Title: Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller
Carsons of Mustang Creek Series Book One
Publisher: HQN Books
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
The Carsons of Mustang Creek: three men who embody the West and define what it means to be a rancher, a cowboy and a hero in this brand-new series from the queen of Western romance
SLATER CARSON might be a filmmaker by trade, but he’s still a cowboy at heart—and he knows the value of a hard day’s work under the hot Wyoming sun. So when he sees troubled teen Ryder heading down a dangerous path, he offers the boy a job on the ranch he shares with his two younger brothers. And since Ryder’s guardian is the gorgeous new Mustang Creek resort manager, Grace Emery, Slater figures it can’t hurt to keep a closer eye on her, as well…
GRACE EMERY doesn’t have time for romance. Between settling into her new job and caring for her ex-husband’s rebellious son, her attraction to larger-than-life Slater is a distraction she can’t afford. But when an unexpected threat emerges, she’ll discover just how far Slater will go to protect what matters most—and that love is always worth fighting for.
Linda Lael Miller’s newest series, The Carsons of Mustang Creek, is off to a very strong beginning with the first installment, Once a Rancher. Starring the three Carson brothers, this first release features oldest brother Slater’s unexpected romance with newcomer Grace Emery.
A documentary filmmaker, Slater uses the family’s ranch as his home base in between projects. Having just returned from a grueling filming schedule, the last thing he wants to deal with is an unexpected visitor but his dismay quickly turns to interest once he meets Grace and her stepson, Ryder. Fuming over Ryder’s latest shenanigans, Grace is pleasantly surprised by how quickly Slater defuses the somewhat tense situation. Ryder easily picks up Slater’s interest in Grace, but she has no interest in pursuing a relationship with the charming cowboy. As their paths continue to cross, they eventually give in to their passion, but will Slater be able to convince Grace to consider making their relationship permanent?
Although he has a reputation as a player, Slater’s interest in Grace is anything but casual. He is definitely attracted to the feisty redhead and he is quick to devise a plan to see her again. He is never overbearing or pushy, but he does gently nudge her into seeing him on a more personal basis. Slater also realizes that Ryder needs something to occupy his time so he stays out of trouble and with Grace’s permission, he hires the teen to work at their ranch after school.
Despite her attraction to Slater, Grace sees a few too many similarities between the sexy cowboy and her ex-husband Hank. She rushed into marriage only to realize that Hank’s career was more important than family so she is not in any hurry to begin another relationship. She has her hands full trying to keep Ryder out of trouble but the more time she spends with Slater, the more irresistible he becomes. Grace is independent and more than capable of taking care of herself, but when a series of troubling incidents endangers both her and Ryder, she gratefully accepts Slater’s help.
The relationship between Grace and Slater is slow growing but their attraction soon gives way to love. While Slater is eager to take their romance to the next level, Grace is hesitant since she is afraid of getting hurt again. Slater is eager to move forward, but he is surprisingly patient as she tries to work through her reservations. Grace is sometimes a bundle of contradictions as she tries to maintain her independence while at the same time she is frustrated when Slater gives her the space she needs. Even though Grace and Slater are at a stalemate about their future, their relationship is remarkably free from conflict.
Once a Rancher is a heartwarming and touching romance that has just a hint of suspense. The characters are beautifully developed, sympathetic and quite appealing. The story is fast-paced with an engaging and well-developed plot. Slater and Grace’s relationship has a bit of an insta-love feel to it, but their emotions for one another ring true.
Although The Carsons of Mustang Creek is a new series, longtime readers of Linda Lael Miller will enjoy returning to Mustang Creek. However, newcomers to the series need not worry; this first installment easily stands on its own.