23 April 2016

Once a Rancher (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, Book 1)

Synopsis from back cover: THE CARSONS OF MUSTANG CREEK: three men who embody the West and define what it means to be a rancher, a cowboy and a hero in this brand-new series from the queen of Western romance.

SLATER CARSON might be a filmmaker by trade, but he's still a cowboy at heart – and he knows the value of a hard day's work under the hot Wyoming sun. So when he sees troubled teen Ryder heading down a dangerous path, he offers the boy a job on the ranch he shares with his two younger brothers. And since Ryder's guardian is the gorgeous new Mustang Creek resort manager, Grace Emery, Slater figures it can't hurt to keep a closer eye on her, as well...

GRACE EMERY doesn't have time for romance. Between settling into her new job and caring for her ex-husband's rebellious son, her attraction to larger-than-life Slater is a distraction she can't afford. But when an unexpected threat emerges, she'll discover just how far Slater will go to protect what matters most – and that love is always worth fighting for.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, HQN Books, 2016.

How acquired: Won from Harlequin Books in a giveaway on Goodreads

First line: Slater Carson was bone-tired, as he was after every film wrapped, but it was the best kind of fatigue – part pride and satisfaction in a job well done, part relief, part “bring it,” that anticipatory quiver in the pit of his stomach that would lead him to the next project, and the one after that.

My thoughts: Despite having 25 of her books in my TBR pile, this is the first book I've actually read by Linda Lael Miller. I would see her books constantly, and the covers often drew my attention, so I began grabbing them at library sales, thrift stores, etc. I knew that once I read her I would like her, and I wasn't wrong.

Slater Carson and Grace Emery have a fiery first meeting in the opening pages of the book, and I was immediately hooked. Slater shares a ranch with his two younger brothers and his mother, and is a documentary filmmaker. On the night that his latest project has wrapped, he's just arrived home, and he's exhausted. And then Grace barrels into his home office with her step-son, Ryder in tow, a ball of angry energy. Grace, I mean. Ryder is more the stereotypical sullen teenager. He stole something from one of Slater's trucks, and Grace has dragged him here to return it and apologize. So really it's the first meeting between the three of them, because even though Ryder is Grace's ex-husband's son, she's pretty much his only real parent and he's very much a (welcome) part of the book.

I loved Slater from the get go. He's a handsome cowboy, he's charming, he's got a great sense of humor, he's never been married but he has a daughter, Daisy, who he adores...need I go on? He's attracted to Grace immediately, and while he's never been truly in love or into having a real relationship, he finds himself finally thinking that way.

Grace I also loved, though I'm not generally drawn to heroines with “beautiful girl problems”, i.e., a woman who is so knock out gorgeous that men fall all over themselves about her, and she doesn't know if they're only attracted to her because she's so beautiful or if they actually like her for who she is. But she does also have a beautiful personality and I loved her as much for her relationship with her stepson as for anything else.

The last thing Grace is looking for is a relationship, and her relationship with Slater moved along a little quicker than I normally prefer. And yet they did spend a lot of time just getting to know each other, which kept it from feeling too rushed.

I also loved the relationship between Slater and his two brothers, Drake and Mace. The siblings are close to each other, but the younger brothers often exasperated Slater with their teasing and their betting on how soon Slater would bring up Grace's name for the first time and when he would propose to her. I definitely got a kick out of the bantering back and forth between the three men.

And this may be considered a spoiler, but then again it's a Harlequin romance so you should expect that there's likely to be a wedding in the end. And when the wedding plans did a complete 180 after a request from Daisy, well, Slater and Grace's response just made me love both of them even more.

I very much look forward to the next book, Drake's story, and I sure hope Mace's story will come after that! 

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