Anna Jeffrey's debut, a contemporary cowboy story set in both a small Idaho town and in a small west Texas town, features two people with big trust problems. It also features a hero who actually talks like a guy.
Dahlia Montgomery and her best friend Piggy (short for Pegine) are in Idaho to spend the summer working for Piggy's cousin, a surveyor. Dahlia has been living on autopilot for the past two years since her husband died in a not-so-innocent car crash. Instead of being in south Texas at a business meeting, he was under-the-influence in north Texas and had a supposed friend of Dahlia's in the car with him. After the funeral, Dahlia discovered that her husband owed money to many places including the IRS. She was forced to sell everything and declare bankruptcy. She left Dallas and moved back to her hometown in west Texas, living with her widowed father and helping at his small grocery store.
While waiting for Piggy's cousin at the Forest Service Complex, Dahlia is knocked to the floor by a cowboy who flies out of one of the offices after an argument with one of the agents. Luke McRae is in charge of his family's large and profitable ranch. He is startled by his attraction to Dahlia's exotic looks (she is half Filipino & half Anglo), but has no time for a relationship. He is divorced from his manipulative, alcoholic wife and is rearing two teenage daughters and a mentally challenged seven-year-old son. His father and strong-willed mother plus both of his sisters and their husbands live and work on the ranch. He constantly feels the burden of too many people depending on him. Since his divorce, he has kept any relationship purely physical and temporary.
Luke and Dahlia run into each other often in such a small town. The attraction turns into a relationship, but Luke lays down the "no commitment" rule early. Dahlia is not used to recreational sex, but her attraction to Luke is too strong. By the end of summer, Dahlia thinks that they may have something, but big hassles from Luke's mother and ex-wife have him pulling away from her just as her father falls ill in Texas, so she leaves without a word to him.
Luke sounds and acts like a lot of real guys. In fact, his sisters and brother-in-laws warn people to watch out when he is in his John Wayne stance. He doesn't know how to prettify anything. His actions do a better job of showing his character, especially the scenes with his disabled son. Dahlia grows quite a bit as she realizes that she has let people, especially her father, take care of her through her troubles. When she does take charge, it is impressive and makes Luke's task of convincing her they have a future a lot harder.
There are some very emotional scenes that caused me a few tears. I also got angry with both Luke and Dahlia a few times when they were being unsupportive or hard headed with each other. The love scenes were quite warm. All of these emotions pulled me into the story.
A few things were distracting, like Pegine being called Piggy. I don't think many women would be happy about that name! Also, there were so many brand names mentioned that I started noticing them more than I should have. In addition, the ending seemed a bit abrupt. I wanted a little more at the happy ending. But, except for these few items, I enjoyed this first novel by Anna Jeffrey.
--B. Kathy Leitle