MissB. returned to a beloved series with Jodi Thomas’s Wild Horse Springs. Crossroads, Texas’s denizens’ stories continue. Thomas’s series has steadily produced one excellent ensemble-romance after another and MissB. is always happy to return. Wild Horse Springs is a particularly strong addition, if only because the town’s long-lonely sheriff finally gets his HEA. The novel focuses on three couples and a compelling RS plot. Sheriff Dan Brigman falls for newly-arrived country singer, Brandi Malone; our PTSD-ed Texas Ranger hero, Cody Winslow falls (literally! you’ll see) for park ranger Tess Adams; and, we finally have a reunion between high-powered lawyer, former-Cross-Roads cowboy Lucas Reyes and Sheriff Brigman’s daughter, Lauren. The romances unfold in conjunction with some pretty nasty doings. Former waif now grown and happily ensconced in family love and support, Thatcher Jones, finds and loses a little girl – silent, obviously physically abused, and in much need of rescuing. Sheriff Brigman is on the case, as are various Cross-Road-ites and the novel concludes, other than with HEAs for our couples, with an exciting rescue operation.
If you’re a Thomas fan, you’re going to enjoy Wild Horse Springs. Everything that Thomas does well, she does particularly so here, except for a draggy-saggy bit about two-thirds of the way in. Sheriff Dan Brigman, possibly MissBates’s favourite Cross-Road-ite, is Thomas’s Everyman-hero: committed to his town and family, calm, stoic, hard-working. Lonely. As with every Thomas good-guy-gal character, Brigman is a study in contentment until an encounter with a woman sheds light on those things his life is missing: desire, love, and commitment. Thomas’s characters, male and female, are characterized by lives lived-well, but truncated. Ne’er has MissB. read a romance opening of such palpable contentment as Dan’s: “He knew the county, the people and the potholes for miles around Crossroads, Texas. Now that his daughter, Lauren, was grown, being a lawman filled his time. He’d settled into a comfortable aloneness and counted himself lucky. He’d never run with the bulls or climbed Everest or seen a foreign country, but he’d had a rich life.” Thomas’s start-point is satisfaction; her end, joy, with a healthy dose of earthy lust to bind them in between.
For Thomas, hard work, community, and virtue are the keys to living life well and Dan is its epitome. Dan is a character who’s made his peace with his life. Tess Adams, Cody’s love-interest, is another. There are characters, however, who, while practicing these virtues, are also broken in some way from their past. Cody Winslow is such a character, as is Brandi Malone. Their “peace” isn’t filled with contentment, but involves living with ghosts and making do with nightmares. In either case, a life without colour, or too much of it, coming together as a community to fight evil and recognizing the beloved Other transform lives.
Thomas holds up two values in every books she writes – fidelity and monogamy. Her characters go through life, content or broken, but celibate. When they meet their mate-for-life, while not yet even realizing he or she is The One, they are overwhelmed by earthy desire. Everyone in Thomas’s romances is ordinary-looking (another reason to like her), but transformed into things of desire and beauty in the other’s eyes. Big, short, wide, flat, curvy, thin, or muscular, don’t matter; what matters are the feelings they elicit. When characters flirt with the idea of an affair, they soon have to admit that they’re a one-man-one-woman show. They see flaws in the other, in themselves with the other, and they fight, but what remain unwavering are monogamous desire as sanctioned by marriage and forever-kind-of-love. Nothing says this better than Cody’s declaration to Tess: ” ‘I don’t care about anything else on the planet except you. I made up my mind in the middle of the gunfight that that’s the way it’s going to be. So paint my kitchen, don’t salt my soup and organize me to your heart’s content. Just don’t ever leave me.” Maybe Thomas’s values are Miss Bates’s and that’s why she finds them appealing, but that is one of the most romantic things she’s ever read.
Miss Bates loved Wild Horse Springs and will return for more of Thomas’s Ransom Canyon-Crossroads-Texas romances. With her reading companion, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Wild Horse Springs is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jodi Thomas’s Wild Horse Springs is published by HQN Books. It was released in January 2017 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from HQN, via Netgalley.