Countdown to Christmas: Cowboys and Snow Add Up to Holiday Sexy in Carolyn Brown’s Mistletoe Cowboy

1 Dec

Mistletoe Cowboy (Spikes and Spurs #5) by Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks, October 2, 2012)

There are a lot of wonderful romance novels entirely based on the December holidays. Littering the shelves by Halloween, their covers are filled with bare torsos, snow, and twinkle lights (those torsos must have gooseflesh, for sure!). Rather than be annoyed by it, I love them – what could be more romantic than the holidays which celebrate light in the darkest time of the year? I plan on having a whole “Countdown to Christmas” series this month, highlighting the stories which will bring some holiday cheer right into your hands and heart, so let’s get started.

When I feel like a little Texas twang in my romance, I know who to turn to – Carolyn Brown. I enjoyed One Hot Cowboy Wedding from her Spikes & Spurs series, and now she’s back, taking another sexy Riley brother off the market (thank heavens their mother had the foresight to have seven of them) in Mistletoe Cowboy.The good news is that you do not need to have read any other books in the series to enjoy this one, although chances are you’ll end up picking up one of them if Brown’s brand of romance resonates with you the way it’s done with so many other readers. She’s not a New York Times Bestselling author for nothing!

I’ve written before that, since I fell for my wonderful hero during a blizzard, I’m far from cynical about using this device in romance novels. It’s a great way to trap two people who would otherwise not choose to be together and have them truly get to know one another.

That’s exactly what happens in this heartwarming book. Sage Presley is spitting mad, so much so that she’s driving in the middle of a blizzard to the ranch where her grandmother raised her to have a huge fight. Her Grandmother told her on the phone that she had decided to sell the Rockin’ C to some cowboy she just met. She was giving them both three weeks to think on the deal and he could stay at the place and take care of the livestock while they were considering.

Arriving to the dark house with the electricity already out, Sage discovers her grandmother already left for Pennsylvania to visit her sister, undoubtedly to dodge the storm and to dodge Sage’s wrath. She rolls into her bed still in a temper with her one consolation that the blizzard will at least spare her the company of whatever rotten person is trying to buy her family home.

Naturally, she practically has a heart attack when a sexy, snow-covered cowboy walks through the front door the next morning. It seems Creed Riley, the would-be purchaser of the ranch, got there before the storm. While before the thought of facing the angry granddaughter gave him chills, his chills are now of a totally different kind. This 5 foot 10 inch dark-haired beauty is not what he expected from the description he heard and the pictures in the house don’t do her justice. She’s as plainspoken as they come, making it clear that she is not happy with his designs on the ranch, but that doesn’t stop them from getting to know each other over the next few days. Civility morphs into kissing, which morphs into more horizontal activity, and pretty soon they are both in over their heads. Creed’s sworn off long-term relationships after his fiancee dumped him and Sage has never believed in committment since people you love just up and leave. So where exactly can this go?

The Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas where the Rockin’ C Ranch is located (granted there’s a little less snow in this shot than in the story!)

Carolyn Brown has some definite strengths. She writes an unbelievably strong sense of place, so much so that I find myself ready to take a road trip cross-country and visit the fine state of Texas when I turn the last page. She is not one for excessive description, particularly the dialogue padding I often rely on to figure out what the characters are feeling. Instead she has a snappy back-and-forth that puts you in mind of a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie if they used “y’all” and “passel” as regular vocabulary. The language is always an adjustment for me; I get kind of annoyed for the first chapter or so with the poor grammar asking myself “do people really speak like this?” and then something inside me just relaxes into the speech pattern and I end up loving it. Go figure.

I liked how Brown used Sage’s livelihood of painting to show what was underneath her prickly exterior and I loved the homeless pregnant or newly birthed animals (you’d think the Rockin’ C was an inn in Bethlehem, albeit with room for all) to further drive home the Christmas theme. It’s hard to not appreciate the complexity of an author who has her characters go to church and say grace before meals but also have hot (emotional) sex on the living room credenza. There are plenty of people who live with that spiritual dichotomy in their lives, and I like seeing it in a romance novel.

The absolute best aspect of this book is that, in Sage’s love for her home, Brown brings us to a place where home is not where you hire someone else to mow the lawn you bought two years ago, but rather is a place of livelihood and sweat with a family cemetery on the property and generations of happiness leached into the wood. This kind of connection to where you grew up has become less and less common but I bet there are plenty of readers out there who crave it in their lives. While many of us can’t manufacture the old homestead, we nevertheless can enjoy it second-hand in romance novels, like those written by Carolyn Brown. Thanks, Carolyn!

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