I read this book a couple of weeks ago and I've been struggling ever since to find the words to express just how UTTERLY FANTASTIC it is.
I'll start off by saying that I know absolutely nothing about rodeo. Fortunately, Kari Lynn Dell knows LOTS about rodeo (her bio says she is 'a third generation ranch-raised cowgirl, horse trainer, and rodeo competitor-as well as the 2013 Canadian Senior Pro Rodeo Association Breakaway Roping Champion') and she breaks everything down gently and simply for those of us who are completely ignorant about the sport.
At its heart, though, this is a book about two seriously amazing people. I wasn't too sure about Cole at the start of the book - his desire for a wife to basically feed him and look after him bothered me - but when I realized that he was autistic and struggling to express his emotions, the light dawned and I fell quite thoroughly in love with him.
Not quite as much as I fell in love with Shawnee, though, who we first meet getting out of the bed of a Brazilian rodeo rider 12 years her junior after a night of unashamed, no-strings sex - hardly the standard introduction for the heroine of a romance novel!
Shawnee's got her issues, not least of which is her inability to have children after a childhood struggle with cancer, and her knowledge that you don't really survive cancer. You just wait for it to come back and get you. The former issue leads to absolutely the most romantic line I've read in the last few years, when Cole, after coming to terms with his dreams of a family with Shawnee being dashed, tells her
"That's okay. If I can't have both, I choose you."
Everything about this book is perfect. Everything. Both hero and heroine are strong and flawed, dealing with mental issues and difficult situations, somehow finding a way to each other without diminishing the other in the process. One of my BIGGEST pet hates in romances is one person giving up their dream for the other; the EXACT OPPOSITE of that happened in this book (without further spoilers). It genuinely made me so happy I'm still thinking about it two weeks later. Go read it. You really, seriously won't regret it.
Five stars, and I'd give it more if I could.
Tougher In Texas is available now.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.