Title: The Rancher’s Son
Series: Montana, #2
Author: R.J. Scott
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: March 25, 2016
A man without memories, and the cop who never gave up hope.
When he wakes up in the hospital, the victim of a brutal beating, John Doe has no memories of who he is or who hurt him. The cops can find nothing to identify him and he can’t remember anything to help… except the name Ethan and one recurring place from his dreams. Two words, and they’re not much, but it’s a start: Crooked Tree.
Detective Ethan Allens has never stopped searching for the two boys who vanished. When a report lands on Ethan’s desk that may give new leads, he jumps at the chance to follow them up. The man he finds isn’t his brother, but it’s someone who could maybe help him discover what happened twelve years ago.
What neither man can know is that facing the very real demons of the past could destroy any kind of future they may have together.
This week’s theme on Rainbow Gold Reviews was to continue a series we started at some point. Too often we get to start an amazing series as reviewer, but don’t find the time to continue the series or don’t realize that there are new books out in a series, because we are too busy with review requests to stay up-to-date with our personal favorites. I have a lot of series I want to continue and created a shelf on Goodreads to remember them, but I’m glad this week’s theme gave me the time to continue one of them.
One month ago, I read and reviewed ‘Crooked Tree Ranch’ (Montana 1) by RJ Scott
and decided that this theme was the perfect opportunity for me to read and review the sequel exactly one month later. However, having made that decision, I did not want to know anything more about ‘The Rancher’s Son’ (other than the beautiful cover art) and I went into this book without even having read the blurb.
I didn’t know who the characters would be and did not spend time wondering, because I wanted the book to surprise me. And it did. It took me a little to realize what was going on. We did not really get to meet either of the main characters in the previous book, but the more I read, the more I remembered certain references and a lot of things made sense.
Ethan Allens is a police detective and the estranged son of Marcus Allens, whom we met in ‘Crooked Tree Ranch’. Even in the previous book I thought Marcus was a very difficult and complex character and I was glad we got to explore his relationship with his son further. My opinion has not changed, I can’t completely like or dislike him. He has made some serious mistakes and he is by far not perfect. But then again, who is? He is flawed, human and went through something I would not wish upon any parent.
Still, Ethan is much easier to like and fall in love with. Yes, he pretty much left behind his friends and his father on the farm, because it hurt him too much to be reminded of his missing brother Justin and his missing friend Adam at the Ranch. The fact that everyone else had given up hope to find either Adam or Justin alive drove them apart. However, he has a good heart and the fact that he never gave up looking for Justin and his childhood crush Adam actually pays off, when he gets a call about a beaten-up guy with Amnesia, who mentioned the words ‘Ethan’ and ‘Crooked Tree Ranch’. He became a police detective, because he wanted to protect people and was good at it, but also because he wanted to get the tools and connections to be able to find Justin and Adam.
While he doesn’t recognize the photo of the severely beaten-up man, the few words the man remembers seem too much of a coincidence and he has to follow up with this lead, personally. He does not hesitate for a second and his boss and partner know it is something he HAS to do. When he arrives and meets the man, he realizes that under all those bruises is a man he knows. Or used to know. Adam, his childhood friend, first crush, the boy he kissed and fell in love with. Twelve years later he has grown into a handsome man and can’t remember what happened to him or Justin.
Now, Amnesia is something that is used quite often as plot device, so some characters conveniently forget vital information until the author feels like the time is right for them to remember it. But it is not a plot device here, it IS the plot and I felt it was used in a knowledgeable and authentic way. And it was absolutely crucial for the story.
From the very beginning, this story feels different. In other books by this author I’ve read, romance is always the big focus of the story, even if other aspects like family in Montana 1 are very important as well. Somehow, though, this story resonated with me in a very powerful way from the very beginning and feels like more than a love story. There is a young love that never got a chance, a terrible tragedy that broke a family apart and a desperate search that finally bears fruits after twelve years. So many important and heart-breaking things have happened before the story even really starts and I could feel all the emotion and heartache in every beautiful word the author committed to page.
There are moments so unbelievably painful that they can rip a family apart or bring it closer together. Moments that can show people what’s really important or take away their will and reason to go on. Adam and Justin’s disappearance was such a moment and Adam’s sudden appearance after more than a decade is one as well. This one, though, is filled with hope and potential and love and happiness. It means Adam is alive, it could mean Justin is out there as well. It could mean there is hope for a broken family and hope for an untried love. Readers can feel all these old feelings rising again in Ethan and how the air between Adam and Ethan is charged with potential. They were in love twelve years ago and the chemistry and attraction is not gone, just because Adam does not remember the history of the relationship. Yet.
But there is more than potential that kept me at the edge of the seat. There is the mystery of what happened during the past twelve years, the fear and hope about Justin’s fate and the danger Adam might be in, that can be felt as a constant tension throughout the book. I must admit, I have read a lot of action-filled stories where character I really liked were chased by bad guys over and over again. None of them felt as suspenseful, though, as Ethan and Adam alone in a car, trying to figure out their relationship, even as every new memory could blow everything up. As this mystery is slowly uncovered, the guys I almost instantly fell in love with and rooted for, are dancing on a dangerous minefield.
I loved that while the attraction and the chemistry and the feelings between the main protagonists can clearly be felt, they take their time. For me the circumstances make that a necessity and the way they interact felt real and credible to me. RJ Scott handles the relationship between Ethan and Adam expertly and with great sensitivity. Adam is ultimately vulnerable. He does not recognize Ethan or himself, nor does he remember his own life. Why did Justin and he leave? Where did they go? Why did they never come back or contact anyone? Is there someone waiting for him? Is Justin alive? There are so many questions, but he knows he can trust Ethan, even if he can’t remember him. And more than a former boyfriend, Ethan is Adam’s protector. Adam’s friend. Adam’s family. Even if Adam never remembered anything again and never developed romantic feelings for him again, Ethan would be by his side and help him.
Before anything else, they are friends and family and that is a beautiful thing. BUT, let me be clear. They DO have attraction and chemistry and feelings that develop between them or were never truly gone. They do explore the connection that is still between them after all these years and they fit together perfectly. They belong together and their romance will warm your hearts even as their love scenes are so hot and passionate that you can burn yourselves, if you are not careful. But in my opinion, the family drama, mystery and romance balance each other perfectly and are equal partners in this story.
‘Crooked Tree Ranch’ was a story about family and in a way, this one is as well. But where book one in this series was about two families, who were perfect for each other, fell in love and merged into one, this book is about a broken family with a very complicated relationship and the hope to get closure for the devastating event that drove them apart. Where book one was a beautiful comfort read, this one is heart-breaking and had me at the edge of my seat with tears in my eyes. It feels MORE emotional, MORE personal, MORE suspenseful… just MORE.
I have read many of the author’s books and really like or even love them, but this one feels special. A few books like ‘The Heart of Texas’, the entire Texas series and to some extend ‘The Christmas Throwaway’ have always struck the right chord with me and many other readers, but this book might just be my new favorite. I’m convinced it will end up on many favorite book lists for this year and even many all-time favorite book lists. RJ Scott has outdone herself! ❤
I will stop here, because I really don’t want to take away too much from the mystery and the enjoyment of reading this book. Still, I’m having trouble letting go of these characters. There are still so many complex relationships that could be explored and aspects of the mystery that yet have to be revealed that I’m sad the Montana series does not continue with these same characters, like the Texas series did. We did meet characters from the previous books again and even got to know some in a different way, but they were not the focus of the story. I want Ethan and Adam to always remain a focus and am convinced that there is much more to tell about them. Having said that, I will reveal that the story ends with a major cliffhanger for the next book, even though Ethan and Adam find happiness and the ending of the book made me content.
The next book in the Montana series, ‘A Cowboy’s Home’, can’t get here soon enough.
Believe me, you will want to read Sam’s story!!!
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars.
“5 Stars!! For a romance and a mystery all in one!! ~Jaime – Alpha Book Club
“…. a wonderful “second-chances” story and I couldn’t put it down once I started it.” ~Paul (Goodreads Review)
“You can’t go wrong with an R.J. Scott book, and this one is no different. Heartwarming and fun with a splash of angst and suspense…” ~Ceri (Goodreads Review)
Ethan must have nodded off at some point, waking to another coffee from Clare and a ten-minute warning that breakfast was about to be brought up to the patients. His neck ached, and he was semi curled up in the hard chair.
“Thought you needed this. If you want to go to the cafeteria, I can keep an eye on Adam.”
“No, I’ll stay here. Thank you, though.”
“I’ll see if I can get someone to bring you up something.”
A quick glance at his watch showed Ethan it was a few minutes after six. He checked his email. He’d only sent the information to Navy Liaison at late last night, but there was already a message back saying all efforts would be made to get the information to Cole Strachan. There was a group joke sent by one of the shift officers back at the precinct, and some spam. Other than that, nothing.
Ethan stood and stretched tall, sipped his hot coffee, and watched the April morning unfold before his eyes. Clare managed to scrounge up some pastries, and he ate them at the window, a hundred thoughts racing through his head.
A nurse disappeared into Adam’s room, and Ethan tensed in expectation. He desperately wanted to go in there, but would Adam even be interested in talking to him?
“Are you Ethan?” the nurse asked. The tray in her hand carried untouched food.
“You can go in. He’s asking for you.”
As he started to walk past her, she thrust the tray at him. There was a plate of eggs, and a sorry-looking pancake. “Try to get him to eat some of this,” she said.
He took the tray, because he didn’t really have a choice, and went into Adam’s room, kicking the door shut behind him. There was no one in the bed, but the bathroom door was closed, so Ethan assumed that was where the errant Adam was. He placed the tray on the table and waited, looking out of the same window Adam had been standing at last night. From this angle and at this height, Ethan could see the water of Lake Michigan and watch the hospital parking lot grow busier by the minute.
The bathroom door opened. Ethan instinctively turned and wished he hadn’t, because now he was staring. Not so much at the pajama bottoms that rode low on slim hips, or the broad chest that had a smattering of hair, tapering to a happy trail downward, nor to the muscles in Adam’s arms. No, Ethan was staring at the scars—new ones and some way older by the look of them—bruises purple and yellow and green, and the tattoos.
Tribal tattoos circled Adam’s arms, over his right shoulder, and down onto his pec: big swathes of dark ink with finer detail in curls around muscles. Something that looked like old burns marked his neck. A body that had seen a lot, felt a lot.
“I don’t remember them,” Adam said, his voice lost. He ran his fingers over the tattoos as if touching them would bring back memories. “They must have hurt, don’t you think?”
Ethan thought of the small tattoo over his heart and recalled the discomfort of getting it. His hadn’t hurt; the million tiny pricks into his skin were nothing.
“Maybe,” he offered.
Adam turned a little and checked the tattoos in the mirror, peering close. “I wonder what they mean?”
When he turned, he exposed more marks on his back and the fine lines of a horse standing on his hind legs. Ethan inhaled sharply.
“What?” Adam snapped, attempting to see his back even though he couldn’t get the right angle. “What is it?”
Adam frowned. “That is my horse? I want to see that again, the detective took a photo but he didn’t have a copy for me.”
Ethan pulled out his cell and snapped a shot of the beautiful tattoo, then passed the phone to Adam, who stared at the picture.
“Why is it—” Any energy seemed to leave him in the exhalation of a sigh, and he slumped to sit on his bed. “—I remember this is a cell phone, but I don’t recall patterns on my own skin?”
From his research Ethan learned terms like brain centers and retrograde amnesia, alongside traumatic stress, he didn’t understand a lot of it. “I have no idea.”
Adam curled into himself, hunching over his knees, looking utterly defeated.
Compassion welled inside Ethan, and he sat next to his old friend, pushing the tray toward him. “Eat your eggs,” he said gruffly.
Adam side-eyed him and huffed before taking the tray and resting it on the small hospital table. He forked some into his mouth, grimacing as he chewed and swallowed, but at least he ate half of what was there, and one cold, dry pancake.
“I need a proper breakfast,” Adam grumped.
“Hot fresh bacon,” Adam said immediately, paling at what he was saying. “I think that I love bacon. I’d eat plates of the stuff if you gave them to me.”
“And real pancakes,” Ethan added. He reached over and poked at the sorry excuse for one that had been served. “But not like this one. Fluffy, steaming pancakes.”
Adam nodded and darted his tongue out to collect a small piece of egg resting on his lips. “Maple syrup,” he added softly.
“You always liked maple syrup.”
Adam finished the eggs and grimaced again. “When we get out of here, will you find me bacon?”
“Real bacon, and pancakes with maple syrup. That sounds just like what I want to eat.”
Ethan’s chest tightened as Adam looked up at him under his eyelashes, his dark eyes holding humor. Adam and Justin had spent their childhoods getting Ethan to do what they wanted: the older brother with money from a part-time job, the one with the car. And he’d done everything they asked.
“I wouldn’t take you anywhere bad,” Ethan said
Adam pushed the tray to one side. “I need a shower, and then we go, right?”
“You should take photos of all my tattoos, so you could maybe find out more about me.”
“I know who you are. The rest will follow when your memories return.” He didn’t want to say that he’d already decided to email the tattoo of the horse to Jen, just in case she could track down where it had been done. It was a beautiful piece of work, and likely whoever did it would have it in a portfolio somewhere. Of course, that was a needle in a haystack. Who knew where Adam had been in the last twelve years? Chicago, where he was now? Or had he traveled from Montana to another city?
Adam looked at him, confused. “You said I disappeared. How old was I when that happened? Fifteen, you said?”
“You were nearly sixteen.”
Adam glanced down at himself, “And I’m twenty-eight now, so what happened in between?” He stood up and half turned. “You should get them all.”
Ethan did as Adam wanted, and pulled all the photos into one email, sending the whole lot to Jen with a particular request about tracking down the artist. Meanwhile, Adam went into the bathroom, closed the door, and left Ethan staring at the wood.
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.