Rating: 5 stars
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Years ago, teenaged Shane Cortez showed up at the Broken H ranch after his parents had kicked him out for being gay and the Hunter family welcomed him with open arms. Four-year-old Grayson had been particularly enamored with Shane, whom he called chief because of his obvious Native American heritage, and the wide eyed boy had followed Shane everywhere he went, completely adoring. That didn’t change as they both aged; Gray still followed Shane everywhere, but his adoration quickly turned to love, and at seventeen he tried to show Shane how he felt with an ill-timed kiss. Fearing that his own inappropriate feelings for a too-young Gray influenced the teen, Shane pushed Gray away. Misinterpreting the rejection and heartbroken, Gray left the ranch to ride bulls on the rodeo circuit, and then become a police officer, only coming back to the ranch for holidays.
Now, over a decade later, Gray’s called back to the Broken H when his father has a heart attack. The tragedy forces Gray and Shane to talk through that ill-fated kiss all those years ago and resolve their differences. Newfound understanding quickly bleeds into the first tentative steps toward a relationship, but when one of their neighbors threatens to out them, Shane tries to call a halt to the fledgling relationship fearing for Gray’s career as county sheriff. Gray must convince Shane that he’s more important to him than being re-elected if they’re going to have a chance at making this work.
I’m gonna be really honest here for a sec—it was really hard for me to do this review without dissolving into a puddle of fan-girl goo. J.L. Langley is one of my favorite authors and I read The Broken H years ago and it remains one of my favorite m/m romances of all time. As such, I really wanted to do this book justice with a coherent and compelling review, but as I was re-reading this my brain was registering nothing more than squeals of delight and “ohmigod, yessss…” I’m going to give it a good go, but if this review is little more than a rambling deluge of love for this author and this book all I can say is that I tried. Really hard, I swear.
This book starts out with a really strong foundation—great characters, a fantastic premise, and skilled writing—and builds on that foundation by adding lots of little details to really take it to the next level. Langley has a way of writing very raw, visceral scenes that stick with the reader. Even before rereading this I could have told you what Shane was wearing the first time he and Gray have sex because the image was so powerful it stayed with me after many years and countless other books. There are so many individual scenes in this book that are among my favorites and rereading them was a real joy.
The characters are first and foremost the shining stars here. Gray is so straightforward and stubborn but surprisingly sweet that you fall in love with him instantly and he’s got a naughty streak a mile wide that I couldn’t help but feel a little kinship with. I loved the concept of a little boy whose clear hero worship and idolization of his “chief” grew into love and then lust. I loved the acknowledgement of how confused and scared he was as a teenage boy fighting with all these feelings. His growth as a character is really fascinating and enjoyable to read about.
And then there’s Shane. Good lord, what can I say about this man? There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language for how great Shane is. Really. I honestly don’t know what it is about him that makes me hold him so close to my heart. It could be his sense of protectiveness and the way he tries to care for everyone around him. Or maybe it’s the way he tries so hard to remain stoic and tough but really he’s just a big softie inside, a total marshmallow. Or maybe it’s how incredibly sexy he is. Or it could be how smart he is; I do love a man who knows how to work hard and use his brain. Or maybe it’s just the blend of all of those, but whatever it is, I love him and always will.
Gray’s parents are incredible too. Because I loved Shane so much I really enjoyed seeing characters that clearly loved him just as much and gave him all the hugs I wanted to heap on him. Because of his family’s rejection as a teen, Gray’s family really became an adoptive family for him and their calm acceptance of him and of his relationship with Gray was just beautiful. I won’t ruin it, but the scene where he finally comes out to them is hysterical, like belly-laughing, tears in the eyes, seriously unsexy guffaws hysterical.
Having such strong characters really makes this romance come alive. From the beginning where they’re just trying to learn how to be in the same room together (the scene at the diner, ohmigod you guys, so great) to the first few confusing steps toward a relationship to when they figure it all out, it’s just so sweet and so hot and so satisfying. These characters work together and they complement each other perfectly. They burn the sheets up sexually, they play and banter and make each other laugh outside of the bedroom, but beyond all of that, they’re friends first and foremost and that really comes across for them and that’s what makes them such a dynamic couple. There’s years of history between them and instead of it straining the relationship it gives it layers and texture and a richness that feels so incredibly decadent.
I could go on all day about all of the little things that make this book special and put it on my forever favorites shelf, but I’d so much rather let you discover all the things that make it special for you. So, if the rest of this ridiculously self-indulgent review hasn’t been enough for you, I’ll just state it plainly: I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Run do not walk to pick this one up if you haven’t already. Oh, and if you haven’t read it or book 1, this one can stand alone, but you will enjoy the little cameos from characters in the other book a lot more if you start with The Tin Star.