Pickup men are cowboys who work the most dangerous events in the rodeo – the bronco riding and the bull riding. Both sports feature the biggest, heaviest, most fearsome livestock. While on horseback, the pickup men must maneuver the untamed beasts out of harm’s way and rescue the bronc- or bull-rider from being trampled after his eight-second ride.
Marty is a pickup man who is openly gay. In the exciting first scene, he risks his life to save champion bull-rider Tripp from getting killed by a rampaging bull Shockwave. He and Tripp are secret lovers because Tripp knows that coming out as gay will jeopardize his career. Now, as Marty lies injured on the ground, he looks up to see Tripp react with horror and shock. For an instant, Tripp drops his impersonal façade and begins to rush to Marty’s side – but then his survival instincts kick in and make him turn away.
This is too much for Marty who breaks up with Tripp soon afterward – to the approval and relief of his buddies and fellow pickup men Bridge and Kent, who might not be gay themselves but resent Tripp for treating their friend Marty like a dirty little secret. This leaves Tripp heartbroken and alone with only the grating company of Scott, the rodeo’s most obnoxious homophobe. Tripp knows that he will have to come out as gay to prove himself worthy of Marty, especially now that a handsome paramedic named Eric is working the rodeo and flirting with Marty. Meanwhile, Marty desperately misses Tripp and must struggle to keep his resolve and hold out for the type of relationship he knows he deserves.
This is a well-written, emotionally satisfying novella. Three things I especially liked beyond the clear, powerful writing and likable characters. First, there is an uncommonly strong plot packed into this novella, and it is well-developed and resolved, which takes a high level of skill to accomplish in fiction that is shorter than novel-length. After I finished reading the book for fun, I actually wanted to reread it just to figure out its plotting.
Second, I really enjoyed the vivid rodeo details. There is no info-dump anywhere, but it is clear that this author knows rodeos better than most and can seamlessly weave authentic information into the story such as on page 33: Seven bulls were loaded and in various stages of prep for their eight-second show, cowboys at the ready double-checking their gloves and ropes and Kevlar vests. Kevlar vests! I didn’t know rodeo cowboys (or anyone other than cops) would wear these.
Third, I appreciated the refreshing way that the story sidesteps the potential pitfall of wallowing in angst. Romances with one or both gay lovers in the closet can’t help but be fraught with emotion. But readers’ tastes have changed since the early days of gay romance, and many readers (including me) want to see a tougher-minded approach to coping with homophobia that doesn’t involve the characters drowning in sorrow, self-pity, or self-hatred.
Here, Marty and his friends treat his sexual orientation as something natural and unremarkable. They are completely comfortable with it, which I find realistic in the twenty-first century. Tripp, by contrast, could have come across as a shallow coward because he has buried his own gay identity for so long. But he has compelling reasons to fear coming out – threats from his past, present, and future. He doesn’t agonize over his lot in life, but his tremendous struggle to do the right thing is inspiring and moving. And his intense emotional and sexual connection with Marty makes for a riveting read. You really want these two to earn their happy ending, and you’re thrilled when they do. Pickup Men is the first book in a series about these realistic, but hot, rodeo cowboys. The second book and third book will focus on the some of the supporting characters you meet in this book.
Type of Romance: LGBT Gay Romance
Title: Pickup Men
Author: L.C. Chase
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Subgenre: Contemporary Romance, Cowboy Romance
Sex Scenes: Level 4 – Medium (see “Levels of Explicitness” in Related Links below)
Length: 44,000 words
Viewpoint: Third person (Marty, Tripp) alternating by chapter/scene
Note: I purchased a review copy of this novel with personal funds. I received no compensation for this review from author or publisher. Look on Amazon.com for Pickup Men.