Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-3006-5
Contemporary Romance, 2013
Cowboy Justice is almost pornographic in how it turns psychological baggage into a fetish. Everyone here has subscriptions to what seems like every issue in the dysfunction spectrum, and the whole story is basically a race to see who has the most impressive subscription roster of them all. Naturally, it’s all subscription, never prescription, because we all know that true love is the best antidepressant of them all.
Rachel Sorentino and her sisters converted their father’s ranch into a popular tourist destination. People come here to enjoy an artificial and cozy version of “ranch life”. While Rachel feels that this venture kind of trivializes real ranchers like what she imagines herself to be, she can’t deny that it’s bringing in the much-needed money after their father did the usual thing and left them scrambling for affection and dollar bills. Rachel and her sisters all have issues, apparently, and Rachel believes that she is responsible for her mother – who is, of course, bipolar because we can’t have anyone that is normal in this story – going “Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!” a while back by sneaking off to have sex with our hero Vaughn Cooper and leaving her mother to her own devices. Rachel also believes that she sucks, her life sucks, she makes everyone else’s life sucks, blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, some people are vandalizing the ranch. Rachel can’t call Vaughn, the sheriff, for help because she used to have sex with him and then everything went south. Besides, she’s convinced that he regrets having sex with her so, despite the fact that she doesn’t want the sex thing to take on a deeper significance, she is hurt by what she believes to be his withdrawal and, therefore, she can’t really talk to him at all. So she does what every rational New Mexico person would do: she takes a gun and shoots at these vandals. When the story opens, the vandals shoot back, and Rachel realizes that, oh no, she’s really not that good with guns. Oops, her horse dies – another reason for her to flay herself. She also gets injured in the process, the only happy moment in this story where I am concerned.
Vaughn shows up and tells Rachel that she has shot at the son of a corrupt Sheriff of the next town, and Rachel realizes that she has made another giant step to screw up her life. Not that she appreciates Vaughn’s efforts to protect her, because, you know, he doesn’t like people to know that they are having sex, and despite the fact that she doesn’t want to advertise the fact either, she’s hurt that he feels that way so she will never talk or even look at him again. Not that she actually does what she constantly whine and mope about – that would actually make her not irritating, and we can’t have that.
Vaughn also plays the “I’m the most guilt-ridden dingbat around!” card, but for the most part, his life is pretty functional compared to Rachel’s constant efforts to sabotage her own happiness and complain bitterly about that. I have no idea what he sees in that joyless bag of whine, but he’s pretty open about his feelings. It only makes Rachel more obnoxious to follow, therefore. First she whines that Vaughn doesn’t love her as much as she’d have liked, but when he starts telling her that he loves her and even begs her to give them a chance, she keeps rejecting him because she wants to be the biggest martyr of them all.
At the end of the day, the issues overwhelm the romance in Cowboy Justice. This story basically has me following one obnoxious heroine constantly moaning about how bad her life is and yet refusing to seize any opportunity to improve it. The author is constantly creating new excuses to keep the Xanax marathon going to, as the main characters actively find the next reason to stay down and dysfunctional once they lose their current reason to wring their hands and mope like a dope. These characters don’t deserve a book – they need therapy or a shove off a cliff.