Harrison Bainbridge, the second son of an English earl, came to Texas with his two friends to escape the strictures of society and to find their fortunes. Life growing up was torturous for young Harry, then in his youth he ran a bit wild and later faced another painful emotional blow. He's never felt loved, and therefore, doesn't believe in love or know how to give it in return. Since taking up residence in the small town of Fortune, he's spent many an evening playing poker with the pretty saloon keeper's daughter, and each time, he always tries to charm her into going upstairs with him. Each time, she always refuses. When Harry and his best friend, Kit, decide to head up a cattle drive in hopes of securing their financial future, they need another investor to get their venture off the ground, and the lovely Jessye is eager to throw her lot in with them.
Jessye Kane has experienced deep heartache in her own life from a failed past relationship and has vowed never to be dependent on a man again. She sees the cattle venture with Harry and Kit as her ticket to independence. While she finds it difficult to resist Harry's charms, she doesn't really trust him, so she makes her financial deal only with Kit and with the stipulation that she gets to go along on the drive. Spending long days and even longer nights on the trail with Harry erodes Jessye's resolve until she can no longer resist the man who is too handsome for his own good. She begins to sense a deep vulnerability beneath his devil-may-care facade, but she refuses to give her heart to a man who can't love her back. When Harry is severely injured while defending her and their cattle, Jessye realizes she's fallen in love with him whether she wants to or not. But can she teach a man who has his heart locked up tight how to love again so that they can have a happy future together?
I have no idea why I keep allowing so much time to pass between my reading of Lorraine Heath's novels. I was shocked to discover that four whole years have gone by since I last read one of her books, which happened to be the first in her Rogues in Texas series. My only excuse is that I keep getting distracted by other books and authors or I keep trying to read certain books that fit the various reading challenges in which I participate. But whatever the reasons, I really need to stop doing that, because I always enjoy her books - a lot. Never Love a Cowboy got off to a slightly slow start for me. I think that was owing to the hero and heroine both being emotionally damaged and afraid to allow themselves to love anyone. This seemed to place some distance between them for the first 2/3 of the story, during which it was registering about a 4.5 on my star meter. I was enjoying it but it wasn't quite hitting the amazing mark. But the last 100 pages or so were so awesome they really helped make up for it and compelled me to go ahead and give it the full five stars.
Harry is the second of the three Englishman friends in the series who came to Texas to find their fortunes. They had previously discussed combining their efforts into a cattle venture, but now that his friend, Gray, has settled down with a wife and kids, that leaves only Harry and Kit. They decide to go ahead with their idea of rounding up cattle and driving them to market, but they lack the funds to make it happen. That's where the heroine, Jessye, enters into the picture as their third investor. Harry has admired Jessye from afar for a while. He's a consummate gambler, who spends quite a bit of time at the saloon owned by her father, where she serves the drinks and occasionally plays poker with Harry. He keeps trying to sweet talk her into going upstairs to his room with him, but she keeps telling him she's not one of those girls. Being a master at games of chance, Harry often makes decisions on the turn of a card. In the beginning, he comes off as a roguish scoundrel, albeit a charming one. Harry may like Jessye, but he refuses to allow himself to love her. In fact, he constantly asserts that he doesn't even know what love is. He was deeply emotionally abused by his mother who would often force him to tell her he loved her, then in return, give him her hatred and lock him up in places that were frightening to a small child, including the dungeon of the family castle. By the time his father realized the extent of the abuse, the damage was already done. This was only one of the terrible things Harry had to endure, and his suffering continues in this book when he's seriously injured while trying to defend Jessye and their cattle venture. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Harry is like an onion with many unexpected layers to his personality, and I enjoyed watching each one of them peel away to reveal the real man inside. He holds his heart back from Jessye for a long time, but he shows her in unusual ways how much he cares. Gradually we come to see just how afraid he is of saying those three little words, but the moment when he finally gives in and does, it's like a dam bursting. Once he got it out and realized Jessye wasn't going to leave him or spurn his love, he just couldn't stop saying it, which was sweet.
Jessye is a tough, tomboyish young lady, who's been through a lot of heartache of her own. Her first love got her pregnant and then walked out, leaving her to deal with everything alone. She had only her father on whom to lean, but she couldn't even bring herself to tell him what happened. Instead she walked that path by herself and had to make some heart-breaking decisions. She's sworn never to allow a man to do that to her again, and so she's eager to invest in the cattle venture, thinking that if it succeeds, it will afford her security and most of all independence. Jessye likes spending time with Harry, but she doesn't trust him. She's convinced he cheats at cards all the time, but she can't figure out how. As she begins to uncover those layers of his I mentioned earlier and see things in him she didn't expect, she slowly comes to realize that he may not be quite as much of a scoundrel as she originally thought. Eventually she can no longer resist his charms, and although she realizes she's fallen in love with him, she refuses to give him her heart unless he can give her his love in return. Jessye is a very caring woman. She looks out for Harry and tries everything she can think of to bring him back after the life-altering injuries he suffers. She's also a very strong, stubborn woman who knows what she wants and won't relent until she gets it. Yet at the same time, she can be very sweet and gentle. I love how she doesn't care about the changes wrought in Harry's body after the injuries and that she's always sympathetic when he reveals the secrets of his past. She keeps soldiering on and persisting in trying to get Harry to let her into his heart and to take a chance on her so that she can show him the true depth of her love.
In Never Love a Cowboy, we also get to catch up with Gray and Abbie and their growing family. They're still incredibly happy, and they play a part in helping Harry recover from his injuries as well. The third friend and hero of the final book in the trilogy is Kit. He takes part in the cattle drive with Harry and Jessye. In fact, at first, he's the only one Jessye will officially do business with. Kit is a very organized person who keeps things running smoothly, and I look forward to seeing what he does next with his life. What I really liked, though, are the little glimpses we get of Kit's past and his personality. He's suffering from a badly broken heart and has a very touching scene in the book where we see the depth of his pain. I really look forward to finding out more about him in the next book, Never Marry a Cowboy, where he's paired with Ashton as his heroine. We get an introduction to her in this book when Kit, Harry, and Jessye take a little detour to Dallas to meet with Ashton's brother in an attempt to get him to invest in their venture too. What little I saw of her she seems like a sweet, lovely person, who I think will make a good match for Kit. I also just discovered that the Daughters of Fortune series is a spin-off of Rogues in Texas, featuring the next generation. Harry and Jessye's daughter, Angela, is the heroine of the first book of that series, The Outlaw and the Lady.
Overall, I really enjoyed Never Love a Cowboy. The relationship may have been slow-building for me, but the denouement made it more than worth the wait. I also loved the second love scene of the book that went from a moment where Jessye is fuming mad at Harry to one of the sweetest moments I've read in a romance. I think that's when I came to completely understand Harry and really begin to respect him. He might have been an unrepentant rogue, but deep down, he was a kind, caring man who had a lot of love to share. He just didn't know it until a woman with a big heart offered him her love in return. This was a sweet and emotional story, and I can't wait to read Kit's book and the spin-off series. I'm just going to have to try harder to remind myself how much I love Lorraine Heath's writing, so I don't wait so long next time.
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