Dear Vivian Arend,
I’ve enjoyed your Six Pack Ranch series – the entire town of Rocky Mountain House is full of super-hot people who are sexually adventurous – what’s not to love? (Is it wrong I’d like to visit?)
The Thompson & Sons books are a spin-off from the Six Pack Ranch series and set in the same town. Characters from the other series turn up but not in an intrusive way. The Thompson & Sons books can easily be read without having read the other series. In fact this book works fine as a stand-alone (although there are some special things in the story for those readers who have read the earlier books).
Clay is the eldest Thompson sibling. He has three younger brothers and a sister. His mother died when he was 17 and his father lost the plot and turned to the bottle for comfort for a while after. In that time, he took over a lot of the parental role to his siblings, as well as taking over some of the work at the family garage (he was helped there by brother Mitch). This necessarily meant that his plan to make a move on his good friend Maggie was put on hold. Then Maggie moved away to go to college and the opportunity was lost.
When Maggie returned to Rocky Mountain House about a year or so before the book begins, it was with her husband, Cameron. Clay hadn’t been pining away for Maggie and while he felt a pang here or there about what might have been, he wasn’t seeking anything but her friendship. Somewhat to his surprise, he found a good friend in Cameron. Since Gage and Katy got together, Clay had been a little lonely for buddy-bonding and Cameron and he spent time playing pool and generally shooting the shit.
The scene is quickly set; Cameron and Maggie have a happy marriage and Clay is a good friend. But then tragedy strikes and Cameron dies in an accident. Clay mourns his own loss at the same time as wanting to support his friend through her grief.
Those old feelings begin to come back while he’s doing this and, over time, he realises that he wants to build a life with Maggie.
Maggie, for her part, begins to live again after the devastating loss of her husband. Clay is there for her and, as she emerges from her grief, she begins to notice him in a different way.
It’s a relatively fast turnaround from widow to wife. But there are a couple of things which make it work in the story. First, we have both protagonists’ point of view and we know that they are both heading toward the same place emotionally and that Maggie in particular is clear-headed about it. Clay doesn’t make any moves at inappropriate times. He offers unconditional support and friendship and keeps his other feelings hidden, at least at the beginning.
Cameron is never, ever, demonised. He was loved by both Maggie and Clay and they honour his memory.
Maggie is a practical sort. Having had a successful happy marriage, she knows she wants that again. And, she’s in no doubt that Cameron would want that for her. When things begin with Clay, she doesn’t look too far ahead. But, having had what she had with Cameron and knowing how quickly it can be taken away, she doesn’t believe in wasting time – she wants to grab love and joy with both hands while she can. Maggie’s feelings for Clay are not a grief response.
Neither of them feel guilty for pursuing a relationship. Both know it never would have happened had Cameron still been around.
There is resistance to their relationship, particularly as it is fairly quick – a few months as opposed to a year or more. Clay, in particular, has to deal with some disapproval from an unexpected source and this causes him heartache. I liked the way this was handled. I thought Clay’s reasoning behind his actions made sense and came from a good place.
At first, even I thought Clay and Maggie were moving a bit quick. I must say that the story hit close to fears I have and I found myself (unwantedly) putting myself in Maggie’s circumstances. I quickly decided that I never wanted to be in that position and shied away from it quite strongly. The truth is that Maggie never would have even considered a relationship with Clay, or anyone else, when Cameron was around. And the truth is that I can’t imagine having a relationship with anyone other than my husband. So, I started the book inclined to think that “proper grief” should be expressed the Queen Victoria way. But actually the book stood strongly for the proposition that there is no “right” way to grieve (something I actually knew already – but because I am not in Maggie’s circumstances, I had a bit of an imagination fail I guess. Truthfully, this is a good thing. I’m just as happy to be unable to imagine some things). Maggie and Clay did grieve. They continued to grieve even as they moved on with their lives. In a way, their happiness was something of an homage to Cameron (but not in an icky way). Clay did not feel in competition with Cameron and Maggie did not compare the men to disparage either of them. Conversation about Cameron was easy between them and fond.
This long novella (or short novel?) is just under 150 pages and the story is mainly about how Maggie moves on from grief and finds love again with Clay. In many respects it is a low conflict romance (if you discount the horrible husband-dying at the start which is about as high conflict as it gets of course). The story suits its length – I didn’t feel anything important was glossed over or missed out and the characters felt well realised and authentic (in a hot-guy, multiple-orgasm, romance novel way).
I did require tissues – but this was mainly at the beginning of the story. It’s nice to see a woman get two happy marriages. It’s nice to see a first husband as a good guy too. And in only a very short time, you made me care what happened to him and to Maggie. So I thought the tears were a fair trade-off.
There is humour and grief, practicality and hot sex, so the story has a bit of everything. I like how you write sex – it is hot but it is also realistic (that’s right, I said REALISTIC. In a romance novel). Exhibit A:
She wrapped herself around him and tugged until she ended up flat on her back, covered with a blanket of hard, sexy masculinity as he moved into her over and over. His pace increased, his thrusts going deeper, driving harder. Maggie adjusted position so she could tilt her hips and rub against his groin on every stroke, but it wasn’t enough. “I need more pressure—”
Clay instantly eased to the left, licked his fingers and pressed his hand between them. Another hard thrust followed, only this time his fingers slicked over her clit and she gasped.
“Oh, yeah. Right there…”
Some of the sexy is more subtle but the word pictures are mighty fine:
She watched through the open shower door as he stripped down to nothing but muscles and a serious expression.
Let it Ride is a charming, sexy and poignant story and I loved it.