Falling for the Rancher by Tanya Michaels, which is a finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short category.
Jarrett Ross was a carefree rodeo cowboy who enjoys the company of many a buckle bunny, until one fateful decision turns his world upside down. His younger sister, Vicki, came to see him at an event and they had plans to go out to dinner after. But Jarrett throws her over for the opportunity to spend a few hours in the arms of a willing woman and, while driving herself home, Vicki is hit by a drunk driver. She's got pins in various body parts and a screwed up pelvis that has her confined to a wheelchair (although doctors are saying she'll walk again with physical therapy). Adding to Jarrett's guilt? His father has a heart attack. He's on the mend now, but his mother wants them to "get away" for a while. Vicki is out of the woods, outside of the physical therapy she needs - so the plan is they get away, Jarrett holds down the fort, and they find some "help" for Vicki in the interim.
Sierra Bailey has just been fired. She's a darn good physical therapist, but her drill sergeant attitude and allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" with a patient (there wasn't one) have sealed her fate. While rounding up references for the resume she now has to dust off, a former client (a rodeo cowboy) tells her about the temporary job at the Ross ranch. In a town named "Cupid's Bow?" Seriously? But beggars can't be choosers and it's an easy out for Sierra - whose mother is making noises of "maybe you should come home and hey, did you know that nice boy so-and-so is single?" Ugh. Yeah, Cupid's Bow is looking better every minute.
So we all know where this is going. Sparks fly - but Jarrett is determined to keep his hands off Sierra because 1) he's her employer 2) his horn dog ways "led" to Vicki's accident and 3) Vicki is barely talking to him now, if he falls into bed with her therapist? Whoa doggie. For her part Sierra is determined that this pit stop in Cupid's Bow is temporary. Jarrett is sexy as sin, but he's not going to leave and she's not cut out for small town life. Or is she?
Let's get the quibbles out of the way first: this is one of those Big City Girl Chucks It All To Stay In The Cutesy Small Town romances. This is a fast and emphatic no for a lot of readers. It's a bit more palatable here only because Sierra isn't really leaving anything behind in The Big City. I mean, hello? She's unemployed. She's single. She lives in a rented apartment and doesn't have pets. So, yeah. Also, part of her duties at the Ross ranch are to cook, since Jarrett spends his entire day either outside working or cooped up in the office doing the books. The older I get the more annoyed I get with heroines stuck in the kitchen. At least there's not endless raving about what a great cook Sierra is. Jarrett and Vicki compliment her, but at least it's not ad nauseum.
Now that we're done with the quibbles, on to the stuff I liked. OMG, I loved how Sierra was portrayed in relation to her career. I have a soft spot for heroines that work in medicine, and the pricklier they are, the more I love them. It turns the Woman As Caregiver stereotype on it's ear. A lot of women I know in the medical field ARE caregivers, but they also tend to have spines of steel. A take-charge, don't mess with me, I know this sucks but it's for your own good, spine of steel. And that's Sierra. She's a physical therapist, so she's used to patients being short tempered, hating her, or misconstruing the fact that she has to "touch" them (hence those relationship allegations). I just adored this aspect of her character.
I liked Jarrett, but he wasn't as memorable for me as Sierra. Lothario Hero who feels guilty about something that wasn't his fault and is trying to mend his ways, but is tempted by the heroine. Sister Vicki brings with her a compelling secondary story line, a bubbly sorority girl laid low by the accident, lashing out in her pain. I loved the moments she shared with Sierra - battles waged in sarcasm.
This is book two in a series, so readers should expect a fair amount of secondary characters and some sequel baiting. For the most part Michaels' keeps that fairly well reined in and doesn't lose sight of her main romance. This didn't wow me, but it's a good, solid contemporary romance set in a small town universe that didn't annoy me. So, win.
Final Grade = B