This book plays on Valerie Comer’s strengths in so many ways. Like her other cowboy romances, book 2 of the Cavanagh Cowboys Romance series depends heavily on the characters, bringing them to life through relatable circumstances and reactions. It also involves four-year-old Toby, who is a person in his own right.
The story revolves around the long-term scars left by dysfunctional relationships, especially familial, but focuses on finding ways to keep from passing the problems on to the next generation. While these books are a spinoff of the Saddle Springs Romance series, they seem to tackle bigger issues (a trend started in the last Saddle Springs book). For Travis and Dakota, this begins with undemonstrative parents, and parental relationships where the men are angry and the women stay in the background. But neither escaped their origins unblemished. Travis has anger issues he suspects are as bad as his father’s while Dakota has trouble trusting someone who acts a lot like her dad when angry.
If the title didn’t give it away, that this is a second chances romance is clear from the start and it’s mutual. The trouble is not that they need to talk, but rather that they’ve put up huge barriers to protect themselves from further hurt. Dakota and Travis talk every week, at least to exchange a word or two, but those conversations are full of sarcasm and bite to enforce the firm distance between them. The only thing they agree on is that their son must come first, something both must consider before extending the smallest olive branch.
I like how the story addresses the very real issue of broken families while providing hope for the future. That doesn’t mean Dakota and Travis stroll along the path through their difficulties, though. The book doesn’t expect them to overcome their problems just by strength of will. It recognizes they might need help. Travis and Dakota have to work for the peace they want to achieve, and the hardest part is having faith in a different outcome so they’re willing to try.
Which leads us to the inspirational aspects. I thought Dakota represented this part at first, but by the end, Travis found as much to think about. One of the stronger inspy aspects is how the characters engage with the biblical passages, actively exploring how the text applies to their situations and their behavior. Dakota uses the Bible as a weapon at least once, but turns her behavior around when she realizes the passage reflects on her as well. Nor is it only quotes they consider as theological questions about forgiveness, for example, play a big part.
Valerie Comer’s stories tend to have strong connections within families and communities. This book is no exception. Despite all their negative history, Travis’ brothers, step or full, are ready to help him when they see the need. Neither of the main characters stands alone, though I found Dakota’s support base more willing to undermine her while overtly lending a hand. I agreed with what the brothers were trying to get Travis to see more often and found how they get into each other’s faces amusing.
Several quick catchups remind the reader of the characters’ situations, mainly with Travis’ family history. There were one or two times later in the book where the catchup information repeated, but for the most part, the backstory worked with the scene well enough not to interrupt.
While the book focuses on Dakota and Travis, it’s about second chances in the greater context. Neighbors, people from their churches, and even their parents have the opportunity to change whether or not they take it. The mystery around Declan and Kathryn’s relationship deepens as well. I’m still waiting to learn more than the facts because I believe that will show facts are only one aspect of the whole story.
There’s so much more I wanted to mention, but I think this makes it clear I enjoyed the story and why. The handling of the faith aspects seems even stronger than her previous novels, while the well-drawn characters faced problems that exist in a modern world of broken homes and inadequate role models. Of course, I loved Toby, but there were many others who captured my attention, and I’m hoping for better futures among those whose stories are still to come.