The Outlaw Jesse James is the third and final 'Outlaw Hearts' featuring the James brothers. Books one and two,The Outlaw's Wife (SD1175) and Marriage, Outlaw Style (SD1185) complete the trilogy. This third story stood alone with no problem; I didn't even know about books one and two until I started reading the fine print. Now I wish I'd read them in order just to prolong the pleasure and enjoyment of this series.
Jesse James is the youngest James brother, and at twenty-nine, is a world class bull rider. His goal is finally to be named a world champion. This, he feels, is his year, and he really doesn't want to let anything stand in his way, not even the pretty filly he meets and impulsively kisses after an incredible bull ride.
Twenty-four-year-old Sloan Gantry remembers the first time she saw gorgeous Jesse James, seven years ago. But he never noticed the coltish girl who had yet to reach womanhood. But he notices her now. Sloan has no interest in being the current love of a rootless rodeo cowboy, so it's easy to tell herself that Jesse means nothing. Sloan, too, has a goal. She's become a partner with her father and is a stock contractor. She's trying to build up their reputation and is working hard. She's got to break into the 'good-ol' boys' network, and this means hard work, with no time for Jesse.
What Sloan does make time for is her young son, Noah. Sloan truly knows about the love-'em and leave-'em cowboys' mentality. She no more than got the word pregnant out of her mouth before she saw the trail dust of the cowboy who'd professed everlasting love. She doesn't want to be Jesse's temporary love, any more than she wants Noah to become attached to a temporary 'dad.'
Sloan recognizes that there's a good bit of sexual chemistry between her and Jesse, so much so that she's scared. At the same time Jesse is acknowledging that he's interested in a good time, and then he'll hightail it out of Dodge. As Jesse is drawn into Sloan's life and sees her trying to build a good life for herself and Noah, he's struck by the fact that Sloan is really as lonely as he is and that her distance is a form of self-protection.
All of this awareness is disturbing, but Jesse is still not giving up, even when Sloan vows, "I'm not one of your airhead buckle bunnies who goes all a'shiver at the thought of a midnight ride with a rodeo cowboy." Is Jesse thwarted? Oh, no. He even gets her attention by kidnapping a goat, a goat who's a surrogate mother to a mean, cowboy-eatin' bull.
For most of the book, the conflict is basically that she's a forever kind of woman, while he's a temporary kind of man. Jesse is so smitten that he's thinking about Sloan instead of concentrating on the bull, so that his riding suffers. His ranking even begins to slip because he's riding so poorly. In order to keep is goal in sight, will he have to give up Sloan sooner than he's hoped? When his partner, D.U. (Double Ugly . . . gee, men are so kind to each other), is involved in a serious bull-riding accident, Jesse finally begins to take stock in his situation and slowly reassesses his priorities.
Something which made me appreciate this story is Ms. Gerard's correct use of rodeo terminology. Hats, boots and jeans were all authentic 'cowboy' brands. When she referred to the Mesquite, Texas, rodeo as a tourist rodeo, I knew that she has listened to and learned rodeo ways.
It's this authenticity that sold me on the story. The rodeo way of life is hard, lonely and only the best survive for the long run. Like many of us, I'm tired of cowboy books, secret baby stories and amnesiac brides. However, The Outlaw Jesse James is a cut above the rest. It's realistic, gritty and ultimately a story of healing and acceptance.