Title ~ A Hard Ride Home
Author ~ Emory Vargas
Publisher ~ Less Than Three Press
Published ~ 17th June 2015
Genre ~ Historical M/M Romance, Old West
It's hard enough returning to his birthplace to replace a dead man as sheriff. The last thing Emmett needs is to find himself smitten with Jesse, the whore he arrests almost immediately upon arrival. Especially since Jesse works for his half-sister and at her thoroughly disreputable saloon.
But being smitten with a whore is only the beginning of Emmett's troubles. Silver Creek is a town full of secrets and people too terrified to talk. Why does Emmett's father, the mayor of Silver Creek, have such a strong hold on the town—and on Jesse?
It's only recently that I've discovered Emory Vargas, but from what I've read up to now, I'm really liking this authors writing style and story telling. Set in the nineteenth century, A Hard Ride Home's blurb was exactly what I look for in a Old West romance and I've got to say that for the most part this book—with its cast of engaging quirky characters and vivid sense of the time and location—had me from the moment newly appointed Sherriff: Emmett Grady, set foot back in his old hometown after being away six years. Only to come across Jesse Taggart...the man who would soon consume his every thought...tipsy, and fanoodling behind the local saloon and brothel, with one of its young female whores.
It's a meeting that sets up the character traits of the two MC's perfectly. Emmett’s seemingly straight, solid, steadfast and honest lawman and Jesse's slightly snarky, flirty, enticing male whore...a real opposites attract, back and forth, bantering intro that peaked my interest straight away and I knew I was going to be thoroughly taken with these two engaging men but what I didn't realise was how much I was going to end up really liking all the supporting characters (not including the bad guys of course) who have a really strong influence on the books development and outcome.
The basic premise runs pretty close to a lot of the old westerns that used to have me glued to the TV... Small town Sherriff/drifter/cowboy goes up against rich, crooked mayor/rancher/outlaw, and his bullying posse of goons, who runs the town using fear, while trying to protect the eccentric townsfolk, including the requisite tough saloon owner, stable of whores and gruff but kindhearted barman, and in the swing of things falling for the girl, who more often than not was either the pure local schoolmarm, the rich cattle ranchers daughter or the feisty tart with the heart of gold. If you like your cowboy films, you'll know the drill...
But of course this is a gay version, and even though Emory Vargas takes elements from all the above; just by substituting a man as the love interest and making him a male hooker, the whole scenario is given a twist. Turning what's generally expected, in a direction that takes it away from the usual 'shoot 'em up' action, romance storylines of those Wild West tales. One thing you don't see in this are any homophobic reactions, which taking into consideration its setting, is a bit of poetic license… but it worked for me.
The first part of the book was more about the idiosyncrasies of the town, its colourful folk and the hesitant, push/pull style, growing attraction between its two love interests. A pretty lightweight, sometimes gently humorous start, that like I said earlier is more quirky, and descriptive of its inhabitants and their goings on than focusing heavily on the romance.
More story lead, as strangely, considering Emory's other stories have been extremely hot—but a cut above the rest —sexy and smutty, this book is not particularly heavy on the sex. In fact apart from a couple of passionate and sensual but kind of sweet love scenes with Emmett, who has no experience of gay sex, most of it is set around Jesse's bi-sexual interactions with the men and women who pay for his services, his occasional bedroom sessions with his boss Evelyn and the girls he works with; who in effect are his closest 'family', one fairly detailed m/f sex scene between Jesse, Rose (one of the prostitutes) and Roscoe the bartender, who needs instructions on how to 'woo' the girl he's sweet on and finally his not so happy, forced sexual encounters with mayor Warren Grady; Emmett and Evelyn's estranged father and town tyrant!
An equal opportunities lover, it's who Jesse is and what he does. Simple as. Cause and effect of the life he's been coerced into but also an intrinsic part of his natural sexual leanings, so in my eyes the portrayal of that side of his life was integral to the plot and I had no problem with that part of the book at all. But slowly, as the innocent in the ways of man on man sex, besotted sheriff begins to get under his skin, and we learn about Warren's controlling influence on Silver Creek and his deviant hold on Jesse; a more perverse edgy feel enters the mix. Darkening the tone considerably and adding a level of drama and conflict that ups the tension. Leading to a violent, cataclysmic standoff that not only gets your heart racing but really pulls the feels out of you as Emory writes some heart felt, emotionally affecting, tender moments between Emmett and Jesse that I found poignant and moving.
A solid four star read, one niggle just stopped it from reaching top rating, and that was the lack of informative background around its main characters. Without the more indepth back stories to set up character motivation and actions, it felt like I was missing that one extra important bit of knowledge that would have given me more insight into the workings of Emmett, Evelyn and Warren's familial relationship and Jesse and nasty piece of work Warren's twisted, controlling hold on him. When the book ended, I still couldn't see what significance their being related really added to the plot, as I don't think it would have worked out any differently if they had just been three strangers brought together by each of their relationships with Jesse, who at the end of the day is the one constant in all their lives. I wanted to see what had estranged Emmett from his father; needed to know what had made Warren the complete shit that he was—had he been that way as a younger husband and father?—and wanted more about Emmett and Evelyn's history as half siblings. Even more so, I'd definitely have loved to have been witness to more of Jesse's turbulent history with the bad guy, who only really began to show just how heinous he was towards the end of the book. But overall I still came away liking A Hard Ride Home a lot! Which means that Emory Vargas has gained a new fan who'll definitely be on the look out for more from this promising writer. All in all, a great read.
Connect with Emory Vargas
Emory Vargas loves knitting scarves and writing about tentative first time sexual encounters and amorous cephalopods, though not always at the same time.