Ballantine Books / March 26, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital
Oldest son Ward Knowles feels the sprawling California ranch in his blood. And now that the family business has expanded to include a popular resort, he’s working harder than ever. Silver Creek is his legacy and his life, which is fine for the ruggedly sexy ladies’ man and committed bachelor. Love and trust don’t come easily for Ward since he lost his heart to a gold digger—until he meets a shy, unpretentious beauty whose sweet grace is about to turn his jaded heart into a hungry one.
Tess Casari has found sanctuary at Silver Creek, working as an assistant to Ward’s mother, Adele. Grateful for her busy new life running the ranch’s spa and resort, Tess can escape the heartbreak, humiliation, and secret shame of her failed marriage. The last thing she needs is temptation—especially from a man who reminds her so much of the husband who shattered her faith in love. But passion and destiny are about to change the rules for two people who have stopped believing in the healing power of love.
If I were selecting a playlist for my literacy autobiography, I would be sure to include Trisha Yearwood’s “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” After all, cowboys were my first heroes. I spent countless Saturday afternoons watch Roy and Gene and the lesser known but most dashing Lash LaRue on the big screen, and I started reading my dad’s Zane Gray and Louis L’Amour books only a year after I started reading my mother’s romance novels. I sighed over the Marlboro Man ads in the days of ignorance. Ward Knowles, the hero of Laura Moore’s Once Tempted, the first book in her new Silver Creek series, may seem far removed from the classic cowboys of my youth, but he shares some essential qualities with them.
First, he loves the land. Even though Silver Creek Ranch is clearly a twenty-first century setting with its emphasis on sustainable ranching and the high teas, hot stone massages, and the destination wedding venue it offers its paying guests, the land has been in Ward’s family for nearly a century. And he is committed to the ranch’s success and to seeing it preserved for future generations of Knowles.
Does anyone else remember that one of the rules of the Roy Rogers Riders Club was to be kind to animals and take care of them? The mythic cowboy knew animals and cared for them, especially horses who had names and distinct personalities. Moore shows Ward’s concern about the ranch’s cattle, his care for the goats, his skill and gentleness with birthing sheep and newborn lambs, but he is at his most spectacular with the horses. Tess is impressed with his patience and coolness as he moves to safety Tucker, an abused horse his sister has rescued:
It took twenty minutes to get the horse to the make-shift metal enclosure, with Ward sprinkling bits of grain on the ground, the horse taking tentative steps forward, and Quinn offering a steady stream of praise. Not once did either Knowles show the slightest impatience with the animal.
Later, the sight of Ward training Bilboa, a quarter horse, leaves Tess breathless: “She had no idea what he was doing, only that it was complicated and exceptionally beautiful.”
The storied cowboys were quintessentially masculine—laconic, courageous, take-charge, protective alphas. Ward fits the pattern in this respect too. His “cool reserve and dark, brooding good looks” are among the first qualities Tess observes, but even that observation comes after her recognition that he is accustomed to taking action and giving orders. She thinks of him as “Mr. Ward Knowles, High and Mighty Ruler of the World.” It takes a bit longer for her to become aware of less irritating qualities. She sees his tendency to take action without taking a survey differently when she learns that quality once led him to save his best friend’s life, at considerable risk to his own. His compulsion to take care of his family and friends eventually encompasses Tess, who by this point has reached a new conclusion: “He was proud and high-handed, certainly. But he was also caring. And he was one of the sexiest men she’d ever encountered.”
Physical appeal is part of the iconic cowboy image too, and Ward is no slouch in this department. Tess appreciates his appearance in a pair of well-worn jeans, finding him “delicious.”
Oh, yes, he was fine. He could probably star in one of those calendars. Twelve Months of Ward Knowles. It’d be an instant bestseller on account of its broad appeal. After all he could do hunky businessman as well as hunky cowboy. It was really a tossup as to which version was more devastating.
And to think that just a few months ago she’s pooh-poohed the appeal of a virile cowboy.
Clearly Ward is the perfect cowboy hero for a twenty-first century romance.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Laura Moore's Once Tempted (Silver Creek #1) before its March 26 release:
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.