“Shit, is there a gay cowboy that doesn’t start a relationship under extreme stress?”
In a word: Read the thing. I admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of this when I read it for the first time, but after reading it again I found that I actually liked it. The story is a bit ridiculous, and there are some plot holes, but if you’re willing to overlook this and just enjoy the story for what it is you’ll have a good time reading it. The writing took me a bit to get used to, which might be one of the biggest problems I had with the book on my first read through. I think the books in the Dreamspun Desires line are meant to be like Harlequin Romance, only with gay romance, so they’re all probably gonna be a bit ridiculous and out there and dramatic. Trial By Fire is definitely all of these things, but it’s also pretty fun and has some pretty entertaining characters to drive a fairly entertaining story. There’s gay cowboys, Australians, biscuits and gravy, kidnapping, horses, and a guy named Crazy MacPhail. Really, what more can you ask for?
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains kidnapping, child endangerment, character death, and funerals/grieving.
The Premise: Lachlan McCoughey has been searching for his little sister Adelaide for the past three years. When the call finally comes in (from a private detective), however, there is no hope for a tearful reunion between the siblings because Adelaide (and her husband Landon Sheffield) is dead. There is some more news though, Adelaide and Landon have a four month old daughter, who is now in the care of Landon’s twin brother Holden. Lachlan knows that the Sheffields are a rodeo family, but he doesn’t know what kind of people they are, so he decides to fly from Australia to Texas in order to ‘rescue’ his niece. Once he lands in Texas and meets the Sheffields Lachlan discovers that their rodeo operation wasn’t what he thought it was and he starts to rethink his position about removing his niece from the only family she’s ever known. Also it turns out that his brother-in-law is sexy as hell.
The Writing: The writing in this one is a bit… different. Different than what I’m used to, anyway. It’s written in third person, but it’s also written in slang, or cowboy jargon, or something. And one cowboy is from Australia (Queensland, I think) and the other is from Texas. So there’s two completely different dialects. It got confusing at times; probably why it took me a second reading to really get into it. So much slang though. So much. Another thing that was confusing was that the point of view shifted between Lachlan and Holden without warning. Sometimes from sentence to sentence. Or, it seemed to, anyway. Could’ve just been misreading on my part, but I got the feeling a few times that we’d be reading the story from one point of view and then, suddenly, the next paragraph would pick up (no scene change or page break) from another point of view, and then go back just as suddenly. It was a bit jarring at times. Not to say that it was a bad story or anything, it wasn’t, but the writing was difficult to work with at times. This story is both a romance and a mystery/suspense novel, having our two leads falling in love with each other and at the same time trying to figure out who among the many, many workers on the Sheffield ranch has kidnapped their niece. Personally, I thought the romance went a little quick for my tastes, but the suspense and danger were done well. It wasn’t really a mystery, but I don’t think that’s what it was really going for.
The Couple: Lachlan McCoughey and Holden Sheffield are both cowboys who run their own ranches/operations/things; Lachlan in Australia and Holden in Texas. These are two very similar men who would never have met if not for their siblings marrying each other. Lachlan is from Australia, Holden is from Texas. They both come from wealthy families and run big operations. They’ve both just lost their only sibling and are completely enamoured by their tiny niece, Chloe. They are also both macho men; plenty of punches to go around. Lachlan is a big guy, big and confident as all hell. He shows up at the Sheffield ranch one day out of the blue and genuinely expects to walk off with his niece right away. He’s soon corrected on that notion by Holden, very short and angry, and his fists. Really, in a lot of romances it’s a case of ‘opposites attract’ but Lachlan and Holden are pretty much cut from the same cloth here. They’re both hot-headed cowboys who are very protective of the ones they love.
The Siblings: Lachlan and Holden each have one sibling: Lachlan has a younger sister named Adelaide, and Holden has a twin brother named Landon. Er… had. Both Adelaide and Landon die in a freak plane crash a few weeks before the beginning of the story; so they aren’t actually in the story. A few years before the story starts, Landon had travelled to Australia on business and met Adelaide and they fell in love. In insta-love, really, they pretty much immediately eloped. Adelaide was feeling smothered by her family’s constant security and pressures to fit in so when Landon presented her with an opportunity to escape, she took it. She married Landon and went with him to his ranch in Texas and no one in her family knew where she was for years, until her brother’s private detective found her about three weeks after she’d died. Though they aren’t actually in the story, Adelaide and Landon are still characters in the way that they are always remembered by their brothers.
The Side Characters: The main focus of the story is on Lachlan, Holden, and Chloe, but there are some other interesting characters wandering around to make things more interesting. There are the parents, natch. Holden’s parents live in the main house on the Sheffield ranch and they are suitably overprotective of Chloe, Holden, Adelaide’s memory, the works. They’re both hard-working folks who’ve been in the horse business their whole lives, it looks like. Lachlan’s parents give off the impression of being more like business people rather than ranchers (though that’s what they are, I believe). They were overprotective of Adelaide to the point of practically smothering her, and they try to move all that onto Chloe once they find out about her. They seem like people who are used to getting their own way. There’s also Maria, Chloe’s nanny, she doesn’t do much other than care for Chloe and make food. But she does get injured trying to defend Chloe from the kidnappers, so there’s that. There’s Lachlan’s friend/ex-sometimes-lover/head of security Dez. He immediately flies in to help find Chloe, though he does spend the bulk of his time butting heads with Holden’s friend/ex-sometimes-lover/detective-type-person Ryan. These two are also macho-men, though not the cowboy type, and they have a very background romance. It’s cute, and they’re pretty fun. And, of course, you can’t have a ranch without other cowboys and workhands and the like. The Sheffield ranch has plenty but, aside from the kidnappers, none of them are really mentioned by name except for the foreman Crazy MacPhail. You gotta love this guy just based on the name alone, it’s amazing. Crazy’s a great guy, a rough tough old cowboy who’s fiercely loyal to the Sheffield family, and also a good friend to everyone there.
The Sex: This is basically gay Harlequin Romance, of course there’s sex. This book has a few scenes in it, mostly quickie hand jobs between Lachlan and Holden in the middle of all the chaos surrounding the kidnapping and random foreigners constantly showing up. I felt that a lot of the sex scenes were a bit ridiculous, I mean the first one is when the boys are having a fight in the backyard and it turns into an impromptu hand job/frottage deal. That one was weird and came way out of nowhere (who even has sex in the backyard of a house full of people, anyway?). But the ones that come after that are a bit less out there, though mostly they come out of nowhere aside from the last one. They’re well-written scenes though, so aside from the first one in the backyard (second-hand embarrassment is nobody’s friend) I enjoyed reading them.
[Trial By Fire was published March 15, 2016, by Dreamspinner Press and is available both in print and as an ebook]