Rating: 4.25 stars
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When Jamie Killian’s father kicks him out after Jamie comes out to him, Jamie doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Not only has he lost his home and his relationship with his father, but his job as foreman of their family ranch too. He didn’t even have time to grab any of his things; all he’s got to his name now is his truck, the clothes on his back, and a few dollars in his wallet. To make matters worse, he’s not even sure if he’s got the support of his other two siblings either. So when his older brother John’s best friend, Ethan, calls and offers him a place to stay and a job on his ranch until he gets back on his feet, to say Jamie is floored would be an understatement. He doesn’t want Ethan’s pity—especially since he’s been attracted to him for years—but he knows he’s got no other choice and accepts.
Ethan Whitehall doesn’t really know why it felt so vital to get Jamie on his ranch, the Tin Star, and keep him so close after his daddy kicked him out, but it had. He’d always considered Jamie a friend by virtue of his close friendship with John even though Jamie was several years younger than him, but even that didn’t explain the drive to protect him so staunchly. Having an openly gay cowboy on his ranch could cost him both personally and professionally in his small town, but Ethan is determined to stand between Jamie and the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s because of the way the little flicker of attraction he’d always felt for Jamie and ignored when he’d assumed Jamie was straight is now raging out of control now that he’s both aware of Jamie’s sexual orientation and is keeping him so close.
As tensions in their small town and small circle of acquaintances rise over Jamie’s preferences, the attraction between Jamie and Ethan boils over. The feelings between them run deep and the relationship they begin to build seems solid, but not everyone is as happy as they are. Vandalism, threats, and an attempt to drug Jamie are just the beginning, but the events threaten to tear Ethan and Jamie apart. Jamie wants to run; when things get dangerous he can’t stand the thought of staying and risking his and Ethan’s lives. But Ethan wants to stay; he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror everyday if he didn’t stand up for himself and the man he’s beginning to fall hard for. Ethan knows Jamie belongs on the Tin Star and by his side—they’ve just got to survive the increasingly serious attempts on their lives long enough for Ethan to convince Jamie of it too.
I’ve said before how much I love J.L. Langley’s work, and this is no exception. It’s one of her earlier works, so while I think she still hadn’t quite found the solid voice I adore her for with this one, it still has a quirky sort of charm that makes it enjoyable no matter how many times I read it.
Surprisingly enough, one of the things that I loved most about this book was something that I started off feeling a little ho-hum about—Ethan. In the beginning, he’s likeable, but ultimately a little bland. He’s both the typical cowboy—tough, hardworking, family-oriented, and a consummate southern gentleman—and he’s also the typical nice-guy top—sweet and caring, with a touch of alpha-male blended in. So at first, there’s really not a lot of emotional connection going on there, but then, he grows into this really likable character that I fell in love with.
The change comes with his attitude about his sexuality. In the beginning he’s got both feet so firmly in the closet that he’s putting down roots. But as his relationship with Jamie develops and all the drama happens with whoever is trying to run them out of town (or kill them, the actual intent is never really made clear), he realizes that hiding who he is won’t make people change their minds about him and it won’t make his life any easier. With that realization, his commitment to Jamie grows and he really blossoms as a character. It was like by hiding that one part of his personality, he’d been forced to hide other parts as well, and now that he’s free to really be himself we as the reader actually get to see him. He’s actually kind of a dork, and stupidly romantic and so adorable I couldn’t help but fall for him.
Jamie, on the other hand, had my heart pretty much from “go.” I have a soft spot for anyone who is shunned by their family simply for being themselves, and so I was already feeling for him. But it’s his optimism, and his playfulness and his never-quit attitude that really sealed the deal. Despite everything falling apart around him, he only allows himself small moments of self-doubt or pity and then he picks himself up and carries on—with a smile on his face and a joke at the ready. Despite that optimism though, there’s still a thread of vulnerability underneath—he just wants to be loved so badly—and I couldn’t help but respond to that vulnerability and love him to pieces.
They work really well together as a couple. Their familiarity and friendship with each other stays steady throughout the story and their genuine affection for each other that goes well beyond simple attraction, just leaps off the page. They easily to fall into a rhythm with each other that works and they are smoking hot in bed together. The romance element was a little sweeter than I usually like my romances, but it actually didn’t detract much from the overall enjoyment for me, and I’m sure most of you will find it perfectly in the range of what you enjoy.
Plot-wise this story was a little up and down for me. I loved the set-up with Jamie getting kicked out and Ethan taking him in. It felt raw and real and worked to set up a really nice dynamic between the characters where Ethan just wanted to keep taking care of Jamie and Jamie was trying to convince him that he didn’t need to be coddled. Where it kind of fell off for me was the conflict with the dangerous stalker-type character threatening them. It just felt a little over the top. I did however really like the sub-plot of the underlying reason why Jamie’s father had always treated him a little different. On the whole, I think there was just a little too much going on here, or maybe it went a little too far, either way, it just rang a little untrue for me.
I feel pretty confident in recommending this one for most readers, especially those who are fans of Langley and haven’t checked this one out, or for those who like authentic feeling cowboys.