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It’s hard to figure out how the cowboy became a romantic fantasy icon. Cowboys don’t just work long days, they work them in the company of cows, which are one of God’s less pleasant-smelling creatures. But some combination of the boots, the hat, and possibly the rope skills has won over many a heterosexual woman, so cheers to the noble cattlemen. To learn more about the cattle ranch as romantic setting, we go this week to Big Sky Country, where if you can avoid the grizzly bears, the wolves, and the meth addicts, you might just lasso yourself a hero.

Type: Contemporary romance with some action and suspense.

The couple: Rory Kendrick is a “stone cold cowboy” who’s just minding his own business and raising cows. Or selling cows…maybe buying them? Possibly all of those things – I’ll confess, I don’t really know what cowboys do. But whatever it is, Rory is doing it with his family. More accurately, he’s trying to, but Sadie Higgins’ trouble-making brother keeps stealing Rory’s cows to pay for his drug habit. Sadie is the noble caretaker of her brother and ailing father. Her only shortcoming is that she loves too much, but in this case it’s a pretty serious shortcoming, since it almost gets her killed a bunch of times. She’s also pretty, which we know because Rory’s grandfather refers to Sadie almost exclusively as “pretty girl.” As nicknames or terms of endearment go, that one is decidedly not my favorite.

Tropes: Damsel in distress/heroic white knight, secondary characters clearly being set up for their own romance books, two people falling in love at the kind of break-neck pace that would make Romeo and Juliet a little skeptical.

The story: Sadie spends most of her time getting her brother Connor out of trouble and working extra jobs so she can pay back the stuff he’s stolen from other people. Connor’s a grown-up, he’s just the deeply flawed and drug-addicted kind. He eventually goes too far by helping to steal over a hundred head of cattle from Rory. It seems hard to imagine that a small group of people with drug problems could sneak away with 100 cows, but Montana is awfully big, so maybe it’s not as hard as it seems. Anyway, Sadie goes after Connor and ends up in a life-threatening situation. Rory goes after his cattle and finds/saves Sadie. Over Rory’s protests – and, frankly, mine – Sadie goes to work for his family to help pay off her brother’s debts, which serves an effective mechanism for keeping them in each other’s lives for a few weeks while they fall deeper in love and Connor falls deeper into drugs and cattle theft.

How’s the sex? Well, there was no sex in a barn, if that’s what you were hoping for. (That’s what I was hoping for.) In keeping with his noble ways, Rory tends to make love to Sadie when she’s in need of comfort. Which is sweet, and since Sadie’s life is kind of a mess, it means he has a lot of options.

Is this book for you? Author Jennifer Ryan is a good writer, and aside from a few chapters in the middle where Rory and Sadie just sort of hang around basking in their love for one another, the story is engaging and moves quickly. The fact that she doesn’t really go into details about what cowboys do is probably also a bonus, since there’s a good chance that would ruin some of the romantic appeal.

Despite all of that, I just couldn’t get over all the people constantly trying to save each other. There’s so much martyrdom and selflessness that you start to wonder if these people have any measure of self-preservation or good sense. Rory rescues Sadie after Sadie tries to save Connor. Sadie’s determined to save her family’s honor by paying off debts that have nothing to do with her. Rory tries to save Sadie from her self-defeating habit of try to rescue her terrible tool bag of a brother. It’s exhausting. Couldn’t someone do something fun? Like go to a rodeo? Or on a road trip to Yellowstone? Hell, I would have settled for one too many Moose Drools and some bad country karaoke at the local bar.

I also feel like I should mention that this book starts with a jarring scene of graphic violence against Sadie, which was not exactly what I expected when I fired up my Kindle while waiting for the coffee to brew one morning. It does set up some of the inter-character dynamics, so I guess I wouldn’t call it gratuitous, but still something to be aware of if you’re sensitive to those kinds of scenes.

Conclusion: There’s a kind of nobility in constantly sacrificing your own self-interest for those you love. If that’s your thing, Stone Cold Cowboy is probably the book of your cowgirl dreams. But I’m either a more realistic person or a more terrible one, because if one of my brothers ever gets on the wrong side of cattle-smuggling drug ring, I’d like to think I’d love both him and myself enough to help send him up the river long before he got the chance to leave me to my untimely death.

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