Tags

, , , , ,

Stranded with the Rancher coverOne of the challenges of romance is getting your couple together, and keeping them together until propinquity kicks in, in a short period of time. A favourite device for this is weather enforced isolation. I do this in my Romance One, where a rainstorm and bridge washout leave my couple stranded and alone. I was worried this might be an outdated plot device, but it is still in use, as in Stranded with the Rancher, a 2018 Harlequin Western Romance by the prolific Rebecca Winters (a pseudonym). 

Wyatt is a sheep rancher and volunteer fire-fighter. A decade ago, he fell in love with Jenny. They planned to marry after she turned eighteen, but she miscarried, and her strict parents moved, taking her with them. Wyatt has always wondered what happened to her, and after seeing a friend reconnect with his high-school sweetheart, he hires a lawyer to try and find Jenny. Why a lawyer and not a private investigator is not clear, and even the lawyer asks, but Wyatt says he wants the lawyer to take care of things.

This sounds like the set-up for a second chance story, but then we meet Alex.

Alex is a New York City journalist, writing for a prestigious food industry trade magazine. She’s happily single after breaking an engagement six years ago to a fiance who called her too needy, and she likes her work, which keeps her busy. She’s just back from Florida, and traveling to Wyoming to interview sheep ranchers. She’s busy, but starting to wonder if there’s enough excitement in her life.

Alex’s research leads her want to interview Wyatt, but he’s up in the mountains. Wyatt’s grandfather arranges for her to get a ride up to the camp, so she can do her interview, come back the next day, and get her flight home.

There’s a storm coming. Heavy rain overnight turns to snow, and Wyatt and Alex are stranded for several days. There’s not much to do except talk, about things like their respective pasts, and their mutual awareness that Wyatt’s grandfather was playing matchmaker. Hanging over their potential relationship is Alex not wanting to be too clingy, and Wyatt thinking about Jenny.  A hired hand, his dog, and a wounded ewe add conversational and plot colour, and we learn a lot about sheep ranching. (In my last review, I criticized some details about camping trailers, a subject I know well. I know nothing about sheep ranching, so have no idea how accurate these details are.)

The storm clears about half way through the book, and the pace and tone shifts as Wyatt and Alex return to the real world. Alex has her job, and Jenny has been found. These obstacles are resolved, and I particularly liked how the relationship with Jenny is handled. Unfortunately, the ending is a long time coming, delayed by a climax involving a secondary character, and then an epilogue that is too sweet for me.

Wyatt is a great hero. He’s good looking, well-read, polite, cooks well, works hard, loving, family oriented, sentimental…almost too good to be true. And he’s wounded, having lost his family when he was five, then his child to a miscarriage, and then his girlfriend. He’s not afraid to seek out professional help – a refreshing portrayal of masculinity. To some extent, he is rescued by Alex, in that their relationship helps him come to terms with his past, but the narrative does not give all the work to her – he does some himself, and so does his grandfather. The story justifies why he is still single – often a problem with great heroes.

Alex is a little less satisfying. Whereas Wyatt is wounded, Alex has a case of ennui, perhaps with a little biological clock ticking. Although there’s a strong conservative tone in the outcome, she does keep her job, and there are story elements criticizing strict conservative morality. She’s capable in the storm, which is consistent with the variety of conditions she has presumably endured as a journalist.

The heat level is sweet, with ample sexual tension, and while the characters are financially comfortable, they are close enough to ordinary to be sympathetic. The relationship is a little less mutual than I like, but overall this story checks all my boxes for an enjoyable read – and reassures me that stranding my couple in a storm is a plot device that can work, at least in capable hands.