Donna Alward reading tear the last year or so and I've come to appreciate two things about her Harlequin Romances: 1) she's a wonderfully consistent writer and 2) she likes cowboys.
Yes, I really am this shallow. Are you new here?
The Last Real Cowboy is the first book in the Cadence Creek Cowboys duet, featuring cowboy cousins. Sam Diamond is an only child who has grown up in a loving, privileged household. The family's ranch, Diamondback, means just about everything to him and he's determined to see the ranch into the 21st century with a project to make them more "green" (as in environmentally sound). Unfortunately, his father isn't wild about the idea and now that the man has suffered a stroke, he's dug his heels in even more. On top of that, his mother has asked him to temporarily take over her seat with The Butterfly Foundation while she nurses his father back to health. He cannot say no to his mother, although the idea of working with foundation head Angela Beck sounds about as much fun as hopping into bed with a horde of rattlesnakes.
Angela Beck quit her job in social work to start The Butterfly Foundation and set up The Butterfly House, a home to help women leaving abusive relationships to get back on their feet. The Diamond family has really been instrumental, with matriarch Molly securing the land, the house, and even helping Angela get the project off the ground. But now Molly is out taking care of her ailing husband and in waltzes son Sam, a guy Angela has already had one run-in with, and a man she doesn't think too much of. She knows his type all to well. He's smooth and charming, but also conceited and selfish. How such a man sprang from Molly's gene pool is a total mystery to her. They're oil and water right from the get-go, and now they have to work together? Yikes.
Stubborn characters with baggage and plenty of angst are cornerstones in many of Alward's romances, and this story is no different. Neither Sam nor Angela make terribly good first impressions with each other, or the reader. They jump to conclusions about each other, take everything the other person says entirely the wrong way, and are generally dismissive. Characters of this ilk can get tiresome to read about, so it's a good thing that the author gives us Sam, a guy who really is a "good guy" even though the heroine doesn't think he is. He realizes that he has to make this work, because his mother expects him to step up and he's loathe to disappoint her. So he swallows his pride, and shows up hat in hand determined to make it work.
Angela ends up coming to her senses mostly out of desperation. In order to get The Butterfly House off the ground, she needs Sam. She doesn't want to need him, but she's only one person - and she was really counting on Molly. With no Molly, that means more is falling in her lap. Also, she has to admit to herself that she might have been just a teensy bit wrong about Sam. Sure his teasing irritates her and her attraction to him scares the hell out of her - but he's not an ogre.
Once the author sets up the adversarial tendencies of the romantic couple, she then slowly begins to reveal their motivations and back-story. Sam is a good guy, but he has issues. Likewise, Angela's past has come to define her - it's what led her into social work and ultimately into starting The Butterfly Foundation. It's the baggage of both characters that make them so prickly around each other, and it's that baggage they need to work through to get their happy ending. The final chapters are really the meat and potatoes, with all the emotional turmoil coming to a head. These final heart-wrenching moments, with dialogue that just about made my heart beat out of my chest, really seal the happy ending. It won't be easy, and their pasts won't get swept under the rug overnight, but Sam and Angela are just the kind of romantic couple you want to see make it work. And I think they will.
Final Grade = B