-Review by Kazza K
**WARNING, SPOILERS ABOUND**
Jed Hastings is twenty seven. He works for Cliff as a stock manager. He works on a rodeo circuit as well as out of a base in Wyoming. He is responsible for training horses and the care of a team of horses for the circuit. He cannot stand the current assistant he has. He is unreliable and not doing his job properly. Cliff (Jed's boss) isn't at the coalface like Jed is and as much as he says he will get a new assistant for Jed, it isn't happening. Jed doesn't see how it is so hard to get someone to work out and do the job properly. And, the thing is, Jed has noticed a guy hanging around the current rodeo and he thinks he can replace Blake with this new guy. The guy hanging around has new boots and is too spiffy to be a cowboy but he spends his time around the horses all the time, so he's not a groupie either. Jed decides to suss out just how keen this young man is.
Booker West is eighteen. He is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about everything. He's hanging around the horses at the latest rodeo when a guy approaches him and asks if he has ever worked with them before, been around rodeos. Booker hasn't. He's been working at a fast food restaurant but he wants to be around the horses, around the rodeo. Turns out his mother spent a lot of time on the rodeo circuit having sex with riders and Booker is the end product of one of those encounters.
After making sure Booker is clear on what he is getting into - back breaking work, being away from any family for long periods - he hires him on a one month probation period. Booker does that easily, his enthusiasm for everything in life shines through and he loves the horses. Jed ends up nick-naming Booker Colt because he has unbridled enthusiasm and the, sometimes, uncoordinated movements that a newborn colt has. Marcy, one of the other people working on the circuit tells Jed he needs to make Booker a permanent offer otherwise others will snatch him up. They've all noticed what a good, hard, worker he is and a nice young guy as well. Something that Jed knows to be the truth so a permanent offer is made.
Jed and Booker are living in close proximity. They share a trailer together whether on the road or back at the ranch. They get to know one another really well, they talk and share a mutual love of the horses and a simple, hard working lifestyle. The thing is, Booker is gay and Jed likes women. Booker doesn't tell Jed that he is gay, and while Booker has developed the hots for Jed, he doesn't do anything about it, apart from fantasise. He also likes learning the ropes from someone like Jed, who knows what he is doing and who gave a chance to someone like him - someone with no experience. So he isn't going to blow that opportunity, and also being around Jed, by outing himself.
Booker and Jed have been working together for over eight months now and are developing close ties. Booker has noticed that Jed is toey during storms, that he paces in their small trailer when a storm comes through. Jed is none to happy about sharing his personal life but after he gets a bit tetchy with young Booker, Jed lets Booker in - his dad died in a car accident during a storm when Jed was eight. They unsettle him to this day as he remembers the night vividly.
Likewise, Jed wants to know what drew Booker to rodeo, to this life. He has such a passion. Why is that? Booker's sister has raised him since he was five, there is fifteen years between them, and two different fathers. Booker doesn't know who his father is, and that's okay, but he wants to know more about his mother and what motivated her -
"I can't clearly define what pushed me to this world so completely, but I guess my interest lay more in trying to absorb everything around me so I could better understand the pull of the rodeo. I wanted to discover what made it so powerful that my mom chose to follow it and the cowboys to the exclusion of everything else...even her own kids."
"After she passed, I missed her cowboy stories as much as I did her."
Two years in and Jed and Booker are still close as can be, in a platonic way, much to Booker's quiet disappointment. It's his birthday, he makes a nice meal, but Jed forgets - he has a date with a woman in town. On he way in Jed remembers it's Booker's twentieth birthday and comes back with a leather and metal bracelet with the date Jed started working for the company on it, and some western movies, as presents. They watch the movies, fall asleep on the lounge, and Jed wakes to a lap full of Booker. He likes it, strokes his body, but it freaks him out- he isn't into men. It's just heat off Bookers warm body and the comfort. They're friends. But several other instances arise where Jed is thinking about Booker - wanking off about Booker. He fantasises about Booker and a girl he thought Booker might like, which then morphed into him and Booker having sex. Now Jed is thinking maybe when Cliff sells up he needs to go elsewhere because being in such close proximity to Booker for the past two years is messing with his head -
He could not let these fantasies continue. Even if it meant walking away from Booker for good.
Three years in and The Sprawling Ride buys Cliff's business. Jed is reeling that such a large concern would buy the ranch and the stock and that he will be relegated to just another worker. Despite being told they could probably work on for the new organisation Jed's concerned about what happens to him and Booker now. Sure Booker is the most accepting person he has ever known, but things won't be the same, maybe they won't be sharing their trailer anymore. Yes, he is relegated into a lower position but, no, they aren't separated. However, things start to heat up and Jed has to get out after a night of passion does his head in. He is straight. He is NOT gay, and even though a number of things have occurred there has always been a reason or excuse for them in Jed's mind. Not anymore. Not after they spend a night fucking each other into the mattress over and over.
What worked for me -
Irrespective of whether I did or did not like the main characters they definitely elicited emotions from me. I need something passionate about a book, whether I be in love with the characters or angry at them.
I won't lie, I like an age difference and there is nine years between Booker and Jed. And I like a virgin in the pairing as well. So I got that.
I really liked the nick-name - Colt - that Jed gave to Booker. It worked well.
I love Cameron Dane's sex scenes. They can be long, and they are, and they can have "dark tunnels" and "steaming channels" but I love them nevertheless. The sex here was Cameron Dane-erotic and hot. It was angry. There are few writers who can write such protracted sex scenes and keep me glued. There is always such emotion attached to the writing and the characters involved during sex, and Cowboy Waltz was no different.
You cannot say that Booker did not fight for the man, the relationship, and life he wanted. And his dogged determination won out. He deserves the 2013 perseverance medallion.
Lyle, Jed's brother. He loved Jed. He didn't understand homosexuality. Didn't accept it too well when he caught Jed all over Booker. When Jed finally admitted he liked a man - mind you Jed telling him he opens up his hole and takes it may have been a tad TMI for any brother to hear - he loved his brother enough to be there for him and listen. He sets Jed straight about their mother. He and his wife, Meg, who is twelve years older than Lyle, and can't have children, met with tough opposition from Jed and Lyle's mother. Lyle had to fight for his relationship and marriage and he wasn't letting their mother dictate who he could and could not love, so he understood Jed's concerns over their mother's reaction.
The brief references to Luke and Cain from Falling. It made me want to pick that book up...again.
For the last 10% of the book I genuinely liked this pairing of Jed and Booker. I wish like hell this book had been edited more tightly, and the layer upon layer of angst and annoying behaviour was stripped back and the latter heartfelt aspects of the relationship were given more time. Because not long before the end it worked.
The fear of people coming out to a family member was certainly conveyed here.
There is something, just something, about Cameron Dane's writing that I cannot resist. And as much as I fought with aspects of this book, and I sure did, I still appreciated reading a Cameron Dane novel.
What didn't work for me -
The characterisations of the MC's - This book is protagonist-centric. So, to drive this plot properly, sympathetic characters were mandatory. I can deal with a damaged/difficult character for only so long, unless I can see the reasons why. There must be something redeeming that this reader is aware of to make me invested. There must be some experience that I can understand as to why they are behaving the way they are. It has to be relatable -
Booker was, to me, likeable, but not loveable - although I am sure others may find Booker a lovely character. Yes, he is sweet. And as optimistic and shiny as he is, he needed to stand up for himself more and he needed to simply stand out more.
Then there was JED!! I struggled with him throughout the book. He stood out, but he was a terribly unsympathetic character. He pushed my limits. I only liked him in the last 10% of the book. Why is that? Well...simply put, he is unlikeable. He isn't damaged, he is just annoying and aggravating for a lot of the book. Some examples being - Jed makes fun of Booker one night, tells other people on the rodeo circuit personal things about Booker - his dreams, ambitions, his quirks. He ridicules him because he is in a snarky mood - after four beers. Booker works with these people, they like him, but, hey, let's humiliate Booker, shall we? Nothing like getting a laugh at someone else's expense. I know that endears people to me. Booker walks in on this as things are being said, is understandably upset, but Booker forgives Jed really quickly. Booker is badly injured, taken to hospital, where Jed stays the first night, then for two weeks leaves Booker on his own when he needs his friend. There was never any good excuse for that either. Jed decides to leave Booker after they finally have sex. He doesn't tell Booker, he finds out elsewhere that Jed is leaving. Surprise!! At his going away party he tries to hit on a sweet woman, Ali, and another man, Harlan, tells Jed to back off, at which point Jed charmingly says that Harlan is only doing this to get between Ali's legs. Marcy, the tour mother hen, takes him back to Booker to get him patched up after Harlan slugs Jed. Dutiful, reliable, kind Booker patches him up. Then Jed leaves. After he has left, Booker goes to Texas, at the behest of Lyle, to "fix" Jed. Jed is drinking and being self destructive in general. Then Jed tells him to "go" because he will keep drinking if he stays - he can't deal with being gay, he can't lose his family. This after Booker helps him, and they have sex. Jed tells Booker he will never choose him over his mother and his brother, and they won't accept him being gay, so their relationship is not happening. Never. So Booker leaves, anything to help Jed get better. Jed's sister-in-law, Meg, invites Booker back out to Texas for dinner, she wants to meet Jed's BFF. He goes, does nothing than be a friend during their night at Jed's brother and sister-in-laws, even though it nearly kills him to be so close to the man he loves and respects, and pretends to be something else. Jed follows Booker out and as Booker is getting into his car to leave, makes moves on him. Booker asks Jed "please don't do this unless you mean it," but Jed keeps on going, Booker can't resist Jed, and when Lyle comes out and catches them Jed freaks out -
...Booker said, "I can help you. I went through this with my sister, and I can help you get through it with Lyle too."
Jed squeezed his eyes shut even tighter. "If you want to help, then leave."
He then shoves Booker away, slamming the door in a concerned Booker's face.
Booker did not respect himself enough when it came to Jed. There is fighting for a relationship, and then there is two-plus-years-non-stop-spent-in-a-mixed-martial-arts-cage-fight for a relationship. Booker was in the latter. I just kept thinking enough is enough. Move on, Booker. Make him come to you. Make him grovel.
Annnddd....there should have been some grovelling from Jed to Booker. Didn't happen. Gets back to Jed and characterisations again, doesn't it?
I wasn't buying the reasons for the bad behaviour of Jed. His father died when Jed was eight. He learns that his dad wasn't husband-of-the-year material - he drank, screwed around. His mother never remarried and worked two jobs to give her sons a good life. But Jed just kept thinking he had this bad DNA. It pissed me off. Yes, I know that there is a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism but, give me a break, it wasn't enough to drive some of the behaviour or the angst here. I just want to say you are what you decide to make of yourself.
In general -
Cowboy Waltz is a GFY or an OFY, so be aware of that going in. It is not my favourite, but Cameron Dane has written a couple that I have loved. This book spans approximately a five year period from the hiring of Jed until the conclusion of the book. You get both POV of the main characters, so you know how they are feeling - and there is quite a bit of inner monologue. In my opinion Cameron Dane always does that better than a lot of other authors. There was a HEA and an epilogue to let you know where Jed and Booker were at.
While I did not love Cowboy Waltz I did enjoy it, in a love hate sort of way...but I'd rather passion than none at all. I must disclose that Cameron Dane is an automatic buy for me. Remains so. If you like cowboys, if you like a bucket-load of angst. If you like any of the following - friends to lovers, an age difference, a virginal character, GFY/OFY, a character who is tolerant with a troubled character. If you like Cameron Dane then you may well enjoy Cowboy Waltz.