration of all its tropes. If any of them are your trope-nip, throw it on your vacation reading list and I doubt you’ll regret it.