I found the opening of the first Cavanagh Cowboys Romance fun. The story jumps right in to their first strange meeting. In another’s hands, the situation could have been scary, and some aspects were. But the muddle between Adam Cavanagh and Riley Dunning, confused as it is with instant attraction and both in a position of needing something unusual, is lovely. It’s also a nice way to bring up the dysfunctional mess of the Cavanagh family.
This book is an interesting twist on the miscommunication and fake engagement tropes. Adam and Riley both know exactly what’s between them from the start, having laid the ground rules in that first meeting. Unlike many fake engagement stories, though, instinct, if not love at first sight, drives them to make this foolish bargain as much as necessity. Theirs isn’t a quick, public moments-only, engagement either. Their growing connection challenges the plan with a tangible attraction between them. The problem is neither knows the other well enough to tell where acting leaves off and turns to real affection. It doesn’t help how both have been burned in the recent past, making it hard to take the leap of faith love requires.
There’s a lot of supposedly for show kissing going on, but it’s mirrored by guilty consciences and a growing awareness of how many people they will harm. Both Adam and Riley are genuinely nice people who suffer from living a lie. But they cannot see any way around it after claiming the engagement.
Adam is blinded by a narrow focus on what has been taken from him, which colors his judgment in many ways. Riley has good reasons for lying low where no one can find her. Why they gave into the temptation to construct the false engagement is clear. My respect for both grows as they find their lies unendurable once faced with those they’d hurt, and yet for the same reason, they can’t admit to the lie.
Cavanagh Cowboys Romance is a spinoff from the Saddle Springs Romance series. This book occurs simultaneously with the last of the Delgado books. I enjoyed remembering Sawyer’s story from the side mentions, and we get to see some of him, too. Nor is this series isolated from her non-cowboy ones. I didn’t recognize the town name until a mention of the geo-caching event, but it’s neat how this area, and the stories within it, tie together.
What’s important about the first connection is, as with Sawyer, it means Adam has just recommitted himself to Jesus. He’s still working out what that means, not always successfully. The fake engagement is a big stumble, no matter how much he tries to convince himself it’s the only way to reclaim his heritage. His concern for those around him, despite his poor choices, says a lot for his character, though.
Riley’s full story comes slower, but we learn bits and pieces early on. I particularly liked the description of her in the first scene, revealing she’s not some frail weakling nor afraid of a good meal. Having a female lead of healthy weight is always nice, but in this case, the note also adds to our understanding of her situation. It crosses out the image of a desperate runaway waif starving in the streets and tells us there’s more to the story if we’re patient.
When the conversation turns to the Bible, between the brothers and in Adam’s contemplations, I enjoyed how they explore different passages and their meanings. It’s not just quotes with quick answers, but contemplation in the context of their lives. There’s also an interesting perspective on newly renewed faith coming across as “holier than thou.”
Speaking of the situation within the Cavanagh family, I liked how it isn’t as straightforward as Adam believes. He had issues with Declan in his teens, and as soon as he could, he ran away to the rodeo. He let those teen issues fester while his brothers stayed and grew up. It’s only hints for now, but there are indications his perspective is warped, and I have a theory why. Regardless, I like that Declan, Adam’s stepfather, is stern but fair, not just with his blood sons, but with his adopted ones as well, even with Adam.
I’m a long-term Valerie Comer fan, and there’s something special about her cowboy books. While the occasional chauvinistic mention still jars (I noticed only one in this book), their sense of history and connection with the land speaks to me. The biggest difference between this book and the Saddle Springs ones is the shift from being raised in a loving home compared to a broken one. Call me optimistic, but I have hope on that side. The Cavanaghs are a different family from the Delgados, and in many ways, a more complicated one. I look forward to seeing how they can get past old grudges and find happiness in love and faith as the series unfolds.