Kate Steele lost her rodeo cowboy husband in a tragic accident that also left her in a wheelchair, but before his death, Colton's self-centeredness and infidelity was enough to turn Kate off of cowboys forever. Seeing her in-laws trying to turn her young son, Danny, into another Colton, makes Kate want to put as much distance between them as possible. She applies for a teaching position in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Idaho, thinking that she and Danny would be heading for farming country. Upon her arrival, Kate is dismayed to discover that most of the residents of the area are buckaroo ranchers, including the disarmingly attractive father of one of her students.
Ben Trueblood is a different kind of cowboy, one who is in love with the land and trying to preserve a vanishing way of life for all buckaroos. He is locked in a battle with the government over land leases for grazing his herds, while trying to run a successful ranch and be a good father to his adopted daughter, Clover. When Kate calls him in for a conference regarding a perceived learning disability in Clover, Ben is annoyed but not surprised. There isn't exactly an abundance of single women in the tiny community, and the pretty new teacher stirs emotions in Ben that he's never felt before and makes him realize that Clover needs a female presence in her life. But Ben is harboring a secret that may make Kate think badly of him if she knew the truth, not to mention, Kate isn't exactly looking for another cowboy husband.
Real Cowboys is a gentle, feel-good romance about life, love and family. It takes place in a tiny rural community in the southwest corner of Idaho where its border meets Oregon and Nevada. It's kind of a place out of time where ranchers run cattle in the old-fashioned way while fighting legal battles to keep their government grazing land leases. Everybody knows everybody else, and the few children in the community attend a one-room schoolhouse that encompasses grades 1-8, and that's only when a teacher is available. It's a little like going back to the pioneer days which is an era I enjoy reading about. Half-Native American cowboy, Ben Trueblood, works hard on his ranch in between his bouts with government bureaucracy, but he's keeping a secret that no one except Lou "Bobbalou" Bobolink, his cook and the man who essentially raised him knows. Widow, Kate Steele, accepts the job as teacher at the little school to get away from in-laws who are trying to mold her son, Danny, into a carbon copy of his father, a rodeo cowboy who left Kate with a distrust of all cowboys. Kate battles with Danny over his passion to become a champion roper like his father, and Ben is raising a young daughter, Clover, that he adopted as an infant after her teenage parents abandoned her in his barn. There is a little medical drama when Cover is bitten by a poisonous spider for which there is no antivenin, and a bit more excitement when the kids do something dangerous after getting a wild notion in their heads. Overall though, Real Cowboys is just a laid-back, slice-of-life romance about two people trying to overcome their differences to create the family they've both always wanted and never really had.
I really liked both Ben and Kate as the hero and heroine. Kate is a great mom and teacher in spite of being in a wheelchair. She was in the same car accident that killed her husband, but mysteriously the doctors were never able to find any injury to explain her inability to walk afterward. She's also very wary of all cowboys after living with a husband who cheated on her and put his rodeo competitions ahead of her and Danny, so when she meets Ben there's an instant attraction that she tries hard to ignore. Ben is a buckaroo (slightly different than a cowboy) rancher who is nothing like Kate's first husband. He's not on the rodeo circuit, but instead is just a man who loves cattle and horses, trying to make a living off the land. He's a deeply committed father to Clover even though she isn't his biological child. I did figure out Ben's secret pretty easily, but was happy to see that when he finally came clean with Kate, she was very supportive. Ben was just an all-around great guy. He and Kate together took their time building a relationship that was very sweet and tender.
The kids, Danny and Clover, were positively adorable. They become fast friends, and get along famously right from the start. They can occasionally be a bit precocious, but all-in-all were rendered in a very age-appropriate way which I appreciated. Danny really wants to be a calf roper, but Kate's fears of him turning into his father cause her to be a bit hard on him. He's not too thrilled about moving to Idaho, and sometimes has moments where he becomes understandably sulky about that and his mom stifling his dreams, but he's never obnoxious. Clover is a really cute little girl who had spent her whole life around ranchers and has become a bit of a tomboy, but when the pretty new teacher comes along, it inspires her to want more girly things. She has some difficulties with her schoolwork, but is an amazingly good artist. She also has an incredible way with animals that almost touches on the paranormal, because it's as though she can psychically communicate with them. This part of the story fascinated me, and I wish there had been room to explore her talent more.
Anyone who is looking for a nice, easy, heartwarming read without any major conflicts or villains, or anyone who enjoys a good cowboy or Native American story should definitely check out Real Cowboys. There are only a handful of profanities, and the only love scene is very mild with virtually no details, so it would likely be acceptable for younger and more sensitive readers. Roz Denny Fox wrote a novella sequel to Real Cowboys titled Nate's Anatomy, featuring physician's assistant, Nate Ramsey, who is introduced in this book. Ben, Kate and Bobbalou all make appearances in his story which is currently available as a free online e-book at the e-Harlequin website. Real Cowboys is also part of the Harlequin multi-author series Home on the Ranch. As far as I know, there are no carry-over characters or storylines in this series, just the common Western theme of cowboys and ranchers. Roz Denny Fox is fast becoming an author I can count on for a good comfort read that leaves me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I'm really looking forward to continuing my exploration of her extensive back-list.
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