Saw the blurb on this one and grabbed it. I was curious to read the story of a middle-aged woman who thought her life with husband, children, and ranch was perfect until her husband just walks away from her telling her that he doesn’t love her anymore and he doesn’t want to work the ranch. She has to pick up and start over and there is a handsome, good man on the next ranch over who has been in love with her for a long time.
For some reason, I had the wrong end of the stick when I got this story because I was expecting a strong romance, but instead got something different. I had to adjust not just my expectations, but adjust for the very different mood of the story. Basically, it was the difference between reading Contemporary Romance and Women’s Fiction.
This is book two in a series about four sisters, but it can easily be read out of order or as a standalone. There are scenes with the sister from the previous story, but the plot is independent.
Mattiie Bishop is at a new bend in the road of life. She has just sent her twin girls off to college and her husband is set to leave the rodeo life to work quietly on the ranch with her, even take off for some much needed time together. This would be good because lately she has felt a distance open up between them and she is sure it has to do with Wes processing the death of a younger friend in a rodeo accident.
Knowing this still doesn’t prepare her for the hits that come when Wes returns and tells her that he is selling out and leaving. He doesn’t want to ranch and never did. The biggest blow was to learn that he is leaving her because he doesn’t love her any more. Mattie is devastated and hits a really low point when her kind, understanding neighbor, Nate, helps her pick herself up and go on. Nate had his wife leave him, too, so she knows he understands.
The blows keep coming. Wes is silent to her refusing to give her a why or share his plans, but is quickly liquidating everything and pulling her very life out from under her. Mattie relies on Nate up to a point and as time goes on even learns to appreciate and accept her attraction to him, but Nate is reluctant to take her up on what she is offering. She can’t understand what holds him back, but assumes he only wants a friendship. In the meantime, she works through the loss and change to come out on the other side a stronger woman.
Alright, so this was definitely not what I was expecting and the change wasn’t welcome on some levels. I didn’t expect it to be light since its the story of a woman whose husband leaves her and leaves her in a cruel way because he’s dealing with his own demons. That said, I wasn’t expecting that 90% of the story would be about her emotional journey of healing and recovery and just a little bit romance with a rushed ending. In fact, several times during the story, I wondered if she was meant to get back with her husband or move on with Nate the way things didn’t develop with the romance and quite a ways along she was still hoping to heal her marriage. If I mistakenly picked up a fiction story, I would say this disappointment and confusion was on me, but since its a romance then not really.
Beyond the disappointment of wanting more romance in my romance book, I will say that this is a fantastic story. I can’t imagine going through what Mattie went through and getting up, dusting off, and moving on like she did. Granted, she had too, but still she didn’t rant to her daughters about their dad and she didn’t go running home to her family. She had her moments of pain and sorrow, but she recovered. A few times Nate got the narration and so the reader understood why he was holding back from Mattie even though he loved her dearly and had for years.
I think knowing Mattie and Nate were both such wonderful characters is exactly why I was disappointed by the lack of romance and then that rushed ending for them. Just to be clear, these two didn’t cheat. They did nothing wrong before Wes left. In fact, Mattie was a faithful and good wife and Nate never let his feelings cause him to do or say anything inappropriate. They were two tough yet tender people who loved ranching and the land. They might be middle-aged, but their passion was still burning bright and they felt it.
A strong piece to this book was all the lessons Mattie had to learn as a result of her marriage ending and how it opened her eyes to her relationships. Mattie is a product of her own upbringing. She put her mother on a pedestal and refused to believe that her dad might have had reasons for being emotionally distant and strict with his children. In the course of the story, she learns to reach out socially and have friends and other interests. She learns to value her family particularly her sisters as well as see her daughters as grown women. I loved watching her come through all she has to learn and be better for it.
I had an interesting reaction to Wes. I didn’t end up hating him. Get really angry at him, most definitely. I think my reaction was pity for him and disappointment. He was in crisis and nobody seems to realize this not even him. It felt like a soldier who engaged in combat and saw a buddy killed. The soldier returns from war different and even broken in some ways. This was Wes. He had the symptoms of PTSD and this was allowed to stew for a year when everyone went on with their lives and pretended that he would just get over it. Mattie knows he was affected, but she stays busy with the ranch. He distances himself emotionally and she stays busy with the ranch. He finally broke and it resulted in a mess for his wife and daughters. I got the feeling that if he ever recovered that he would definitely have regrets and that is why I pitied him.
In conclusion, this was a fantastic story if you pick it up and treat it like women’s fiction, but not so enjoyable if you are looking for Contemporary Romance. There is emotional depth, nice description, strong characters, and growth. I would definitely read more from this author.