Friday, December 21, 2018

Review - - Dirty Little Secret

Dirty Little Secret
By Jennifer Ryan
Wild Rose Ranch - Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Reviewed by PJ

Noah Cordero is a modern-day cowboy who loves three things: ranching, his younger sister, and his step-father. John Cordero groomed Noah to take over the Montana spread where he learned to ride and work the land. But when John unexpectedly dies, he leaves half the ranch to a woman Noah doesn’t even know.
Roxy shares Noah’s last name, but not his blood. Estranged from her father, haunted by regrets, and eager to escape her notorious mother’s past, she is forced to fulfill her father’s last wishes. Inheriting means sharing a home with infuriating, challenging, and oh-so-tempting Noah. But John didn’t just make her owner of his ranch and guardian to her sister, his hidden sideline is her worst nightmare—she’s the new owner of the notorious Nevada brothel called Wild Rose Ranch where she grew up.
As their strictly business relationship starts to turn to true love, Roxy begins to wonder, what will happen when Noah discovers her dirty little secret?

My thoughts:

I discovered Jennifer Ryan a few years ago and have devoured her gritty, western-set, contemporary romantic suspense novels. I expected this first book in her new Wild Rose Ranch series to be of the same ilk but it takes a bit of a turn from previous series. It's still set (primarily) in Montana, features a hot cowboy, strong heroine and has plenty of heat and heart. But while there's heavy focus on the gritty, suspense aspect of previous books, in Dirty Little Secret it has a small role near the end of the book. This is primarily a contemporary romance that reeled me in and held me captive from beginning to end. 

Enemies-to-lovers is one of my favorite romance tropes and Roxy and Noah certainly have good reason to not trust - or like - one another very much. Roxy's father abandoned her to an abusive life with her drug-addicted, prostitute mother while showering his two adopted children (Noah and Annabelle) with love, support, and a stable, secure life on his Montana ranch. Roxy has always known her father chose Noah over her while Noah, who has poured his heart into the ranch and had every expectation of inheriting it, didn't even know Roxy existed until the reading of John's will. You want conflict? We've got conflict. Add in an unwanted attraction between Noah and Roxy and the fun's just beginning.

I had a hard time putting this book down. Ryan created flawed characters who deserve a happy ending but keep getting in their own way then gave them a story that would test them at every turn. Roxy, in particular, captured my heart. I wanted to open my arms, give her a big hug, and tell her that I see her but that would be awkward for a woman who has never known physical affection given in kindness and love. I want her to know that when I look at her I don't see the outer Marilyn Monroe body and make incorrect assumptions but, rather, the smart, educated, hard-working woman within. I see the woman who continually gives to others, never expecting kindness in return because, in her life, it's never been given. I see a woman who, even though she looks like her mother, is nothing like her in thought or deed. I see a woman who is deserving of love even though every experience in her life has tried to teach her the opposite. I see a character worthy of my affection, admiration, and trust.

Noah, on the other hand, is a character I needed time to warm up to. He makes mistakes, he makes assumptions, and he's a bit of a jerk at the beginning. But, at heart, he's a good man, his world also has been turned upside down, and he's looking for someone to blame since the man who set all this in motion is now out of reach. In short, he's human. I enjoy characters with layers, with flaws, and with the ability to grow and learn and make amends. He won me over in the end.

If you enjoy a western-set, enemies-to-lovers story with rich characterization, sizzling chemistry, a bit of suspense, and a happy ending, I recommend Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Ryan.