Rich, Rugged Rancher by Joss Wood

(Texas Cattleman’s Club: Inheritance series, Book 2)

Rich, Rugged Rancher by Joss Wood

This is a complex story touching on some tough subjects in a way rarely tackled in romance. I was curious to learn how a Harlequin traditional line I’ve been reading on and off since I was 14 would handle a disabled main character.

I’m of two minds about the portrayal, though mostly on the positive side. While he has a prosthetic leg, and serious mental issues deriving from encounters during his recovery, at the time of the story, he is almost fully capable. Mentions of advanced technology not available to every person with a disability, and situations where the prosthetic can’t assist, indicate he’s not an example of the norm, which helps. Representation is important, but since we don’t see his recovery process, the extent of how his amputation physically affects his daily life is largely glossed over. There’s a scene in the end that improves this, but you must take my word because I won’t spoil it.

Mentally, as I mentioned, Clint is a mess. This makes him a successful romantic character rather than an overly perfect one. To the outside viewer, he’s incredible: a man who lost a leg in the military who comes home to run the large family ranch, very physical job, and command the local volunteer firefighters. He also hires veterans for ranch hands, giving them a way to support their families and job skills they can take elsewhere. Inside, though, he’s decided his injury has made him repulsive. He withdraws from society, finding solace in the animals on the ranch until the sexual tension with Fee proves impossible to ignore. Even before Fee, though, Clint has been an active part of the community, using his skills and wealth to help. He only withdraws once the work is over and the town wants to celebrate.

I really liked Fee. She is opinionated and outspoken as promised, but she lives up to her traits in action as well as words. When trouble arrives, whether to a friend or in the form of a deadly fire, she doesn’t hesitate to jump in and help. Even better, she listens when those with more knowledge set limits or correct her misunderstandings. She isn’t arrogant, just determined. Nor does she back off when she sees someone else talking themselves down, standing up for the people she cares for even when they won’t. It’s a powerful vision of the female main character in romance because she is strong and assertive without being invulnerable, a delicate balance that’s hard to achieve.

The characters are what make this book so enticing. The point of view even rests on characters important to the series, but not primary in this book, allowing the larger story to advance. I found the way the greater tale is matured and teased fascinating in a series written by multiple authors. This story engaged me enough to provoke speculations such as who is the bastard son they’re trying to find. I have to read on to find out if my guesses are accurate, something I’m not used to in these types of series that tend to be more stand-alone. Speaking of which, I also want to see more of the other characters, especially those who became more well-rounded through borrowing the microphone in the later chapters.

On a technical level, the dialog is wonderful, full of sass and double entendre. There are detailed, open door scenes true to the Harlequin line, and interestingly, both main characters did not believe in the long term at the beginning. The backstory to support these attitudes comes in long internal monologs that could have been data dumps but avoided this by carrying through the character’s personality and voice, so I enjoyed reading them.

Despite my concerns with Clint’s portrayal supporting false beliefs about disability, I understand the limitations of a traditional romance novel as the forum for a disabled main character. I feel the author did a good job capturing the mental difficulties and the influence of other people’s reactions, especially within the framework.

The main characters, and many of their friends, were complex and fun to spend time with. The attraction between Fee and Clint is tangible, as is why they both think anything long term is impossible. This book was well worth my reading time.

P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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