Reviewed in the United States on March 19, 2021
I've been a Vanessa Vale fan since I got hooked on her Bridgewater series, but Rough and Ready, the second book in her More Than a Cowboy series, told in dual narration, was one gripping and emotional read, and aside from my personal ambivalence about insta-love romances in general, this was just such a well-written, angst-laden romance that it earned a 5-star rating from this reader.
We first meet Harper, our heroine, and she's in hiding, not only from a couple of thugs, but from her own brother, Cam, who'd been the apple of his wealthy parents' eyes all of his life, while Harper, who became a college professor, was treated as a disappoint by her parents. Cam has also been a bad boy, a criminal, a gambler, and a miserable excuse for a brother to Harper. He's due to be released from prison, and Harper, who testified against him at his trial, has been promised vengeance, and expects it. Harper thought a new phone number and a new location would keep her safe, but Cam is already calling her new phone, and knows where she is. When Cam's parents bailed him out of trouble the last time, they paid Harper hush money to remain silent, and it's that money that Cam wants, to pay off a large gambling debt to a loan shark. At first, he "sold" Harper to the loan shark as payment for that debt, but since she fought off the two thugs who decided they'd rape her before handing her over to their boss, that deal fell through.
She's just moved into a safe apartment, the building and training gym on the ground floor owned and run by Grayson, who was the hero in the first book in this series. When she's in the elevator, the doors slide open, and the man on the other side of those doors is huge, rough-looking, muscled, covered in tattoos, and he scares her half to death because he reminds her of the two henchmen who tried to rape her, also in an elevator. But this is the first time she's set eyes on another tenant, Reed, an MMA fighter, who is not only her neighbor, but who trains at Grayson's gym.
While Reed looks like a thug, he's anything but. His history, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in poverty and with horrible parents, should have turned him into a criminal like his father, but there's way more to Reed than meets the eye. He's doing well as an MMA fighter, but doesn't think he worth much to a woman like Harper, but his rough exterior hides a sweet guy with a good soul, and although he doesn't think he's worthy of Harper's affection, she's someone he really wants and desperately needs, and although Harper is frightened by him at first, he's someone she needs too.
In what at first appears to be a contemporary riff on a Beauty and the Beast tale, this novel is way more than that. At it's heart it's about two lost and frightened souls who try to save one another, and who learn that although they may at first be either drawn to or frightened by outward appearances, what's really important is seeing the the heart, the soul, the goodness, and the kindness of a person, hidden behind that mask. As Harper and Reed get to know one another, Ms. Vale turns on the heat, and while she's a pro at writing steamy sex scenes, the sweetness, sensitivity, and tenderness of those scenes in this novel were a thing of beauty. While Harper would prefer to keep on running and hiding, Reed chooses to do the exact opposite.
All in all, this may just be my favorite read from Vanessa Vale. It's rough, there's violence, there's fear, and graphic sex, but what won me over was the suspense and the well-drawn characters, and their passion and compassion for each other. This was an excellent read, and I'm happy to recommend it.