Dear Ms. McLinn:
Your books were recommended to me by another author, Shannon Stacey, when your new direct to the reader bookstore came to my attention. I bought five books: Hoops, The Games, A Stranger in the Family, A Stranger to Love, and The Rancher Meets His Match. I started with The Rancher Meets His Match even though it is book three in the Bardville, Wyoming Trilogy.
Dax Randall has been raising his son, Will, since his wife and Will’s mother walked out on them when Will was a baby. He’s eschewed regular female companionship and this appears to be having a negative impact on Will. At fifteen, Will’s friends are starting to show interest in females but Will is not. Will is withdrawing from teenage group activities and what interests he had previously shown outside of ranching activities have waned. Dax is concerned because Will’s “isolation from his friends and his loneliness had become almost palpable.”
June, Dax’s sister, points out that Will is Dax’s shadow and has been since the day he was born. What Dax does, Will does. Dax appears to be a hermit with no need for companionship and thus Will believes he has no need for relationships with other people, either. While Dax is willing to do anything to prevent Will from suffering the emotional pain that Dax went through when Will’s mother left him, he realizes that a loving relationship is possible for some people and he wants Will to have a chance.
Dax begins, awkwardly, to woo a vacationer staying at the local B&B. Hannah Chalmers works for Boone Dorsey Smith’s company in North Carolina. Boone lives part time in Wyoming with his new wife, Cambria, and has extolled the beauty of Bardville to his employees. Hannah agrees to come to Bardville for a working vacation. Hannah, like Dax, has been a young, single parent except Hannah’s siblings were who she raised.
While I appreciate Dax’s dilemma, I was a little put off by the cold and calculated way in which Dax went about flirting with Hannah. His motivation wasn’t based on honest attraction but because he wanted to provide an example for Will. Hannah’s motivation for flirting back, though, was similar. She had been out of the dating game for years, still burned by her divorce. Yet, when Hannah turns down his awkward offer for a vacation romance, Dax is disgruntled but not deterred. “[H]e hadn’t run a ranch all these years by giving up easy. He’d change her mind.”
What was charming was seeing the two of them stumble about each other. Their first kiss involved actual “thump” of each other’s noses. “The kiss was like Dax–a little rough, a little awkward, a lot confusing.” But as the fake flirting deepens into real feelings both Dax and Hannah have to deal with their relationship hangups. Dax has to come to terms with his poor relationship with his mother, who had left him on the ranch with his father to move to town when Dax was a boy. Hannah keeps trying to change Dax to make him into the man she thinks she wants him to be.
I really felt Dax and his connection to ranching and how it defined him. Hannah was less full bodied. I know that she had a failed marriage and that she raised two kids but it was hard to say what she wanted out of life or where she was going. She fell in love with Dax easily and had no conflict with leaving her home in North Carolina. There were areas in which she could have been drawn more boldly but everything seemed to revolve around Dax.
While this book was originally published in 1998, it did not feel dated. I think it is because it takes place in Wyoming and on a ranch, places with which I am not familiar. Even so, the relationship challenges Dax and Hannah struggle with are fairly universal. It’s hard not to like Dax, appreciate his deep love for the land, and to recognize that Hannah with her light heart and good intentions are the right match for him. At $2.00, it’s a worthwhile read.