Everyone knows rodeo roper Chris is a player. He has his pick of women, and he seems to pick up all of them. But when he sets her up with his roping partner David, Alicia realizes she has to put her unrequited crush on Chris behind her and give someone else a chance, give herself a chance to find something real and maybe lasting.
Chris hasn't exactly earned the reputation he has, but he hasn't done anything to discourage the talk, either. Truth is he has no intention of settling down, and the last thing he needs is a woman to distract him when national finals are right around the corner. But seeing David with Alicia opens his eyes to more than he wants to admit. Stealing the woman he should have kept for himself from his best friend and partner will wreck everything they've worked so hard for.
The Verdict: I love it stories where romance blooms between two people who've known each other forever, and Learning the Ropes got it exactly right.
Chris and Alicia pretty much grew up together, and while they weren't best friends, there was enough friendship and mutual respect that they didn't want to jeopardize it. In fact, Chris thought so much of Ali that he set her up with his best friend, a good guy he knew would treat her right and had thoughts of eventually getting married and settling down on his mind. And despite the fact that there were no big fireworks between David and Ali, he was an easy guy to like, and it made sense that she would give a possible relationship with him a shot.
Ali's road to happily ever after has quite a few obstacles, but instead of being ridiculous drama thrown in just to advance the plot, it all seemed to fit in perfectly. There is, of course, the love triangle aspect, with David falling for Ali, Ali hung up on Chris, and Chris realizing that he doesn't want to see anyone ride off into the sunset with Ali. And then there's the rodeo and career part of it. Ali's determined to buy a ranch and give her parents their dream, Chris is set on opening a rodeo school with David, and David's desperately trying to save his family's ranch. In a rather sad coincidence, those aspirations seemingly in line with each other are at first in conflict, and that adds a level of drama that doesn't really have a miracle ending — a refreshing change from most stories like this.
The chemistry between Chris and Ali is great, and David's reaction to them was pretty real — a little pissed, a little happy for them, a little disappointed for himself. It actually made me like him even more and showed he was a real friend, not just some character tossed into the mix to liven things up. And happily ever after didn't just fall into their laps, which was nice. So often characters give in at a declaration of love, like that wipes away every bit of past and doubt that's been an obstacle, but that didn't happen here. She made Chris prove himself — a few times, really — and it gave their ending a lot more credibility. The only thing I wasn't fond of was the very ending, not because I didn't want it to happen, but because it seemed rather sudden. Everything had just been cleared up, and it seemed like they could finally really take a step forward together, when suddenly Chris went for a giant leap. It was a sudden acceleration of a plot which had so far been perfectly paced, and I half expected Ali to say no, more in keeping with the characters so far than the tidy wrap up that happened instead.
What makes the story stand out, however, is the incredibly accurate portrayal of rodeo life. Most books with a rodeo setting romanticize it, take unnecessary creative liberties, or simply get it all wrong. It's like the authors want the Stetsons and the Wranglers and the pearl button shirts, but they can't be bothered to research any of it. But I grew up where every little girl in the calf scramble wanted to be a barrel racer, where jeans were tucked into boots for function rather than fashion, and where cowboy cut suits still come out for funerals. It's nice to read a story that not only gets it right but also shows how relevant that way of life still is.