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“Nothing, absolutely not one thing, is the same without your smile. I’m head over heels in love with you. As I told you, I’m no hero. But I’m a lot closer with you in my life.” – Trace Carter

What happens when you love a book’s plot, adore the main heroes, and want to pretty much strangle the main heroines and their dictator of a mentor? Well, you just put up with it and hope the rest of the series the book is part of will turn out better than it. In the case of The Last of the Red-Hot Cowboys especially, you don’t just hope – you pray to God and all that is holy, too!

Trace Carter knows a bullfighting ring is no place for women. Even for tough spitfires like Ava Buchanan – or, rather, especially women like Ava Buchanan. But there’s little he can do when Judy Jasper, Mayor of Hell, Texas, pretty much throws Ava and her team at his feet, demanding he trains them for the very thing he refuses to accept. Will he stay true to his opinion and protect the little brunette that seems to grow deeper roots in his heart every time he looks at her? Or will he sacrifice his own heart and freedom to make sure she finally gets her dream – even if it means her leaving him behind in the end?

I’ll give it a try to not show my inner bitch yet. So I’ll start with the positive parts. Let’s see…

Oh, I got it!

Main positive point of the story: Trace. Ok, ok, I usually like the hero more than the heroine, but as I said multiple times, it’s because I feel for the poor bastards that have to put up with such shrews. And in Trace’s case, he didn’t have to deal with just Ava, but also with her teammates and Judy – who will get immensely bashed later, I have so much to blame on her, I can barely hold it in!
Now, Trace is an ex-SEAL turned cowboy. Allow me to break it into parts. Ex-SEAL. Turned. Cowboy.

Uh… fetish combination, anyone?

You bet it is, Sammy boy!

The man was wonderful. A bit of a chauvinist at first glance, but really, it was more of the “women need to be respected and protected and loved” kind of fragility he was talking about, than the “women are effing weaklings who should stay in the kitchen” variety. He was honest and never held his punches, saying things the way they were – well, except for his feelings, but he’s a guy, it’s not like hugs and emotional talks are a dude thing. He never tried to insult Ava or any other woman, but he was upfront and correct in knowing that bullfighting is dangerous. While he was proven wrong in Ava’s case, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t statistically right – an exception to the rule doesn’t make the rule nonexistent.

In truth, Ava was the same in some parts. She, too, would say what she thought was right. In her case, she felt she could pull it off, and she was a hard worker, so yeah, that gave her some points. But she was too opinionated, and never gave Trace a chance to show her the reasons behind his words, or try to see it from his point of view.

On another positive point, the sex scenes were marvellous. The dialogues witty and never boring, and so full of sarcasm they always brought a heavy dose of laughter every other page. And the many puns using the town’s name were truly a work of a genius.

But that was about it for the positive side. Let’s take a wild walk on the negative parts of Hell. Starting with… the Belles! (ha! you thought I would say Judy, didn’t you? no, not yet)

If you except Ava, who at least half of the time showed signs of possessing some kind of brain in her head, Cameron and Harper were like two toddlers pretending to be teenagers. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was unpardonable and unrealistic. Because we’re talking about two adult women who have moved to a small town in order to get a proper job and provide themselves a future. Harper even had a kid! Yet the way they acted showed that these two seriously lacked maturity, intelligence, and knowledge of the world (what on Earth, were they living in pink bubbles up till now or something?!). How stupid can they be to ignore trouble when it’s staring them in the face? Forget the fact they couldn’t sense the Horsemen were dangerous – again, Harper is a mother, shouldn’t her 6th sense be much better than this? And their excuse? That Trace’s friends didn’t ask them out first!

Were they that desperate to find a man, that they’d go out with the first guy who asked them to? Even when a whole town was warning them against such actions, when they knew the guys had tried to slip them rape drugs, they still couldn’t get it! And of course, when Trace pointed out that they needed to decide which thing they had come to Hell for – men or riding – they had the nerve to glare at him! Oh, yeah, try to kill the guy with your eyes just because he spoke the truth, slut! I don’t care that you haven’t lived on the wild side before, when you go somewhere to work, you’d damn well do just that and forget partying! Otherwise, as a character, you’re an antiphasis in yourself!

And Judy? Ooooh, Judy, you spiteful middle-aged Barbie, it’s your turn now!

Judy was the main reason this story was very close to a failure. A single character nearly destroyed the whole thing – and she wasn’t even one of the main heroines!!!

Want to have some kind of image in your head for Mayor Judy? Picture Daniel MacGregor from Nora Roberts’s The MacGregors series. The cunning old man who spent the best part of his days thinking of ways to trap his descendants into marriages? Yeah, that one. Now give him blonde hair, frilly dresses, hot pink boots, and… voila! You have Judy!

The woman has to be on the top of my black list right now – not that she’ll stay there long, there are many others who will replace her soon. I don’t like her ethics, her manipulations, how she thought Hell was her playground… No, no, this wasn’t just something I came up with from her actions. She pretty much says so herself, without a single trace of shame!

“It’s a free country, Judy. You can’t make people do what they don’t want to.”
“The hell I can’t! I’ve been doing it since you were playing cowboy on a saddle your daddy put on the ground for you.”

Oh, but there’s more! See, the woman couldn’t just say out loud what a conniving bitch she is. So she keeps yapping her trap hole about a female bullfighting team that will make Hell famous, and demanding Trace and his mates taking over the team’s training – in other words, to get their hands and consciousness dirtied with blood if (when) something goes south. But the thing is, she doesn’t have a plan. She never did! She doesn’t care if she gets a riding team or not! Right from the beginning, all she cared about was getting the eligible bachelors of Hell tied down to women SHE had picked out. All this talk about feminism and women strong enough to do anything, only to pretty much hire female riders with the ultimate plan of turning them into brides and housewives!

Anyone else see the fault in all this? Or is it just me?

Furthermore, she’s not doing it because she cares about those men. At least the MacGregor patriarch in NR’s books did it because of – admittedly misplaced – fatherly love. Judy did it to get back at her nemesis, Ivy, the woman who owns a strip joint just out of town. Why? Because Judy is afraid Ivy will take Steel, Hell’s Sheriff and Judy’s bang toy, away from her, and wants to minimize her business. No more single men, no more stip joint trips. And she gets her own girly support as a bonus. God, please, strike her down with lightning or something! Woman, if you want to keep your man, then marry the poor chap and stop stringing him along the way it pleases you. She claims to know Steel like no one else, yet the man has been trying to get steady with her for so long, and she doesn’t believe his intentions! So she conjures all this madness – the brides, the riding team, bringing down Ivy’s business – instead of admitting she loves Steel, marrying him, and making him unavailable for her rival by staking her claim in front of law and God.

Pathetic, childish, stupid – and no one tells her a thing, or tries to stop her! If they do, they immediately get bashed by everyone around them!

I really hope the next books get better. With such a disappointing female cast, Ms. Leonard will have to work hard to keep up with Saint’s story, let alone Declan’s. It would be a real let-down to see those two grovelling like poor Trace did just because it suits Judy’s matchmaking plans…



***I was given an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley 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.***