A Cowboy for Christmas
By Lori Wilde
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Four years ago, Lisette Moncrief was a young woman convinced that Jake Moncrief was the personification of the idealized cowboy heroes she had been dreaming about for half her life. Now she is a disillusioned young widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan, when, against direct orders, he tried to save orphans who were in the line of fire. However heroic his action, disobeying orders means that the military has denied Lisette and their two-year-old son Kyle survivors’ benefits. Added to that, Jake named his brother as beneficiary on his life insurance policy and death gratuity benefits, $500,000 in all. Lisette is on her own to bring up her son. Three months after Jake’s death, Kyle is diagnosed with progressive deafness. By the time he is five, Kyle will be totally deaf. Lisette is still reeling from Kyle’s diagnosis when a disastrous visit to a grocery store ends with her ramming a red pickup driven by a cowboy.
Rafferty Jones is in Jubilee to deliver a check. He doesn’t understand why Jake Moncrief named as beneficiary a bastard half-brother whom he’d known only for one brief summer, but Rafferty plans to see that the money goes where it rightfully belongs. Then, he’ll head back to California to the ranch where he trains horses for movies and keeps a close eye on his college-age younger brother and sister. All he wanted at Searcy’s Grocery was tuna, crackers, and V-8. He certainly never expected a fender bender that left him thinking about the woman driver with brown-sugar hair and a vulnerability that touched Rafferty’s care-taker heart.
When Rafferty arrives to deliver the check, he discovers that Jake’s widow and the woman who dented his fender are the same. But Lisette refuses the check. She’s determined to make it on her own and prove to everyone that she can take care of her son without depending on any man. Rafferty is more determined than ever that Lisette will have the money since Kyle’s care will mean higher medical bills. When he finds out that Jake has left a cutting horse that he started training, Rafferty thinks he’s found a way. He volunteers to stay in Jubilee long enough to complete the horse’s training and compete in the Fort Worth futurity event. Lisette agrees and offers him meals and the use of a garage apartment.
Over the next six weeks or so, the attraction between them grows. Rafferty proves to be the cowboy hero about whom Lisette once dreamed. He listens to her, encourages her efforts to assert herself, bonds with Kyle, and fits in well with her group of friends. Most importantly, he knows sign language because his ranch foreman is deaf. He begins to teach sign language to Kyle and to Lisette. Rafferty too finds that the more he knows about Lisette, the more he admires her. But they both feel guilty about their feelings for one another, and Rafferty’s presence creates an estrangement between Lisette and Jake’s mother, who is struggling with her own guilty feelings concerning Rafferty. Can two people so in tune with one another but with so many barriers between them find a happiness that endures beyond the moment?
This is the third book in Wilde’s Jubilee, Texas series. Jubilee itself is more background in this one. It is a place where Lisette has found friends and created a home and a place where Rafferty immediately feels as if he belongs, but the focus is on the building relationship between these two characters. Rafferty is almost perfect. His childhood with an absent father and a bipolar mother who lacks the capacity to parent her children leaves him with scars but also with great strength and compassion. He has devoted his life to taking care of his mother and of his younger brother and sister, and the caretaker’s role has become fundamental to who he is. Yet he is also able to encourage Lisette to abandon her passive, people-pleasing ways and become her own person. Plus he’s one sexy cowboy.
Lisette’s character arc is larger. But she has to overcome a lifetime of being the sweet, passive, good girl whose mission in life is to please everyone, and she has to become a stronger woman in control of her own life, able to make decisions concerning her son at a time when she’s dizzy from the triple blow of her husband’s death, her son’s deafness, and her own acceptance of the travesty that was her marriage. I found the fits and starts of her progress more believable than instant transformation would have been.
The secondary characters are interesting in their own right. Kyle, for the most part, is a credible, adorable two-year-old who has temper tantrums and is learning to assert his will. There was only one moment where he seemed far too perceptive for his age. Claudia Moncrief is a grieving mother and a woman tormented by guilt and fearful of what past mistakes could cost her. Lisette’s parents are loving and sincere, but they still see Lisette as a child who needs to be advised and protected. Characters from the other books show up when Lisette’s friends socialize. I was particularly pleased to see Mariah and Joe.
Despite the title, this is not really a Christmas book. It covers the period from early October to two weeks after Christmas. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all woven into the story, but Christmas matters as a date on the calendar rather than as a season that carries particular meanings. (I mean my comments to be descriptive, not derogatory.) A Cowboy for Christmas is a satisfying read with likable characters with real problems. If you share Lisette’s weakness for cowboys, Rafferty will no doubt steal your heart too.
Are you a fan of cowboy heroes? Have you visited Jubilee, Texas yet?