If you're in the mood for a good contemporary cowboy romance with thoughtful undercurrents, then you'll enjoy Susan May Warren's RECLAIMING NICK, the first installment in the Noble Legacy.
In this inspirational tale, Nick Noble is the proverbial prodigal son who left the Phillips, Montana family ranch in a huff years ago. Nick only returns because his inheritance is threatened. His father has died and mysteriously left a portion of the Silver Buckle Ranch to his former best friend, Cole St. John, who has married Nick's best girl from high school and started a family. Meanwhile, Stefanie, Nick's younger sister, has a plan to turn the cattle ranch into a paying operation by opening it up to tourists, a plan Nick wants to derail. "He'd have to be on his last pot of beans before he'd open up the ranch to a bunch of tenderfeet."
Nick is about to run into Piper Sullivan, a hard-driving investigative journalist (and vegetarian) who has her own axe to grind. When her brother Jimmy was unjustly sent to prison by Nick, Piper swore revenge. Posing as a cook for a bunch of meat-loving cowboys (but unable to follow a simple recipe, which provides humorous moments throughout), Piper arrives at the cattle ranch at almost the same time as Nick and begins digging into his past, looking for dirt. Readers of the genre won't be surprised as Piper finds herself falling in love. In the background, a mysterious stalker threatens the viability of the ranch and the lives of those who run it, providing some suspenseful moments.
A fun, escapist romance unfolds as the pages turn and family secrets come to light. Yet, heavier themes of forgiveness, the power of false impressions that foster years of misunderstanding, and the importance of family and God are just a few of the deeper currents that run throughout the novel.
Readers will enjoy some of Warren's beautiful descriptions of the Montana landscape, such as this:
"The sky stretched across the horizon, turning magenta in the west as it fell into the grasp of the hazy Bighorn Mountains. The first blooms of color filled the draws and gullies --- blue-and-white wildflowers amid lime-tinted grass. Now and again a bluff rose from the prairie, the earth rough and dark along the exposed edge."
Self-examination and reflection provide some of the more serious moments. As Cole battles a life-threatening illness, Nick is forced to take stock of his own motivations and actions. Piper also deals with her past, facing hurts from an abusive childhood and her inability to believe in a God who loves her.
A particularly tender scene occurs when Maggie and her husband Cole try to bottle-feed a dying calf. As Maggie wonders what she has done wrong, Cole consoles her. "Sometimes, things just go bad," Cole says, which symbolizes their bigger situation, and the perennial problem of good people who suffer difficulties. Another thoughtful moment transpires when Maggy tells Piper: "I think we always carry the wounds the people we love inflict on us. The best we can hope for is to find someone who helps heal them, who loves us scars and all."
A few rough spots, such as the characters' quick and easy acceptance of the disclosure of a child's birth parent and a dramatic hospital-attempted murder, won't keep readers from turning the pages. For those who want more: Nick's champion bull-riding brother Rafe, who is mentioned but doesn't make an appearance in this novel, will be the protagonist in Warren's next installment, TAMING RAFE, scheduled for release in the fall of 2007.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on December 27, 2006