I left my Kansas hometown more than ten years ago, and although I miss a lot of things about it – amazing steak, neighborly smiles, and K-State football would top the list – what I miss most is the prolific population of honest-to-God cowboys.
Nothing makes me swoon like the rugged masculinity of a dusty Stetson, a snap-front shirt and tight Wranglers stacked on worn boots. These are men who work with their hands, who live off the land, who still embody the frontier fantasy that had people packing up their covered wagons and heading West – or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m behind one of them in the Kroger checkout. Whether they’re real-life John Waynes or not, cowboys make amazing romance heroes, and no one does them better than the legendary Elizabeth Lowell.
Vintage romance novels are one of my not-so-guilty pleasures, and when they’re not veering too far into the angry-billionaire-emotionally-abuses-supermodel territory they can be a lot of fun. Elizabeth Lowell’s MacKenzie-Blackthorn series is one of my favorites, particularly the 1989 Fire & Rain and 1991’s Outlaw.
In Fire & Rain, tall dark ‘n’ brooding Luke MacKenzie has long lusted after his best friend’s predictably virginal younger sister, Carla, but after several generations of women have gone stir-crazy on his isolated ranch, he’s decided no woman will ever suffer to live with him. Guess what, y’all? He’s wrong! Carla is just crazy for the Anasazi ruins at the edges of his land and after lots of sexy man-tantrums, angry cowboy dialogue, and repeated descriptions of Luke’s huge and powerful body, they find love on the windswept plains.
If you think Luke sounds like a hunk, wait ’til you meet my personal favorite in the series: Tennessee Blackthorn, hero of Outlaw. The mercenary-turned-cowboy is not only named after a state, which is practically a frontier must-have (his brothers are named Nevada and Utah – not even joking), he represents the softer side of these ultra manly hunks when he gently seduces another fan of the Anasazi ruins, anthropology professor and sexual violence survivor Diana Saxton. Diana’s traumatic past is handled with surprising sensitivity given the book’s publication date, and Tennessee is the ultimate tough guy with a heart of gold.
Next time you have a hankering for some faded denim, sun-baked leather and a five o’clock shadow, crack open one of Elizabeth Lowell’s classics and take the advice of the country-music duo Big & Rich: Save a horse, ride a cowboy. Yeehaw!