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Boy, oh, boy! If I knew cowboys are that hot, I would have started reading western romance a lot sooner! And Cora Seton’s cowboys are nothing if not scorching, deliciously hot! Since I had the extreme luck of winning all three of the first books from her Chance Creek series, I enjoyed some cowboy lovin’ at its best!

“I’m just a man, Autumn. A flawed man. But I love you more than you will ever know.” – Ethan Cruz

First we have Ethan and Autumn’s story(yeah, I know, I cringed at her name, too).

Ethan Cruz is screwed every way from here to next Thursday. His parents died in an accident, leaving him to pay their debts, his sister turned her back on him when he asked her for help, and the woman he thought he loved dumped him to find greener pastures. To make matters worse, one of his best friends recorded him while – in his drunken state – he listed what a cowboy’s wife should be like and uploaded it on YouTube, making it look like an ad for an email order bride. Now Ethan must choose between sending Autumn Leeds, who came to Chance Creek, Montana, to be that bride, back home to New York, or keeping up the charade and see if he can have his HEA with a woman that’s nothing like the materialistic females he’s had in his life so far. But Autumn has a secret of her own. She’s not really here to stay, but to write a juicy, humiliating article on Ethan’s “email order bride” ad in order to keep her place in the magazine she’s working for. Can a relationship that started on lies from both parties survive long enough for love to hold it together? And what happens when the masks fall and truth comes to light?

I’ll come out and say it right now, the main plot sort of reminded me of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – amazing movie, btw, go watch it if for some God forsaken reason you still haven’t done so. A relationship based on lies, where both parties fall in love with each other and decide to keep the charade up because they realize their lives can’t be complete without the other half anymore. And while the main idea may not be new, it still was somehow even better than the movie was!

Ethan was a dream turned into a male wearing a stetson and worn-out boots, I swear! He was romantic, sweet, hard-working, and while he kept up with the initial lie that he had put up that wife ad, his morals were pretty high. Definitely a man yours truly would die to have as the daddy to her kids, no kidding! He was all for working hard to make sure his woman would miss nothing, but he didn’t take away her freedom like several country bumpkins have done before. You know, the whole “me man brings bacon, you woman stay home and cook the bacon” theme that makes some women melt because they think they’ve found the ultimate Alpha?

You see, our dear Mr. Cruz was definitely an Alpha. But it was not in a vulgar or extremely violent and macho way. Instead he was calm – well, as calm as he could be, given the circumstances – and nice, polite even when the situation called for some much needed punches. The way he felt whenever Autumn surprised him with her good natured replies – like he never expected a female to be nice to him after the way his mother, his sister and his ex, had treated him – nearly made me cry. And while he didn’t have the means, he still wanted to give her the stars just for being by his side. It was adorable!

As for Autumn… Well, it’s hard to hate her, given what she had been through and the fact she really needed to keep her job. She had seen first hand that depending on a man was never going to take her anywhere in life, and she was trying to make sure she could survive on her own. She knew perfectly well why she couldn’t trust men, accepted it, and didn’t blame the wrong people for that. My only problem was, why keep trying to make yourself believe you’re better off writing that damn article, girl, when you actually enjoy being a rancher’s wife? It made no sense, the way she kept talking herself into a dilemma. That and the pregnancy thing. I get it, female intuition and all that, but even so it wasn’t really believable, especially so soon after she slept with Ethan.

Concerning the other characters, Mrs. Seton has created quite a cast. I’ve already started the 5th book, so I’m not gonna give you any spoilers, but she seems to be a master in taking what looks like a secondary character and making them main ones. A small, warm Montana town full of potential, if you ask me, that’s what her Chance Creek is. When I started this book (I mean, the first one) I immediately fell in love with Cab and Rob – and let’s admit it, Ethan’s prank was even harsher given the way women treated Rob afterwards – and I assure you I couldn’t wait to read their stories. As for Lacey, well, I understand where she comes from, but that didn’t make me like her any more. Still, since the writer makes believable turns in her characters’ personalities like nobody’s business, I’m certain I will come to adore her if she ever gets her own love story in the series.

“I want us to make it.” – Autumn Leeds

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“I don’t care about the house, or how much money you spent or anything but the fact that you’re safe and here with me. I love you. You know that, right? Tell me you know that, Claire.” – Jamie Lassiter

Aaah, the second story. Well, this is going to be hard to hide, so I’ll say it now to get it out of my chest – the main reason why this book set got 4 cupcakes was the fact I rated the 2nd book with 3 cupcakes (and that’s only because the rest of the characters were in the story, otherwise the 2nd book would have been a definite DNF).

Jamie Lassiter always knew, in his heart and mind, that he wanted to marry Claire Cruz, his best friend’s big sister. Unfortunately, Claire never had eyes for him – that is, until he grew up to fill those sweaty shirts and dirty jeans quite nicely. Now that he’s Ethan’s partner in the Cruz Guest Ranch, he’s hoping he can finally pop the question he’s longed to ask for a while now. But a well-timed joke that Rob pulled on Claire is wreaking havoc on his carefully organized plans – and so the natural flirt of the cowboy quartet will have to win the hardest bet ever presented to him: make Claire fall in love with him without touching or flirting with her and any other woman in six weeks, or pay for her worldwide cruise himself.

I don’t have much to say for Jamie. It’s true that he was a nice guy, and that his intentions for Claire were really sweet, but… You have to see it the way I do in order to understand my dilemma. Ethan is the tortured one, Rob the misunderstood clown/jokester, and Cab the quiet, steady force. Jamie, other than his persistent love for Claire, his model-like looks, and his flirting, isn’t all that distinguishing when he stands next to his friends, you know what I’m saying? If he was alone in the page, sure, he had my full attenion, but when one or more of his pals were with him, then the spotlight easily transferred to them even if they weren’t the ones doing the talking. He was just a handsome so-and-so good guy, but nothing to write home about. Still, I have to admit I loved and completely understood his careful planning. Marriage and career are important in a person’s life. It’s only natural that he was slow on each step and thought it through.

Aaand, it’s about we all talked about the damn elephant in the room. The really stinky one that nearly ruined this book – and the 3rd book, too, simply by being present, geez! That’s right, I’m talking about Claire. I hate her. I hated her when she made her debut appearance in Ethan’s story, and I hated her even more as Jamie’s story progressed. As a matter of fact, with Rob’s story, she even outshines Lacey in bitchiness! At least Lacey realized her problem and went to some kind of therapy – Claire, on the other hand, not only knew her problems, but she also refused to do something about them even when she kept hurting those around her! Seriously, for one, she fell in love with her mother’s lover of all people – God, the woman was stupid way before she reached adulthood! She goes around acting like the poor victim because mommy dearest didn’t try to understand or help her (or it could be because she took her “dream guy”, but whatever), yet she never even tried to help her own little brother when he was obviously in need of some help. The only thing she could see was her own hatred and emotional distress that the ranch brought to her – let’s of course forget the fact Ethan considered it his home, because, screw you, she’s Claire Cruz, she calls dibs in misery and comfort, duh! Rose was right, she was too busy caring only for her skinny little ass to give a damn about others and the way they tried their hardest to show her she was loved. I pitied poor Jamie throughout the whole ordeal. Every little smile he offered to her or any other female counted as flirting in her book, and the fact she never knew what she wanted was definitely his fault, am I right? Oh, wait… NOT! And then, when he finally made her understand his love was for real, she had to go and keep making his life a personal hell. Had I been in the guy’s shoes, I would have stopped trying long ago!

Not that Jamie was perfect in morals. Both were in fault, actually. She didn’t spare a second glance when he was young (enlighten me a bit on this one… so, in other words, she didn’t care for Jamie till he became a hot piece of ass – after all, she did say she was looking for a boyfriend she could brag about like he was a pair of earrings. niiice, such deep and honest thinking you’ve got going there, Claire…), and he kept sleeping around till she was ready to give in to his charms. This was seriously messed up from the beginning, and, as shown in the 3rd book (which I will come to very shortly), it’s a miracle they haven’t divorced yet.

What saved the second story was the fact that we got to know one more dirty secret of Aria’s – good Lord, the woman had more sides than an unfolded Rubik’s Cube! That and Morgan. I seriously loved Morgan. Too bad she has to endure Claire, poor girl deserved better than that…

(by the way, in case you haven’t noticed, I tend to start each review with one declaration of love, and end it with another. any wonder why there was no declaration on the end of this one? oh, that’s right, because Miss Badass Bitch can’t bring herself to say the words out loud, no, Jamie has to guess them from her thoughts and actions! unless I managed to somehow miss them, I don’t know…)

“I think I love you.” – Morgan Tate

Oh, Rob and Morgan… My favorite of the first three pairings! I seriously loved them both as individuals, and as a couple!

Rob Matheson is the prankster of the cowboy quartet. The youngest of four sons, he’s learnt his lesson all too well – to survive, you either do it with your fists, or with your wits. And Rob definitely has wit in his arsenal, but he’s rarely given the chance to prove he can do anything worthwhile and be responsible. So when his father, Holt Matheson, suggests a contest between his fous sons – Jake, Ned, Luke and Rob – to get them married with the promise of land to the first one that manages the feat, Rob immediately leaps at the opportunity to get out of his father’s control and his brothers’ bullying behavior. But where to find a bride willing to tie the knot with him? Morgan Tate, Claire and Ethan’s half-sister, seems quite eager to accept, and he’s had her in his sights ever since he met her, so promising her a winery should not be a big deal, right? Still, even after they come to a mutual agreement which soon blossoms into love, can they stick to their plans for the future against everyone determined to stop them?

I think I said it in Ethan’s story, already: I love Rob! I knew he was terribly misunderstood – most pranksters are. And now that I know the reason behind all those jokes of his, well, that made me like him even more. Considering the way his own family treated him, he could have turned out a lot worse. He was so intelligent, sensitive, artistic and nerdy, and he was trying to hide it all because everyone around him kept questioning his masculinity if he so much as tried to give his dreams a second thought. Plus, he was much more mature than anyone could have guessed. It was wonderful to know that Morgan could see past that and ignore everyone else’s judgement, that she saw him for who he was and could be, and that she fully supported him.

Morgan was an equally delightful main heroine. Finally someone who didn’t lie, who adored her husband-to-be and trusted him completely. Someone who had his back 100%, against all odds. She didn’t care what others said about him, and she let him do his thing, knowing he would prevail in the end. That’s a true and honest relationship, if I ever saw one. The fact she was the shame-child for both of her parents, and was almost always treated like trash from Claire only served to show what a wonderful woman she really was – like Rob, she could have ended up being a totally hateful person, but she didn’t.

Rob’s relationship with Morgan was one of the most beautiful romantic relationships I have ever read! They started out as partners in the same scheme, who knew that they were in it not only for the money and the land, but also because they respected each other and were equally attracted to the other party. They were honest with their feelings, and didn’t fear telling their significant other their thoughts. They had each other’s back, and they generally supported and trusted their lover fully. Not once did they have a fight during the book, and while they started out slowly, their love was obvious even before they said the words out loud. It was literally them against the rest of the world – particularly, Rob’s family and Morgan’s sister.

While this book rated in my head as a 5-cupcake one – yes, I liked it that much – there were a few things that ruined my mood – though none of them brought the rating down. One, as you can guess it, is Claire. Oh, Claire, how I love to hate you. I guess you decided to be promoted from Badass Bitch to Crying Bitch – but a bitch all the same, hun, make no mistake! Well, in the last book, little Claire’s problem was that she had a bone to pick with her dead mother. At this book, she takes it a step further and barks at everyone around her, because she’s not sure she wants to become a mother at the fear of becoming like Aria. Of course, once again, it’s all Jamie’s fault for wanting to start a family…
(where the heck is that wall to bang my head on when I need it, damn it?!)

Worst of all was, Jamie actually became such a whimp in this book, he blindly accepted it all, blamed himself for his – constantly bitching – bride, and then accusing others – mainly Rob and Morgan – for good measure. It didn’t matter that what Claire was doing was threatening to destroy her sister’s chance – and her husband’s best friend – at a home and a life, Claire had no trouble kicking them to the curb by turning the guilt flashlight on them, and Jamie was all in for assisting her in the task. Should we feel sympathetic because of their condition? No, I don’t think so. Rob and Morgan were not the ones to blame for what was going wrong in their marriage, and they had been everyone’s scapegoat for far too long to deserve any of this crap.
(I say we all go kill Claire and then match Jamie with a woman that actually has a heart – or, well, a functioning brain. Who’s with me?) And don’t get me started on the fact they were actually horrified and wanted Rob and Morgan back on the Cruz Ranch when things got rough. I expected this from Claire, but really, seeing Jamie so ruined by her, I was disappointed. I guess they shall remain the couple I hate till the end of the series.

Another problem – well, not really, just a minor one – Ned and his father, Holt. Rob’s family has some serious issues, I tell you. For one, Holt reminded me of a mannerless Daniel MacGregor in his bossy ways and his attempts to marry his sons off and see grandkids. But I came to sort of understand him and feel somewhat sympathetic for his condition by the end of the book. Still, he has a long way to go before becoming a good enough father in my eyes. As for Ned… That damn brute better learn some manners by the time it’s his turn to find love (I saw Jake’s book on NetGalley, so I have no doubt the rest of the Matheson boys will have their own books, too). In fact, I’m kinda wishing he finds a scholar, someone bookish and nerdy and quiet, so that the loud, rude idiot can learn his lesson in treating others with respect and some gentleness. It would certainly be interesting to see.

“I know I love you.” – Rob Matheson

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All in all, I loved Cora Seton’s writing voice. I’m a major fan for good ol’ fashioned courting, and while it wasn’t that obvious, all three of the first heroes were doing their best in wooing the women that held their hearts. They were sweet and seriously adorable, and I swear to God, I’m gonna try my best to get my hands on the rest of the books! Can’t wait to find out about Carl and other characters of Chance Creek, too. Mark my words, this series should be a must-read in the romance genre!

RATING:

4cupcakes

***I was given a review copy from a LibraryThing Member Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. The opinion stated in this review is solely mine, and no compensation was given or taken to alter it.***

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