2014 RITA Winner for Best First Book
A Love as Big as Texas . . .
Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident-and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.
James "JB" Denny doesn't stay where he isn't welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart-and their home-a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can't work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?
About the Author
Award-winning author Laura Drake grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit, though her stories are set in the west. A tomboy, she's always loved the outdoors and adventure. In 1980 she and her sister packed everything they owned into Pintos and moved to California. There she met and married a motorcycling, bleed-maroon Texas Aggie and her love affair with the West was born. Laura rides motorcycles: Elvis, a 1985 BMW Mystic, and Sting, a 1999 BMW R1100.
In Texas, Laura was introduced to her first rodeo, and fell in love. She's an avid fan of Pro Bull Riding (PBR,) attending any event within driving distance, including two PBR National finals.
For more information on Laura Drake, please visit:
Read an Excerpt
The Sweet Spot
By Laura Drake
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Laura Drake
All rights reserved.
The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was grateful for the bull semen.
Charla Rae Denny wiped her hands with her apron and stepped back, surveying the shelves of her pantry. This month's Good Housekeeping suggested using scraps of linoleum as shelf paper. It had been a bitch-kitty to cut but cost nothing, would be easy to clean, and continued the white-pebbled theme of her kitchen floor. And for a few hours, the project had rescued her weary mind from a hamster-wheel of regret.
The homing beacon in the Valium bottle next to the sink tugged at her insides.
She sipped a glass of water to avoid reaching for it and glanced out the window to the spring-skeletal trees of the backyard.
Her gaze returned to the two-foot-wide stump the way a tongue wanders to a missing tooth. Tentative grass shoots had sprung up to obscure the obscene scar in the soil.
She hadn't thought that an innocent tree could kill a child.
She hadn't thought that an innocent coed could kill a marriage.
And if those pills could kill the thinking, she'd take ten.
At the familiar throaty growl of a Peterbilt turning off the road out front, Char jerked, realizing minutes had passed. She'd been listening for that deep throb for hours. She always did. As the cab and empty cattle hauler swept by the window, she wound her shaking hands in her apron, as if the sturdy cotton would hold her together.
A ranch wife could stretch a pound of hamburger farther than anyone, but Daddy's new medication cost the moon, and the bills in the basket beside the computer were piling up like snowdrifts in a blizzard. Hands still shaking, she untied the bibbed apron and pulled it over her head. She'd rather clean bathrooms at the airport than ask her ex for money, but, then, most of her choices these days were like that. Sighing, she walked to the mudroom, shrugged into her spring jacket, yanked open the back door, and stepped into the nippy air.
Jimmy had backed the rig to the corral and left the engine running. He stepped down from the cab to stand, one foot on the running board, looking up into the dim interior, unaware of her approach. After all, the past four months she'd made sure that when he was here, she'd been purposely somewhere else.
He looked different. Her Jimmy, but with an older man superimposed, blurring the strong, familiar lines of the body she knew like her own. The mean midday sun highlighted the deep furrows bracketing his mouth and the brown hair curling from under his cowboy hat glinted with silver. His legs were still long and lean, but a bit of spare tire sheltered his huge oval belt buckle. Jimmy wouldn't go anywhere without his State Champion Bull Rider buckle.
She halted ten feet from the truck, thrust her fists in the pockets of the jacket, and forced words past the ball wedged in her throat. "Jimmy, we need to talk."
His head jerked around, face frozen in guilty shock. He looked like Benje as a toddler, caught misbehaving. Yet another reason she'd avoided him was stamped in the features he'd passed to their son.
He spun back to the cab and mumbled. She followed his line of vision to catch a quick flash of sun on bleached blond hair. Charla stopped, stunned to stillness. She'd doubt her vision if that flash of blond hadn't burned in her mind like a smoking brand.
"You brought her here, Jimmy?" she whispered. "To our—to my home?" Oh, sure, she'd known about the Cupcake. The whole town knew. The girl was the straw that had finished off their marriage.
Jimmy slammed the truck door and stood before it like a challenging bull. "That's not Jess, Charla. Jess and I broke up months ago. That's Mitzi, Jess's roommate. And before you get any wrong ideas, I'm taking her to the event to watch her boyfriend ride. That's it."
"Do you think I'm stupid? Lies like that only work once, Jimmy."
He ducked his head, strode the length of the trailer, and busied himself letting down the tailgate. She stalked him, anger advancing with every step.
"Do you have that little respect for me?" The pleading in her voice only made her madder. "James Benton Denny. You look at me."
Hands busy, he shot her his I-may-be-wrong-but-I'm-not-admitting-anything look.
Words piled into her throat, and she swallowed. "Aren't you even embarrassed? She could be your daughter, for cripes' sake. People are laughing their heads off—at you—at me." Her traitorous voice cracked.
"Look, I'm telling you the truth, okay?" Jimmy's voice echoed as he climbed into the cattle trailer. "The morning has been a disaster. First, that useless Emilio didn't show, and I had to fire him." The empty metal box amplified his sigh. "I needed to let him go anyway. We're making good money, but now the business has to support two households—" He hesitated, apparently recalling his audience.
"Then we had a flat on that danged retread. I knew better than to buy tires from Baynard's." Eyes down, he scanned the metal floor of the truck bed for anything that could hurt the stock. "I'm seriously late here, Little Bit, can we—"
"Don't you dare call me that!" She charged up the tailgate, her face blazing. "You lost that right two months, two weeks, four days ago."
He trotted by without a word, to the corral. The bulls, who had been watching the proceedings with interest, sauntered to the trailer. Realizing she stood between them and their destination, Char jumped from the tailgate.
Jimmy circled the pen, keeping a wary eye on the bulls, urging them gently toward the gate. "What did you want to talk to me about, Char?"
Slivers of pain shot up her palms. Realizing what she was doing, she relaxed her fingers until her nails popped out of the skin. God, I'm a fool. "Never mind."
"I'll be at the event in Abilene for the week."
Char stepped to the side of the corral to hear over the clatter of hooves on the metal tailgate.
"I've deposited the money from the last semen sale into your account, and I'm dropping the bulls off at the vet to have more collected on the return trip. I should be back with them sometime on the twenty-fifth."
After the last bull, Kid Charlemagne, trotted up the ramp, Jimmy hoisted the tailgate and shot the pins into place. His nonchalance stung more than his hubris. Just another day dealing with the unreasonable ex. Her odd, out- of-body objectivity kicked in again as Jimmy closed the corral gate. Why shouldn't he brush her off? What was she but an old coffee stain on his Important Life?
He still had a job, two of them, in fact. One, working as an arena announcer for the pro bull riding circuit and the other as a stock contractor, supplying bucking bulls for the events.
Her only job ended the day Benje died.
Jimmy halted in front of her, his gaze sharpening on her face. "You still taking those pills, Little Bit?" His brow creased like it did when he was considering, and the look in his eye softened to ... pity? "You've gotta get off those things, Hon. Medicating your life won't make it better."
She wanted to slap the solicitous look off his face. She wanted to run.
Instead, she held her ground, stabbing a finger at the trailer. "Those bulls have nothing on you in the balls department. You've got no talking room, Jimmy. Your old life fell apart, so you just threw it away and started a new one. Your medication just leans toward blonde and brainless."
Delicious flames licked the inside of her skin, urging her on. "Well, then, you go on and lie in that bed, Jimmy Denny. I don't want to see your face on this property again. Do you hear me?"
Jimmy's mouth dropped. She'd gotten his attention now, all right.
"You can't do that, Char. You may own the semen, but I own the bulls. The land—"
"Is my daddy's. His Alzheimer's hasn't changed that, and I have his power of attorney." The freed flames roared in her ears, and her body shook with righteous crackling heat. "You know very well I can do this, and by God, if you show up here again, I'll call Sheriff Sloan and have you arrested for trespassing."
She crossed her arms over her chest and wished looks really could kill. "Just leave the rig at the vet. I'll pick up the bulls."
She tipped her chin to the truck cab. "You'd better hurry, Jimmy. Your girlfriend is waiting." Spinning on her heel, Charla stomped stiff-legged to the house, mortification, anger, and fear roiling in her gut.
Giving the door a satisfying slam, she strode to the kitchen, to the fire extinguisher disguised as a prescription bottle.CHAPTER 2
Reality is the leading cause of stress for those in touch with it.
A blast of warm air hit JB as he hauled himself into the cab and slammed the door. "I apologize for that." Vibration from the idling engine throbbed through the seat as he raised his fingers to the heating vents. Just my luck. The day I do a favor for someone, Little Bit decides she wants to talk.
Mitzi flipped a curl of bleached hair over her shoulder. "No apology needed. I'm sorry I brought you trouble. Sam and I owe you a couple of drinks."
The sympathy in her look granted him absolution. For the moment, anyway. "After today, I'll need them. Let's get on the road." He double-clutched and rammed the truck into gear.
The look of betrayal on Char's face had sent a shard of guilt slicing through his gut. He shouldn't have chanced bringing Mitzi. He knew what it would look like to Char. But they were two hours late already, and if he'd had to drive back across town to pick her up ... God, he was a shit.
As he goosed the accelerator, the whine of the engine and his thoughts crowded out Mitzi's chatter. Aware that the truck's passenger side would face the kitchen window on the trip out, he considered asking Mitzi to duck, but that horse had already left the barn. Besides, it was a long drive to Abilene, and he couldn't take four hours of cab time with an indignant woman.
Char's words stung like sweat in an open cut. Jess had not been young enough to be their daughter. He checked traffic and eased onto the highway, taking it easy on the bulls. Shifting through the gears, he remembered the first time he and Char had made love, the spring of their senior year.
Telling their parents they were going to the baseball game, they'd driven out to the Pedernales River for a picnic. He'd spread a blanket on the bank, and that afternoon, his world shifted. He'd never been inside someone's skin before, in more ways than physically. Char's sharing of her deepest self had loosened his defenses, and that day she'd settled in, next to his heart.
They'd been what, seventeen? Subtracting that from forty? Twenty-three. Crap. That hurt, but not because she'd been right about Jess being young. How long had Char been chewing on this? Long enough to do the math and, he was sure, remember that day at the river.
His thoughts shifted gears again. How does she think she's going to run things by herself? Since he'd fired Emilio this morning, she wouldn't even have a hand to help out. He was sure the ramifications still hadn't occurred to her. When Charla got mad, she didn't think.
A traditional ranch wife, she considered her home and family her career, and everything outside the house his responsibility. Not a popular career for a girl in the late 1980s, but it fit him down to the ground. They'd made a good team. He hadn't known a partnership so strong could break so fast.
Benje's earnest, seven-year-old face swam into his vision. I shouldn't be surprised. When you cut the center out of something, the rest falls in on itself.
Imagining Char, trying to handle the day-to-day labor of their bucking bull operation, he relaxed. He'd be getting a call from Little Bit by tomorrow.
A call he'd be waiting for.
Charla rolled over, pulling the covers up to block the light, but it was no use. Consciousness was as relentless as the dawn that inched across the ceiling, highlighting the crack above her bed. It had been painted over many times, but the lightning-shaped fissure had been there, even when this had been her parent's room.
She felt around the edges of her mind. She'd forgotten something. Something important. It barreled from a tunnel and slammed her to reality. The hollowness in her chest made her gasp and she hugged herself, afraid she would implode.
Benje is gone.
She pulled the covers up and curled into a ball. Another day to face, when her reason for facing it was gone. Why bother?
She heard the answer in the shush of slippered feet passing her door. Daddy. The grief counselor pointed out that they still had responsibilities. She had to go on for those. Dashing the tears from her cheeks, she threw back the covers and shouldered the sunrise.
After a quick shower, she donned an old sweatshirt and buttoned jeans that hung loose, gapping at the waist. She made the mistake of glancing in the mirror on her way out of the bathroom. The haggard scarecrow staring back frightened her. I'm cutting back on the pills today. She stared down the hag in the mirror. I am.
After making her bed, Char walked the hall to the kitchen and stopped in the doorway. Her father, dressed for the day in slippers, jeans, and a blue Western- cut shirt, sat at the table, staring out the window. His red hair had blanched gray over the years, and his beard stubble shone silver in the morning light.
Smiling, she walked around the table, rested her hands on his shoulders, and dropped a kiss on his forehead. "Mornin', Daddy."
He looked up, his brow furrowed, worry in his washed blue eyes. "When's Benje coming home?"
The hope she'd garnered in the mirror blew away. Another bad day. She had to quit kidding herself; he was getting worse. Trying to convince Daddy of facts he didn't remember only upset him. "Benje's gone off with his dad. They'll be back by dinnertime." She hugged his neck, resting her head against his as his shaky hand patted her hair. Eyes closed, she took comfort from his touch for a moment, then sniffed and straightened. "Coffee's coming up."
As she filled the carafe at the tap, the sound of an indignant bawl from outside jerked her head up.
The heifers crowded the fence, gazing toward the house. "Now where's that darned Emil—" It all came crashing back. She'd been so mad yesterday that Jimmy telling her he'd fired Emilio hadn't even registered. She fetched two of her mother's Vintage Rose teacups while the coffeemaker burbled and her mind whirled. Their eighty acres was a decent-size spread for Fredericksburg. But between the bucking bulls and the mama cows, they were overgrazed, so JB had to supplement feed. Her shoulders slumped. Scratch that. She needed to feed.
Dang him. She'd been naive enough to believe, the first time, that the little buckle bunny perched on his truck seat belonged to a friend. Did he really think she was stupid enough to swallow the same story a second time?
The heifers at the fence bellowed for breakfast.
Focus, Charla. You have bigger problems today.
After yanking out the loaf of bread she'd made the day before, she popped two slices in the toaster, then glanced at her father's profile, his long face slack as he stared out the window. I can't leave Daddy alone today. She needed at least part-time help with him, but after Jimmy's comments on their finances yesterday, she was glad she hadn't asked him for more money.
A half hour later, Char stood in front of the open barn door. Only two sacks of feed? What the heck were you thinking, Jimmy? The bawl of hungry cattle got her moving. She would have to make do.
"I'll get this, Little Bit." Her father rounded the bed of the pickup. Growing up, she'd worshiped this big bear of a man who'd constructed the world to fit her mother and her. She glanced at his bent shoulders and spindly bowed legs. When had he gotten so fragile?
"We'll do it together, Daddy." They wrestled the sacks onto the battered truck bed. Her father walked to the fence and opened the gate, and she drove through it. After closing the gate, her dad got in the truck, and she drove to the center of the pasture. Jimmy always fed there, not wanting the cows at the front fence, leaning on it, breaking it down.
She turned off the engine and looked around the messy cab for Jimmy's work gloves as her father came around to open the door for her. Giving up the hunt, she stepped out, then hopped into the bed of the truck as the curious cattle trotted up. She had to admit, the infernal beasts were pretty. Their colors were as varied as their breeds: rusty reds, blacks, creams, brindles, and even a few speckled blues. All fat and pregnant.
Excerpted from The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake. Copyright © 2013 Laura Drake. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love romances and read them almost exclusively. The Sweet Spot was the best kind of romance, a true romance. A long time married couple, Char and JB, have lost everything since the tragic loss of their son including each other. Each must first build something from their previous life before either can move into the future. How these two people discover new facets of themselves and confront their own failings that led to the break up of their marriage makes this a universal story. My life has been nothing like Char's life, but I relate to her on many levels. In JB Denny, Laura Drake has created a man that you can see how and why Char fell in love with him and built a life with him. The Sweet Spot shows how it can all fall apart, too. I will not soon forget Charla Rae and James "JB" Denny, and the book is filled with other characters, Ben, Junior, Bella, Travis and Rosa to love. I cannot wait to visit Fredericksburg again and all of the friends and family of Char and JB which is when I know that I will read it again and again. This is my first pick for my own best book of 2013 list, and Laura Drake's next book, Nothing Sweeter, releases in December 2013. I cannot wait to read it, too, and see if it ends up on the list as well. I think I may have found a new "must read" author. Woo-hoo!
The Sweet Spot was an unexpected pleasure for me. I knew that Laura writes more "women's fiction" rather than "romance" but the book cover looks like a romance novel so I guess I forgot. In the first chapter you find out that this is the story of a couple who has been married for a long time, but are no longer together. You know it has something to do with their young son (and the back cover copy tells you he died, so I'm not giving anything away), and you start seeing that the story will be about whether or not they can give their love and marriage a second chance. What I liked most about Laura's writing is that it never felt like "just a romance novel." The story felt real, like I was reading about real people. It's set in Texas in the world of Pro Bull Riding (PBR), so there's lots of cowboy-like stuff and, being Texas, there's some to-be-expected Southern manners and Bible-belt story elements - her friends and pastor calling to see if she's okay, her putting them off, etc. I also liked that the husband's point of view seemed like what a man would do and feel and how he would talk to his friends, not just a woman's idea of what she wishes a man were thinking. (If you read a lot of romance novels, you know what I mean!) There are also lots of interesting secondary characters and the story lines that go with them. There is a really interesting element of "on the outside looking in" for many of the characters. I don't know if Laura did that on purpose, but the main couple are struggling with not being part of their usual social circles now that they're divorced, and there is a New Yorker trying to fit into this small Texas town, and a teenager trying to figure out who he wants to be. For me, the best part is that all of them find a place for themselves. Another thing I loved is that Laura put a quote at the beginning of each chapter. They kind of foreshadow what might happen in the chapter, and sometimes I laughed out loud when I read the quote because I knew something about what was going to happen now. It added to the anticipation. Plus I liked the quotes - Winston Churchill, Abigail Van Buren, Rita Mae Brown, lots of people I've never heard of, and even a quote from a pamphlet from the fictional county health group. It was fun. If you're a romance reader, you'll love this book even though it isn't a boy-meets-girl romance. If you like deeper stories with lots of other issues, you'll definitely love this book! There are so many things going on in these people's lives that it feels like the author must've experienced them all in some way because it just seemed so doggone real. I'm almost embarrassed to say that there was something in at least half the chapters that made me cry, but I also laughed and smiled a lot, too. This was the first book in over a year that made me stay up past midnight to finish it. I loved it!
Book 1 of three available and a new author sure to rise to the top.. The backdrop for the books is the National Bullriders Association.. And, while some of the story is about the bulls and bullriders, the stories are much more human than that... Book one is the story of Charla Rae Denny and her former husband J.B. Denny (Jimmy)... Their romance from elementary school on lasted 20 years before it was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy... Still they remain partners in her family ranch and the bull raising business... J.B. also provides stock to events and serves as announcer... I will never betray the story in a review but if you don't read these three books you are really missing some great writing and wonderful love stories... Sex is very tastefully handled... This Book won the RITA award for best new author and IMO it was surely deserving...
The back cover reads: Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident--and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together. James "JB" Denny doesn't stay where he isn't welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart--and their home--a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can't work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance? I was drawn to this story because it's not your typical man-meets-woman-woman-fights-falling-for-man-but-does-anyway sort of romance. I liked that they were once married. I liked that the worst thing I could imagine was what blew a canyon between them. (Not that I relished in that tragedy, mind you.) The story opens with Charla occupying herself in a homemaker sort of way. Fighting the draw of her addiction that began with the death of her son. Boom! She already has a vulnerability that affects her daily life, making other life struggles that much more difficult. And she is faced with another almost immediately: money. And that's where JB comes in. JB spends almost the entire book trying to convince his ex-wife, who so obviously still loves him in some tucked-away treasure chest in her heart, that he has grown as a man. He's trying to show her how much he still loves her. To regain her trust. And Charla turns him away at every turn. But she is changing and growing, too. She has a ranch to run, after all, so she pushes through old fears to take care of what takes care of her. She makes a new friend who knows nothing of her past, helping her to move into the future. Laura Drake's The Sweet Spot is a Romantic Times Top Pick and won "Best Debut of 2013" in the 2013 Curvy Book Awards. And there's good reason for that. Drake's prose is poetic, using fantastic imagery to take you from your sofa on to the Denny ranch in east Texas. Her metaphors are an Indian summer to the hackneyed phrases of the past decades. The dialog feels real, true to the characters speaking. The characters are so full, even the minor ones, it feels like you know them personally. But I think my favorite thing about this book was the emotion. Drake pulls you into the the lives of Charla and JB and makes you feel what they feel: the heart-wrenching pull of the damaged love between husband and wife; the terror of losing a child so young; the fear of rejoining society in a small town. All of it. I lived this story when I read it, like it was happening to me or my closest friend. I even had tears running down my cheeks at one point. Their stories are true-to-life ranching stories. The details are what make it so real: the way a cutting horse "turns on" when a cow is in front of them; birthing a calf stuck in the wrong position; a harsh bit in a horse's mouth. Drake obviously knows what she's doing. It was a leisurely read. One I didn't feel rushed to finish like the fantasy novels I've read. I think that made it more enjoyable in ways that fast-paced books can't grasp. The next book in the Sweet on a Cowboy series (love that title!) will be released January 28th, and you can bet I'll be at the store to pick it up. I've been searching for real "cowboy" stories for a long time. Laura Drake has provided what I've been looking for.
I love books that begin with a seemingly insurmountable situation. Char and JB Denney have lived through the worst horror, the death of their eight-year-old son. Instead of bringing them closer together, the tragedy tears them apart. Char retreats to grief and Valium. JB abandons Char for the arms of another woman, an unforgivable betrayal. Or is it? I also love books where right and wrong are woven in shades of gray, and the reader is allowed to decide for herself. An added bonus/bonuses? Drake's beautiful writing and a peek inside the world of cattle ranchers and championship bull riding. Well-done!
The Sweet Spot grabbed my attention from the beginning and held on to it all the way through to the end. Laura Drake has written a book with characters that are so compelling and charismatic that I could not stop turning pages. This is such a wonderful story full of strong emotion that deals with the pain of loss, the joy of finding a second chance at love, family, and friends. This story really tugged at my heart. With the loss of their son, the loss of their marriage, her father's illness & and finding their way back to each, there is a lot of drama and excitement that kept my interest. Charla Rae Denny's life completely fell apart and she just didn't know how to go on with life after the death of her son. Life continued but not in any way she was use to. She found herself in charge of everything from her Dad's health problems to the animals on the ranch. I don't want to give out to much of the story but one of my very favorite scenes is when Charla has to help one of the cows give birth to her calf. I admired her for the courage it took to stick it out and get that calf born alive. Charla has a lot more strength than even she knew she had. To me I think this was the turning point for Charla. Having helped with the birth process of a calf myself I know what she was going through. I think I also bonded a little more with Charla at this point. JB Denny tried to reach out to his wife, Charla after they loss their son, it just didn't work. What I loved about JB is after he found his heart still belonged to Charla he didn't give up. He looked for ways back into her heart. JB may have done some things he's not proud of but he knows he has to earn the trust of his wife back in order to make it work. I just love a cowboy that goes after the girl he loves! Another aspect that I really liked about this book is that both Charla and JB found friends that were able to support them and guide them along the way. I got a kick out of Charla's friend Bella. Bella is a city girl that has moved to the county, and this city girl adds some really humorous moments to the story. If you enjoy a good second chance at love story I think you will enjoy this book, however you very well may want to grab that box of Kleenex. I really enjoyed Laura Drake's writing style and I look forward to reading more of her work. I can't wait to see what story she has in store next. I received an advanced reading copy of this book to read in order to share my opinion with you. It has been my pleasure to share my thoughts with you on this touching story.
In The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake, Charla Denny is barely making it through each day after the loss of her beloved son Benje and a subsequent divorce from her husband JB. She's been in a medicated fog cooped up inside her house with her elderly father while JB has been taking care of the business end of the ranch. When they fell in love in high school, she never would have believed that they would be torn apart over their grief of losing their son and that JB would take up with a girl half his age when they separated. Charla fights back the day he brings another young girl to the ranch by telling him to leave the property and to never come back. She'll deal with the business and chores. Being a rancher's wife meant she has taken care of the house and all it entails for years, but she had left everything else to JB. She is terrified of making a mistake that will cost them money and maybe even lose the bucking bull business they've built over the years. Char also has to wean herself off the valium that has been her lifeline since her son died and try to help her father deal with his advancing Alzheimer's. She makes an unlikely friend in the newest member of town, New York transplant Bella, who lends a helping hand and a sympathetic ear to Charla. It's this connection to Bella that helps her finally start to take ownership of her life again. ~Suddenly Jimmy looked up, his eyes locking on hers so quick that she knew he'd been aware of her the whole time. He continued singing as her heart slammed against her ribs; his unrelenting gaze left no doubt that his song choice was no accident. His low-set voice slowed, coming gentle from the speakers overhead, to settle on her. " 'So when you look up with your eyes all blue and ask me, do I still love you? I do.' ~ JB keeps reappearing in Charla's day-to-day life, much to her chagrin. She can't let go of the heartache he caused her by cheating, and her mind of course always strays to their son when he's around. He makes a few feeble attempts to get back in her good graces but Char isn't sure there is any of the young cowboy she fell in love with left inside him. As they both struggle to move forward, she learns to like her new role running the ranch and the independent woman she's become. JB apparently feels the same way, telling her how much she's grown, and lets her continue to handle things on her own for the most part. She feels herself getting pulled back into her old feelings for him from before everything went horribly wrong. Char worries that her heart will be broken again if she trusts JB once more but has to decide if love is worth risking a second chance. ~Being alone with Little Bit last night brought it all back. How much he missed being her husband, the man by her side looking out for her, taking care of her. How much he missed the love and trust in her eyes. Touching her made him miss her, like a piece of him was gone.~ Jimmy 'JB' Denny feels like he's at just about the lowest point of his life. He's lost his son and his wife all within about a year's time. He was dumped by the young woman he got together with while he and Char were separated. And now money is so tight he's not sure how he'll pay for two households. He is shocked as he arrives at the ranch to pick up the bulls for the rodeo when Char comes out to the truck apparently outraged with him for bringing a young woman with him. She doesn't give him a chance to fully explain that he's just giving the girl a ride to the PBR event. She immediately assumes he's seeing her and flaunting it in her face. JB doesn't know how Char will handle the ranch by herself when she demands he leave the property but he intends to do what he can to help her out without her knowledge. He tries to keep tabs on her and eventually she allows him back to tend the training of the new bulls. JB realizes how much he misses Charla and the life they once had together. He will do anything to get back in her good graces and sets out to prove to her that he's still the same man beneath it all. This is a sweet romance by Laura Drake that is filled with heart-wrenching emotions and second chances. My heart broke for Charla and JB in their grief over the loss of their son. They both dealt with it in such different ways that it drove a wedge between them. I couldn't help as I read this but to hope their love would be strong enough to help them heal and to bring them back together in the end. The secondary characters in the story all played a strong part in Charla and JB's lives and are quite memorable themselves, along with adding some funny, upbeat moments in an otherwise intense story. I would recommend this one if you enjoy a story about hope, personal growth and lasting love.