I’ve enjoyed books by Maisey Yates before, but fell off reading her for a bit. This is an excellent reintroduction. Wild Ride Cowboy could so easily have been a simple story. It also had the potential to be a bemoaning story, and does have a lot of dialogue, both internal and external. But despite having grief as a major theme since Clara and Alex are brought together by the death of her soldier brother and his brother-in-arms, this is a powerful story about learning to know yourself, the impact of life experiences, and how easy it is to internalize how others see you.
Clara’s life experience is measured in loss. Where others were having their first dates, going off to college, and exploring the world, she suffered from hit after hit, losing both parents and then her only brother. Alex had a very different experience. Instead of loved ones being torn away by fate, they rejected or left him every time, right up until Jason, who chose to die for him as though he meant something.
These are complex issues, and Alex believes survival lies in keeping things shallow. His brother taught him to smile even when he’s shredded inside when they were kids, and that’s what he’s done. Laughing, smiling, nothing touches Alex who never lets anyone close enough to hurt him. He has a form of survivor’s guilt, but it’s more complicated than that because his childhood taught him he had no value. Not only did he survive, but at the cost of a better man, or at least that’s how he sees it.
The story forces both of them to really look at the shadows inside, to recognize the strengths they each hold, and to stand up for what they need, even when it goes against what they think they were supposed to do. The last hits Alex hard, as he’s pretty sure Jason didn’t mean for him to introduce Clara to the joy of sex, especially when he knows he doesn’t have what it takes to stick around.
Clara, though, she was a delight and a surprise. She started out closed off with grief and anger at the world, but even then she wasn’t a pushover. She made plans and she stuck to them…until she figures out she’s pulling for a fantasy while fighting the reality.
This isn’t some sweet story about two wounded souls finding and healing each other, or rather, it is, but there’s a lot of fighting themselves and each other. Things come out that they weren’t ready to share, and Clara especially isn’t willing to let him keep his pain hidden. There’s a whopper of a twist toward the end that makes total sense, but I didn’t see coming, and can’t see beyond it until the happy ending works out.
For all the book is about broken families, horrible parents or ones who died too soon, it’s also a deep look at the bonds of family and friendship. It’s not just Alex who had a rough childhood. He has two illegitimate brothers and one legitimate brother, all of whom were cast aside by their father in some manner. Their grandfather’s will brought them all together, and they’re making a real go of trying to be a family. Well, everyone but Alex who always has one foot out the door.
It’s a romance, and one with detailed sex scenes. There’s no question about that. But it’s also a really strong growing up and life experience novel where the characters (youngest 22) face tough issues and find their way to acceptance through the willingness to take the risk, even when it’s clear they’ll suffer in the end, and suffer they do, until they don’t. It also shows both how tragedy matures a person and how maturity and age have little to do with one another. Then it’s got agency and decision making aspects that really drive home how one person can’t make the decision for another. I was both impressed and moved by the emotional journeys.
P.S. I received this book from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.