This is Carol Finch's debut with Silhouette Special Edition, but she is no newcomer. Her years of experience as an author and up-close-and-personal knowledge of ranching add a special patina to Not Just Another Cowboy, the story of a young widow struggling to preserve her son's Oklahoma birthright, while responding to a growing attraction to a rodeo star. The author deftly creates empathetic characters, realistic settings and a credible storyline in a category format.
Alexa Tipton, the widow of a two-timing, second-rate, rodeo-circuit cowboy and Chance Wilder, an injured true-champion of the rodeo, are forced to reexamine their prejudices and philosophies as they come to grips with their mutual attraction. Though their relationship is the core of the story, Alexa's eight-year-old son Zach is allowed center stage just often enough to show why many, including Chance, become emotionally attached to him.
Alexa's father-in-law Howard Tipton is a complicated man whose character changes slowly but steadily after a life-threatening heart attack forces him to rely on a man he wants to mistrust. Howard is a decent man who allows Chance and other injured cowboys from the rodeo circuit to stay on the ranch to recuperate. But Howard is suffocating Alexa as he creates a myth about the son he lost. His generosity toward these men is a way for him to continue living in the past when his deceased son was one of them.
Howard is possessive when anyone reaches out to establish a friendship with his daughter-in-law – delivering stern hands-off warnings to each new ranchhand – making it difficult to understand her remaining there with Zach. Alexa is the personification of responsibility. She owes Howard. He helped her when her parents died and she was left to raise her troubled, teen-age sister on her own. Also, Alexa owns half of the ranch and has invested to turn a barn into a Bed-and-Breakfast much to Howard's disgust.
Initially, Carol Finch's treatment of Chance and Howard is heavy handed. Chance is sensitive, caring, flexible and capable of change. His actions prove that again and again. However, the author stops frequently to stress his good character, which not only creates a sense of her double-checking to see if I "got the point" but also interrupts a smoothly flowing sequence. Similarly, her characterization of Howard is initially overdone.
Alexa has never been appreciated for all her accomplishments; she has to learn to accept thoughtfulness and attention as well as to trust the man who gives them to her. When Chance is driven away by Alexa's overwhelming sense of responsibility to her father-in-law, he returns without hesitation when she is severely injured. Alone, running the ranch and caring for Zach, Chance finds out for himself how good a replacement dad he might be for Zach.
The final third of the book is a home-run for Zach. His actions are delightful rather than saccharine or overly cute, which can be a pitfall for children in category romances. Carol Finch's characterizations of Alexa and Chance alone are so good, this book is only made more special by her deft handling of this young boy and his quest for a man for his mom and himself.
A year or two ago, Carol Finch published two related, single title romances, Crimson Moon and River Moon. If you enjoyed those, you will want to try Not Just Another Cowboy. If you have not read contemporary fiction by Carol Finch, start with this book and work your way backward. You will not be disappointed.