REVIEW: Once a Cowboy by Justine Davis
He’s a cowboy through and through…
Rylan Rafferty was a cowboy long before interest in his leatherworking artistry and saddle making for the rich and famous catapulted him to national fame. He values his privacy, so when a popular Texas magazine wants to feature him, his first inclination is to run. His military father who died in combat when Rylan was a teen was the artist, not him. But then he meets the photographer, and Rylan suddenly no longer wants to bury himself in his work.
Kaitlyn Miller values three things above all else—the memory of her father, her photography, and the mentor who first handed her a camera. Her beautiful but flawed mother may have chipped away at her self-esteem as a child, but Kaitlyn has confidence in her work. So she’s thrilled to be back home in Texas for her first big break—a photo shoot of a local Last Stand artist.
When plain Kaitlyn collides with gorgeous Rylan, unexpected sparks fly. But can he convince her that her generous heart and artist’s eye make her more than beautiful to him?
Dear Ms. Davis,
I’m almost ashamed to admit that the last books of yours I’ve read are the amazing Lord of the Storm (The Coalition Rebellion Novels Book 1) and Skypirate (The Coalition Rebellion Novels Book 2) and that was a long time ago. Here the description of a handsome hero and a plain heroine caught my eye. “Please,” I thought, “Don’t let it just be a matter of taking off her glasses, spiffing up what she wears, and letting her hair down before the hero is gobsmacked.” Luckily there is more than that to Kaitlyn’s self image issues and Ry isn’t just a pretty face. Still I had some other things that ended up not working for me.
Rylan Rafferty is a son of the Texas Rafferty clan who have proudly lived in Texas since before the Last Stand attack on the then tiny settlement by Santa Anna and his men after they finished off the Alamo. Each of the four sons reacted differently to the news of the death of their father years ago while on overseas military duty but artistic Ry was almost lost down the road of rebellion before pulling himself out because of his interest and talent for leatherworking. Now Texas Artworks magazine wants to do an article on him that could boost his visibility and allow the reclusive man to pick and choose his commissions.
Kaitlyn Miller has had a hard life but found herself after an interested teacher discovered her talent for photography and encouraged her. She’s taken that and begun to build a career. When snooty beautiful blonde writer Jillian Jacobs requests Kaitlyn for her latest assignment – interviewing Rylan Rafferty at the Rafferty ranch in what Jillian calls Hicksville, Texas – Kaitlyn can’t refuse, despite hating Jillian, as she needs the money. When the women arrive at the ranch, Kaitlyn silently cheers when Ry turns the verbal tables on Jillian even without Kaitlyn warning him about the woman’s usual ambush tactics.
Rylan has had a (bad) history with a beautiful woman who ended up just wanting him as a boy toy accessory so Jillian’s beauty doesn’t attract him. The quiet but perceptive Kaitlyn is a different woman. She sees below the surface yet her constant hesitation and apologies tell Ry that Kaitlyn has never had anyone boost her confidence in herself outside of her talent for photography. As the two get to know each other, they discover kindred artistic spirits and past heartaches. Is there a future for two wounded souls?
There is a lot of angst mixed with deep psychological introspection in this story. Kaitlyn’s self doubt is baked into her by a lifetime of living with an emotionally abusive alcoholic mother. Kaitlyn knows and respects herself as a photographer but when it comes to anything else, she is a meek mouse seeking to hide in the background. Most of the book she’s convinced that a man as handsome as Rylan Rafferty – who, she thinks, has probably always coasted through life on his looks – would never be interested in a woman as plain as she is. But as a proud Texan, sensitive artist and polite woman, she is accepted by the Rafferty clan in a way that bitchy Jillian – bless her heart – never would be.
Ry only agreed to do the interview about his work because a personal friend asked him to but he doesn’t want anyone poking into some parts of his private life – especially the pain he still feels at the loss of his father. He sees Kaitlyn at work, taking shots of the beloved Texas hill country that has always meant so much to his family and sees that she “gets” how beautiful it is along with anything else in Texas. Once these two get away from bitchy Jillian and start talking, they discover a similar way of separating themselves from their subjects as they seek to capture what they love in what they see.
So of course each is falling for the other though only Kaitlyn is up front with herself about it. But she just knows that Ry would never be interested in her even if he’s seen through bitchy Jillian’s facade. Ry might admire selfless Kaitlyn’s sense of duty to the person who helped her and her determination to do one (and only one) last service for the woman who bore her but see her as a woman he desires? At this point, nope.
Kaitlyn and Ry are amazingly intuitive about the deep seated issues the other battles and can amazingly pinpoint exactly why the other acts this way or responds that way – except when required by the plot to be obtuse. I’d bet therapists could only dream of hitting the psychological nail on the head as quickly as Kaitlyn, Ry, and Ry’s indomitable mother Maggie (font of all knowledge about Texas history) can do. Ry even muses about his mother’s skill at mind reading or something darn near close to it.
And yet despite how tired I got at being inside Kaitlyn’s and Ry’s minds as they endlessly think and rethink everything to the point that the action drips like syrup at times, I do appreciate a few things as well. A few plot threads I thought were coming my way actually didn’t. There is something that had the capability of becoming a hidden secret that could drive Kaitlyn and Ry apart that was outed by one of them to the other rather than sprung on the one who didn’t know it. When Kaitlyn got her makeover, the women involved made sure she realized that this was for her self esteem and not a way to catch a man – one who, by the way, they assured her was already caught by her. And when the final conflict did occur, the one who caused it fixed it quickly rather than sulking or blowing it off.
This is the third book in this series and most of the time, the many other members of the Rafferty clan (and possibly other book series clans) are there for this book but at times, I did wish for more alone time between Kaitlyn and Ry. As a paean to Texas, it didn’t go too overboard but was more than what was needed. The romance is fast but as these two seem able to divine almost every thing about the other, I guess they’re ready for forever. C+
This title will be released on January 25, 2022.