The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad (Farthingdale Ranch #3) ~ Jackie North
The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad is book 3 in the Farthingdale Ranch series. This is Clay (who we met in the earlier books) and Austin’s story. This is an incredible addition to a highly addictive series. Jackie North flexes her writing muscles in this series, and the result is a complex world, an engaging story, and characters I dare you not to fall in love with.
Like the earlier titles in this series, the Ranch Hand and the Single Dad is a mixture of daily life, intense emotion with a touch of drama, humour and lightheartedness, and above all, romance. This is a heady mix that keeps you turning the pages. The Ranch Hand is never heavy, yes it gets a bit emotional at times, but it never feels like you're wading through angst. Periods of intense emotion and/or drama are resolved quickly and are often followed by humour or a lighthearted glimpse of daily life on a working guest ranch.
I was absorbed in this story from the first page, and in addition to the author's writing style, her world-building and even more her characterisation that really suck you into the story, refusing to let go until the very last page (and maybe not even then).
"It overwhelmed him to think of it, that nobody had ever made him feel the way Clay did."
Jackie North has this fantastic ability to describe the environment around her characters so that it feels like you are there. I've never been to Wyoming, but from the descriptions alone, it feels like I have. I can feel the grass under my feet, shiver from the cold winds coming from Iron Mountain, hear the clanging of Jasper's forge. The author's vivid descriptions place you in the scene so that it feels like you are witnessing the story first-hand. However, it is never overdone so that you feel like you are bogged down in minutiae. It is just enough detail so that your imagination can take care of the rest.
"Austin looked out over the green trees that ringed the gravel parking lot in a way that framed the view of a small grassy dip, beyond which a smooth river flowed. Beyond that was the bluebell-blue sky, and beyond that were the humps and round shapes that made up the foothills."
Although the world-building is superb, the characters rightly steal the show, and they turn this book into something truly memorable. The entire cast is extraordinary, and one of the things I love about this series is that you never lose touch with the previous couples. Because they are all there on the ranch, they are constantly coming into the story, and I love seeing how they are moving forward in their lives. However, the Ranch Hand is Clay and Austin's story, and Ms North has once again developed characters that are way too easy to become invested in. Both Clay and Austin are, in very different ways, damaged and broken: both are searching for acceptance, love, and home.
Clay, the happy-go-lucky playboy of the ranch is desperately lonely. He searches for love everywhere he goes and in all the wrong places. His search often leads him to bar alley hookups that will never go anywhere and only leave him feeling empty. As a result of his many failed searches for love, he feels unworthy and sullied by his previous behaviour when he has the opportunity for true love. Clay needs to learn that to gain acceptance from a partner, he first has to accept himself.
"Who would laugh with Clay while they cuddled afterwards? Who would bring him coffee in the mornings? And who could he adore, in return, all the days in his life?"
Austin is an accountant that is hired to try and get the ranch's finances back on track. Austin is badly traumatised by his marriage to a truly evil woman, so much so that he suffers from psychologically induced erectile dysfunction. Austin believes he is straight; however, as the story unfolds, we see that from an early age, Austin was manipulated, intimidated and abused by a woman with so many personality malfunctions that extreme narcissism seems to be only a minor fault in comparison! He has no idea who he really is. Due to his youthful naivete, Austin didn't realise just how toxic his marriage was until it is way too late.
"Had he always been into men, or was it just Clay who'd tipped the balance?"
Austin's escape to the Ranch is a way for him to begin to discover just who he is and who he is attracted to. His relationship with Clay develops both quickly and slowly. Like Clay, he believes that his ED means that he isn't worthy of a relationship, that it's not fair to burden Clay with his disability. Together both men need to learn that love is worth anything, and with the help of Austin's little girl, all three of them have a chance of being a real family.
"He [Clay] just knew he wanted Austin to get what he needed, wanted it more than he could have though possible upon meeting Austin on that rainy Sunday."
Primarily due to Austin's ED, this addition to the Farthingdale Ranch series is a little less sexually steamy than the previous two books. However, the story is no less sexually charged or emotionally intense. In fact, it sometimes seems even more sensual without the graphic sexual activity. The Ranch Hand may be lightish on actual sex, but the romance and passion are undoubtedly at the forefront.
"I don't know what I'm doing, I just know - being with you makes me feel good. I'm happier than I've ever been and if I could just be with you, just be brave... "
I absolutely adored this addition to the Farthingdale Ranch family. Although it's going to be a pretty special couple that can replace Jasper and Ellis (The Blacksmith and the Ex Con) as my number one couple, Austin and Clay were an exceptional pair, and they well and truly earned their happily ever after.
I can't wait to see what Jackie North has in store for us in the next book, The Wrangler and the Orphan. If my hunch is correct, this one is going to be an amazing read too.
If you are looking for a romantic, sensual and emotional read that is never heavy; storytelling that lets you feel like you are in the middle of the action watching it happen; humour and cute glimpses of daily life on a guest ranch; and characters so alive that they leap of the page; then you certainly can't go past Jackie North's The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad.
"'Wow', he said low, a whisper like poetry. 'Nobody ever kissed me the way you do'"
Farthingdale Ranch Series Reading Order:
0.5 - Honey from the Lion – prequel of sorts. Tells the story of Jamie, a guest to the ranch
that is mentioned quite a few times in the books. Get the audio, it is amazing!!
1. - The Foreman and the Drifter
2. - The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con
3 - The Ranch Hand and the Single Dad