Trey Stuart and Smoke Carter are both gay, black bull riders on the Gay Rodeo circuit. They are native Texans and eager to earn buckles. Smoke, because he’s a tough competitor, but Trey’s desperate for the cash so he can buy his own ranch. His family all but disowned him for being gay, and he lives in a tiny trailer on his family’s ranch—property that was given to his brother when their parents died.
Trey and Smoke have been sharing hotel rooms and beds for years, but Trey remains aloof, always expecting the beautiful Smoke to bed down another man. His insecurity is a bit overwhelming, and his good friends, Dolly and Alex—a lesbian odd couple—are quick to chide Trey for his foolishness. They are straight-talking ladies who see Smoke’s interest and excitement for Trey as being more than “friends with benefits” material. Now they just have to convince Trey to believe in the relationship he has with Smoke.
While at a rodeo event in Oklahoma City, Smoke and Trey can barely contain their passion, falling into bed the second they enter their room. While out at the events, however, Smoke is relentlessly pursued by a young man who Trey acknowledges is really, really handsome. His jealousy is piqued, but Trey seems to give up, all the freaking time, expecting Smoke to saunter off with the guy. Dolly and Alex are to the point of complete frustration with Trey, urging him in no uncertain terms to “claim his man” and Trey backs away again, and again—giving Smoke space to get it on, if he so desires. It was tiring to hear his negative self-talk. His toughest competition in the rodeo is Smoke, so he’s conflicted by his desire for Smoke as a bed partner, and his desire to win the competition. It was interesting that he had a whole different dynamic with Dolly, who is also competing in the men’s bull riding events. Trey is all about helping Dolly cover her first bull and earn points toward the buckle, but struggles to encourage Smoke. I could only imagine that he never considered Dolly as a true competitor, despite her own skills and their close friendship.
I’ve never been into bull riding, or rodeos, but I was intrigued to read about two black bull riders, because I’m all about diversity. The bull riding stuff was done well—plenty of description for readers like me who are new to the topic. Unfortunately, beyond a couple of passing remarks hinting at prejudice—one at practically the eleventh hour—Trey and Smoke’s ethnicity didn’t really ripple the narrative. I wouldn’t have wanted a whole sobfest on prejudice, per se, but it would have been interesting to have some of that history in the foreground. Also, I wondered if these guys had white lovers in the past, or if their attractions always leaned toward other black men. It would have been nice to have some descriptions of their bodies, their hair, and how that was different from the usual wash-and-wear white guy routine. Are they close-shaved? Do their grooming products have unique aromas? I had black roomies in college and we always talked about the differences in shampoo, body lotion and the like. It’s not as if I want these characters to be “exoticized” but they quite frankly read as “two guys” and that didn’t live up to the diversity I’d expected.
I’m also going to note that there is a lot of sex in the book. Trust me, I am a BIG fan of SEX ON THE PAGE, but I struggled with the sexy scenes here. The narrative is told from Trey’s point of view and his thoughts were almost grateful that Smoke would deign to be with him. There was this lingering wistfulness and insecurity in the moment that engaged me sympathetically, but not favorably. Just like Trey, I was constantly on edge and fearing that THIS would be the end. NOW Trey would have his heart broken. That was exhausting, so I could understand why Trey shut down his emotions regarding Smoke. It didn’t help me bond with him, however.
This book ends with a very welcome HEA. Smoke finally takes steps to ensure that Trey understands exactly how he feels, and it changes Trey’s entire outlook. I honestly liked Smoke a lot, and shook my head at Trey at least a dozen times. I think that readers who enjoy western romance and rodeo would probably like this bunches. The whole Gay Rodeo thing was really fun, with some great campy elements. Dolly and Alex are great friends to Trey and Smoke, and definitely add to the story. The book’s a bit light on plot, so you’re likely to breeze-read it, as I did.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.