This month's TBR theme is Westerns (historical or contemporary), a sub-genre that I enjoy, but don't go out of my way to collect. I wasn't sure I'd even find any in my collection, but as I scrolled through my Kindle I did run across this one. As I recall, Harlequin made a number of its e-books available for free in celebration of its 60th anniversary, and this was one of them. It's the third in a series of connected books, but it stands alone quite well, except for the cheesy baby-filled epilogue which seems pretty standard for this sort of book. It's a contemporary romance set in and around Dallas, TX. This Philadelphia Phan will try hard not to hold that against it.
Linda Warren's Once a Cowboy is the story of Brodie Hayes, a retired rodeo star who now lives on a small ranch near Dallas. Private Investigator Alex Donovan works with her father Buck at his agency, and occasionally takes on missing persons cases. She is approached by Helen Braxton who believes that Brodie is her son. Helen's son had been stolen out of the hospital nursery and never found. Brodie's resemblance to Helen's husband is remarkable and Alex agrees to seek out Brodie and see if she can get a DNA sample.
Alex's initial attempt to retrieve the DNA is unsuccessful, and rather devious. When she finds herself needing another sample, this time she comes clean. Brodie cannot believe that this Helen Braxton could possibly be his mother, but eventually he agrees to be tested. Of course the test is positive, turning Brodie's world upside down. Alex is drawn to Brodie immediately and after he learns the truth she keeps turning up to help him cope with the news. She also wants to talk him into meeting the Braxtons.
The romance in this book is fairly subtle as it's mostly about Brodie dealing with his altered perceptions of who he is. Alex herself also has family issues to deal with. Alex's father is a gruff, no-nonsense character who doesn't like seeing Alex get personally involved in their cases. Alex also watches over her grandmother, Naddy, who is a fun and quirky secondary character.
All in all this was an interesting, fast read that I enjoyed, but I'm glad it was free. The heroes from the previous books make appearances as Brodie's friends and their interactions seem natural within the context of the story. There is a little info-dumping though about those friends' romantic stories that was kind of spoiler-y if I were inclined to go back and read the other books. There's also a twist at the end regarding Alex and her father that was just too coincidental. I could have done without that. Still, I like Warren's writing and I may just seek out another one of her books. I see she's up for a RITA next month. Maybe I'll check that one out.