Sometimes I just wake up, look at my to-read list and think, “Today, I really need a Western romance.”
I’m not 100% sure what spurs it, but the feeling has something to do with wanting independent people working for themselves on land that speaks to them. Horses and cowboys are always great, but not required, and if the author really, truly can bring a region to life – to the point of making me practically breathe in that fresh air – then I’m happy as a clam.
R. C. Ryan is just this kind of author and Josh, the second of her Wyoming Sky trilogy about three brothers living with their father and grandfather while working the family ranch, satisfied my every craving.
Josh Conway has always loved the Teton Mountains which back up to his family’s ranch, Devil’s Wilderness, in the Big Sky country of Wyoming. Since he was a child, he has disappeared for hours on end to seek solace in the ridges and wildlife of the mountains, and even as an adult is often called upon by the Park Rangers to help find lost hikers because of his intimate knowledge with the land.
When he’s asked to find one stray wildlife photographer, Sierra Moore, he feels mostly annoyance at having to face the bad weather to hunt down yet another person who didn’t know their limits. He’s therefore shocked to discover not only is she fine in her snug tent but she’s indignant that he assumed she needed rescuing.
Sierra actually does need rescuing but not from the climb. When the handsome rancher accompanies her back to the ranger station, Sierra is dismayed to find a threatening note from the man she fled Paris to avoid. It seems he’s followed her all the way to Wyoming and is intent on making her his, no matter the cost. After a lifetime of trusting no man and not believing in love, Sierra finds herself surrounded by the loving Conway family who demonstrate daily how love can be a bedrock to build a life upon, with Josh Conway in particular indicating that his feelings for Sierra run deeper than just the fling she anticipated.
I feel so hard for both the hero and heroine of this novel! Sierra has had a crap childhood with distant, hippie parents and a series of boarding schools, yet she is so open to life personally and professionally in her photography that she spreads a brand of sunshine wherever she goes. Josh and his family respond to it, even as they circle the wagons against the threat of the wealthy European stalker she’s picked up along the way. Josh is the quiet type, but not a brooder (thank heavens) – just a man who feels nature and his mountains deeply and is thrilled to see them through Sierra’s enthusiastic eyes.
There are several terrific elements that bind these three books together. The first is the sense of loss – grandfather Big Jim lost his beloved wife Clementine and five sons (all buried in the family graveyard and he talks to Clemmy often) and Cole’s wife, his beloved Seraphine, just disappeared one day. The family has no idea what happened to her and the pain of that mystery has been handled in different ways by the Conway men.
Of course, the minor characters of the two women who have worked at the ranch for over 20 years – Phoebe and Ela – as well as the townspeople further reinforce the sense of tight community bonds which support the Conway family. And the Conway family is exactly the type that romance readers love to read about. A tight, loving Irish family who work and play together with plenty of yelling and laughter, well, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to romance, isn’t it?
I expected the suspense plot to be an afterthought but there are really two layers here. One, the immediate danger to Sierra with her Euro-stalker in all his glory and two, the mystery of the Conway boys’ missing mother. It provides a nice juxtaposition as each of the Conway men feel almost more protective of the women in their lives after losing the grandmother and mother who meant so much to them.
It should not be shocking that R. C. Ryan does suspense well – you’ll note that the cover blurb for Josh is from none other than Nora Roberts. It turns out that R. C. Ryan is the contemporary pen name for historical and romantic suspense author Ruth Ryan Langan, who has actually published stories in multiple anthologies with Roberts when she writes as J. D. Robb. Quite an endorsement, eh? I think so, too.
I plan on devouring the other books in the Wyoming Sky series as I have found a family I’m ready to be a part of (and they have a jetted tub in the guest room – sign me up!). R. C. Ryan has crafted an emotional romance with three-dimensional characters in a setting that calls for facing fears and living life fully. Happy reading!