Title ~ My Cowboy Promises
Author ~ Z.A. Maxfield
Publisher ~ Intermix (Penguin Group)
Published ~ 16th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
A real man needs a real love…
To become the man he’s meant to be, one cowboy will have to be the man he never wanted anyone to know he was…
Ryder Dent is a true-blue cowboy. A devoted son, husband and father, but one who is living a costly lie. When they were both young, Ryder and his closest female friend Andi thought they’d found the perfect solution to both their problems—she was single and pregnant, and he was secretly gay—so they got married and raised Jonas together.
When Ryder gets hurt at a party, his son’s new pediatrician comes to the rescue. The connection between Ryder and Dr. Declan Winters is sudden, powerful, and undeniable. Ryder loves Andi and the family they’ve created together—but they both need more. Can they pursue their hearts’ desire without destroying the life they’ve built and losing the son they love?
I’m never quite sure how to determine which books get how many stars. There are some books that are so deep, so literary or so unique that they just need to be five-star books. Then there are those that make no pretensions to being great literature, are not totally unique and don’t really break new ground, but are so wonderful to read, whose characters are so endearing, you get wrapped up in their hopes and aspirations, and which touch you in some very special place – you know, the kind that make you read Gay Fiction and keep coming back for more? My Cowboy Promises is just such a book. And because, to my mind, books that make you feel, books you can’t put down, and books with unforgettable characters are just as important as great literature and unique explorations, I gladly give My Cowboy Promises the five stars it so richly deserves.
The lead characters include Ryder Dent, a big, rough, rustic, hot, twenty-three-year-old cowboy (but not really, he doesn’t work a ranch or raise horses), his wife Andi, who has dreamt only of being a country star, even as the daughter of the richest rancher in the region, and Jonas, their son.
They have built quite a life living off and serving the ranching industry, the economic backbone of Bitterroot, Texas. Ryder runs his family’s feed supply store, the heart of the industry for the whole area, and this tight, loving family lives in an impressive house Andi’s rich, manipulative, father (Sterling Chandler) provided as a wedding gift. In fact, the house was an exercise in one-upmanship, with Chandler getting in under-the-wire to make the first gift of the house, even though he knew Ryder’s father planned to put his homestead in trust for Ryder, Andi and Jonas – and it pleased Chandler to no end to get the best of Ryder’s father. That gives you some idea of where both parents’ priorities lie – and they’re certainly not focused on what would make Ryder, Andi and Jonas’ life better.
These three are the perfect family except for a couple of things: Ryder is gay, and he’s not Jonas’ father. When his best friend, Andi got “in trouble” and was living in terror of the punishment her father and community would rain down upon her, Ryder stepped up to the plate and provided a loving husband and a father for Jonas. Ryder and Andi have never been lovers, just lifelong best friends. But there’s no doubt that Ryder loves both Andi and Jonas (and they him), and he’s a perfectly brilliant, loving father. Not exactly a hot passionate household, they are, nonetheless, a serious, loving and loyal family.
It wouldn’t be a Gay Romance if some major obstacle weren’t dropped smack down into the midst of this bucolic relationship that keeps everyone “almost happy”, but no one living his or her truth. In this case, the fly in the ointment is the hot young new doctor, Declan Winters, recent replacement for the 90 year-old physician who birthed just about everyone alive in Bitterroot, and tended to their parents and grandparents.
Dr. Winters is a bit of a meddler who can’t seem to leave Ryder alone, even though Ryder generally plays it as the butch, dumb man – what the hell, neither a broken arm or a third-degree burn requires a visit to the doctor, does it?
But Ryder can’t ignore the man. And when he finally sees him flashing by on his racing bike in those skin-tight spandex shorts, he’s just lost. Suddenly what always seemed enough isn’t any longer. Ryder daren’t do much about it because if he actually came out, his father-in-law would make certain he never saw Jason again, and his parents’ business might be destroyed in a backward small town where gossip, hate and judgment are dished out with the requisite amount of polite viciousness. After all, it is Texas, next to Alabama, the most hateful state in the Union.
Even so, it’s fairly obvious that the status-quo is not sustainable, not as long as Andi is desperate to leave Bitterroot and launch her career, Declan Winters is not about to give up on Ryder, and Ryder can’t get this gorgeous, caring, smart young man out of his mind or his heart, no matter how often he tells himself that this is a terrible idea.
A reckoning is inevitable and it arrives sooner than later when Ryder is outed. Almost everything he feared might happen is happening, which is ironic, since he’s the one who sacrificed his life to give security and respectability to his best friend and her son. He’s the guy who did what was right, who went to extraordinary efforts to build a family with Andi and Jason, and somehow, he ended up the bad guy.
Was it so terrible to want something for himself, someone he can relate to, someone he could love intimately, a true partner in his life? Unfortunately, Ryder is one of those people who were born to be martyrs – and Andi is more than happy to take advantage of that failing. I found I could never warm up to Andi, this spoiled daughter of a rich man who is more concerned about what her neighbors would think about her if they knew Ryder wasn’t Jason’s father than she is about Ryder himself. Even worse, she’s terrified of what Jason’s biological father will think. There’s something essentially wrong with the soul of someone who cares more about the man who slept with her one night, as an underage rodeo groupie, than the man who gave up his whole life to make her and her son’s lives better. There’s something really self-centered about this girl and, after all, she is Chamber’s daughter.
Ryder is kicked out of his home with Jonas and Andi but, worst of all, his own father is the most hateful, the most disgusted and vengeful. The man who always thought setting an example was more important than being a loving parent, is nothing if not consistent – threatening Ryder that he will have to rethink what will happen to the business and the family property, leaving him to face the daunting prospect of both unemployment and homelessness. Nice guy, devoted father, and self-destructive, to boot: Ryder has been running the business and keeping it going ever since his father came down with Multiple Sclerosis. Without Ryder, his business will fold, and he’d be left only with his second wife, Helen, who, at first, seems as cold as Ryder’s father, but oddly enough, is one of the very few who has Ryder’s back when it all goes to hell.
Andi’s father has mistreated her for years, ostensibly because her mother abandoned him and Andi to pursue her own career, and he sees the same wanderlust growing in his daughter. Of course, there turns out to be a deep, dark secret there, and I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say, all is not as it appears in the abandonment story, and Andi’s father would very much prefer the truth not become public.
Of course, there is one person who still supports Ryder, and does it openly, despite the fact that it could destroy his own career, and that’s Dr. Declan Winters. You don’t need a roadmap to know that these two men are destined for the long term. They’re a wonderful couple and I look forward to catching up with them in a future installment of the “My Cowboy” series.
My Cowboy Promises is not so much a book about Gay Romance (though there’s certainly enough of that between two very hot men, as much as a book about coming out, about living one’s truth, about living openly without fear.
Other reviewers have noted that, unlike the other books in Ms. Maxfield’s Cowboys series, there is no “happily ever after” in this one. I disagree. No, there’s no gay marriage, especially in a state that didn’t allow it until just after this book was published. And the story is not about how the tight little threesome becomes a foursome. It’s about coming out. And, as Ryder points out repeatedly, the “worst thing ever, happened”, and he’s still around. His mother dying was “the worst thing ever” until his father’s MS was “the worst thing ever”, being outed and rejected and threatened was the newest “worst thing ever” and, ultimately, it turns out not to be a bad thing at all, as the book ends with Declan on piano and Ryder and Andi singing a duet, taking their applause, holding hands, in public, in Bitterroot. As Ryder mentioned, this amazing trio was, if nothing else, the most exciting thing to happen in Bitterroot since the repeal of Prohibition.
As I mentioned at the beginning, My Cowboy Promises is neither great literature nor a world-changing opus. It is however, a few wonderful hours spent with characters who grew to be my friends, characters I came to care about, root for and weep over. And that, my friends, is what ultimately makes this another 5-star book from Z. A. Maxfield.