Series: Crooked Creek Ranch, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Bantam Dell publisher Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Not What I Was Expecting
Tara owes Lyle Baker in ways that she can't - and won't - explain, so doing this favor for him, playing a questionable part in getting his grown children back to the ranch before he dies, is the least she can do for the man she's come to care for. She wasn't expecting the reality of a furious Luc Baker getting in her face, though. Sexy, intense, and as cold as the ice he skates on, everything about the man puts her back up and makes her wish she'd never agreed to Lyle's Machiavellian scheme.
His presence threatens everything she's been working towards for years. Her existence is a risk to the two people he most cares about in the world. And the sparks that are ignited while they battle it out threaten to melt more than their determination and burn brighter than either are prepared to handle.
Never, ever judge a book by its cover. Trite, maybe, but in this case, extremely apropos. I was expecting this book to be a sexy bit of brain candy. I mean seriously, do you see the abs on that cover model? Yum. The reality of the read, though, was something else entirely.
Luc and Tara's story is a deep, intricate, emotional journey of two damaged and broken souls. Parts of their tale were ugly and gritty (so were some of the characters, for that matter), and the ride to their HEA was fraught with self-loathing and angst. It was all much more than I was expecting. More, really, than I wanted at the time, regardless of how well done it was.
There were some lighter moments, thankfully, that helped balance out the narrative. Both Tara and Luc were at times sardonic and witty, sometimes wacky and fun, and all of it necessary for lightening the more complex and tortured elements of their characters. I enjoyed them both, and enjoyed the depth and detail in their character definition.
What impressed me most, though, was how deftly O'Keefe managed and maintained the two faces of Lyle Baker, Luc's father. On one hand, he was a hard, brutal man who should have been shot for how he treated his children when they were young. Even as he's dying he's wily and manipulative, unforgiving and cruel. On the other hand, he was a savior to Tara, and took care of her in ways that went far beyond what anyone would expect. As a result, Tara's feelings for Lyle and Luc's feelings for him were about as diametrically opposed as could be - and the reasons for both were equally valid.
I loved that.
Luc's sister, on the other hand...
I loathed Victoria. I didn't actually think it was possible to have as little respect for a character as I did her. She spent most of the book coming off as helpless and weak in a way that pushed every single one of my buttons. At one point, when she was thinking about how she had no identity without a ring on her finger, and she liked a man because he could take care of her and her son, I would have cheerfully read that a house fell on her. Twice.
I get that her book is the second in the series, and imagine her journey to self actualization is going to be part of the arc of that story, but damn, I found her revolting in this one.
Unfortunately she was a significant enough secondary character with enough of her own page time that my feelings for her impacted my enjoyment of the overall read. That, along with the initial mistaken impression of the nature of the book, kept me from loving this read. I was expecting light, fluffy, and sexy. I was in the mood for that sort of brain candy. That I didn't get it threw me off, no matter how great a story this actually was.
"Have a drink, Eli." He checked the ice bucket, hoping for the best, only to be disappointed. "Is there no ice in Texas?"
"It's one in the afternoon, Luc."
"The ice only comes out at night?"
He was going to give this headache a name, try to befriend it, because as an enemy, it was kicking his ass.