Title: Unconventional in Kansas City
Authors: Carol Lynne, T.A. Chase, Stephani Hecht, Jambrea Jo Jones, Devon Rhodes
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Length: 217 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Anthology
At a Glance: Overall, this was a wonderful compilation for GRL 2016 by some very talented authors.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: ‘Kiss Me, Cowboy’ by Carol Lynne
It isn’t easy to cling to teenage promises when you become one of the forgotten.
For Eli Barron, Jesse Clooney has always been the one. From their first day of kindergarten through their high school graduation, the pair were inseparable. So, when a situation arises that splits the two men apart, it’s up to Eli to keep the home fires burning as Jesse sets off to follow his dreams on the rodeo circuit. But how long can a man continue to stoke the fire before the flames die out?
‘New Vocations’ by T.A. Chase
Two men who believe in second chances meet and their lives are never the same again.
Layne Daly comes to participate in The American Royal. He’s there to show off the abilities of the retired thoroughbreds he adopts straight off the track. He wants people to know these animals can do so much more than race. He has three horses there to do exhibitions in reining, barrel racing and cutting. When his usual groom gets sick, he has to hire someone fast.
Carl Stewartson used to love coming to Kansas City for the rodeo. He’d ride broncs and hang out with his friends. But since his career-ending injury early in the year, Carl has been spinning his wheels, trying to find something to do with his life now that he couldn’t rodeo anymore. He runs into Layne and offers to help him with his horses.
Together, they have to deal with not only the stress of the event, but starting a new relationship. Second chances are what Layne does best and he’s more than willing to give Carl the opportunity.
‘Stallions and Ice’ by Stephani Hecht
Sometimes you have to climb a mountain to see the future.
While Brandon loves to go and watch his friend, Nichole, at The American Royal every year, there is no way that he is ever going to climb on a horse. His feet belong on the ground or the ice. As one the of the players of the local minor league team, the Wichita Thunder, all he dreams about is someday moving up to the major leagues. That is, until he meets Nichole’s brother, Brandon.
Brandon grew up in a family that has always been in the rodeo circuit. There was no question that he was ever going to be anything else…until he’s sidelined by seizures and can no longer ride. Then he meets Ethan and he begins to wonder, that maybe, just maybe, his life isn’t over.
Will decades of traditions tear the men apart? Or can they can overcome all their obstacles and be together?
‘Playing with Fire’ by Jambrea Jo Jones
Ranch cook against restaurateur—who does it better?
Hayden McGrath has the formal training and know how to run one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in the city. This year he wants to prove his worth by entering the barbecue competition at The American Royal. It has nothing to do with a certain cowboy from the Flying P…
Amos Vasquez has been the ranch cook at the Flying P Retreat since it was an actual ranch. Now it’s a place tourists flock to so they can have a taste of his food. This year he is going to win the barbecue competition and nothing will stand in his way, not even a certain sexy redheaded restaurant owner who has caught his eye.
This will be the BBQ competition to beat all competitions at The American Royal.
‘Resuscitating Love’ by Devon Rhodes
If Hill keeps putting cowboys ahead of his marriage, even being a cardiologist won’t help David fix their broken hearts.
Hillard ‘Hill’ Pearson, the new events director of the American Royal, has worked hard to get to where he is. This is his first year as director, and the huge responsibility of the more visible position has taken over his life. Yes, he could be considered a workaholic, but he’s put fifteen years into the event he’s loved since he was a kid, and now is his chance to shine.
When David Weinstein finally convinced his long-time partner, Hill, to marry him, he thought it would bring them closer together. Instead, they’re not even to their first anniversary and their relationship is suffering. David’s finally at a stage in his medical career where he has regular hours, but can’t seem to connect with his husband when he’s free. Now, with the event that he’s sick of hearing about underway, he feels like he’s making all the effort with no return.
Can Hill and David resuscitate their love before David gives up on the promise of forever?
Review: Unconventional in Kansas City is the work of five authors–Carol Lynne, T.A. Chase, Stephani Hecht, Jambrea Jo Jones and Devon Rhodes–who have released anthologies before during the annual GRL convention. Focusing on cowboys, and giving us wonderfully different stories of romance and love, these stories are unique in that they all center round the same rodeo taking place in the city. Overall, this was a wonderful compilation for GRL 2016 by some very talented authors. Overall Rating: 4 stars
Kiss Me, Cowboy by Carol Lynne
Together from the age of five, Eli and Jessie were the best of friends. As they grew older, Eli and his family did everything they could to help shield Jesse from his abusive father and his unconcerned mother. Both the boys knew that the moment they could, they would leave together and make a life with each other. However, just as they were about to realize their dream, Eli’s father died and he was stuck having to take care of the farm and his two younger sisters and mother. Jesse couldn’t stay. He had to escape the town that had always looked down on him. As months turned into years, the love that Eli and Jesse had for one another seemed destined to end. But fate has a way of making the most impossible things happen, and when Eli’s mother passes away, Jesse returns. Now the only question is, does Eli still love his cowboy?
This is a sweet and tender coming-of-age story that morphs into one disappointment after another for Eli. Jesse is determined to make a name for himself and somehow escape all the awful things his father told him, repeatedly, that he was. But that determination pulls Eli and Jesse farther and farther apart until it really isn’t certain any longer that the love these two once had for each other could ever last the distance that now lies between them. These two characters were immensely likable and while this was a very short story, the love they have for each other felt quite real. Unfortunately, toward the end of the story there is some alluding to Jesse finding someone else during the years that he and Eli are apart. That plot point is dangled at one point in the story and then never addressed again. It was the lack of a resolution to Jessie’s possibly having moved on that made the ending to the story hard to believe. Instead, Eli and Jesse never spoke of it, and I think that damaged the story overall. Rating: 3 stars
New Vocations by T.A. Chase
Layne Daly runs a ranch where he takes in horses and re-trains them for jobs they normally wouldn’t be performing. When he goes into Kansas City to attend an exhibition, he’s counting on one of his ranch hands to join him. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving he gets a call to let him know his employee is too ill to travel, so Layne is stuck with caring for three horses on his own, one of which is very high maintenance.
Carl Stewartson has been riding broncos most of his life. A bad injury has sidelined him and ended his career for good. Since his mother’s death, Carl has been reluctant to return home to his dad’s ranch knowing that his father and his brothers have real difficulty accepting the fact that he’s gay. He figures that he’ll stick around the stables at the exhibition arena to pick up some extra work before trying to find a more permanent job. Little did Carl and Layne know that both of them would leave this exhibition with a lot more than they came with.
This was a fast and hot romance between two cowboys willing to take a chance. I really enjoyed the initial reluctance from both characters, and their uncertainty about whether or not the other had any interest at all in getting together. What starts out as a potential one night stand turns into a bit more rather quickly. If you can put aside your disbelief in two men having such instant chemistry, then you’ll really enjoy this short and sweet love story. Either way, this is a well-written romance piece that cowboy lovers are sure to enjoy. Rating 4 stars
Stallion and Ice by Stephani Hecht
Stephani Hecht gives us the next selection in the anthology, Stallion And Ice. Brandon is a hockey player who has just moved to Kansas City. Lucky for him he already has a friend there, Nichole, who comes from a large family of bronco riders. The two meet up at a show, and Nichole introduces Brandon to her brother Ethan. Ethan has felt like the odd man out in his family for a long time, not only because he is gay but also because he is unable to carry on the family legacy due to seizures which have left him sidelined. He also has a real knack for putting himself down, a result of being in a relationship where his ex hid him like a dirty habit. However, Brandon takes one look at Ethan and falls hard. Now all the hockey player thinks he has to do is take it slow so as not to scare off the skittish Ethan. Little does he know that Ethan is not only ready to move on from his former bad romance but doesn’t intend to put the brakes on when it comes to winning over Brandon.
These characters are young and hip and when it started, I thought the story itself had great potential. The problem was I felt little to no chemistry between Brandon and Ethan. There was most assuredly lust, but that didn’t communicate itself into any kind of real caring or deep emotional connection. Also, there was so little backstory about Ethan and his former boyfriend, Brian, which made it difficult to have any pity for Ethan and his nagging insecurities about whether or not he would be good enough for Brandon.
Alongside that issue, there seem to be some real plot holes within the story. For instance, Brandon had known Nichole for many years and yet seemed surprised to find out that she had five other siblings—one would think such good friends would have discussed their families. Then, there was a brief concern about an age difference between Brandon and Ethan, which turned out to be literally just a year, and yet Brandon worries that Ethan will be too young for him. All in all, this story felt incredibly rushed and shallow, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters did little to help that. Rating: 2.5 stars
Playing with Fire by Jambrea Jo Jones
A cheating ex and a misunderstood text causes the failure of a single encounter between Amos and Hayden to develop into anything more. Hayden owns a successful restaurant, and his barbecue recipe is known far and wide. Amos helps to run a weekend adventure camp for urban cowboys where his own cooking skills earn him great praise. After their single night encounter, Amos is desperate to pursue more with Hayden, but when Hayden misinterprets a text he sees on Amos’s phone, he runs away, determined not to be cheated on again. But Amos isn’t taking no for an answer, and after making a bet with Hayden that his chili will win the cook-off, Amos realizes too late that if he loses, any chance he has with Hayden will be lost as well.
I really enjoyed this story. Yes, the premise was a bit far-fetched, and the fact that Hayden could lose it so quickly over a text that could’ve been easily explained away had he just asked the right questions seems like a pretty thin plot point to build a story on, but, in the end, that really didn’t matter. What stood out in the story was the incredible chemistry between Hayden and Amos, and the fact that these two were so incredibly likable. Playing with Fire is a quintessential short story, giving you just enough to make you feel like you really have come to know the main characters in such an incredibly short time. This was by far my favorite in the anthology. Rating: 5 stars
Resuscitating Love by Devon Rhodes
Hill and David had only been married one month shy of a year, but were partners for far longer. While David’s practice as a cardiologist had finally settled into a routine, Hill’s responsibilities at running the rodeo event of the year had only increased. In fact, Hill seems to spend less and less time concentrating on David and their relationship, and more time working in his office. When Hill once more forgets an important anniversary date, David finally lets loose with all his frustrations over how Hill has seemed to stop trying in their marriage. Even then, Hill refuses to admit that he may, in fact, have put work before the man he claims to love. It will take the rodeo itself to shake Hill up and to help him realize that he better make some changes before it’s too late.
Once again, I was impressed by what seemed like such in-depth characters. They just came to life inside such a short story. David and Hill were a convincing couple who were obviously struggling to keep the magic in their relationship. They had reached a point where both had been taking one another for granted for far too long. I was impressed by the way I was immediately drawn into their story and invested in their relationship. Resuscitating Love is a great example of how strong a story can be when well written and fast-paced. Rating: 4.5 stars
You can buy Unconventional in Kansas City here: