Review – Taking the Reins by Kat Murray

Taking the Reins cover image
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Peyton Muldoon needs a man bad. No, not that way. What she needs is a trainer for her struggling stud ranch. And only a true life horse whisperer will do, a man with the right touch and real know how.
Redford Callahan’s on a hot streak. Not in the sack. But with the ranch owners who hire him to gentle their animals without breaking their spirit. He can pick and choose his next gig, so he’ll be damned if he’s going to waste his time on a mismanaged operation like the M-Star. Not until Peyton sashays into his motel room one night to make him a deal he can’t refuse. Now Red’s days as a loner are numbered and he’s starting to wonder if there’s one spitfire he won’t be able to tame…

This blurb came from the author’s website.

This is my lucky week. I have been able to review two western romances both of which I enjoyed for different reasons. When I was looking at potential books to review and I saw this blurb, the first line really caught my eye. As I continued reading I saw a similar play on words talking about Redford, otherwise known as Red, and I couldn’t resist. The opening scene of Taking the Reins really made me hope. I was formally introduced to the hero when Payton overheard Red discouraging another person from doing business with her. I knew at that early stage that this could either be really good or really bad. Thankfully a few minutes later I settled down to read with a grin on my face.

Peyton did not have an easy life. She was the middle of three siblings. Her older brother left after their father died years ago for the rodeo circuit and her younger sister was out in California working as an actress. Neither had been back for years but Peyton loved her father’s ranch so she stayed home hoping for her chance to turn the M-Star into a top-rated stud ranch. Until her mother’s death two months ago Peyton had not been allowed to do anything regarding the running of the ranch other than watch mismanagement drive the ranch into the ground. She was determined to bring it back so she met with her lawyer to see what advice he could give her. At that meeting she found out that the ranch was divided legally and equally between the surviving Muldoons and that all three had to agree on major decisions regarding the ranch. I really enjoyed how strong and yet how wounded Peyton was at the same time. She grew up rejected by her mother because she was interested in the ranch and horses instead of traditional delicate womanly activities like her sister Bea. Her father taught her everything he knew about horses and ranching but he fully expected Trace as the son to take over the ranch. Peyton also had to deal with living down her mother’s unsavory reputation, which made her really cautious about her image. As a result she worked hard to avoid any possible hint of scandal and was rather prickly when it came to the men she worked with.

Red didn’t have a particularly happy upbringing either. His mother was a rodeo groupie who followed his father from place to place. They were never the best places to begin with and leaving sometimes meant they left because they didn’t have the money to pay their bill. Other times they left when his father was fired for drinking on the job or for running some scam that always failed. Red was a wanderer who moved from place to place on temporary contracts training horses and people into efficient working teams. His reputation brought business and an increased price to any ranch or horse. Unlike Peyton who was dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s life, Red still had to deal with his father’s attempts to guilt money out of him or to use his son’s name and reputation to get jobs. Red tended to be slightly suspicious of people because of his father’s swindling and the fact that his temporary employers always forgot the temporary aspect of his contract and thought they could convince him to stay for the long haul. He certainly had his trigger points but he also had an immense amount of patience and ability to read body language that came in handy dealing with Peyton.

Peyton and Red had a continuous tension. They were both stubborn, thought they knew best and really not trusting of other humans but they shared a love and understanding of horses. Peyton was convinced that she needed to try and hire Red as her new trainer but she decided to give him a deadline for his acceptance unlike any other offer. She also told him up front that she could not offer him the salary or benefits he could get from a larger outfit but that he would be setting the foundation for the future. Despite his common sense Red decided to accept her job offer but he showed up after the deadline. Peyton tried to tell him the job was already filled by her brother Trace, who arrived unexpectedly, but Trace insisted that Red was better at training so Peyton reluctantly hired him. The strength of their tension started igniting sparks that were impossible to ignore.

The supporting characters provided a nice backdrop to Peyton and Red’s relationship. They fleshed out the world while providing some interesting speculation about the other two Muldoon siblings and the ghosts of their past. One of the things I really loved was how their housekeeper and cook, Emma, provided a motherly stabilizing presence to everyone on the ranch without becoming overbearing. I think she was the central repository of a lot more than anyone suspected so it will be interesting to see if her role expands as the series continues.

I did have a few quibbles with Peyton and Red. I thought that after Red had accused Peyton of doing something pretty underhanded that she really wasn’t bothered by his accusation. Given her fierce protection of her reputation, I think her lack of anger was out of character. I was also pretty irritated with Red when he continually found his office/living quarters disturbed but he never told anyone about the issue. His employers deserved to know that they had some sort of security risk instead of being kept ignorant. Red did make me pretty happy when he stepped up and decided to do something about his father’s continual harassment so the promise he showed in the beginning came through.

Overall I enjoyed reading Taking the Reins. The hero and heroine had chemistry and their own set of flaws. The supporting cast was also interesting and provided a nice view of a cross-section of humanity. M-Star Ranch was showing signs of revitalization and it looked like Peyton was going to have a family again. Taking the Reins didn’t have any life or death situations but a lot was still at stake. I am looking forward to seeing what Murray provides for the next installment.

I give Taking the Reins a B+

*I also want to thank Kensington for replacing my review copy when the original version I received was unreadable

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