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A Tough Man’s Woman is the book 3 and presumably the last installment of Deborah Camp’s Tough Man/Too Tough series. I already talked about my disappointments with this series in the previous 2 books. Unfortunately this one wasn’t any better. Even with 2 quite likable main characters this might be my least favorite of the series. :(
I’d begin again by suggesting Deborah Camp’s recent western historical romance releases such as Lonestar’s Lady and Solitary Horseman. I became her fan reading those 2 books. I can vouch for her great writing style and her knack for storytelling. However this series in particular was publish in the mid-90s and there were work to be done where characters were concerned. Books 1 and 2 were okay reads. I liked reading both but there were issues in both that bothered me.
Book 1, Too Tough to Tame was the story of a small town doctor’s assistance and a Native American warrior. The heroine, Tess meets Storm in His Eyes under a very uncommon circumstance, where she was kidnapped then was forced to take care of the bullet wounds on him. With the demeaning way white folks viewed and treated Indian people, maybe that’s why Storm’s cousin thought this is how he could get some help for him. But apparently Tess didn’t have the same kind of hatred for the Indians so after the initial shock, she was happy to be taking care of the ‘manly’ Storm In His Eyes. Tess’s blonde beauty and Storm’s aforementioned ‘manly attributes’ playing a vital role, their romance (or ‘lust at first sight’ as I called it) takes off. It wasn’t an easy road to travel but they finally find their HEA after many ups and downs, revenge and a few murders.
Book 2 takes place a few years later in Tough Talk, Tender Kisses. The protagonists were new and in the beginning I thought it’d be a great read. Adele and Reno had been young sweethearts who were forced to be apart after a particular set of circumstances. Later Adele moved to one state while Reno to Montana, trying his luck in the goldmines. They never thought to see each-other again but when they finally did after another particular set of circumstances, neither thought they’d feel the same pull towards one another. But it seemed that the spark was still there. And that’s where trouble began. Reno had always been in love with Adele and he wanted to come out and express his feelings. He tried to show his feelings in various ways. Unfortunately, the person who ruined the whole story for me was Adele herself with her snotty, judgmental behavior. She marked Reno down as a charming good-for-nothing who will never amount to anything and that’s how she treated him for the better part of the story. I can go on and on when I begin to think of how much I disliked her so I’ll stop here. I adored Reno, wanted to slap the hell out of Adele and that’s how it remained until the end. Was very disappointed cause they actually shared a chemistry that could’ve made the story even better!
Now, A Tough Man’s Woman takes place 3 or so years after book 2. We’ve already met the h, Cassie Little in the previous 2 installments. In book 1 she was a little girl wounded from a bullet whom Tess treated and helped nurse back to health. Cassie was a very minor character, though she had such a strong, almost worshipful, regard for Tess that I wanted her to have her own book. Sadly, in book 2, my illusions shattered when I found her working at a saloon and selling herself for money. :( She was a beautiful child with blue eyes and blonde hair, but her family was poor and that was her destiny when she left them to strike out on her own. With no help and no other options she became the prey to a predator, the owner of the same saloon who lured her into this life (as she describes the whole thing at one point in this story). On the other hand, the H, Drew, is a completely new character whom I’ve never met before.
In book 2, Cassie was given a new life when Adele and Reno helped her start afresh. First, Adele taught her how to read and write and then, after the owner of the saloon died in a duel/gun-fight with Reno, she and Reno helped Cassie out of that place. In the end it was hinted at that she has found a better prospect for beginning a new life. Since meeting Tess, Cassie had always wanted to be a lady like her. It had been her life’s mission even when she was a prostitute. At the least, she tried to dress and act like a lady if it was possible. Hell, she even had a doll named after Tess (as we find in book 2, which makes more than one appearance in book 3) that she liked to hold when she was in distress, telling me how young and vulnerable she was at 17. She finally thought she’d be a lady when she replied to a mail-order bride advert and leaves Whistle Stop to marry.
In book 3, however, it’s revealed that Cassie’s life hasn’t really been much improved. Well, yes, she married a man easily 3 times her age but he was neither nice, nor anyone stellar. He was mean AND closefisted, wouldn’t ever spend a single penny extra for anything resulting them to live in a rickety house. But Andrew knew his kettle. So he had a fine stock and quite a sizable ranch called Ranch D, even if he won’t hire enough ranch-hands needed to tackle a ranch of that size. He even gave Cassie a son, who was currently 10months old. But her miserly husband has up and died a few months ago, leaving her alone, though to Cassie it was rather like good riddance. She got what she came here for and endured Andrew for the past 3 yrs. A beautiful baby boy along with a ranch that was her own; something she plans to expand and improve. Finally she’d be a lady of some means and people will respect her. At least that was Cassie’s idea of a future… until someone named Drew Dalton rode in and staked a claim on Ranch D.
I will tell you that I didn’t read the blurb or any review well before going into the book so I didn’t know who was Drew at first until he introduced himself to Cassie. I only went into this book cause I really wanted to read Cassie’s story. Now to be quite frank, the moment I read that drew was Cassie’s step-son, I became instantly apprehensive. And a little sick. As Andrew’s first born, Drew was the heir to the ranch but Cassie had no idea that Andrew even had an older son, let alone a living one who may come to put a claim on her life’s dream! Cassie wasn’t happy and tried her best to find ways to make Drew go away. However he wasn’t budging for he had plans to settle down here, not only to take care of the kettle his father left, but also to open a stud farm. Just like his father knew his kettle, Drew knew horses and he wanted that stud farm to become a reality.
As the story went on, it’s also revealed that that mean old a$$hole never told Cassie about Drew cause he was holed up in a prison for the past few years for kettle rustling. A crime Drew vehemently denied, though it seemed like majority of the townsfolk and Andrew himself didn’t believe him, which landed Drew in jail. Andrew obviously never thought Drew would be out alive from that hole. He’d pretty much forgotten about him! Oh what a father figure!! -_- Drew though, recently found a way to appoint a much better lawyer who was able to free him from a charge where I presumed the evidence were circumstantial at best. He had come home planning a battle with his bastard of a father (you could tell there was no love lost between those two) to claim what was rightfully his. And found he’d not only married but saddle Drew with a stepmother and a half-brother, and then up and died on him! Yep he wasn’t happy with the outcome either, though the first thing he noticed was Cassie’s age and beauty and thought what type of marriage they might’ve had. Drew began lusting after her on spot, even before knowing she was his step-mother and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the story.
Me? I was trying to find a way to not find the whole scenario gross. Unfortunately I couldn’t shake of the feeling at all however much I tried. I mean this could’ve been tackled in a multitude of different ways. Drew could’ve been some other kin. I even hoped as far as to think that Cassie’s son was maybe someone else’s. Maybe she was pregnant before she married Andrew Dalton and I prayed that Andrew Jr. wasn’t his. But the author confirmed within a few chapters that he was. This was probably the first time I’d have been happy with the heroine having a child of another man instead of the one she’d married, all so the whole thing later didn’t seem so... unseemly! I mean I could’ve even gone as far as to try and forget Drew and Cassie’s initial relationship if she didn’t have a child by his father! Now tell me, what the child will call Drew when he grows up? Father? Brother?? I mean, seriously???! *SMH*
The rest of the story was pretty much based on Drew and Cassie’s burgeoning desire for one another which culminated into love at a later point in time. They even thought their attraction was ‘not right’ but of course, there was that lure of the forbidden. Eyeroll. Cassie was pretty much panting after Drew who was a sight much, much better than his father ever was with dark auburn hair and blue eyes. He was tall and handsome and a hard worker. And I already mentioned that Cassie was beautiful so Drew lost his head over her very early in the story.
I did like the story in general. I enjoyed the way, later, Drew and Cassie’s relationship—which began on lust, transformed into something deeper as they work and fought enemies coming to ruin Drew and claim the ranch—together with only one goal in mind. Ranch D was the Dalton’s and that’s the way it’ll remain. Even if Cassie was apprehensive that Drew may throw her out with her child, soon that apprehension was allayed when she got to know him better. He was totally different than his father, though he liked to think his blood was tainted, mingled as it was with his no-good sire’s. I can only imagine that Drew took after his mother, in both looks and temperament and I liked him a lot. I could see why Cassie would prefer him over his father. I enjoyed their camaraderie even if at times I thought Cassie was still quite immature despite the life she’s lived and the stuff she’d seen and endured. She could still be jealous of the women who came to call on Drew (hoping to have him as their suitors) and stomp away. She could be quite irrational and leap before thinking, always trying to prove to Drew that she was an equal to him. Part of it, as I understood, stemmed from her insecurity. But when their relationship deepened as they became lovers and partners and they began trusting one another with everything they had, Cassie matured more than she ever was. She’d finally found the man she could have a real home with. If only they could apprehend the people bent on ruining them!
So in the end I felt this could’ve been a great read too. Everything was fine but I just wish that one little thing didn’t bother me so much! Nope. It simply ruined my enjoyment of the story. 3 stars.