Berkley / August 6, 2013 / $16.00 print, $8.89 digital
The infamous Dalton Gang was once known for riding—and playing—hard. Now, as owners of the Dalton Ranch in Crow Hill, Texas, they’re working from sunup to sundown. But one look from the right woman can tempt them back into the saddle…
When a walk on the wild side turned into a nightmare for Everly Grant, she escaped her abusive ex by taking a job with Crow Hill’s small newspaper. Now she’s assigned to write a human interest story on the return of the Dalton Gang, and she soon discovers that Boone Mitchell could give her plenty more than a good interview. As much as she craves safety, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Boone’s dangerous streak. Before she takes the cowboy to bed, she lays down the law: There are no strings attached, and she’s the one in charge.
That’s fine for Boone. In fact, Everly teaches him things no other woman ever dared. Soon they find themselves wanting more than their simple arrangement will allow. But to get there, Everly will have to open up in ways she thought she never could…
Alison Kent's Dalton Gang trilogy is a different kind of western. Its members, Boone Mitchell, Dax Campbell, and Casper Jayne, aren't the typical cowboys with hearts of gold. They may be elusive and sexy in that irresistible way, but they're also rough, not easy to be around, and have legitimately dark pasts littered with secrets, abuse, and abandonment. It's no surprise that when they all return to no-man's-land Crow's Hill, Texas, to inherit a ranch together that these men have more than tongues wagging as a result. But it's Boone with the biggest hurdles to overcome, an incident as a teenager that has left him keeping women at bay. So when his buddies do the unthinkable—tame their wild spirits with the love of some good women—he's all alone with a broken ranch and a broken spirit.
Everly Grant has an equally tragic history. A foray into the dark side of relationships has left her emotionally and physically scarred, so she's come to Crow's Hill to hide away in an attempt to stop time and scrub away memories that haunt. It's two lonely people then who, when they notice each other for the first time in a town where everyone knows everybody, decide they need someone to warm their bed, if not their heart.
“I’d like to thank you with something more than just words. Let me buy you supper.”
“That would be nice.” But it wasn’t what she wanted. She knew exactly what she wanted. It was time. She was ready. And what better man than Boone Mitchell to help her forget the past? “On one condition.”
“You stay sober.” Because that was the only way this would happen. “And we come back here after.”
His pulse jumped in the vein at his temple. “For a nightcap? Coffee?”
Her pulse jumped between her legs. “I was thinking dessert.”
“Dessert.” He walked deeper into the room, and he smelled of maple syrup, and her stomach tumbled.
She nodded. If they were going to do this, she would have to make sure she didn’t get hurt. Not physically. Not emotionally. It would be an affair of bodies only, no strings, no attachments. “Dessert.”
“Are you talking pie?” Another step. “Cake?” Another step. “Ice cream sundaes? I like ice cream sundaes.”
“I’m talking me.”
Complications work their way in when Everly is assigned a story about the infamous Dalton Gang: their history, their return, and everything in between. Fortunately, there's no dirt-digging, no big misunderstanding with Everly trying to keep her assignment from Boone or her friends, the other Dalton Gang members and their women, though they may not exactly be thrilled by it. Her story is the vehicle that both drives the greater story and holds it all together, as she fills in gaps we've wondered about, fleshes out men who have become legend, and shares the things that make the Dalton Gang such a real force: pasts shrouded in such horror that three boys became men too fast and in all the wrong ways, the mistakes, the dangerous pranks, the far-reaching consequences.
The incredible part is that no matter what sins stain him, Boone at his core is a gentle, loving man, the kind who overcame his past and came back to the family who loves him, which makes for the best hero. Our hearts break for this man who's grown up and now wants a future, but who goes home every night to an empty house and failing ranch. Everly bolsters him, first offering a warm body which soon becomes genuine companionship. With each encounter Everly and Boone have, the closer they're drawn. Everly's able to fall into Boone with an instant security she doesn't even have to question or wonder. And they're both craving human contact so much that learning about and spending time with each other is a balm.
“I never did ask if you could ride.” He stopped, taking in her skinny black pants and long sleeveless swing top. “A horse, I mean. Can you ride a horse?”
“I’ve ridden before,” she said, reaching for her wine before she reached for him, because that’s what the look in his eyes had her wanting to do. “It’s been a while, but I guess it’s like a bicycle? Or… riding other things after a long hiatus? It kinda all comes back.”
“About that.” He swallowed more potato salad, downed half the wine in his glass like it was water. “Would’ve been hard pressed to tell you were out of practice. If that’s what you’re saying here.”
She nodded, leaned down to dust off the bright fuchsia toes of her Prada pumps. “Until the other morning, it had been a while.”
“How long is ‘a while’?” he asked and stopped chewing.
He blinked, blinked again. “So… all the time you’ve been in Crow Hill –”
“Celibate as a nun,” she said, meeting his gaze over the rim of her wineglass.
“Why didn’t you come see me sooner?”
Because of the design of the story around Everly's assignment, the book feels like an ensemble, with frequent and meaningful interaction among all of the Dalton Gang, and really wraps up the trilogy nicely. There's a stark reality to this series in its portrayal of ranching life and small-town Texas. This is no cozy small-town contemporary. Even as it paints nostalgia of the way high school football rules in Texas and centers community camaraderie, it's frank about the part that's not pretty, the fact that drought and heat take down many more ranchers' way of life than those that ever thrive. The Dalton ranch is touch and go—on any given day it's nearly broke, and the long hours seep a bone-deep exhaustion that is simply a by-product of the life. But because of what these men have found, a home, a life, someone who shares it all with them, they wouldn't trade their homecoming for anything.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Alison Kent's Unforgettable before its August 6 release:
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.