Category Romances and Tropes
Like probably many of you, I grew up reading category romances—those four- or six-a-month releases of short, fluffy novels with instantly recognizable covers. You could sign up for a subscription service and they’d delivery the books to you automatically every month. They were a bit of a guilty pleasure, but when each box of new books arrived, I was guaranteed days of blissfully romantic escape. Over time my reading tastes changed, but I still have a shelf full of numbered titles from a few favorite authors that I haven’t been able to bring myself to turn in to my local branch of Half Price Books.
So when Dreamspinner Press announced their new Dreamspun Desires line, I was excited by the chance to rework some of the classic tropes from my favorite romances with the twist of both protagonists being male. To be honest, one of the reasons I lost interest in the fantasy of a rich, macho hero who could rescue me from my humdrum existence was that I discovered I was perfectly capable of making the changes I wanted in my life by myself. Taking the hint of inherent sexism out of the picture let me see the characters as archetypes rather than stereotypes.
In place of a heroine, I could write about an innocent, virginal hero. The millionaire cowboy would provide a perfect match. Then there was the employee who was secretly in love with the boss, the urbane sophisticate falling for the artless country mouse, the romantic tension inherent in a fake relationship that’s needed to save face or bring about some crucial end result. And the perennial appeal of the classic Cinderella story, with all the elements like the evil stepmother and the fairy godparent and even the glass slipper to play with.
And here’s where the fun of playing with the tropes comes in. Jonah Hollis may be innocent, but it’s not because he’s been sheltered. He knows what he wants and made a conscious decision to wait until he finds it. His rich boss, Linc Courtwright, can put on sophistication and a tuxedo when he needs to, but he’s much more comfortable in faded blue jeans and run-down boots, riding fences at his ranch. And is the fabricated relationship really as false as it seems? As you read, see how many of the elements of the Cinderella story you can find worked into new forms to fit a male/male relationship.
Of course, in The Cattle Baron’s Bogus Boyfriend I’ve only scratched the surface of the long list of romantic tropes. There’s the arranged marriage of convenience that turns into a love match, the friends who become lovers, falling for the best friend’s sibling, the jilted bride(groom), a hidden or mistaken identity, the ugly duckling who turns into a swan, the reluctant ward who falls for the equally reluctant guardian, the enemies who can’t resist the pull of attraction between them…. Some of these have already formed the basis of thrilling Dreamspun Desires, but the magic of a trope is that it doesn’t matter how many times it’s used. Every author brings their own take to the time-honored tale, and the joy for readers is following the unique twists and turns of those well-loved plots to the requisite happily-ever-after.
It might be a sham to his boss, but it’s all too real to him.
Administrative assistant Jonah Hollis has nurtured a hopeless crush on his boss, millionaire cattle rancher Lincoln Courtwright, ever since he started working for him. But hope is kindled when Linc and beautiful rodeo star Melissa Cutler break up just weeks before the biggest event of the Dallas social season, the Cattle Baron’s Ball, and Linc asks Jonah to accompany him in her place.
Is it all a ploy to make Melissa jealous? Can Jonah fit into Linc’s world? It takes some encouragement from his roommates and his best friend, Caylee, for Jonah to agree. Before long, Jonah dares to believe Linc might just feel something for him… until interfering family and a series of misunderstandings threaten his fragile dream of happiness.
Even though Linc wasn’t in the office on Friday, Jonah felt his presence there all day. He’d be pulling up a file or reading an e-mail, and suddenly he’d remember the warmth in Linc’s eyes while he listened to Jonah talk about leaving home, or the way everything seemed to brighten when he laughed. He’d go into Linc’s office to drop a piece of mail on his desk and swear he could catch a lingering hint of his citrusy scent.
This has to stop, he told himself when he realized he’d had the ranch budget open on his computer for ten minutes and hadn’t entered a single invoice. It was just a business dinner, even if they hadn’t spent any time actually talking about business—Linc’s way of thanking him for his efforts at work. He’d be foolish to imagine it was anything more, especially with the bill for Melissa’s bracelet sitting right in front of him. He’d do better to convince himself to be happy with Linc’s friendship, since it was the most he was going to get.
Wes had a rare Friday night off from work, so Jonah drove home to find him chopping vegetables in the kitchen. “I thought I’d make a chicken stir-fry for dinner,” he said. “It won’t take long to cook up—I was waiting for you to get home to start.”
“Sounds delicious. I’ll make some rice,” Jonah offered.
“So you were late getting in last night,” Wes said casually after Jonah had loaded the rice cooker and plugged it in.
Jonah felt his cheeks turn red and hoped Wes would attribute it to his bending over to get into the lower cabinet where they stored the appliances. “We worked late, and Linc took me out to dinner after we finished up.”
The pan sizzled as Wes dumped the chicken into it. “Dinner, huh?” he said. “I’m guessing he didn’t just buy you a burger or some pizza.”
“We went to a steakhouse near the office.”
Wes just looked at him, not even watching the pan as he tossed the contents to sear them evenly.
“What?” Jonah asked.
“You tell me—you’re the one blushing.”
“I’m not blushing. It was just a friendly dinner. I told him I’d take him out next time.” Jonah frowned. “Though I don’t know where I could take him. The only restaurants I know near the office are fast-food places or diners. I guess I’ll have to google what other nice restaurants there are downtown.”
Wes poured the chicken into a bowl and added the vegetables to the pan. “There’s the wine walk next weekend. You could ask him to that.”
“I don’t know… I’m not even sure he likes wine. He just had a beer with dinner.”
“What rich guy doesn’t like wine?” Wes asked, then tasted a pea pod and poured some soy sauce into the pan before tossing the chicken back in. “Besides, I’ll be working Friday night—it’s great for tips—so I’d get a chance to meet him.”
“That’s an argument not to invite him,” Jonah retorted, smiling to take the sting from his teasing. “Besides, he usually spends weekends at the ranch. I’m not sure he’d want to stay in town just to go on a wine walk with me.”
“You won’t know unless you ask him, will you?” Wes said. “This is almost done—grab some plates and let’s eat.”
Review by Barb – 4.5 Hearts:
This is a delightful story, very reminiscent of the sweet romances featuring big, strong cowboys that I used to love to read when I was a teen.
Linc Courtwright is a very hot, very wealthy, very manly cowboy and executive director of a Texas ranching operation that not only exports beef but also taps in to the gas and oil reserves on the land. His new assistant, Jonah Hollis, is a cutie with a big-time crush on Linc. Of course, he’d never tell Linc that since he values his life, and Linc is obviously straight.
After Linc breaks up with his sexy, gorgeous girlfriend who looks like a model but is actually a rodeo star, he asks Jonah to accompany him to the Cattle Baron’s Ball, the annual charity event that he always attends. Jonah knows it’s just a sham—a ploy to make Melissa jealous and to keep face—because he overheard Linc talking with his ranch foreman about her and his invitation to the ball.
But what he doesn’t know is that Linc is bisexual, and apparently, it’s not a sham to him. Can Jonah overcome his shyness, and his ties to the parents who have never accepted that he might not marry? And what happens when his best friend, Caylee, needs him back in Oklahoma? The anger, angst, and confusion comes to a head when Linc confronts Jonah after tracking him down and results in a surprise, but happy, ending.
I recommend this one to all who might enjoy an MM romance featuring a good guy who gets his cowboy in time to ride off into the sunset together.
Author bio and links:
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
Visit Nicki at: