My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
This is gonna be a tough one. I’ve been on a roll, devouring the leftover Scottie Barrett books, and Branded was the latest on my list. I just wanted to read it cause I love me some good western historical; if it’s steamy, all the better! Branded was all that and more. So much more, it left me quite a bit hot and bothered. But then, Slade Dalton has that effect on most women. ;)
TBH, I’ve been on a reading slump for a long while. Of course, there have been some good books but nothing quite held me glued like Branded. From writing to the storytelling, the chemistry between the H and the h, which was undoubtedly sizzling from the moment they met, to their banters (both hot and cold), there was no shortage of entertainment in this book. I’m only sorry it ended cause I would’ve loved for it to go on. Slade Dalton can never be boring. I feel exactly how Lacey felt about him so I can totally understand! :o
When his partner dies in a sudden attack, bounty hunter Slade Dalton decides he’s had enough of this life. It’s time to head back to Colorado where his family ranch lies, to see how it’s faring. Or has Grady, his snobby brother, has run it down already. The ranch, Lone Heart, used to be Slade’s father’s pride and joy. But 10 years ago, an incident that’ll forever scar Slade’s memory because it directly involves him, their father lost his life in a gunshot meant for Slade. It was a woman related thing because even at 18, Slade was tall, extremely goodlooking and the women of the small town didn’t hide their appreciation. We find out later, much to Lacey’s chagrin, that things haven’t changed in that regard. :P
Slade left home and hadn’t looked back because he was ashamed. He was guilt-ridden. He learned hunt down criminals, been really good at too, gathering big rewards. Most of it he’d send home for Dora, his step-mother and Tait, his youngest brother. Grady hated his hide, which he’d made sure Slade knew, blaming him for every single trouble, including their father’s death. It was also apparent that Grady had no interest in ranching or farming. He wanted to be out of there and have a “gentleman’s life”.
So, Slade was coming home but after so long, he had no idea what he’ll find what once used to be his “home”. Sadly, his gut feeling about a rundown ranch prove to be correct. Grady had abandoned the it a while ago, leaving the kettle to be stolen, not taking any care. Dora and Tait lived well enough with the money Slade send but this is not what their father would’ve wanted for his pride and joy! Slade knew he had a tough task ahead of him, to make this ranch up and running again if he’s going to stay and do something. The task would’ve proven to be super monotonous had Lacey Jarrell not come by to stay with them. But, unfortunately, she was engaged to the wrong Dalton; Grady.
Lacey and Slade’s meeting was as hilarious as it was hot. Lacey’s mother died when she was young, and since then, her father tried his best to ignore her. All her attempts to grab her father’s attentions went wrong. Banished by her father for something she’d done, Lacey wanted to escape England however she could. She was initially meant to marry a horrendous older guy that her father chose for her. Grady happened to be the convenient escape route, who was in England at that time on some business, who also seemed quite eager to help her out. We find out later why that was.
On her way to the unknown Colorado territory, to ‘Grady’s own ranch’, Lacey first loses her maid who was not happy with the “backwater” of America. It was simply too much for the snooty maid. But Lacey had no options left and Grady wasn’t here to take her to his farm so she pushed on ahead despite all the troubles and niggling fear of being alone on this unfamiliar territory. When she came closer to her supposed destination, highwaymen, as raggedy and ugly as they were, stopped the coach on gunpoint. But Lacey wasn’t scared, she was irritated. She was already super annoyed with all the problem she’d faced after coming here. It’s hot and sweaty out here, nothing like she was used to in England. Obviously not the bustling town she’d hoped she’d be in. Lacey just wanted to reach the ranch in time. Grady said he’d meet her there in a few months from wherever he was working and proceed to the wedding. And now, this?
But then, someone comes to her rescue. Not much of a Knight in Shining Armor, this raggedly handsome man, obviously a rancher from the way he was dressed. But there was something about him that made those hooligans run for their lives ASA he showed his face. Lacey was intrigued by everything about this man. The way he looked, talked as if he knows how to push her buttons. But what made Lacey so hot and bothered was the way he looked at her like he’s going to devour her alive. Being attractive with silky dark hair and amber eyes, Lacey had seen her share of fawning from men while her way here. But this man’s stare didn’t irritate her or made her uncomfortable. It’s as if her body knew what she didn’t in her innocence. It answered to him. ;)
When Lacey reaches the ranch, Dora and Tait welcome her. While she was trying to get comfortable, the shock of her life slaps her on the face when Slade Dalton, Grady’s older, no-good bother (as Grady described him), walks into the house. Oh my! It was the same man who she met on her way here!! Who made her wanna go jump him! Uh, this is not good. Lacey knew it even more when Slade looked at her and drawled to her in a voice that suggested he was thinking what she was thinking. How the hell she’s gonna live here for the next few months being so insanely attracted to her would be brother-in-law??? :|
Lacey tries her best to settle down and make herself familiar with the ranch, which was not much. But Dora still managed to get everyone fed quite well. Lacey also learned that the ranch was actually Slade’s, not Grady’s, which should’ve been the first red flag about Grady’s character. But Lacey was grateful to him for an escape and she’d wait until he returns. Meanwhile, she only hope she can ignore this push and pull she seemed to be having with Slade Dalton, more often than not liking it too much.
Slade was just minding his business, trying to get the ranch on its feet. He had plans but not enough money to work on them. His investigation told him that his sneaky ‘neighbor’ was the one who stole their prized kettle. He even tries some rescue stunt with the few Ranch hands he still had left but those fail miserably. These ranch hands still believed in him and would work despite the fact that he may not even be able to pay them. He went as far as to try and capture wild buffalo’s and try to get the creatures back to the ranch, a venture that also pretty much fails, despite the insane hard work. So Slade needed some divine intervention, not temptation beyond his control in the form of Lacey Jarrell—his brother’s fiancée no less. What a mess!
But their intense chemistry wouldn’t let them be. It was one of those things you just can’t ignore, especially when you’re living in the same house. Strike that, living next room to each-other! Their banters were full of playful jibes, sometimes even full of innuendoes, thanks to Slade, even though at first he was an a$$hole to Lacey and taunted her. Then felt extremely bad for doing so. But he had a reason. To say Slade was sexually frustrated wouldn’t even explain the state he was in. He was going pretty much nuts, and no one will do but Lacey. I was so glad he didn’t even try to get another woman to take off the edge. He wanted Lacey, plain and simple and no matter how much he tried to reason that she’s out of reach, it didn’t work. It didn’t help the matter to know Lacey returned all that and more. It was a hellish mess for them both.
Soon though, living under one roof, working together, gave their relationship a new route. Even though Slade tried hard to ignore it all by immersing himself in work, it wasn’t enough. Even hurting Lacey and pushing her away wasn’t an option. He couldn’t stand to see Lacey down, or her tears. He was extremely protective of her. Slade was sure there was only one woman who can bring him down if she chose to. Well, there was Dora, his step-mother, who had been more of a mother than he’d ever known and Slade loved her deeply. But with Lacey of course, it was different. Slade had never felt like this for another woman, and the fact that she’s engaged to no-good Grady only was crushing them both. Lacey, in her innocence, would do things that’d more taunt him that anything and Slade brain would fire up. His chosen outlet more often than not was his ranch and the roof of the kitchen he was making for Dora.
At this point, Slade admits that he has no options left to do anything. He didn’t have any money saved as he’d send all home. He had no other help. But he didn’t wanna sell the ranch, certainly didn’t want to go back to his bounty hunting ways. When all it seemed there was no options left, Tait drops the bomb on him! They haven’t wasted away Slade’s money. From the very generous amount of money he send, Dora made sure she saved the big chunk of it. And now, she had enough tucked away for Slade to now spend it on brand new kettle! That improved Slade’s prospect on ranching quite a bit, with that a renewed vigor to make the ranch as prosperous as it used to in his father’s days.
While reading, I so enjoyed seeing them together, loving their interactions. Most of the time it was full of craving, and hot eyeing of one-another. There was just something about these two that was undeniable. I DID NOT want it to end.
When things were like this, Grady suddenly returns earlier than expected. It surprises both Lacey and Slade, but turns out to be Dora’s handiwork who was worried about something developing between Lacey and Slade. Well, it was quite plain that they were extremely attracted to each-other so I could guess Dora was worried. Things pretty much go downhill for Lacey and Slade from there. Grady was insufferably snooty, highhanded and treated Lacey like how he viewed her—a prize he own, a product to show off. Her father even send him her dowry in advanced, which Lacey had no idea about, which he’d already spend in “investment”. Again, without Lacey’s knowledge, something that angers her a lot. Soon, Lacey couldn’t help but compare the brothers and found Grady lacking in every single thing. Well, even Grady knew he doesn’t stand a chance against Slade, which is the reason behind all his enmity and bitterness. Unfortunately, he didn’t try to work on it in a positive manner. Instead, his way of dealing with it was to be rude and nasty. He had an inclination what was going on between Lacey and Slade, which angered him even more, and led him to treat Lacey like a chattel. Slade was fuming but he couldn’t do anything.
Trouble for them was, both were unsure of what the other wanted. Also, what they can do to resolve their issues. Lacey wasn’t sure if Slade wanted to marry her or not. She wanted a family of her own, not just a fling. She also felt indebted to Grady, while Slade always thought he’s not good enough for his “Duchess”. Plus he’s practically got nothing to give her. Both were so miserable that I felt extremely sad. Was all hope lost? How can Lacey and Slade resolve their differences and find a way?
Grady was determined to have the wedding ASAP and Slade still had only a rundown ranch. Enmity between the brothers, at this point, reaches its highest peak and Slade just leaves. Rather forced to leave due to Grady’s nasty insinuations about his past with women, plus his bounty hunting days, which to Grady was a form of disgrace. Worse was, Slade knew he was no saint and most of it was true. Sadly, with that, Lacey was sure her fate was sealed. What she deemed her escape when she left England, would soon become her nightmarish prison. Grady wasn’t the person she thought he was. Then again, she didn’t know much about Grady like she knows about Slade. It always came down to that, the comparison. And Slade always won. How can she live with a man all the while pining for his older brother?
I also wasn’t sure how things were gonna resolve but the author sure does find a way to do it. It was kinda nuts too, their whirlwind courtship when Grady leaves for a few days to attend some business. Some would say ‘cheating’ and in literal sense, it was but it’s one cheating I had no problem with. That was coming for sooooo longgggggggg. I waited, and waited for them to do it but there was always some form of interruption or the other. Grady was not a nice guy getting hurt. He was an a$$ and would’ve made Lacey miserable.
Anyway, to wrap it up, I can only say give it a try if you can. My reaction remains the same as it was initially:
“Someone tell me where can I find me Slade Dalton?” :(
5 stars. I wish there was a follow up novella or something. Or maybe a book for Tait? Even for Grady, cause I like to think that there’s a strong woman out there somewhere to change his perspective of life, and of himself. I’m already missing everything about this book. *sigh*