Lucas Burr is a minor celebrity in the small Texas town of Burrwood. He is a rancher and part owner and performer in the rodeo that bears his name. He’s in his early thirties and still riding bulls, but the last ride he took went sideways and Lucas ended up in the hospital with a lower spine injury. He is sure there was some injury done to the bull he rode, but no one around him will believe it. Worse, all the people in his life want him to get back to bull riding as soon as possible—make a big comeback to keep interest in the rodeo alive and money coming in. So, he submits to the pressure of physical therapy, just to to get himself back in the saddle.
Jack Weber is a former Army medic who’s now a physical therapist, the best in all of Burrwood. He’s a big burly man and also in his 30s, but he’s out as gay and proud to be. He lives on his own, but near his aunt and uncle and some cousins. Jack’s parents are wealthy and live in Dallas, and his dad especially would love to see Jack back in Dallas permanently, maybe working for the family business where he could better control Jack. Jack is immediately attracted to Lucas, but he knows better than to mix business with pleasure. And, besides, Lucas is straight, right?
This is a patient-therapist romance where the patient, Lucas, is the aggressor. He is “straight” because that’s what his abusive, philandering father beat into him from a young age, but he’s not really into women too much. He’s sure they’re all after fame or money for being with him anyhow. Jack isn’t interested in any of that—doesn’t even follow the rodeo—and Lucas is able to make inappropriate remarks and touches all he likes, because Jack doesn’t always shut it down. He even cons Jack into helping investigate his spiked bull theory, mainly because Jack is keen on spending more time with Lucas outside of the office. As “friends.”
For me, this story was messy. Lucas is kissing Jack any chance he can, from very nearly their first meeting, and Jack is sometimes professional and sometimes not. He crosses patient boundaries time and time again, driving Lucas home from bars and coming over in the middle of the night because Lucas has nightmares. The plot issues regarding their mutual inappropriate behavior made me skeptical of their regard because it seemed to run so hot and cold. Plus, closeted Lucas was literally pining for experience with Jack thinking he would be a great person with whom to try out all his forbidden desires, being aggressive one moment and then guilty over his user behavior in the next. And Jack, the consummate caregiver for his patients, was terrible at monitoring Lucas’ healing. As a reader who’s suffered repeated back injuries spanning 30 years, well, it seemed the sex described would have been painful, if not injurious. The dialogue was overly verbose, explaining all sorts of repetitive themes over their angst.
Lucas has a lot of emotional problems, being raised as he was with a crap dad, and hiding so many secrets from his supposedly loving and supportive mom. His dad is dead, and yet Lucas can’t/won’t break free of his abusive mind games. And Jack’s communication skills are no better. He’s threatened with exposure, which will definitely ruin his career and any chance of a real relationship with Lucas, so he says…nothing. Acts like nothing is happening—for days—before he finally reveals the big secret to Lucas, the one person who could have managed the problem. It felt juvenile, and the dialogue seemed to support that theme.
I want to say I would read on in this series, but I’m really not sure. Too much of the drama here felt manufactured and the mystery of Lucas’ last bull ride got managed in a too convenient fashion. There is a huge reconciliation, and Lucas comes out, but it didn’t elicit the big relief or rejoicing I generally experience. In all, I struggled to connect to the characters and their plight given the incongruity between their solicitous dialogue, rogue internal thoughts, and careless actions.