Dear Ms. James,
A quick look at your other book titles and I see the pattern of “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” references to sex, especially of the raunchy variety. “Saddled and Spurred” will certainly not break this mold. So, what made me want to read it? I’d heard your name but never read any of your books, I’m trying to read books from a wider variety of publishers and the opening scenes of Harper Masterson trying to be strong and do right by her family in the face of a town with no pity caught my interest. Too bad the endless sex-fest to come ultimately dimmed my initial enthusiasm.
Harper Masterson just has to hang on for three more months then she and her younger sister Bailey can scrape the mud of Muddy Gap, WY off their foot ware for good. Bailey is the smart sister and has already been offered a scholarship so after her high school graduation, the sisters can put the past of a ho-bag mother – who dragged them after every man who was banging her and then finally abandoned them to run off with the town bartender – behind them. So when one of Harper’s part time jobs folds, she’s in a bind. This is a small town, with few jobs and her mother’s behavior has soured Harper’s chances for any of them. When her good friend calls her from out on the road following the rodeo circuit, Harper vents. But Celia has a plan and calls Harper back with a lead on a part time job, just long enough to pay the bills to Bailey’s graduation.
Bran Turner is close to desperate. His one hired hand is injured and out of commission for at least three months and there’ve been no takers on his job offers. When long time friend Celia Lawson calls and says she’s got him a new hand, she doesn’t say who it is and Bran doesn’t realize it’s Harper until she shows up on his trailer doorstep. A beauty queen for a hired hand on a working cattle ranch in Wyoming? Harper surprises him though with her quiet “take no shit from him” stance and he decides to give her a chance.
As the two work together for weeks, Bran is impressed. She has a lot to learn but does so without complaint. And she’s certainly not hard on the eyes. The two don’t give into their sexual attraction until ground rules are laid out but then it’s hot and heavy and a chance for Bran to experiment with some of the raunchier stuff he’s always wanted to try. But Harper is leaving in three months and it’s not until everything that he realizes he wants is driving off down the road that Bran wakes up. Can he win back this woman who’s captured his heart and his gonads?
The first third of the book is wonderful. Harper stands up for herself and proves her worth as a dependable, intelligent worker doing a job she has no experience with. She doesn’t let Bran push her around, she demands respect and doesn’t rely on her beauty or figure in order to slack off from the mud, shit and bruises on a working ranch. She doesn’t go all romcon squeely and inept – well once she knows about the goats that is. Bran also impresses me with his willingness to see beyond her face and curves. He might have lusted after Harper’s body for years but he doesn’t hesitate to revise his initial opinion about her work ethic that in front of his face.
In my notes I have the next third of the book described as sex, Sex, SEX. With a combo of the standard “we need to get this out of our systems” x with “this relationship already has an expiration, use-by, date” Harper and Bran decide to go for it. And boy, do they. I do like that they are quite clear about the fact that the banging goes on when Harper is off the clock but once the whistle blows, so to speak, it’s game on. And on and on. Despite her bod for sin, Harper is relatively sexually inexperienced while Bran is not. Their initial encounter is a hoot though as Bran goes off like a rocket leaving Harper less than impressed.
I thought, hmmm, maybe their sexual relationship will pleasantly surprise me as much as their working one did? Maybe my preconceived notions will change as much as Bran’s did about Harper? Or maybe not. It’s now that Bran shows his ass. He announces to Harper that if they go any further, it’s his rules, his way because she’s inexperienced, he’s not and he likes things the way he wants them. I though, what a dickhead. Sure he gets his banging act together and starts to give Harper multiple orgasms – which of course she’s never had with any man before – and he introduces her to every raunchy hot dream he’s ever had – though making sure she’s enjoying it too – but his caveman attitude begins to extend outside of the sexual relationship and his outbursts of jealousy and possessiveness begin to turn me off. I guess this is to show that he’s actually falling in love with her but after a few examples of him acting like a turd I see it more as controlling than loving. However, if readers like this or like this fantasy, they’re in for a hot hundred + pages.
The last part of the book is a mixed bag. Still lots of sex but the ongoing drama of the (many!) other citizens of Muddy Gap start to move to the forefront. Though it’s easy to see that this is not the first book in this “Blacktop Cowboy” series, I let my eyes glaze about all the (many!) friends and family mentioned then ignored for 75 pages. Obvious sequel bait does this to me. But now they begin to impact Harper and Bran so I had to pay a bit more attention. I do like how one substory smoothly gives Harper what she’s always wanted in the job department and that she finally throws off the chains of responsibility that had bound her to Bailey. Call me odd but the friction in their relationship makes the book more realistic to me. But Bran is still doing the He-Man thing to Harper’s personal growth and when all is said and done, I still don’t like his attitude or most of his actions. Yeah he can turn sweet and romantic to get what he wants but what then? Me don’t like the future picture.
A great start then way too many continuous pages of nothing but sex finished with liking the heroine and not liking the hero makes this a job of weighing the pros and cons. I’ll end by giving the book a C- grade. Though I realize that there are probably several more books to come, at this point, from what I saw in this book, the potential heroes don’t impress me. I also don’t usually care for sex-a-thons in my reading and from what I read in other reviews of your novels, this is what I could probably expect. I hope that Bran turns out to be less of an ass than I imagine he’ll be and that he and Harper have fun scaring the goats but after this book, I’m leaving Muddy Gap. C-