"Realistic and romantic... Kennedy's forte is in making relationships genuine and heartfelt as she exposes vulnerabilities with tenderness and good humor." Booklist STARRED review
Sidelined by a career-ending injury, rodeo cowboy Ridge Cooper feels trapped at his family's remote Wyoming ranch. He meets Sierra Dunn, who has no plans to stick around, but can he change her mind?
Desperate to find an outlet for the passion he used to put into competing, he takes on the challenge of teaching his roping skills to five troubled ten-year-olds in a last-chance home for foster kids, and finds it's their feisty supervisor who takes the most energy to wrangle.
When social worker Sierra Dunn seeks an activity for the rebellious kids at Phoenix House, she soon learns she's not in Denver anymore. Sierra is eager to get back home to her inner-city work, and the plan doesn't include forming an attachment in Wyoming-especially not to a ruggedly handsome and surprisingly gentle local rodeo hero.
The Cowboys of Decker Ranch series:
How To Handle A Cowboy (Book 1)
How To Kiss A Cowboy (Book 2)
How to Wrangle a Cowboy (Book 3)
What readers are saying about How To Handle A Cowboy:
"One of my all time favorite cowboy books"
"plenty of heart ache, but it is bursting at the seams with love."
"Their story is poignant and one readers won't soon forget."
"Plenty of suspense, some humor, and lots of romance."
"Humor, romance, and a really good HEA."
What reviewers are saying about How To Handle A Cowboy:
"Realistic and romantic... Kennedy's forte is in making relationships genuine and heartfelt as she exposes vulnerabilities with tenderness and good humor." Booklist starred review
"Emotionally driven, extremely heartfelt and beautifully executed." HEAs Are Us
"If you love a good cowboy romance, this one is a cut above the rest." Debbie's Book Bag
About the Author
Joanne Kennedy's lifelong fascination with Wyoming's unique blend of past and present inspires her to write contemporary Western romances with traditional ranch settings. In 2010 she was nominated for a RITA award for One Fine Cowboy. At various times, Joanne has dabbled in horse training, chicken farming, and bridezilla wrangling at a department store wedding registry. Her fascination with literature led to careers in bookselling and writing. She lives with two dogs and a retired fighter pilot in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Read an Excerpt
After six weeks in Wynott, Wyoming, Sierra Dunn gave up on love.
Powering up her laptop, she logged into HeartsOnFire.com. There was her picture, all bright eyes and perky smile. And there were her dreams and desires, summed up in twenty-five words or less.
HARDWORKING IDEALIST SEEKS WORLD PEACE, JUSTICE, AND AN INTERESTING MAN FOR FUN AND ADVENTURE. NO WHINERS, TORMENTED ARTISTS, OR DEADBEAT MUSICIANS NEED APPLY.
When she was living in Denver, the ad had generated a few dates with aging hipsters who thought "fun" and "adventure" were code words for kinky sex. None of them were interesting, and all of them were whiners when they found out that her idea of fun was roller coasters and rock climbing.
Moving the cursor down to the bottom of the page, she hit the Delete Profile button and a box popped up, blinking frantically.
Are you sure you want to give up on love?
Yup, she was sure.
She hit the kill button then gazed out the small slice of window she could see from her office at Phoenix House, an old Victorian home that had been repurposed as a group home for foster children. There was a hardware store straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting across the street, with a tattered awning and a bench on which old men chewed over the news every morning. A rusty pickup, mostly blue with a red tailgate, was parked askew with one wheel up on the curb. There were no window-shoppers cruising the sidewalks, no traffic backed up at the single streetlight, no taxicabs, no street vendors. And she sincerely doubted there were any interesting men.
Actually, there were interesting men in Wynott. The trouble was, most of them were over seventy-five and none of them seemed to grasp the concept of a group home. Half of them were convinced she was running a juvenile hall for delinquents, and the other half thought she was a single mom with five kids. Since Isaiah was African-American, Carter as blond as Brad Pitt, and Frankie a dark-eyed Italian, they probably figured the kids had at least three fathers. It was all a bit of a shock for a small Wyoming town.
That was probably why her call for volunteers had gone unanswered until today, when her boss had called to let her know he'd talked a friend of his into volunteering as a sports coach. The guy should be arriving any minute. In fact, he was late. Hopefully, he'd...
There might not be any men in Wynott to make her heart flutter, but the sound of the old home's doorbell never failed to make it leap in her chest. Jacob Prescott Wynn, the founder of Wynott, had built Phoenix House with every deluxe feature the Victorian era had to offer, including delicate gingerbread eaves, hand-carved wood paneling, and faceted glass doorknobs. He'd also installed a pullout doorbell that made a sound like the "you lose" buzzer on a game show. It was so loud, it scared the bejesus out of half the neighborhood every time Sierra had company. This was very helpful to the women in town, who kept the gossip grapevine growing and found Sierra's comings and goings to be fine fertilizer.
She headed for the front door, wondering what kind of sports coach Mike Malloy had come up with. The owner of Phoenix House and the son of a senator, Mike was an overgrown frat boy. His friends reminded Sierra of a bunch of overweight Labrador retrievers, falling all over the place with their tongues hanging out. They were rude but good-natured, handsome but a little soft in the gut.
Swinging the heavy wood door open, she gaped at her guest. Surely, surely this wasn't any friend of Mike's.
There wasn't an ounce of frat boy in this guy. Not an ounce of fat, either. Just to make sure, Sierra let her gaze drift downward from the brim of his battered felt hat to his broad shoulders and muscular chest, which were both hidden-unfortunately-by a plaid Western-style shirt. He was wearing some kind of fancy belt buckle too, with a picture of a horse on it. Squinting, she tried to read the lettering around the edges but found herself distracted by the very obvious bulge beneath it. The jeans fit just fine everywhere else but seemed a bit strained here.
The hat. The hat. Look at the hat. And stop staring at his-his whatsit.
She'd once heard a country song about how you could gauge the quality of a cowboy by the condition of his hat. Barstool cowboys had shiny new hats, but real cowboys had hats that had been through everything from snowstorms to stampedes.
This guy was apparently the real thing, and the battered brim shaded the hard gray eyes of an outlaw. His jaw was darkened by stubble that made him look like he'd just come off the Chisholm Trail with Kevin Costner and Tom Selleck, though she suspected he could outride and out-rope both of them.
"I'm supposed to talk to the manager," he said.
He didn't sound like Kevin Costner or Tom Selleck. He sounded like Sam Elliott, all gravelly and masculine. His voice curled into Sierra's ear and slid down her backbone, coiling up somewhere warm and making it even warmer.
"The manager?" he repeated.
Sierra sighed. At five foot next-to-nothing, with short, blond hair and dimples that popped into being if she even thought about smiling, she was rarely taken for authority. Certainly no one ever guessed she'd been a Denver cop for three years. She'd gone into law enforcement figuring she'd be helping people, but instead she'd found herself escorting the same petty criminals in and out of the revolving doors of the justice system-crime to prison to parole to crime. She wasn't sure who she was really helping.
Then, a child abuse case inspired her to go back to school, majoring in social work and child psychology. When she'd returned to Denver as a social worker, she'd worked some hard cases in dangerous neighborhoods. It had been her oversized tough-girl attitude, born from a childhood on those same streets, that kept her safe.
It was her tough-girl attitude that got her the job at Phoenix House too. These kids needed special protection, and her combination of a social work degree and law enforcement experience had made her the perfect applicant.
So where was that tough-girl attitude now?
Evidently it had taken a break to curl up in her belly with Sam Elliott's voice.
"I'm Sierra Dunn, group mom here at Phoenix House." She started to extend a hand, but he kept his fists jammed deep in his pockets.
No handshake? No problem. His paws were probably dirty anyway.
He stepped inside, glancing around the newly renovated house as if he was looking for decorating ideas, but he wouldn't find any at Phoenix House. The old place's renovation had apparently busted the state's budget, so the furniture consisted of refugees from various government offices-gray metal desks, dented file cabinets, and chrome chairs with ugly vinyl cushions.
"Name's Ridge Cooper. I'm from Decker Ranch, out west of town."
"Oh. I've heard of you," she blurted.
You couldn't spend five minutes in Wynott without hearing about Ridge Cooper and his brothers. The three cowboys and their rodeo exploits seemed to be the single source of pride for a town that had fallen on hard times. The men in town spoke of the brothers with envy, the women with admiration.
Sierra didn't get it. Riding wild horses didn't make this guy any better than Ed Boone, who ran a thriving hardware store despite the town's economic struggles, or Colt Carson, who had turned the hole-in-the-wall Red Dawg Bar into a cross between a senior center, a soup kitchen, and a Wild West saloon. Tying up baby cows for a living didn't make him better than Phoebe Niles, who was raising an energetic granddaughter on the slim profits from a gas station at the edge of town. Ed and Colt and Phoebe were the people who kept Wynott alive. Not the Decker brothers.
"I'm looking to volunteer." He glanced down the hall, where the boys were cheering and razzing each other over a video game. The old house's high ceilings and cavernous spaces amplified everything.
"How many you got?" he asked.
"Only five right now. We're set up for more, but that's it so far."
He nodded. "No problem. I'm used to dealing with a herd. You just have to anticipate what they're going to do. Jink left when they zig, right when they zag."
He gestured as he spoke, like his left hand was a cow and his right a mounted cowboy. The left hand didn't stand a chance; it was headed off in a heartbeat.
"These are kids, not cows," she said.
Sierra felt like she was arguing with the boys. You could go back and forth for an hour and never resolve anything.
"No, I meant that's what you call them. Cattle, not cows," he said.
"All right. Cattle." She narrowed her eyes. "What are you going to teach them, anyway?"
He shrugged. "Riding. Roping. Rodeo."
She should have known. He wasn't exactly dressed for soccer.
Leading him across the hall to the old walk-in pantry she'd claimed as an office, she edged past her rickety fiberboard bookcase to her scratch-and-dent desk. The cowboy dropped into the old captain's chair across from her, but rather than crossing his legs like a normal human, he tilted the chair back on two legs and draped one booted leg over the arm. Maybe sitting in chairs wasn't enough of a challenge when your day job was sticking to the saddles of bucking horses.
And that day job was a problem. She needed someone who could make a commitment. From what she'd heard, rodeo cowboys were always on the move.
"You travel around a lot, don't you?" She kept her smile friendly, but her eyes watched for signs of weakness. Volunteers for this kind of work always arrived all bright-eyed and hopeful, ready to save the world one kid at a time. But her boys were slow to trust-with good reason-and most folks gave up when they didn't get the warm fuzzies they were expecting. Gave up and walked away, just like the boys' families had.
"You'll do more harm than good if you take off on these kids once we've started."
He'd taken off his hat upon entering the house, so she got the full force of those eyes. Darkness cut through the gray, reminding her of broken crystal, and his gaze was direct.
"I'll be here," he said. "Trust me."
She decided she might as well take his word for it. Not because she'd deluded herself into thinking he was some paragon of cowboy virtue, but because he was so abrupt she figured he wouldn't bother to lie to her.
But she couldn't figure out why he wanted to do this. He didn't seem like your typical do-gooder dad or concerned citizen. In fact, he seemed almost reluctant. She needed to probe deeper.
"Do you have any experience with children?" she asked.
"I was one once," the cowboy said.
The question slipped out in a tone of disbelief.
"Okay, I don't know much about kids," he admitted. "But Mike thought it was a good idea to teach your boys to ride, maybe rope a little." He flushed. "Well, not your boys. I know you're not..."
"That's actually how I think of them." Sierra smiled. "They're my boys as long as I'm here. And I'm hoping everyone else will see it that way too. If people can see us as just another family, the boys can really feel like they belong here."
His eyes narrowed. "In Wynott?"
"Well, sure. Why not?"
He didn't laugh. She didn't blame him. Everyone here had probably heard the joke about a million times. Old Jacob Wynn had had a playful sense of humor, but after a hundred years, it was probably getting a little stale.
"This is the last-chance placement for these kids," she said. "They've been rejected, over and over, from one foster home after another. They run away. They play hooky. They steal. They fight. And they don't think much of authority."
The cowboy smiled for the first time. "Sounds like we'll get along great."
"I hope so," Sierra said. Ridge Cooper seemed like an unlikely ally, but he had influence in this tiny town, and she'd take any help she could get. "It's not the kids' fault. Authority's never done a thing to earn their trust, and the rules have never worked for them, either. The foster care system in this state is terrible. Not just in this state. In this country." She realized she was ranting and reined herself in, settling back in her chair and smiling. "I think Wynott can help fix it."
He snorted. "How do you figure that? This town's about ready to tumble down and go back to the land, dust to dust. The folks who still live here are either too poor to leave or too tired to try."
She started enumerating the town's charms on her fingers. "Small-town setting. Isolation. Elderly population. I'll bet a lot of these old folks spend all their time watching what goes on and gossiping. Am I right?"
He nodded with a wry smile, just as she expected.
"It's small, it's safe, and there are plenty of folks to watch over the kids," she continued. "I'm hoping Wynott can become a real hometown for them. I've always thought that might be the way to go with foster kids." She ignored his disbelieving stare. "Maybe if we give them roots, they'll stop running."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joanne Kennedy brings readers the first book in her new Cowboys of Decker Ranch series. How to Handle a Cowboy is a heartwarming story about kids and adults who might be considered damaged. Kennedy shows how one person can make a difference in someone's life and readers will find both love and hope in this remarkable story. Readers who love a good cowboy romance will quickly fall for the resilient and protective heroine, Sierra and the big-hearted cowboy, Ridge. Their story is poignant and one readers won't soon forget. What I liked: There are so many things about this book that I could write about here. Once in a while a romance will come along that transcends the idea of what romance is all about. How to Handle a Cowboy is one of those few. It has not only the sweet and loving romance between the heroine and the hero, but it is also a story about loving the unloved. The five rowdy little boys that make this story so special and not only great secondary characters, but they show the spirit and resilience of children who have been put through the wringer. Kennedy gives readers two different kinds of love stories in this book and that makes it completely unforgettable. Sierra, the heroine, is not without her own issues. She did not have the best of childhood experiences, so she has a kind of kinship with these boys that not many could understand. When she becomes their foster mother, she is determined to give them the love they so desperately need. But not only that she wants them to find acceptance and understanding in their community as well. A tall order for kids who come the kind of background these kids do. I loved Sierra's commitment to making the world a better place, to providing a loving home for these boys and her undaunted spirit. Kennedy gives readers a heroine with a true heart for service. Ridge is the kind of hero that readers will quickly fall for. He had his life all planned out. The rodeo was in his blood and he so passionate about it. Readers could feel his untamed spirit, and need for the rush of the rodeo. When all that is taken away due a serious energy Ridge is more than just at loose ends, he is restless like the stallions he once rode. He is driven, but driven to what, now? He was a man who needed a new purpose and he found it in teaching and mentoring these boys about life and how to live it. What a remarkable character and the relationship that he fosters with these children was a testament to one person's ability to change the world. Especially the world of five troubled little boys. What I didn't like: I thought Kennedy did a great job with this book. She balances the relationship between heroine and hero against their relationships with the boys with a deft hand. Being from Kentucky and being a former horse owner and rider, I thought the way the boys interacted with the animals was probably not as accurate as it could be, but that certainly did not take away from the story. Kennedy should be granted a little lee-way because of the scope of this amazing book. It's all about hope, not about which side of the horse you get up on. Bottom Line: If you love a good cowboy romance, this one is a cut above the rest. It gives the reader not only a feel good love story, but also gives them hope, that the world can be a better place, where people do show love and respect and help each other and those who need it. A fantastic book.
4 1/2 Stars This is my first read from Joanne Kennedy and it was not what I expected. I figured this book would be about a care-free cowboy too busy sowing his wild oats to settle down but finally finds a woman who tames his free spirit. My assumption of the book was WAY off. This story is about many people, not just Ridge and Sierra, who have been hurt, betrayed and abandoned. This story is about learning to trust again and healing past wounds; not forgetting, but finding the courage to move forward. Sierra’s foster kids, Jeffery, Frankie, Isaiah, Carter, and Josh, pulled at my heartstrings the entire book. I loved reading about Ridge’s interactions with the boys. There ain’t nothing sexier than a man who’s good with kids. The only issue I had was Sierra. She was always on Ridge about not breaking the kids’ hearts and not making promises he couldn’t keep because she didn’t want the boys to get hurt. Then Sierra turns around and has accepted a job out of state because she feels she can make more of a difference making laws for foster children instead of raising them. Thankfully Ridge was able to convince Sierra that she could make a difference in the lives of those five boys and the ailing town if she stayed. The story was emotionally driven, extremely heartfelt and beautifully executed. ***I was gifted an eBook copy from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. All conclusions reached are my own***
another wonderful romantic tale from joanne kennedy. two more different people make a love match while helpiing inner city kids learn life lessons at a ranch in wyoming. joanne kennedy writes storires that leave you anxious for the next tale. get it read it and i know you will love it to!!
I received an e-galley of How to Handle a Cowboy from the publisher for an honest review. Where to start? This book was so much different than I expected--in the best way possible. There is plenty of heart ache, but it is bursting at the seams with love. Despite the rough childhood that Ridge and Sierra both had, as well as the kids Sierra is looking after, there is a bond with all of them. You can sense that almost immediately. This was a slightly slower pace than I prefer, but once I finished the book I understood why. There is absolutely no way you could get the full effect if Joanne had rushed through any of it. Ridge is a badboy, forced-to-retire cowboy. With the biggest heart in the world once you get past his rough and tumble exterior. He knows what he wants and goes after it. Did I mention is sexy, too? One of my favorite things about How to Handle a Cowboy was that Ridge is really the more vulnerable of the two. He lets down his guard far quicker than Sierra. It's not often that I get to read about a hero who truly needs the heroine. But that's the way Joanne wrote this, and I am so grateful because it really made me fall in love with all of the characters. Sierra is a somewhat closed-off social worker. You can tell right away that she's open for the boys she cares for, but when it comes to men and relationships, her heart is shut and locked up tight. Ridge is the only man who's even begun to unlock her inner desire for romance. She's such a strong heroine, I didn't connect to her right away. What's great about that? Joanne Kennedy excelled at writing her characters so you felt them the way everyone in the book felt them. When Sierra finally opens her heart and soul to Ridge, I as a reader, connected with her as well. In my book that makes Joanne a seriously talented author. If you like cowboys, a rowdy bunch of little boys who only want someone to love them, and a heartwarming story, then I most definitely recommend How to Handle a Cowboy!
Loved it and read it in 3 hours. Made me laugh and cry....a perfect romance.
A genuine, heartwarming story of finding one’s destiny, surrendering to love, and letting go of the past. When Sierra Dunn took a job a Phoenix House in the middle of nowhere, not only had she given up on ever finding love, but also on advancing her career and making the type of state wide changes to the foster care systems she so desperately felt needed to be done. Instead of looking for love, she devoted all her time and energy into helping five foster children placed at Phoenix house. Five boys from dangerous backgrounds who needed to feel safe, secure, and loved. Sierra feels she can handle the job but it certainly has its challenges. But little does she know that her boss is working with a local ranch to provide some much needed outdoor recreation, in the form on a rodeo cowboy. Enter a new challenge, Ridge Cooper. Sierra and Ridge are immediately attracted to each other, but neither feels it should go past a professional level. Ridge is recovering from both a broken body and a broken relationship and not entirely ready to get involved again. Neither are willing to risk their hearts, no matter what the ultimate prize might be. But as Sierra spends time at the ranch with the boys, she begins to see a side of Ridge that she can’t resist. Not only is he a sexy rodeo cowboy, but a natural with the boys and with her. He seems to know exactly what they all need, but is it too good to be true? Can she trust her heart with a man like Ridge? Loved this book!! It is a well-written novel, with great characters, an intriguing plot and rich dialogue; it’s simply an amazing read! I loved all the background information provided for both Sierra and Ridge’s characters, it really helps in understanding the dynamics of their relationship. The boys in the novel, while rebellious, were great supporting characters without taking away from the budding relationship developing between Ridge and Sierra. I loved reading about the connection that Jeffrey was experiencing with the wild, unmanageable Moonpie. It was such a great example of why you should never judge someone/something unless you know all the intricate details of why they act the way they do. There are so many different events occurring in the book, all interwoven with each other, that makes this book so hard to put down. The story flows along so seamlessly that it’s extremely difficult to find a stopping point! Well Done Ms. Kennedy! Can’t wait to read more! Rating: 4.5 Heat Rating: Mild Reviewed by: AprilP Courtesy of My Book Addiction and More
There are 325 pages not 416 as is advertised in the Product Review. I thought the heroine pulled some pretty stupid stunts especially since she was portrayed as an ex-cop. Sweet story, but some details were left unaddressed. A few typos.
It's a winner. Good from first page to the end.mwill purchase more from this author.
This fun, warm-hearted romance keeps the reader engaged through twists and turns of the plot to its satisfying ending.