Ms. Burton uses an interesting game that the girls played as children to map out their lives. As adults, the reemergence of this game helps each sister to see what and who is important in their lives.
Dr. Valerie McMasters returns to the Bar M ranch after a 2 year absence for the funeral of her uncle Ronald at the insistence of her youngest sister Jolene. Valerie has made a life for herself in Dallas where she completed her Internship and Residency and plans to go into practice with 3 other family physicians. She is about to see all the years of hard work pay off. Valerie divorced her husband Mason, the Forman of Bar M, when she left the ranch and planned never to return to the memories of their time together as well as the heartache of the loss of her parents years earlier. However, with Uncle Ronald’s passing, ownership of the 10,000 acre cattle ranch will be equally divided between the 3 sisters, Valerie, Brea and Jolene.
Mason loved Valerie McMasters from the time she was 16 years of age and even though there was tremendous hurt when she left and divorced him, he has never stopped loving his beautiful, brilliant and stubborn ex-wife. Mason is an intelligent, strong, ruggedly handsome, career cowboy who has worked hard at the Bar M for many years. He knows Valerie, that she keeps her secrets close and while they have sexual chemistry which ignites into a passion that for him is unmatched, she never opened up and shared her secrets or fears with him. I really liked Mason’s strength of character and ability to back off when it comes to Valerie who runs hot and cold at the blink of an eye.
Cattle ranchers work extremely hard and share a love of the land and country life which came through loud and clear in Ms. Burton’s well crafted narrative. I was quite surprised to learn what was involved in the running of a large cattle ranch such as the Bar M, and as Forman, Mason works in tandem with Jolene McMasters overseeing the day to day running of the ranch, an enormous responsibility.
Valerie, against her better judgement, agrees to stay at the Bar M for one month but is determined to return to Dallas and her carefully planned life. She makes sure, her sisters and Mason are well aware of this. Try as she might to push Mason away and deny her need for him the sexual tension and attraction builds and explodes between these two characters and they again become intimate. The love scenes penned between Val and Mason are smouldering hot intense and explicit. Ms. Burton is known for writing sensual love scenes and the eroticism permeating the narrative of this novel is no exception.
Valerie and Mason’s is a story of reacquainted lovers, but it is not an easy one. Valerie is determined to return to her life in Dallas and she has a soul deep fear of committing herself to him again for reasons you will have to read the novel to discover. There are also issues in the community that come knocking at her door and this along with what she feels are unrealistic expectations of her family cause her to flee the Bar M and Mason again.
Brea McMasters has made a life for herself in Tulsa working as a freelance programmer/analyst. Brea is a shy bookworm who has significant self image problems thanks to a couple of unfulfilling, unpleasant relationships. As with Valerie, Brea returns to the ranch after a 2 year absence at Jolene’s request to deal with her part ownership. Brea too intends to return to her life in Tulsa after 1 month. Upon her arrival at the ranch her sisters immediately notice she hides her beauty behind too big clothing and an unbecoming hairstyle. Brea has very low self esteem. It doesn’t take long for the strong and overbearing Jolene, with Valerie’s support, to take matters in hand and whisk Brea off to town getting her a makeover and some new clothing. While this “new look” does show off Brea’s inherent beauty to her benefit, it does nothing to help her self image problems.
Enter Gage Reilly, a gifted horse trainer, and drifter whose latest job stop is at the Bar M. Gage is not only extremely handsome, he is well read, enjoys the arts and what I really liked about him is his honesty, he calls a spade a spade. This hero has no intention of settling down, enjoying his footloose and fancy free lifestyle. He is sexually experienced, very charismatic but picky about the women with whom he spends his time.
Gage immediately notices Brea and is inexorably drawn to her soft innocence. He also notices a sadness evident in her expressive eyes. Brea of course has noticed Gage but feels unworthy of his attention which couldn’t be more untrue. With gentle encouragement Gage stokes Brea’s passionate nature and desire to be with him. He is completely honest about his plans to move on and inability to make any sort of commitment. Brea understands and their relationship starts as a casual no strings attached intimacy. However, as the beautify butterfly comes out of her cocoon, both these people begin to develop feelings beyond the “casual” which causes Gage to run scared and hurt Brea in the process. Then Jolene sticks her nose in and really muddies the waters.
Never fear, Ms. Burton does pen a lovely HEA for this couple and, Brea and Gage’s very hot romance was my favorite of the three.
The title for Jolene’s story is perfect because she is indeed “brazen”, a weapon on legs who has run the Bar M since a young age. Jolene is blonde and beautiful, tough as nails, has a razor sharp tongue, and, is set on having Walker Morgan. The poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. lol
Walker has worked at the Bar M for 5 years, he has proven himself time and again and is going to be offered the job of Assistant Forman. After having a very bad experience with a previous ranch owner, thereby losing his job, he has no intention of getting involved with “the boss”. I found Walker to be a solid hero, I really liked his integrity and strength.
Jolene institutes relentless war to win Walker’s affection. Here is a short example of a scene with Jolene in the local bar during a night out when she is trying to make Walker jealous. She is at the bar and a cowboy from another ranch asks her to dance.
“She offered up her sweetest smile.
“Nobody’s claimed me yet, cowboy, so I’m all yours.”
He held out his hand. “Then every guy in this place must be blind, because you’re sure the prettiest woman in here.”
Just what she liked---A man utterly full of shit.”
Bound, Branded and Brazen © Jaci Burton
LOL That, is Jolene.
She does nearly give up when Walker continues to feign disinterest, however he finally can no longer resist Jolene. The lead up to the scene where they finally “do it” is again a riot, I will say, it involves mud.
As their intimate relationship intensifies, Walker refuses to be seen with Jolene or acknowledge they are involved in public or around ranch employees which causes major conflict. Jolene’s vulnerable side does surface and she begins to question her choice for a male partner. Walker has not shared his work history with Jolene so she doesn’t understand what is standing in the way of a commitment between them. Ms. Burton penned a twist in the climax of Walker and Jolene’s story that was surprising.
I have to say, of the three stories, theirs was my least favorite. It wasn’t because I didn’t like these two characters because I did. I think it was that I didn’t see why Jolene was so attracted to Walker. Perhaps I would have liked to see him be a little stronger and taking the “lead” more with this incredibly strong heroine? This didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel, because I had difficulty putting “Bound, Branded and Brazen” down. Further, I’ve developed a new love for ‘cowboys’ in romance. lol
I thought the descriptive prose in involving the country, the climate and the rigors of cattle ranching was wonderful. The narrative of “Bound, Branded and Brazen” is laced with Ms. Burton’s signature humor, which I love. I also enjoyed the over arching plot that involved Valerie, Brea and Jolene being reunited, finding love and overcoming their family history of tragedy.
If you read and enjoyed "Wild, Wicked and Wanton" and have been looking forward to this novel, I don’t think you will be disappointed. If you like a hot erotic romance you may like to give “Bound, Branded and Brazen”, a try.