“You may always win, Autry Hill, but I never lose.” A woman willing to stand up to ladies-man Autry? Hot damn!
What’s it About?
Autry Hill may be a cowboy to his boots, but he’s also gained quite the reputation as a charmer and playboy. His parents aren’t sure he’s ready to take the reins of the family’s prosperous Texas ranch, so they set up a challenge: No women or scandal for the next six months and the ranch house he grew up in is his. Easy peasy, Autry thinks. He’s already tired of late nights and romancing, until elementary school teacher Beth Cooper happens to cross his path. Suddenly Autry is losing his heart, his mind, and what’s left of his reputation.
Good girl teacher Beth Cooper is far too practical to fall for Autry Hill, even if she had a crush on him way back when. The man’s been breaking hearts since middle school. But when he becomes her unexpected champion and then they work together to help one of Beth’s troubled students who’s about to lose everything, she sees a different side of Autry – serious, compassionate, determined and dedicated. And that Autry is nearly impossible to resist. Does she need to?
Normally in a romance novel we see how a bet can bring two people together. This one throws a rather unique twist on the whole betting trope in that we see how it actually keeps our two lead characters apart in terms of not having sex. Autry has a bet going with a family member that he won’t get into any sexual shenanigans for the next six months, and lo and behold this bet is actually made with his father. Not a drinking buddy or frat brother, which is another aspect we usually expect to see with this theme. Well, not for this ranching family! Autry needs to prove to his mother and father that he’s worthy of inheriting the family homestead after his parents downsize to a smaller piece of property.
Aside from his parents and siblings, it’s probably the one thing that Autry is most passionate about in this entire world. He’s always been a bit of a player about town, but for the last few months he’s taken up a personal vendetta to clean up his act a bit. Something which his family and the other townsfolk of this small corner of Texas don’t seem to have noticed. The prospect of spending a few more months without a random woman in his life doesn’t phase Autry in the least. Until a quiet local schoolteacher flips his entire world upside down that is. Now, how could you not be intrigued to give this romance a read?
Staying Out of the Bedroom
For those of you who know me, you’ll know there’s one element I usually like to see in all of my romance reads, and that’s some hanky panky between the lead characters before the halfway point. They say patience is a virtue, and it’s a quality I have never possessed, and most likely never will. I usually hate when a physical connection seems forcibly delayed, so when I learned Autry has this bet going with his father which would prevent him and Beth from doing the horizontal mambo, I was understandably concerned. Lemme tell you, I was shocked the author managed to pull me into this story so fully that I didn’t even notice or care that it was taking a while for Beth and Autry to fall into bed together.
A big part of that probably had to do with the fact that just because they can’t have sex doesn’t mean they can’t do…other things, and my goodness do they do a LOT! But I still think the main part of this was the fact that I was so drawn in by these characters, their connection, their growth as individuals, that sex was the last thing on my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sexual element in a romance, but the emotional connection and passion between these characters was so strong that I don’t think I would have minded at all if we’d gone the entire novel without seeing them have sex at all. Don’t worry though, they do, and it was everything I was hoping it would be! It was still refreshing though to see these two build a relationship that had such a strong foundation that didn’t rely on a physical component.
The true beauty of this novel lay not in the burgeoning sexual relationship between Autry and Beth, but rather in the familial relationship Beth and the entire Hill family were building with a young lonely boy named Dylan. A troubled foster child who seems closed off from the rest of the world, Beth and Autry are both determined to show him all the love he’s worthy of. Hands down this was my favorite feature of the novel. Dylan’s reluctance to trust others, or show hope in the possibility of someone else willingly choosing to care for him was heartbreaking, yet also the most truthful part of the book. We feel for this boy just as much as Beth and Autry do, and you can’t help but become entranced with the way that we see him open up from his shell to simply have fun as Autry spends more time with him as a positive male influence.
Striking a perfect balance between the love story in a romance novel, and any additional aspect involving children is often difficult, but this author manages to do it with a steady hand. It adds depth and struggle to the developing relationship between Beth and Autry, yet doesn’t overpower it either. If anything, my only wish would be that Beth was featured a bit more prominently in the scenes which ameliorated the connection with Dylan. It’s clear at the start of the novel that Dylan and Beth have already established a sense of trust with each other, so the book itself focuses more attention on Autry working his way into Dylan’s life. I think just one more scene elaborating on this already defined relationship between Beth and Dylan would have been especially enlightening.
The Hill Family
Throughout this entire series we have seen how close the Hill family is as a unit, and Autry’s connection with them is just as strong. However, his past “sins” have apparently put a kind of black mark on their opinion of him. They still love him, but it’s clear throughout their conversations with Autry that they seem surprised any time he demonstrates a selfless act. Needless to say, Autry becomes increasingly upset over his family’s seemingly less than positive opinion of him, and it’s a type of underlying animosity which grows and grows throughout the book. Sure, he’s a bit of a flirt, but it’s clear to us as the audience that every action and feeling he’s ever had towards Beth, Dylan, or his family has been filled with nothing but affection and love.
There was one scene in particular that I feel deserves mention where Autry has seemingly reached the breaking point in listening to his family’s underhanded sarcastic comments about him. He lashes out at his brother, who was surprised Autry wanted to spend more time with Dylan instead of going out drinking. It was such a beautiful and emotional scene you can practically feel the tension emanating off the page. Personally I think it was a kind of defense mechanism, in that his devotion to Dylan was being called into question by those who are supposed to know him best. Autry exclaims in frustration and anger that his family apparently seems to think so little of him, and he’s practically shaking with outrage. He’s a good person with a good heart, and he never thought he’d have to prove that to his family. It’s a quick scene, but for me it’s the one I’ll probably remember the most from this book. It sort of encapsulates Autry’s desire to be known as a good man, and for his past indiscretions to no longer characterize the man he is today.
*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*
Series: The Hills of Texas, book 3. I didn’t think it was possible, but this series might just be getting better with every new addition we see of a Hill family member. Can’t wait to see what comes next!
Final Impressions: If I had to find one negative of this book it would be that I don’t immediately have book 4 in my hands to start right now! We’ve come to know and love this Hill family, yet I’m surprised that with each new novel in the series we see a slew of different personalities from those we’ve seen in the previous book. Sure, we see some familiar faces from book to book, but it never feels like we’re seeing the same story, or the same people, on repeat. I especially loved the story-line we see here involving Dylan, as it allows us to see a different aspect of how someone can become enveloped into the Hill family. We hold our breath as we question how Beth and Autry’s story might evolve, from their own romance, to whether or not they’ll be able to save Dylan from getting lost in the foster system.
Smut Level: Sure, there might be a no-sex bet in place, but thankfully Autry is willing to push the boundaries as far as what that might include. Some things which aren’t off the table include kissing, licking, sucking, tugging and even a bit of stroking. And they’re on the kitchen table for that matter!
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 207 Pages.