Author: A.M. Arthur
Publisher: Carina Press
Welcome to Clean Slate Ranch: home of tight jeans, cowboy boots, and rough trails. For some men, it’s a fantasy come true.
Mack Garrett loves the rolling hills surrounding his Northern California dude ranch. Leading vacationers on horse trails with his two best friends is enough – romance is definitely not in the cards. When a sexy tourist shows up at Clean Slate, he’s as far from Mack’s type as can be. So why is the handsome city slicker so far under his skin in less than a day?
Roughing it in the middle of nowhere isn’t anywhere near Wes Bentley’s idea of fun. Then he lays eyes on the gruffest, hottest papa bear he’s ever seen. But Mack is as hard to pin down as he looks – distant, sharp-tongued, and in desperate need of a shave. Until a campout gone wrong strands both men in the mountains with nothing to do but get to know each other.
Mack intends to keep his closely guarded heart out of Wes’ very talented hands. But for a seven-day cowboy, Wes is packing some long-term possibility. The cold country air can do wonders for bringing bodies together – but it will take more than that to bridge the distance between two men whose lives are worlds apart.
Wild Trail is the first book in a new series set at the Clean Slate Ranch, a horse rescue and tourist ranch located in Garrett, California, not far outside San Francisco. The ranch and land have been owned by several generations of Garrett family members, currently owned by Arthur Garrett, the grandfather of one of the main characters of book one, Mack. Mack moved to the ranch after losing too much to be a member of the LAPD S.W.A.T team. He has been followed to the ranch by long time friend, Reyes Caldero and his S.W.A.T team member, Colt Woods. They regularly have tourists booking a week at the ranch to get the full experience of being on the ranch, or wanting to learn more about the horse rescue. A wedding party wanting the ranch experience is how Mack and Wes Bentley cross paths. Wes’ sister Sophie is getting married and wanted a wedding party trip to the ranch rather than a traditional party, so Wes, his roommate Miles, Sophie, fiancé Connor and his brother, Derrick all head out for a week on a ranch. The story is told from Mack and Wes’ point of view.
Cowboys, stories set on ranches, and of course actors and cowboys would be easy to just be stereotypes and still have a satisfying story. Thankfully, while a few of them are likely in this story, what I liked about it was how the story and characters were different. Yes, you have a ranch house, a bunk house, horse, wagons and such, but I’d say aside from the people who have been there for a few decades (Arthur, Judson and Patrice), most people on the ranch, are as much of rescues as the horses they have. Which makes this an interesting series because you know everyone has a story for how they came to be at Clean Slate Ranch and you guess the name has more than one meaning!
Wes is out and loves to flirt, although after his break up, is not really interested in a relationship. When he meets Mack, who seems to push all his buttons, he gets really interested in a holiday fling. For his part, Mack at first wants to dislike Wes, mostly because he does find him attractive and tries to avoid him as a result, despite the razzing of his friends who also suggest a brief fling might be good for him since it has been five years since he had his heart broken.
And that really tips things over the edge for liking this story and the characters – both leads have pain from previous relationships, both are afraid of getting hurt and you really want them to find some happiness. However, the author does admit to making her characters work for their happy ending, Mack and Wes are no different! It is a really well paced journey that involves some friends who conspire to get the two men reunited after the holiday and they both have to be honest about what they want and learn to trust someone again. They also realize they have someone they can lean on, particularly for Mack when a five year secret is revealed and needs to escape the ranch. I’m not sure who will be the main characters in book two, but I will say, of the supporting characters, Miles has me the most curious and when you read the story, the clues suggest he is trying to deal with some issues on his own, has a lot of secrets and while Wes wants to help him, he knows he can’t push Miles as he will stubbornly shut him out.
I think this is a great start to the series and fans of contemporary ranch/western MM romance stories will likely enjoy this. There are definitely lots of sex scenes in the story, and while the nickname “Daddy” does nothing for me, and it was likely meant in fun, that was probably the only thing I didn’t like since it came up in most of the intimate scenes! I look forward to what else is going to come in this series.