If you had asked me a few months ago who my all-time favourite cowboy was, I would have said “Jesse Walker” in a heartbeat. That boy was the perfect combination of sweet and sexy, cheerful but profound, and this coupled with his innate ability to love others fiercely and selflessly, made him one of my favourite book boyfriends ever. But even while I was panting after Jesse, another cowboy caught my attention – a darker, more troubled one, whose smart mouth and careless attitude were clearly masking a bleeding heart under his tough façade. That cowboy was Jesse Walker’s best friend and this is finally his book.
“It didn’t matter what age I was or how much I thought I loved the woman. Marriage, rings, and vows were not created with people like me in mind.”
Garth Black has lived the kind of loveless childhood nightmares are made of. Having been neglected and physically abused by his only parent since he was born, never shown an ounce of affection or affirmation in his life, he has grown into a jaded young man who believes himself to be a bad seed unworthy of being loved. He is sarcastic, short-tempered and inherently self-destructive, making it very difficult for others to care for him or enjoy being around him. Except for his two best and only friends in the world who have always seen past his reckless pretences, never cared about his upbringing or his family’s lack of social standing, and who also happen to be the only two people that Garth has ever cared for. And he’s also secretly loved one of them since he was five years old.
“My childhood friend, my adolescent secret obsession, my biggest mistake.”
But as deep as his feelings are for his friend, Garth has never admitted this to himself or to her. He succumbed to his feelings for her only once in his life, one regretful drunken night of lowered inhibitions and frenzied passion, which cost him both his best friends for a long time after that.
“Why don’t you stop pretending to be the hero and own what you really are? The villain. Go villainize someone else’s life. You couldn’t possibly do anymore to mine.”
This book starts with a heartbreaking event in Garth’s life, leaving him homeless and alone in the world, and in the unexpected care of the very woman he won’t allow himself to love. But she is not only the only woman he dreams of, she is his true match, equally quick-tempered and stubborn, always seeing through his impassive acts and this time around determined to never allow him to push her away again. Never having had anyone concerned about his wellbeing before, or anyone who cared for him enough to put his happiness first, Garth is in unfamiliar territory when his best friend starts slowly dismantling his defences. Her persistent affection and faith in him are his undoing, and soon she makes him believe that they might have a chance at happiness after all. She shows him a different way of perceiving the world around him, one that is not all-consumingly negative and destructive, giving him hope that a man like him could love and be loved by a woman like her.
“It doesn’t have to be Garth Black against the whole world…”
She makes him question everything his dysfunctional childhood has taught him, his warped sense of right and wrong, his rejection of all social norms and behaviours, and for the first time in his life, Garth is happy. But a lifetime of self-doubt and self-hatred is hard to ignore when the world is determined to push you back down, and for Garth it is easier to believe that he will always be unworthy of his beloved’s love than that he finally deserves someone like her in his life. Or that he has anything in him to offer to her.
“How could I be what was best for her when I didn’t even know what was best for myself? How could I love her the way she deserved to be loved when my parents hadn’t shown me an ounce of it?”
A tale of learning to fight for what you want most in life and breaking a cycle of self-destruction and hatred of the world around you, this is a book that broke me, gutted me, made me mama bear and cowboy groupie all rolled into one. Garth’s self-doubting tendencies arising from a continuous lack of parental encouragement in his life made me so very protective of him and incredibly invested in his happiness. His leading lady was a force to be reckoned with, her strength of character and loving determination made me smile at their every interaction, not to mention swoon at the palpable chemistry between them. Without any explicit level of detail, Ms Williams manages to make our hearts race from mere acts of hand-holding or spooning in bed. I was having palpitations from sheer kissing scenes! Somehow, the level of emotion between these characters is more than enough to make us feel satisfied on all fronts, dreamy-eyed from beginning to end. I loved this book something fierce, and I knew, just KNEW this smartass cowboy would end up stealing my heart.
“I wasn’t the guy who fell in love with you this past winter… I was the boy who fell in love with you that day on the school bus when we were five. And I’m the man that always will.”
When a pillow hit the back of my head, I turned around. Changing time must be over if her hands were free to throw a pillow at me. When I saw her, my mouth almost fell open. “I thought you said you were changing into pajamas.”
She glanced down and lifted her arms. “These are pajamas.”
“Really? Because from a male’s point of view, that’s lingerie. Pajamas are, you know, the flannel, frumpy things that cover lots of skin that old ladies wear.” Shit, I was trying so hard not to check her out, but it was impossible. A man could have held a knife to my throat and told me to stop looking at her or die, and I would have been a dead man two seconds later.
She gave me an amused look as she finished tossing the mountain of pillows off of her bed. “I’ll keep that in mind. When I’m an old woman. But right now, I like this kind of pajamas.”
Yeah, I liked them too.
Flipping her hair forward, she worked it into a ponytail before flicking off the light switch. “I thought you said you were exhausted. Are you planning on standing there all night?”
If I got to watch her in my new favorite women’s “pajamas,” then hell yes, I would stand there all night. The lights might have been off, but those windows and that moonlight didn’t exactly make it dark.
What in the hell was I thinking? I felt like I’d grown a second consciousness, and the two had declared war on each other. One part of me knew staying away from her was priority number one. The other part of me, the one I wished I could locate so I could radiate it the hell out, wanted to be as close to her as she’d let me get. Those two agendas didn’t align. In fact, they couldn’t have been any more at odds. If one didn’t roll over and die soon, the battle would split me right down the middle.
Threatening both of my subconsiousnesses with a lobotomy if they didn’t shut up, I made my way toward the bed she was already crawling into. It was a relief when she threw the covers on. I grabbed a pillow and threw it on the ground. I was just grabbing the blanket draped on the chair when I heard the bed springs groan.
“What are you doing?” She sat up in bed, watching me like I’d tripped a wire.
“Going to bed,” I answered with a shrug.
“And the reason you’re throwing pillows and blankets on the floor is…?” We were not on the same wavelength apparently.
“Because you’ve got the bed, which means I’ve got the floor.” It was her room, and even if she’d offered me the bed, I wouldn’t let her sleep on the floor. Truthfully, the hardwood floor looked pretty damn close to heaven. It was warm, I had a big fluffy pillow to rest my head on, and the blanket was the softest thing I’d ever felt.
“Since when did you turn into Mr. Chivalrous?” The wire-tripping expression deepened before she patted the space on the bed beside her. “There’s plenty of room. No need to wake up with a stiff neck and back.”
I stared at the empty space. Fuck, if I slept beside her all night, I’d wake up with something else stiff. “Really, the floor’s good.” I slid off my hat and set it on her nightstand.
“Oh, please. Get over it. Just get in and get some sleep already.”
I knew I shouldn’t, but since the invitation had been extended, I couldn’t say no. Tossing the pillow back onto the bed, I peeled off a few layers of clothing and crawled in beside her. Her back was to me, but her shoulders were so stiff I knew she wasn’t asleep. Despite her no-big-deal attitude, could she be just as conscious of me beside her as I was of her beside me? The journey to that answer was a road I couldn’t take. I already knew the ending, and I wouldn’t do that to her. She deserved better, and she deserved a million times better than I could ever give her.
“See? Was that so bad?” she asked, her back still to me.
I slid my hands behind my head and grinned at the ceiling. “No, that wasn’t so bad.”
My grin stretched wider. “Oh, and you don’t have to worry about me crawling into your nice clean bed in the same clothes I worked in all day.”
I positioned the blanket just below my navel. “Because I sleep naked.”
“What?!” she hissed, twisting around. As soon as she saw my bare chest, her eyes widened. She shrieked and covered her eyes. By then, I was laughing. I would have been howling if her parents weren’t a mere floor below us. “Garth, please, for the love of god and Montana, please put something on. Anything on.”
In her itty-bitty tank top with her hair in a floppy ponytail and her hands clamped over her eyes… It was the funniest, sexiest sight I’d seen. “Okay, fine. If you’re going to go all prude on me.” Sitting up just enough, I pretended to get up to grab some clothes, but I was watching her without blinking.
A couple moments later, her fingers splayed just enough for me to see her eyes, which meant…
I flashed my face in front of hers and winked. “Made you look.”
Her hands dropped from her eyes and went straight to my chest. She shoved me hard enough I almost tipped off the bed. “Nice jeans, asshole.”
I laughed again when she threw herself back down, her back to me again. “Nice sneaking a peek there, Secret Agent. Hoping to catch a glimpse of something?”
She gave an irritated sigh. “Shut up, Black.”
“Why would I do that when it’s so much more fun to tease you?”
“Because you like-slash-love your dick and probably want to keep it.”
“Hold up. Are you threatening the very piece of anatomy you were just hoping to sneak a peek at?” I pulled off my socks, left my jeans in place, and laid back down. She had been checking me out. I was back to grinning at the ceiling.
“My threat’s about to turn into a reality if you don’t zip it and go to sleep like I thought you were dying to do five minutes ago.”
“Come on, it’s no big deal. It’s perfectly natural to want to inspect a fine specimen like myself. I’d be happy to give you the whole show—the full monty—free of charge. But only looking, no touching. Or wait, you prefer peeking, right?” Our endless banter felt good. It took me back to a happier time before things had gotten so complicated between us.
“Sleep now or forever hold your peace, Black.”