Whenever I want to curl up with a down-home, heartwarming read that includes small town quirky characters and a cowboy needing love, I reach for the latest book by Carolyn Brown. She talks Texan, knows ranch life, and must have spent her life in a small town because lordy its full immersion when you pick up her books. This latest one- and the start of a new series though it has loose connections to a previous series- had the added element of featuring two military vets for the hero and heroine along with a bunch of cute kids, a hilarious menagerie of animals, a town feud and a savvy group of old ladies. It didn’t wow me with fireworks in the bedroom or pulse-pounding action, but it did leave me with a warm feeling and a smile on my face.
The story opens when, Finn O’Donnell, former Army Sniper and ranch hand for his own family ranch, buys his own spread outside the small town of Burnt Boot, TX and moves there with his dog, Shotgun, where he hopes for a bit of peace and quiet. That all gets upended when he steps out on his porch to see his old spotter and secret crush, Callie Brewster, and her nephew, Martin, arriving to beg a place to stay. Martin witnessed a murder and they need somewhere to hide out until the trial. Callie knows Finn’s place is remote and Finn can protect them. Finn agrees wholeheartedly realizing that Callie and Martin are just what he needed if only he can get the skittish Callie to fall in line with his Christmas plans.
Callie had her eye on Finn since the moment they became a sniper team, but the rules about fraternization, Finn’s attraction to another woman and her own family emergency separated them and they lost contact. Now here he is, unattached and still very attractive. Callie might be willing to scratch an itch, but she’s terrified to try for anything permanent and that includes letting Martin get that pair of cowboy boots he wants because that signifies a degree of attachment to Finn’s ranch that she’s afraid to want. But when she and Martin are only the first of the homeless refugees through Finn’s door and a few other ranch beauties are eying up Finn taking the local feud to whole new levels, she has some decisions to make because Finn wants every last person and animal that found their way to his ranch to stay. Permanently. Can she set aside her fears and reach out for her own brand of Christmas joy?
The plot meanders along a bit slowly teasing out the life of Burnt Boot, Finn and Callie’s history together and their tentative try at romance in the present, the ongoing feud between two big ranching families, and of course all the Christmas activities that run throughout the story.
The cast of characters is large and includes some adorable animals. Joe the parrot kept me in stitches when he broke out in talk. I loved the three older women that had their own schemes, but kept neutral in the feud. And the members of that feuding group? Whew! Over the top hilarious. I really took to Finn, but Callie wasn’t an instant sell. I liked a lot about her and respected her for the job she did in the Army, but she lets her fear that she’ll be like her flighty mom and sister get the better of her and made me get impatient with an otherwise sensible woman (which isn’t really fair to her since the whole story took place in a few weeks’ time frame). Intellectually, she knew she had a good deal and it was the real goods, but she was afraid to believe. Finn had his own trust issues after a woman used him and made a fool out of him, but he was able to push that aside and not let it rule him. I enjoyed the introduction near the end to the hero of the next book too.
As a holiday read, this one is filled to the brim of homey Holiday goodness. It has a bit of a fairytale quality to it or Christmas magic if you will. This put together family just keeps growing and adding as they enjoy the holiday activities and festivities together.
All in all, it was a slightly spicy holiday, small town cowboy contemporary romance that I would recommend to those who enjoy slow pace feel good reading.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.