Rating: 3 stars out of 5
This story is quite dark and depressing and there’s no romance to it until the latter part of the book so readers should be prepared to wait for the love and also be prepared for a lot of heartbreak and pain from past mistakes. To be honest, the setup took so long and was so depressing, I was tempted to stop reading. But I love RJ Scott’s work so I knew it would be worth the wait and I kept going.
Micah is summoned by the sister he hasn’t seen in nearly ten years when she’s finally able to get a call out for help from the compound of the cult where’s she’s been held and abused. Arriving just in time to see her shoot her husband, an insane cult leader, Micah grabs her and her five-year-old son, Laurie, and they get out with only the clothes on their backs. And though he hasn’t been home in nine years, he heads to the ranch he inherited from his father, all while making plans to set up whatever he needs to secure his sister’s future. He’d left the area after he took his boyfriend Daniel’s car on a joyride with his two best friends and was involved in an accident that killed one boy and left the other without a leg. The one who lost his leg is Daniel’s brother, and in his grief and pain, Daniel pushed Micah away and made him promise never to return home.
After spending a year in prison for reckless driving and manslaughter, Micah has been working as a professional trainer on a horse farm, sending his wages home to his aunt and uncle for upkeep on the family ranch. So when he comes back with a very pregnant Rachel and little undernourished and emotionally abused Laurie, he not only expects trouble, he gets it.
There’s quite a bit of backstory on what happened to Rachel in the cult but there’s even more about what happened to Micah and why he and Daniel can’t be together again. To make matters worse, Daniel is suffering PTSD from an incident at the hospital where he was the ER physician when a former patient’s family member took hostages and killed Daniel’s coworker. All of this trauma for Daniel comes out in anger toward Micah, and even in physical violence a few times.
To be honest, Daniel wasn’t a likeable character, even toward the end of the story when he finally took his counseling to heart and learned how to look at the past differently. Micah was also a bit of a bundle of nerves, with his protector hero complex, always worried about his sister and the consequences of someone finding out what happened. Fully prepared to take the blame, he wallowed in angst and dark thoughts for most of the book.
If the last fourth of the story didn’t move toward positive action when it did, I’d likely have given this a lower rating because, as I said, it was dark and depressing and there was a lot about their backstory, none of which was pleasant. The author was able to tie all the loose ends together, however, and finally brush off the old romance and give it new life, making it one I can look back on and say I liked.
Secondary characters were many and varied and I especially enjoyed little Laurie. He won my heart from the first time he appeared in the story and never relinquished it at all. I also found the sheriff to be intriguing, as well as Daniel’s brother Chris, the young man who lost a pro sports career when he lost his leg. I hope both of these characters get their own stories—together or individually with different love interests.
I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy a book with plenty of angst-filled moments, as well as hurt-comfort and redemption.
The cover by Meredith Russell is a close-up photo of a man with short, light hair. I assume it’s Micah. To be honest, the light sepia tone is quite bland so I don’t find the cover appealing at all.
Published February 28th 2018 by RJ Scott (first published February 25th 2018)
Original TitleWinter Cowboy
SeriesWhisper Ridge, Wyoming #1