My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
The Heart of a Texas Cowboy is the second installment of Linda Broday’s new series, Men of Legend. I have read her Bachelors of Battle Creek series and loved it, and now I’m loving this series as well. From book 1, I had thought Houston was the brother who had already had his HEA and won’t have a book. Who knew he had such a story to tell of his own?!
Much like Bachelors of Battle Creek, Men of Legend focuses on a family or a ‘band of brothers’ if you can call them. Even though, the brothers of Bachelors of Battle Creek series weren’t brothers by blood, these Legends brothers certainly are! The first book focuses on Sam Legend, a former Texas Ranger, who was estranged from his family because of the demands his job used to put on him. Houston is his older brother and shoulders the responsibility of the huge Legend ranch called Lone Star. They met Luke, a brother they didn’t know existed, in Sam’s story.
Sam had enjoyed his job as a Texas Ranger until he thought death had finally caught up with him. A pretty terrifying description is given at the beginning of book 1, To Love a Texas Ranger, when he’s almost hanged by a group of outlaws. When he thought he was done for, a known outlaw he’s been chasing, Luke Weston becomes his unexpected savior. Luke has been so elusive that Sam had a tough time tracking him down, unable to catch him even once despite Sam’s expertise. Yet there was this odd game was being played between the two where Luke seems to chase Sam just as much as he did. And they enjoyed it as well. Why, he couldn’t tell. Until the day Luke saved his life, Sam wouldn’t have thought he’s capable of any good deed. Now he’s willing to rethink his opinion of the outlaw.
The whole experience left Sam in depression, battling nightmares and PTSD. His boss sends him home to recuperate but Sam was caught in a different battle when he saves a beautiful girl named Sierra Hunt from another band of outlaws. While he was taking her away from danger, Luke Weston somehow catches up with them. He’s eager to help and Sam can’t even arrest him cause he owes his life to his guy. However their journey towards Lone Star, where Sam meant to shelter Sierra until he could figure out her troubles and how to save her, was fraught with danger so Luke’s help was more than welcomed. It seemed he was also keen on checking out Lone Star. But why?
When they finally reach Lone Star is when things began unraveling. Luke’s real identity is revealed as Stoker, their father’s, first born from an affair. Well, it was more than an affair but Stoker couldn’t marry Luke’s mother because of her own people. She was Mexican and they were against a marriage with a white guy. It was a tragic tale where Stoker never knew he’d fathered a child. Back in his ranch, he’d married Houston and Sam’s mother, even loved her as best as he could, but his Mexican senorita had always been in his mind. Now seeing his son, all grown up, tall and big with the Legend looks and temperament, Stoker could only apologize and ask Luke for a chance to be a father to him. A father Luke desperately needed with dangers dogging his every step.
It left Houston and Sam in a big dilemma. Though they were unhappy about their father keeping such a huge secret from them, soon they realized they wanted their brother around, most specially knowing his circumstances. Luke’s mother was abandoned by her family and she brought him up in utter poverty. She was the one who told him about Stoker and given him a keepsake that only Stoker would remember. She requested him to go to his father for a better life. After his mother passed, Luke had followed Sam, knowing full well he’s his little brother. It was no wonder he was there to save his a$$ that fateful day!
While Sam was sorting out Sierra’s trouble, we found Houston already engaged to a girl from the neighboring ranch called Becky. It seemed they were in love and couldn’t wait to get married. In fact, their marriage was an event coming soon; as soon as they could manage. No wonder I thought Houston was already settled.
Sam and Sierra had a long, arduous path to fulfillment but they finally were rid of the people who were after Sierra. Sam also hung up his Ranger’s boots, retiring his wandering soul because he now had a family to look after. He couldn’t risk his life and stay away from the Ranch. In the past, his relationship with Houston was rather volatile but his own intimate brush with death, plus all the trouble that came their way since Luke and Sierra came into their lives, both knew they’d be stronger together, not apart. The only question was, would Luke forgive them and, someday, count himself as a Legend as well?
Now Houston, as the eldest, was the responsible brother. He’d stayed in Lone Star all his life cause the Ranch was his responsibility since their mother died and their father went to drown his grief in the bottles of whiskey. Stoker still managed to run the Ranch successfully but not without bringing in trouble. And Houston had always been there to take care of that. Everyone knew he’d take care of any problem in and around the ranch as best to his abilities. Houston had long envied Sam for his supposed independence, as in he could go anywhere, anytime. He’d said it clearly he didn’t want anything to do with the Ranch at all. So it all fell on Houston and he wasn’t always happy doing it. Houston also wanted to go out of Texas and see the other parts of America. He wanted to explore too. This was one of the reasons why he and Sam would fight when he’d be back for a few weeks, before riding off again for months on ahead.
Since the recent trouble and Sam’s near death however had put things into perspective for them all, including Houston. He wanted his little brother safe and was happy that now Sam would stay close by after his marriage to Sierra. He wanted Luke to accept them as family and come back to their fold, where they’d welcomed him with open arms. Though Luke had still been aloof, he’d also been around which the brothers counted as baby steps to success. He’d helped them with Sam and Sierra’s trouble. He’d come by to visit. He’s here today as well, when Houston is getting ready to marry the love of his life, Becky.
But things changed drastically on a day that should’ve been their best, when Becky was shot dead right before saying her vows. Houston, blind with rage and grief, promises to avenge her death. Unfortunately when the man responsible is caught, Houston receives info from him that came as a blow to everyone. He was forced to acknowledge later that Becky had deceived him in the worst way possible and paid it with her life. The said man her jealous lover, whom Becky refused to marry cause he was poor. Houston wasn’t... anyone could figure out the rest. This time burned by love, Houston vows to never to trust a woman again, let alone giving her his heart. He will put off marriage as long as possible, better yet, may never walk that path again. And then he proceeded to drown himself in liquor, something that worried everyone including Stoker. He was already planning to save his middle son from certain ruin, much like he’d done for him in the past years.
Though Houston would perform his duty to the ranch well enough, he was a grumpy bear. One day, Stoker stops by to drop a bomb; he’d lost a good portion of the land in a card game to the rancher who is also a neighbor. This new guy, Boone, has moved in with his family a while ago. Houston knew them but not closely and the news hit him like a barbell. How could Stoker do this to them? Well, he knew his father can be very irresponsible when he was into his cups, Houston has cleared up his mess often enough but this was worse than anything he’d ever done. The ranch was losing money on cattle because of the dry spells; for the fact that they weren’t able to keep the cattle healthy for the lack of grass and enough water. Lone Star is so big, and possess so many cattle that Houston worried he’s gonna lose more than they’d bargained for. He was already planning to go to a distant Town where he could sell a chunk of the cattle for money he could use for the Ranch. He did NOT need this now!
Houston was so irritated he couldn’t even express his frustration. But before anything else, Stoker drops the next bomb; Boone is willing to return the land, for a price of course, and it’s not money… if Houston agrees to marry his only daughter, Lara. Uh, need I elaborate that Houston wasn’t happy? He was just thinking wtf has his father gotten him into! Being the responsible brother Houston has shouldered his share of burden that he would’ve loved to avoid. But he also loves his family, and this ranch was his life, so he knew he’d now have to sacrifice his freedom to an unknown girl to be able to save his family’s legacy.
To convince him even more, Stoker plays his last hand. He appeals to Houston’s inherent goodness and his nature to protect. Lara was badly abused by a ranch-hand, which resulted into a baby. The baby needed a name, a father and both of them needed someone for protection. After that, Houston couldn’t say ‘no’ anymore. Someone needed him and Houston wasn’t gonna back away from it.
Lara, on the other hand, wasn’t a part of this plan. In fact, she had no idea what her father has planned for her. She had no sense of time or any plans for a future beyond what might happen to her infant daughter, Gracie. Her abuser, a thug named Yuma Blackstone, had managed to escape when her brothers tried to catch him after her ordeal. Yuma was not only evil, he was mad as a hatter. And he was still out there somewhere. Everyday Lara prayed to God that He keeps her family and her little girl safe from Yuma. She had a good idea about the Legends, and on a practical level, knew that Houston Legend would be the best man to protect her from Yuma, but at what cost? They had never met, didn’t know each-other, and now Houston was going to be leg-shackled to a ruined woman for the rest of his life. To say that Lara was stricken with guilt was an understatement. But everything was put in motion by her father already. It was too late to call it off.
Houston had already planned to take his cattle to sale; he didn’t have much time left to consider anything. The wedding couldn’t wait cause it may take months for him to return so a hasty ceremony takes place in a few days. He marries Lara sight unseen. When he finally sees her face, Houston cringes—not because Lara was unattractive, but because of the ugly knife wound on one side of her face. It seemed Yuma made sure she’s marked by him in more ways than one. That same moment, Houston vows that that POS will pay dearly for what he’s done to this beautiful girl. His oath only solidifies when he meets Gracie. That little girl knew how to completely steal people’s heart, there was no way Houston would’ve remained unaffected. She forms an instant liking to Houston too, a bond that only grew stronger from then on.
Even though their relationship started out a little shaky, Lara and Houston soon finds a level ground. They both were hurt and betrayed, so they could share that much. Gradually Lara found that Houston was not only a good man, he was completely trustworthy. It wasn’t like she just fell for him; that wouldn’t have been possible, but she realized she’d done the right thing by marrying him. But how does he feel about all these? Will he come to regret his decision? How will Lara live, knowing she’s now married to a man knowing he may not want her. Hell, the way things are, Lara didn’t know if she’d ever be able to fulfill her wifely duties. though Houston had told her repeatedly that it will happen if/when she feels she can. Yet despite what she thought, Houston had already known he may never have a fulfilling marriage with Lara, and he’d already resigned himself to that, thinking more of Gracie’s future than anything else, For all intent and purposes, the girl was now his and there’s no question about that anymore.
When Houston finally decides to leave to sell those cattle, Lara finds a spot in that dull and dusty group of men, which included all 3 of her brothers who came along on Houston’s urging to gain a bit of experience. Houston had lost his cook at a time when nothing could’ve been done, and Lara’s cooking was so good that Houston already knew that his wife was the best. The solution was just staring at his face. He didn’t like it, but he also couldn’t deny the possibility of becoming better acquainted with his wife on the trail where they’d be close by. Four months of absence can undo whatever shaky ground they’ve found in the past 2 weeks. Houston’s silly heart was hoping Lara will overcome her fear and they could have a normal marriage. Lara had already proved herself to be a fighter. She had strength in her that not many possess, so Houston was hopeful.
Unfortunately, trouble was also heading their way in the form of one mad hatter and his rag-tag but vicious bunch of outlaws. That POS was obsessed with Lara and would do anything to “possess” her again. The whole trail proves to be one big test for Houston and Lara; not only because of Yuma and the danger he brought with him, but also, because of the way their relationship grew stronger. It gave Houston and Lara plenty of time to get to know each-other. I liked that Lara understood her dilemma but fought to overcome it. The more she knew him, the more she wanted Houston in every way possible. She wanted to be intimate, not because of her duty as a wife but because she wanted him wholeheartedly. And Houston made his own attraction to her quite clear already. All Lara needed was to conquer the hold Yuma had on her and move forward.
I really enjoyed this installment of Men of Legend. Loved Lara and Houston’s chemistry and how they overcame all the hurdles thrown their way. It was a treacherous journey, where many a times I was scared for them, scared with them, because horrible things befell on Houston’s cowboys no thanks to that POS Yuma. Luke and Sam join the party at one point knowing Houston would have a fighting change if they were together, which was true. Overall, it was great!
I already am very enamored of Luke, had been since book 1 so I’m now eagerly awaiting the release of his book, To Marry a Texas Outlaw. Sam was great but Houston would be my second favorite Legend brother. He was sooo sweet to Lara that you just have to read to believe it! 4 solid stars.