Rating: 3 stars
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Jason Scott is at the top of the field in his career as a professional bull rider. Jason, along with his traveling partner and best friend, Andy Baxter, are riding the circuit, both hoping to finish at the top of the boards and win enough money to see each of them set for life. Jason and Bax have been dancing around the fact that they are crazy about each other. Each is afraid of losing his best friend if they admit how much they actually love each other. It will take something huge to make a change in their relationship.
Being a professional bullrider is a dangerous game and in one horrible instant everything changes for both Jason and Bax. When a ride on one of the top bulls goes wrong, Jason gets a head injury that causes him to go blind. Reeling, Jason and Bax retreat to Jason’s family ranch to recover and wonder what’s next for them both. For Jason, it appears his life is over and he has nothing to live for. Bax is determined to prove him wrong, both personally and professionally.
Bax thinks Jason can ride the bulls even blind. But it will take Bax, his love, and their small circle of friends to prove to Jason that even blind bullriders have their life and love ahead of them.
I have a huge fondness for both the Roughstock series and its author, BA Tortuga. So it pains me when I have to report that this story, while having so many of the great qualities I have come to expect from this series, frustrated me to the point that it is hard to recommend it. First let’s look at the merits of this story.
The characters are wonderful. Jason “Mini” Scott and Andy “Bax” Baxter are typical of the cowboys you will find in Tortuga’s stories. Their personalities are so authentic to the bull riding circuit and the locale that I would also expect to run into them at any PBR event. They become so real that they feel like a part of your family. And it is this intimacy that connects the reader to them and their futures. You feel the dust that coats them as they pick themselves up off the arena floor and the pain their profession inflicts upon their bodies. They are just so realistic that you hurt for them. And Tortuga is one of the best authors around when it comes to dialog. The words that come out of the mouths of her cowboys ring with authentic local flavor and colloquialisms. And it does so without being hokey or off sounding. Here they are heading down the road to get supper:
Bax threw his duffel back, too, sliding into the driver’s side. “So, where to? I figure that one little place where you circle your order will be closed.” “There’s that one place by the highway — about twenty minutes out. It’s nothing but old ranchers taking their women out. Nice T-bones.” And he always got tickled by those tables with the ads printed on them. Reminded him of going to auction with Pa-paw.
“That works.” The big dualie slid right into traffic like an elephant into a herd of zebras, Bax muscling them right in.
They scooted down 35, radio blaring. He found a pack of smokes in the console and lit one for Bax, then got himself one. Three days of rest, then Tulsa.
“You think we ought to try and hit home ‘fore Tulsa?” It was kinda eerie sometimes, the way Bax read his mind. Then again, they’d been on the road together for nigh on six years.
“We can. Momma’d like to see us. ‘Course, we could go on to the city. Goof off. Depends on how much you want Momma’s pineapple upside down cake.”
“Oh, I’d rather go see your momma.” That man did have a sweet tooth. Pineapple upside down was Bax’s very favorite.
“Cool. I’ll call her. Let her know we’ll be in.” He took a deep drag, grinned. Lord, lord. “I hope your knee’s up to riding fence.”
“Shit, you know it. Just don’t ask me to walk fence.” Wheeling around a little Honda, Bax started humming with George on the radio, off tune as anything. “Nah. You wouldn’t be worth shit in Tulsa, then.”
They both hooted, and Jason leaned back, easy in his bones. Man, event win number three. Check in his pocket. Him and Bax heading for steak.
Life, she was good.
Of course, we know it’s all going to change and soon. But in that short exchange we see the ease and contentment of Jason and Bax’s relationship. It sings of a friendship long established and perhaps much more.
And once they fess up and go for a full romantic relationship, it is still in keeping with their cowboy ways and personalities. No flowers here.
It was like a good ride, all motion and want and spinning. He tried to warn Bax, tried to let the man know he was gonna be way quick off the mark, but it wasn’t happening. And it didn’t seem to matter one bit. Bax was pushing him on, making these amazing noises, just as hot for him as the Fourth of July.
Their relationship is hot, sexy, and emotionally deep. How we fall for them.
Pretty much everything works here for much of the story. The narrative suffers a bit from almost too much sex. I wanted more of Jason coming to grips with his blindness. And I wanted to see exactly how Jason, with Bax and Coke’s help, will learn to ride again. At one point, even Bax remarks that he and Jason have sex instead of talking. OK, but as a reader, I want more.
After all I have been through with Jason and Bax, feeling side by side with them on their emotional rollercoaster, I want and deserve to have the emotional payoff I expect at the end of the story. And that is exactly what’s missing. No “aha” moment, no ending. Nothing. It just stops prior to Jason ever getting back up on a bull, even one on his friend’s ranch. The emotional reward, the moment everything has been building up to never happens. Frustrating? You betcha. And totally unexpected from this seasoned author. And it is this aspect that dragged the rating down to a 3-star rating.
So who should read this book? Well, hard core fans of B.A. Tortuga for one, as well as fans of the Roughstock series. Coke, AJ, Bax, and Jason are the core characters of the Roughstock series so its good to have this part of the story. But that lack of ending just makes me want to grab a beer and go watch some PBR instead of continuing to bemoan what could have been an outstanding book.