There’s something about a cowboy. I don’t know if it is well-worn jeans, the boots, or the fact I live in Denver and at heart we are still a cow-town (much to some people’s dismay), but I love cowboys. Admittedly, we don’t have many cowboys walking around town on an average day. Just because we are a cow-town at heart doesn’t mean we are a cow-town in principle. Except for three weeks in January during the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, then we are a full-fledged cow-town and proud of it.
There are places in Colorado and the West where the cowboy way of life is a day-to-day occurrence. Ranching provides a backdrop for the community and maintains the focus of many cowboys and cowgirls. Melissa Cutler has created such a town: Catcher Creek, New Mexico. The first of her Catcher Creek books The Trouble With Cowboys, introduced us to the Sorentino sisters, Amy, Rachel, and Jenna. A novel rich with community, The Trouble With Cowboys set the stage for all three sisters to find their own HEA. Amy finds hers with a local rancher to kick things off.
Cowboy Justice brings us back to Catcher Creek several months later and tells the story of Rachel and Vaughn, the local Sheriff. Previously the two had been involved in a clandestine affair that started after Rachel’s father was killed. The implications of Vaughn sleeping with the daughter of a victim forced the two of them to keep their relationship secret. When Rachel’s mother tries to kill herself one night while Rachel is with Vaughn, Rachel is overwhelmed with guilt and breaks things off. Neither are quite able to escape the hold they have on each other. At the same time, Rachel is trying to help her sisters revive the family ranch.
The Dude Ranch that the sisters established in their childhood home, as well as the oil wells along part of their land, are going strong. The sisters are beginning to find their footing after the deaths of both their parents. Not everyone is quite as happy with the sisters’ success. Local vandals have been painting threatening messages on the oil wells and other parts of the land. In the interest of protecting her sisters, Rachel opts to try to deal with the problem herself.
In a powerful opening scene, Rachel takes on one such group of vandals. A dangerous gun battle that leaves two of the vandals shot, Rachel wounded, and her horse killed. Devastated, Rachel calls Vaughn. When he arrives it is to find one of the wounded men is the son of the County Sherriff. From there things just get complicated.
Cutler lets her romantic suspense talents shine, as there is more to the story than some locals unhappy with the increased tourist traffic. She brings to light some real-world issues that impact many of the small towns throughout the West. Murder and drugs are not just issues for big cities.
Rachel and Vaughn have a tough road to ride. They are both constrained by their personal outlooks on life, as well as guilt over their perceived indiscretions. Just about the time one starts to let go and let the other in, something happens to force them back into protective mode. Rachel cannot let go of the guilt she harbors over her mom’s overdose. Vaughn feels as if he must protect everyone and take on all the injustices in the world. They are clearly better together, but both are too hard-headed to admit it. When they finally both let go and allow themselves to lean on each other it is wonderful.
This book is more serious than the first, but no less enjoyable. I am eagerly awaiting Jenna’s story next spring.