Title: Pickup Men (Pickup Men #1)
Author: L.C. Chase
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Length: Novel/44.6K words/166 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A rodeo romance that delivered with realistically drawn cowboys and lots of atmosphere.
It takes a pissed-off Brahma bull named Shockwave to show rodeo pickup man Marty Fairgrave the cold hard truth about champion bull rider Tripp Colby: Tripp will never leave the safety of his closet or acknowledge Marty in public. Sometimes loving someone just isn’t enough, and after a year of hiding what they are, Marty finally sees the light—and it’s no longer shining on Tripp.
Tripp Colby would do anything for Marty. Well . . . almost. He’s never loved anyone before, and isn’t quite sure how to handle it now. But he knows Marty is his everything, and in order to win him back, Tripp will have to overcome his darkest fears and step into the light.
But no matter Tripp’s intentions, the cost might be too high and the effort too late for these two cowboys to ride off into the sunset.
So what exactly is a pickup man? He manages the horses and bulls and rescues bronc and bareback riders from being trampled by the horses after their 8 second rides are completed; pickup men put their lives on the line every day by distracting the bulls so they won’t gore the riders.
Marty was one of the best pickup men in the business. He was doing his job when he noticed that his (secret) boyfriend Tripp was in serious trouble and in danger of being gored by the bull he had just been riding. Marty courageously threw himself between Tripp and the bull and sustained serious injuries. Even though Tripp was deep in the closet Marty never expected that he wouldn’t at least rush over to make sure he was okay and that his injuries weren’t life threatening, but to his dismay Tripp stayed on the opposite side of the arena, far away from being connected to him in any way, which hurt Marty so much he swore that he was over him. Tripp showed up very late that night at the hospital to which Marty had been taken by ambulance, after making sure that his other visitors had left, but Marty wanted nothing to do with him and told him that they were definitely over.
When Marty was released from hospital he was driven to his parents’ ranch to recuperate by his constant companions and long-time best friends Bridge and Kent, but there was a surprise addition to the group when Eric Palmer, the paramedic who had taken care of Marty when he was injured, joined them. Eric was very smitten with his former patient and wasn’t about to lose the opportunity to get to know him better. Was Marty angry enough with Tripp to change horses in midstream and accept Eric’s attentions?
I really liked this story because of the detailed and realistic way it portrayed the cowboys and their lives as pickup men on the rodeo. It was obvious that L.C. Chase had done a lot of research about rodeos, and I really got a sense of the everyday routines and chores involved in taking care of the horses, which was woven into the story in such a way that it was not an info dump. The camaraderie among the guys was also evident. In addition, the competitive spirit between the cowboys and hard work it took to become champions for those few who made it was obvious. Of course in that environment gay men were not open about their sexuality, except for Marty who was big enough to intimidate anyone who got in his face, but what he wanted most of all was to be loved by Tripp who was so damaged that there seemed to be almost no chance of the two of them getting together permanently.
Marty had always been Tripp’s dirty little secret until he made it clear that if Tripp wanted any sort of relationship with him it would have to be out in the open, something Tripp couldn’t or wouldn’t accept. Tripp’s issues throughout his life made him into who he was, and I had a lot of difficulty relating to him initially until layer by layer his back story was revealed and he showed me ultimately the man he wanted to be, someone of whom he could be proud. His eventual turnaround was quite dramatic and demonstrated his determination to live his life out in the open, which came at almost too high a price. Of course there was the obligatory villain in the person of Scott, an extremely homophobic cowboy who always seemed to be around Tripp at the most inopportune times, either by accident or by design. He was even more damaged than Tripp and he certainly delivered in his role of increasing the tension in the story when the big reveal came. It seemed that everyone had secrets.
I liked this story a lot because of all the characters. The MCs were particularly well drawn but the supporting characters at times almost stole the show. I especially liked Bridge who seemed to have a secret or two, and maybe even a closet door that he wanted to rip off, and Eric was a great foil for Tripp as he showed he wasn’t afraid to claim Marty if Tripp didn’t get his act together. The wonderfully funny dialogue between Marty and his friends was hilarious and I really liked the writing. Marty’s parents were a great couple and it was obvious why he was such a well balanced individual, as his father’s good ole’ boy attitude and his mother’s homespun way of making everyone feel welcome was everywhere in their home. If I had one quibble it was that everyone was so accepting of Marty on the ranch which was in cowboy country, not exactly a gaytopia but this is, after all, a fantasy and not real life.
Pickup Men is told from both MCs POVs. Obviously Tripp was the more complex and nuanced protagonist, with some major issues, and he had a lot of work to do to turn his life around, but this was well done as his background was revealed layer by excruciating layer. I got the sense that the next story in this series might be about Bridge and Eric the EMT, as Eric’s backstory was hinted at a few times, however I’ll have to wait and see. I think L.C. Chase did a wonderful job on the worldbuilding and her characters, and I was pleased to see how much her writing has improved since I reviewed her first book Long Tall Drink. Her prose and dialogue are entertaining, and when you start reading her books they are hard to put down.