Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 18, 2020
I was excited to request and receive an advance reader copy of the first novel in the new McGrath series by Jennifer Ryan, since she pretty much had me at "Cowboy," since I'm an admitted fan of contemporary cowboy romances, as well as the friends-to-lovers trope. While I found Waiting on a Cowboy a fairly enjoyable and somewhat suspenseful read, there were a few issues that I found bothersome, and for those reasons, which I'll explain, I can only give it a 3.5 star rating.
The hero and heroine in this novel are Tate McGrath and Liz Scott, who've been best friends since kindergarten but never allowed themselves to move beyond the friend zone, although it's quite clear from the outset that Liz has always wanted more from Tate, who, my issue number one, seems both clueless and oblivious to the fact that although everyone in his family, her family, and their friends and relations could see that Liz was in love with him, it was as if Tate was wearing blinders when it came to his best and closest friend and her feelings for him.
I also had a problem with Liz. She's tired of waiting around for Tate, and so has had several less than thrilling experiences with other men over the years. She's currently dating a man named Clint, and when Tate spots her at the local bar, he confronts her and wants to know why he hasn't heard from Liz in 6 weeks, since they've been in constant touch with one another through the years, Liz wanted to know why it took him 6 weeks to notice that she'd absented him from her life, and was fairly certain she'd made it really clear that to Tate that she was moving on, tired of waiting for him to see her as more than a friend, and when the new man in her life, Clint, gets between Tate and Liz, Tate doesn't like seeing her in another man's arms, is struck by jealousy, but does he do anything about it? Nope.
Liz has been dating Clint for a couple of months and has enjoyed his company, his wining and dining her, and she's even had sex with him, but lately she's been aware that not only doesn't he appreciate her lifelong friendship with Tate, he actively urges her to end their friendship. She's also noticed and been annoyed by Clint's attempts to isolate and control her--he always has to know her whereabouts, who she is with and why, and and has even tried to separate her from girlfriends and co-workers, all of which are huge red flags, yet rather than dump him, she makes excuses for his behavior until he manhandles her, leaves bruises, and she tells him they're over. To say that Clint doesn't take rejection well is putting it mildly, and he once again tries to charm his way back into her life, but when he's thwarted, when Tate finally begins to realize that his feelings for Liz are more than just friendship, Clint begins to stalk her. Yet through all of this, Liz hasn't reported him and his bizarre and creepy behavior to the police, although after hearing a loud argument between Clint and Liz, her neighbor, Ava, has the good sense to call 911, and Clint's stalking takes on an even more sinister dimension when one of his former girlfriends sees them at lunch, and after Clint leaves, gets up and warns Liz to keep him out of her life because of his controlling nature and the domestic abuse she suffered at his hands.
It seems that lately I've been reading a number of novels dealing with the issue of controlling and abusive men, and I usually have great empathy for the abuse victims, but I found myself growing annoyed when Liz allowed herself to keep being charmed by Clint, ready to forgive his odd behavior, white at the same time, not fully realizing the danger she was in, or noticing the fact that Tate was finally beginning to realize that his romantic feelings for Liz had deepened, even though it took confrontations with his siblings to make him see that what he'd felt for her for years had moved out of the friend zone long ago. As her relationship with Tate deepens, so too to the threats that Clint issues to Liz, but it takes an apparent murder for Liz to finally wake up to the true danger she's in.
While I eventually grew to like both Liz and Tate, and enjoyed watching their friendship heat up into love, I had a tough time dealing with how clueless both of them seemed to be about their feelings for one another, and the danger posed to both of them by Clint. Clint sends Liz flowers and she's all ready to forgive him and forget his controlling and abusive behavior, and there was simply too much waffling on her part for me to really like or understand her reasoning. Tate was equally clueless about his feelings for Liz for far too long, and his family had to keep reminding him that he obviously loved her and had for decades, but he didn't seem to be doing much about it for the longest time.
Yes, the tension and mounting suspense and danger in this novel heat up and so does the relationship between Liz and Tate, and although Clint's behavior becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous, for this reader, it just seemed to be much too little and far too late for Liz, Tate, and his family to really deal with the deadly threat Clint posed not only to Liz, but to the entire McGrath family. It also pointed out how slow and ineffective law enforcement has been and is in dealing with domestic abuse situations, stalking, and cyber-bullying, and the desperate need for legislators to do more to protect the victims of abuse. Since I know more than a few victims of domestic abuse personally, I will warn them of the triggers contained in this novel. It's a subject that desperately needs to be improved, and I'm glad to finally be seeing it addressed in romance novels, so kudos to Ms. Ryan for bringing attention to this subject matter.
Of course, there's the expected HEA ending in your future, since this is, after all, a romance novel, and a relatively enjoyable and well-written read, but I found that it just had a few too many missed opportunities for me to actually love it.
As stated at the outset, I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this novel. The opinions expressed are my own.