This book was on sale. I bought it because the description was all, “YO. I GOT ALL OF YOUR CATNIP RIGHT HERE.” A one night stand between a new professor and a rodeo cowboy who turns out to be her colleague at her new job? Sign me up.
Plus, this book has all kinds of glowing reviews on GoodReads, so on sale PLUS a 4+ star average PLUS my catnip = clicky-buy-buy!
Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the majority of the reviewers hold a markedly different opinion than I do about this book. This book is not so much One Night With a Cowboy as it is One Night With a Guy You Thought Was a Cowboy But Who is Actually a Soldier, and to borrow a phrase from Red Headed Girl, And Who Doesn't Know How to Use His Words, Either.
Here's a bit more explanation on that summary, because some of the following points become Very Important in all the reasons this book went Completely Bonkers for me. English professor Becca is laid off from her position at Vassar and comes home to find her live-in boyfriend of two-years moving out on the sly. This is a most sucky of days for Becca. One night a short bit later, she discusses with her Very Nebby Overinvolved Sister a position at Oklahoma State University that she doesn't think she wants but might be the only professorial position available at that moment. She then leaves the room with the laptop open and her resume on the desktop.
You can guess what happened.
The VNOS's job in this book is to a) get all up in Becca's business, b) tell Becca what she's doing wrong c) tell Becca what she ought to be doing, and d) tell Becca what to wear while she's doing whatever it is VNOS thinks she ought to be doing. Her sister (her actual name is Emma) has very little life of her own that you see in the story, and initially I thought it was because she was a plot device, the personified kick in the ass Becca would need to go do things. Really it's because she's the heroine of the next book, and she so has to be enough of a presence in the first one that she can jump to center stage in the next one, but not so much of a presence that she alienates readers. Future heroine: it's a difficult job.
So anyway, VNOS sends Oklahoma State University a copy of Becca's resume to apply for the job, and surprise, they call.
Here's where the “Wait a minute…” fact-checking prairie dog in my brain woke up and poked his head out of the ground.
A long, long time ago, I thought I wanted to be a professor of English. Part of my reason was that I liked teaching a lot, and I liked books and discussing various meanings found within them. (I had no idea that being an English professor should also require an absolute unshakable love of grading papers. I learned that one later.) So, after college, I wasn't sure what to do with myself, and thought, like many people do, another six to eight years of higher education would be just the thing, so I'd go get my PhD.
Many factors combined to change my mind on that one, but during the “Sure! A PhD would be awesome!” process, I applied for a job in the academic honors department at Oklahoma State University. It was a part-time position, if I recall correctly, and the position would have reduced the fees for an advanced degree at OKState (I can't call it “OSU” – that's Ohio State, and my brain is already confused by USC meaning “Southern California” to everyone else except me, for whom that mans “University of South Carolina”) by half.
Now, I'm from Pittsburgh, which isn't the most biggest of cities, but is not small, either. And I went to college in South Carolina, where, for three years, I think I was the only Yankee student with the accompanying Yankee accent. So I was pretty used to feeling like a strange person in a strange place. When OKState called me to ask if I'd come out to Stillwater for an interview, I was thrilled (though conflicted because I wasn't sure if this was a position I wanted) and very curious. I'd never been to Oklahoma.
Stillwater is where OKState is. Beyond that… well, in 1996, I thought it was the smallest town I'd ever seen in my life (I know, there are many, many towns that are much smaller — and by law 96% now have a contemporary romance series set there) and could not imagine how I'd live there. Many of the real estate listings featured trailers for rent, and nothing looked familiar. Nothing. The trees were different. The color of the ground was different. There were storm shelters everywhere. Everything was different. Including OKState – it was HUGE compared to where I'd gone to school (a small women's college of less than 2500 students).
So when I read Becca's accounts of her journey to Stillwater, I was so into it. I did that, too! I remember thinking, like she did, that it was completely different, that I didn't fit, that people were so friendly, that's a lot of cowboy hats in one location, etc etc etc. I usually get really irritated by character snobbery and overdeveloped senses of entitlement, but even when Becca was totally ridiculous about her reaction to Oklahoma, I was with her because, dude, I had been there in that moment having those “Whoa, this is different” feelings.
But unfortunately, Becca's trip to OKState is also where the prairie dog of “Wait a minute…” first appeared.
OK, NOW it's your turn, Mr. Prairie Dog:
When Becca is invited to OSU for the interview… she pays for her own flight and her own hotel room. Her sister decides she's coming along for the interview trip (she doesn't actually go to the interview WITH Becca, though I wouldn't have been surprised if she did, hiding under Becca's skirt — that her sister picked out) and they discuss how Becca is going to have to pay for only half the hotel room now, and how much the flights will be.
I was interviewing for a part-time position in an honors department, but I remember they paid for my flight. And the hotel room on campus. Why was Becca paying for her own trip and interview accommodations? The dean of the English department even says that he wouldn't ask a candidate to fly to Oklahoma unless they were very serious about her…. Why is she paying?
OK, maybe things have changed. My experience was nearly 20 years ago (wow) (dude, I am getting older) so maybe things are different. Ok! I'll go along, but the prairie dog is riding shotgun.
So she and Becca arrive, and Becca has already purchased tickets for the rodeo that evening near the hotel. They are going to the rodeo, whether Becca likes it or not.
And again, the “Wait a minute…” prairie dog jumps up. So, the night before the interview, she isn't met at the airport by anyone from the department?
There's no schmoozing, unofficial-but-still-part-of-the-interview dinner?
No one from OKState would want to make a first impression by greeting her upon arrival?
There's no meeting her to show her around the campus when she arrives?
This was… not what I expected.
But ok, they go to the rodeo.
And the “Wait a minute…” prairie dog is now sitting on my shoulder. Usually inaccuracies don't break me from a book, historical or otherwise. Usually inaccuracies don't break me from a book, historical or otherwise. But two in a row made me question everything else that didn't seem right to me, to the point I was Googling every third or fourth page.
“Do people in Oklahoma say 'pop' when they mean a soft drink? GOOGLE!” (They do, sort of!)
“Do the cowboys at a rodeo really… GOOGLE!”
“Wait, is that supposed to happen when…. GOOGLE!” (You get the point.)
After the first couple of chapters, I had to make a choice. Either I was going to accept that this reality might be slightly different from my own, and go with it, or become annoyed with the differences and things that didn't seem correct, and stop reading.
And you guys, I am SO GLAD I did because it went STRAIGHT to CRAZYTOWN in the end. I can't say that I enjoyed every minute of this book, but I kept going to find out what would happen next, because when this book's plot went for the curve, it went for it and bought two t-shirts and its name on a grain of rice. This story took did things I did NOT EXPECT. Like, it went WHOA WTF in a hurry. (And you know how much I like when that happens!) (Answer: A LOT OF A LOT.)
At the rodeo, Becca and Emma catch the eye of two cowboys in the rodeo, Tucker and Jace. Tucker, the hero of the story, notices Becca, and after some nudging, decides to invite both ladies down from their seats in the nosebleed section to the area where Tucker and the other bullriders are waiting for their events to start, which I think is like the backstage pass for the rodeo.
Tucker and Becca are totally into one another, and after some anxious-hornypants-tinged conversations, they hook up. And boy howdy, do they hook up. Best sex ever for Becca (of course) and amazingly powerful for Tucker (of course of course) (It's never been like that before!) (Oh yeah) and ahem. It was all good.
Except Becca doesn't tell Tucker about her job interview at OKState, and Tucker doesn't tell Becca that he isn't a full time rodeo cowboy, and his day job is in the OKState ROTC program. Becca leaves the following morning, and they don't expect to see one another again.
So when Tucker, in full fatigues, is brought to a cocktail mixer to welcome the new university English professor, SURPRISE!
And not a good surprise, either.
Tucker has been thinking nonstop about Becca, and Becca has been thinking nonstop about Tucker, and when they see each other, it is not all sunshine and roses. She's mortified that her one-night-stand is her colleague, and he's mad because… well, partly because He Has Feels And He Doesn't Like Them, plus he makes all these presumptive judgments about how Becca must look down on him (except…despite some early judgement, I don't think she does, at all).
Tucker's boss, Logan, encourages Becca to call Tucker, having sensed that something was up between them (literally). Also: Tucker's dick totally twitches in the story. If you're working out at home, that's 15 side leg lifts, each leg, people! Let's go!
So they get back together as “friends,” but then they hook up some more because there is Passion In Their Pants.
And hooking up is pretty much all they do, really. Well, Becca, anyway. She doesn't do anything having to do with her job except go to the library once. You don't see her teaching or grading papers, and she doesn't even think a little bit about whether she enjoys her job or her new classes. Or all those papers she has to grade. She might as well have a job standing still on campus for eight hours. It doesn't figure into her character. She just becomes someone who hangs out with Tucker and calls her sister a lot. Maybe she got the professorial job in the English department that comes with zero papers to grade? I dunno.
Tucker has some ROTC duties that the reader is witness to, which is part of his bad assery, which gets amped up in the last third of the book.
But then, the conflict arrives. Tucker and Becca have a good-sex thing going on, but Tucker is the only one who knows about this non-fraternization rule at the university.
There is a NON-FRATERNIZATION RULE at the university! Trust me – it's mentioned more than ten times by various characters. (Yes, I searched for the word “fraternization” in the book.) There is a RULE that may complicate their RELATIONSHIP.
Does he tell Becca about this rule so they can figure things out? No. Don't be silly. They're boinking, not talking.
Does he talk to his supervisor about the fact that he and Becca met prior to her employment at OSU, and their good-sex thing is kind of like a pre-existing condition except it's orgasms instead of something unhealthy? Nope.
But this pesky non-fraternization rule is troublesome for Tucker, and becomes more and more of an issue he feels guilty and conflicted about.
SO. GUESS WHAT TUCKER DOES?
A. ask his supervisor/commanding officer at OKState for help.
B. talk to Becca about the rule regarding employee relationships and figure out a solution.
C. talk to Becca, who just went through new employee orientation, one would think, and thus would also be equally aware of this non fraternization rule, and they figure something out.
D. decide to volunteer to go to Afghanistan and leave OKState, leave Oklahoma, leave the entire country so as to protect Becca's job, but does not discuss any of this with Becca?
If you picked D, YOU ARE RIGHT. Please drink with me.
I mean, this decision came out of nowhere and made NO SENSE.
There's a fly in the house. GET ME A CANNON SO I CAN SHOOT IT.
Ouch, I have a bug bite. TIME TO AMPUTATE.
The solution is so over the top, I was entertained more than empathetic for either of them.
Seriously. What the actual hell? Tucker is told repeatedly that he shouldn't pursue a relationship with Becca, except his CO/boss is also encouraging him. He finds out that they've been recorded on camera making out in the library and that lack of discretion is a problem, except it's not like Stillwater is that big of a place. He realizes that with all the students in Stillwater, he can't really hide his hooking up with Becca, except wait a minute, it's more than just hooking up and there might be real feels going on here. And if he continues to figure out his feels while also feeling her up, he might put her new job in danger.
Welp. Guess the best thing to do is volunteer for a tour of Afghanistan for a few months so he doesn't have to cowboy up and tell her what's going on.
Plus, he lets her think he was directed to report to Afghanistan, and doesn't tell her that he volunteered.
This was the most ludicrous thing. He'd rather increase the likelihood of death, injury, loss of limb, and significant psychological and physical injury than tell Becca there's a rule about the two of them hooking up in Stillwater. He lies to her to get away from her, then spends a few chapters of battle scenes pining for her.
And meanwhile, Becca didn't have any other reaction aside from “Oh, no!” and “How can I be supportive?” and “Do you need beef jerky?”
I kept waiting for her to hand his ass back to him about how he'd rather lie to her and put his life in danger than tell her the truth, or let her have a say in how their relationship might work. No, he should make all the decisions and let her worry about him.
I didn't understand the point of all the scenes of Tucker in battle and shooting the shit with his fellow soldiers, except for the one dude whose job it is to prod Tucker about those feelings-woo-woo-woo-feelings he doesn't want to deal with. Plus, the level of emo angst that Tucker and Becca go through is at odds with the limited time they've known each other and the slow pace of their relationship up to that point. It's kind of a new trope, really: “I don't know how I feel about you, so I'm volunteering for active combat, but putting my life in grave danger makes me realize how I feel!”
If nothing else, the marketing opportunities are endless.
Come to Afghanistan! A perfect way to work out your emotional insecurity and inability to commit to relationships like a grown up!
So while I enjoyed the roller coaster of “What now?” alongside my prairie dog companion, I was nonplussed by the completely bonkers decision making of the hero, and the reduction of the heroine to a worried, unhappy person kept in the dark about the reality and potential conflicts of their relationship.