Cold_Heart_Warm_CowboyReading Caitlin Crews’s Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy right after Yates’s Lone Wolf Cowboy was like seeing the two romances in a two-way mirror. They are linked by ethos and setting and would be, you might think, too much of a good thing one after the other. Nope. I was as immersed in the former as the latter. Besides, who can resist amnesia and secret-baby trope combined!? Maybe a lot of romance readers can, but I can’t! Moreover, Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy was the follow-up to one of my favourites 2018 romances, A True Cowboy Christmas, though not as good and there be reasons. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy picks up where True Cowboy Christmas departs, centering on Everett middle brother, Ty, though we have delicious glimpses of the hero and heroine of True Cowboy enjoying married bliss. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy opens with the heroine, former-rodeo-queen Hannah Leigh Monroe. She’s on her way to Cold River Ranch to confront Ty with the cold hard facts of: exhibit A, their marriage (Las Vegas certificate and all) and exhibit B, their 10-month-old baby, Jack, though Jack’s safely with her mother back in Hannah’s hometown of Sweet Myrtle, Georgia. After what happened eighteen months ago, Hannah thinks it’s high time Ty and she divorced.

Eighteen months ago, Ty lay in a hospital bed, after losing his battle with a nasty bull tongue-in-cheekly named Tough Luck. Hopped up on painkillers, he sent Hannah away and returned to his two brothers, Gray and Brady, and the ancestral home, Cold River Ranch. He doesn’t remember a thing of the past two years, including Hannah, Jack, their marriage, the “whole catastrophe” as Zorba said. He’s honing his body to get back in the bull-riding saddle, angry at himself, angry at the world, and sequestered beyond meals and chores in an empty bunkhouse. He’d been drowning his past glories in whiskey, but has gone off the bottle as he preps for his final battle with Tough Luck.

Hannah’s appearance is a shock, but echoing Yates, Crews’s hero instinctively recognizes some elemental connection between them: “He also knew his own physical familiarity with another person. He didn’t have to remember her when his body was doing it for him.” Hannah may be spitting mad, but she also still loves Ty and … if Ty ever remembers, he loves her too. Though Ty believes himself incapable of love and scoffs at his ability to make a decent husband, he is a man of his word. If Hannah is willing, she will stay with him on the ranch and they’ll try to work things out. Hannah neglects to tell Ty about Jack, ostensibly to protect her precious baby from a father who might not want him.

Crews’s romance portrays the growing liking and compatibility of Ty and Hannah: they’re funny, quick-witted, and sexy in their conversations. Ty’s amnesia allows Crews to explore how the helpless hero, no matter how alpha, is dependent on the heroine for his past. As Hannah fills him in, always leaving out one crucial fact, baby Jack, we have a double romance narrative in Hannah and Ty’s present and their courtship and growing pains as  husband and wife from the past. Then as now, their attraction and chemistry are fiery and moving. Always, in the background, Hannah keeping baby Jack a secret. The secret-baby stayed secret for way too long and I grew reader-angsty as Kindle per cent read sped by. Jack’s appearance and the revelations to follow were explosive and compelling, but it didn’t make up for how annoying I found Hannah’s persistent reluctance to tell Ty the truth about Jack. And her excuse was lame too. Once Jack is revealed, the last quarter of Crews’s romance had me in thrall. It was emotionally riveting.

Lastly, like Yates, Crews is a great writer of angst; and, again like Yates, can balance the dark with passages of wit and banter. Witness Hannah’s memory of Ty in hospital the day he rejected her:

The last time she’d seen this man he’d been a dark, wounded fury strapped to a hospital bed. Tubes and bandages and beeping machines and that terrible blankness when he’d stared straight at her. When he’d told her to leave and never come back.

In witty contrast, Hannah proves to Ty they were married when she tells him her cell phone number is programmed in his:

“This says Ball as a first name. And Chain as a last name.”

“You’re a funny guy.”

Ball and chain. Wife. If it was a test he failed it, because he hit the call button, then they both stood there as the phone she clearly had stuck in her back pocket started playing Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” into the night.

Those droll allusions, “ball and chain” and Cash’s incomparable song dedicated to marital fidelity, they made me smile. Wish Hannah, whom I liked in so many ways, could’ve come through with baby Jack sooner. What I can’t deny is how immersive Crews’s romance was, not as thrillingly good as A True Cowboy Christmas, but better than most slow-moving, saccharine contemporary romance. With Miss Austen, we found in Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy “real comfort,” Emma.

Caitlin Crews’s Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy is published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. It was released on July 30 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from St. Martin’s, via Netgalley.