Title: Long Tall Drink
Author: L.C. Chase
Cover Artist: Justin James
Publisher: Wild Roan Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Western
Length: Novel/160 PDF pages
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A very nice debut novel starring two cowboys who burn up the pages with their romance deep in the heart of Texas.
Fourth generation rancher, Ray Ford has lived a lie for nearly forty years. Having seen what can happen to an openly gay cowboy in small town America, and not willing to risk his ranch Ford Creek’s legendary reputation, he keeps that part of himself tightly locked down. Everything changes one Sunday morning when Ray, out of character, picks up a handsome hitchhiker looking for work. Hiring the enigmatic cowboy stretches the bounds of Ray’s control and, suddenly, he finds himself asking just what he’d be willing to risk for a chance at true love.
Travis Morgan learned a hard lesson early in his life — love is conditional. Even though he’s a world-class horse trainer in high demand, he lives the life of a drifter, moving from ranch to ranch like the wind. He’ll play when the opportunity arises, but he won’t invest himself emotionally. But when he takes on the job training horses at Ford Creek Ranch, the stoic rancher with the sexy five o’clock shadow just might change all that — if Travis can take the risk and stick around long enough to find out.
Returning from a weekend with his much younger friend with benefits, forty year old Ray saw “sex on a stick” Travis on the side of the road, hitchhiking. Much against his better judgment Ray offered him a ride, despite knowing that the short ride in the truck might be too much for his heated libido. Turned out that Travis was looking for a job and he was hoping to find work as a horse trainer on Ray’s ranch.
Ray was aware of Travis’s professional reputation as a horse trainer, one of the best in the country, but his looks got in the way and almost screwed him out of the job because Ray knew that this was one man who had the power to change his comfortable lifestyle and force him out of the closet. Unfortunately for Ray Travis had him in his sights, exactly where he wanted him. But Travis was also uncertain about starting anything with Ray even though he was attracted to him; he had his own bad experiences with homophobia and romance in the past.
Once hired, Travis proved his worth to Ray with regard to training the horses, however they were constantly testing boundaries as they became more obsessed with each other, but they were scared of the consequences of going any further. Ray kept reminding himself that Travis was a drifter and there was no point becoming involved with someone who would be leaving in a couple of months for new pastures. He feared that he might be just another fling for Travis, one in a long list of conquests, and that when he left (which was inevitable), his heart would be broken. Travis on the other hand had suffered several beatings from other cowboys in his various jobs and he was in no hurry to test the fists of the cowboys on Ray’s ranch. But every day the tension kept building. I was really impressed with the ‘dance’ between Ray and Travis – the anticipation before the seduction.
Ray’s other concern about getting involved with Travis was the potential negative consequences on his livelihood and that of his employees if he were outed; other ranchers and suppliers could refuse to do business with him. This tension filled situation could not continue for long with both men being afraid to show how much they cared and eventually their emotions could not be denied. But was this just a passing attraction or something deeper? If it were more than a fling, how would a romance work in a state like Texas that was not known for being tolerant toward gays?
I think L.C. Chase did a good job on the plot and characters but I felt that the resolution of the Ray/Travis situation was achieved too easily. I would have liked to see how they navigated living together as partners in Texas but I suppose that would have meant another 50 or so pages. The world on a working ranch was constructed realistically with a lot of details, including the daily chores and challenges that faced Ray and his hands. I could smell the horses (LOVED them) and cedar and smoke but at times the different “smells” seemed to be a tad too much and a bit exaggerated. Another of my niggles about this book was the purple prose, although it wasn’t overwhelming. Here’s an example:
“He became a fathomless, swift-moving rapid that pulled Travis under as it flooded over him, into him. He was completely surrounded by Ray. Absorbed. Joined. One. Cleansed in a river of rapture. What he had been was gone. Now he was something new, something different—a part of another. And he never wanted to be anywhere else.
Then Ray roared out his name on a curse as he came, and Travis dived over the edge of the waterfall right behind him. Hot threads of exquisite release that went on forever painted his stomach in beautiful, abstract designs. Ray collapsed and rolled beside him, and the raging rapids emptied into peaceful hot springs that soothed his spent body.”
L.C’s writing is a strange dichotomy of excellent and purple prose, but whatever style she uses it sure was entertaining! This is her first novel and like most novice writers it was probably difficult for her to distinguish between exquisite and over-the-top prose; even experienced writers fail to navigate that tightrope and fall flat on their faces. However I’m sure that she will reel it in in the future. She has a fresh writing style which makes her characters come alive and the book had a lot of highs, especially the romance.
There is a lot to recommend Long Tall Drink – the crackling excitement and chemistry when the protagonists were in the room together made me keep turning the pages.
Before I finish this review I have to say how much I enjoyed two supporting characters: Jesse and Dottie. Jesse was a young gay man who was in the closet because of his vicious, homophobic father and I hope that he gets his own story because he was just delightful. Some of the reality that Travis and Ray would have to deal with in the future on a working ranch was demonstrated by the animosity Jesse’s father showed towards Travis, culminating with his criminal behaviour. The other character that I liked a lot, Dottie, was Ray’s tough housekeeper who kept trying to fix him up with women until she saw the light and became one of his and Travis’s staunchest supporters.
To summarize: The protagonists and supporting characters were three dimensional. The story was well constructed and showed that L.C. Chase did her homework about life on a ranch. The characters sparkled and the sensory overload between the MCs was tangible. If you like books about cowboys I think you will love Long Tall Drink. L.C. Chase’s first novel was enjoyable and I’m looking forward to her future offerings.