Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “If I owned Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
I first discovered Laura Drake when I was offered an arc of The Sweet Spot. A bittersweet romance contemporary that deals with grief, heartbreak, and forgiveness. Drake’s ability to work past the trite and hit on the cusp of the matter with beautiful prose and a genuine empathy for her couple made that book a winner for me. When I was offered Sweet On You, I jumped at the chance and was delighted to see that Ms. Drake’s writing has only gotten better with time.
LT Katya “Smitty” Smith, army medic, was placed on medical leave when she was injured in a suicide bombing and now suffers from crippling PTSD. Her superiors demanded she take the time to heal; requiring a clean bill of physical and mental health before she can return to her unit. Katya fears she will not be able to pass the eval on her own so she looks for a job stateside in order to help her find her balance again. Hired on as a trainer of a medical team for the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) circuit, Katya hopes she can fix herself and hightail it back to her “family.”
Cam “Cool Hand” Cahill is a professional bull rider who is at a crossroad of his life. He knows this will be his last year riding and is unsure what a busted up ex bull rider is good for once he steps out of the limelight. All he wants is one last shot at the world title and no one, not even a dark eyed seductive gypsy with magic hands will stand in his way. But Cam senses a kindred soul beneath the skittish trainer and begins to work his own brand of magic.
Sweet on You deals with fear, guilt, regret, and forgiveness. Set up amongst the world of professional bull riders, Drake gives us an in depth and interesting look at the mechanics of this volatile world; from the bulls themselves to the hierarchy that exists between the riders. Well defined characters and an emotionally heartfelt storyline will keep you engaged as we watch a woman weighed down by grief begins to heal. Well written with smooth flowing storyline and dynamic characterization, Drake pens an emotional contemporary that takes an honest look at two people who take great pains in keeping themselves emotionally and physically contained and what happens when those walls are breached.
The book focuses mainly on Kayta; the subplots and romance more of a means to help Kayta move forward. Kayta’s is an intelligent sensual engaging woman whose half gypsy heritage has her keeping one foot in the Roma world and one foot in the modern world. Her mother, a gypsy, married a gadjo (non gypsy) and left her family, never to return. Kayta was luckly able to spend summers with her grandmother who helped to nurture and give her the love and acceptance her parents were unable to unwilling to give. She enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and spent the last eight years in the military, only coming home after her injury.
Drake slowly reveals and dissects the deep pain Kayta has been carrying for years; brought to a head by her near death experience and loss of a friend. Kayta is consumed by survivors guilt and PTSD. From her past sense of abandonment by her parents to her current feelings of abandonment by her military family, Kayta is living in limbo, unsure what to do next. This is a crippling mental state that affects thousands of veterans and I felt Drake gives an honest portrayal of what Katya is suffering. There is no magical pill or easy 12 step program to overcome. Kayta has to learn to honestly deal with her emotions and forgive herself for being alive before she can move forward.
Cam and Kayta are a volatile mix from their first meeting. A series of misunderstandings place them at odds with one another in the beginning, but soon they are able to move beyond that and form a friendship that gradually becomes something more. Very gradually and late in the book. I will note that the love scene(s) are more tell then show as is indicative of this series. As I stated earlier, the romance is part of an overall plotline to being Kayta forward in life. Neither were looking for anything permanent. Cam has already been burned once by a quickie marriage and Kayta is only looking to get back to her unit.
I liked Kayta and Cam. Kayta with her obvious love for family and a genuine need to help and Cam with his smoldering sexuality and quiet charm makes the chemistry between them burn throughout the story. Ms. Drake does a wonderful job of facilitating a very slow moving romance amongst the backdrop of their personal issues. Legitimate concerns are addressed and nothing is skimmed over or rushed to make the story more aesthetically pleasing. It’s an emotional journey that realistically follows the rocky path they have been set on. Nothing is perfect and we aren’t sure till the very end if Kayta will be able to accept the second chance she has been given.
The main conflict blends well with multiple subplots. There is some subtle humor injected to help offset the seriousness of our couple and storyline. Drake slowly opens the lid on Katya’s and Cam’s issues and begins to systematically and realistically address them using some well placed secondary characters. Kayta slowly opens up as she becomes more integrated into the rodeo circuit and makes friends. She begins to see that she doesn’t have to feel guilty for what happened. She can let it go without any dishonor to herself or those she left behind. Cam begins to see that he has many options after retirement and begins to see a whole new world opening up to him if he can let go of his fear and prejudices.
The ending wraps everything up nicely and gives the readers a look into the future with a nice epilogue.