By Maureen Lee Lenker
April 28, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, making it excellent fodder to inspire a modern romance novel.

Rebekah Weatherspoon's A Thorn in the Saddle, the third entry in her fairy-tale-inspired Cowboys of California series, draws from the enchanted tale. It follows the third Pleasant brother of the series, Jesse, as he tries to figure out his next steps in life.

EW can exclusively reveal the cover for A Thorn in the Saddle, out Oct. 26, below.

Ranch owner Jesse Pleasant has always felt too big for his small town, particularly because he senses that he's too brutish next to his charming, cowboy brothers. But when a Senate selection committee comes a calling, thinking a man of Jesse's public standing is just what they're looking for, he sees it as a chance to prove himself to his friends and family.

Jesse clashes with former tech consultant Lily-Grace Leroux, who is over any man telling her or anyone in her family what to do. But after being exposed to Jesse's softer side at an awkward community date auction, Lily-Grace realizes Jesse might just be ready for the love he's closed himself off from for so long.

We called up Weatherspoon to talk the end of the Cowboys of California trilogy, why writing Jesse was a challenge, and just how many versions of Beauty and the Beast inspired her storytelling. Read more after the cover.

A Thorn in the Saddle Book by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Credit: Dafina Books

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think perhaps more than any of the brothers, people have been clamoring for Jesse's book since you debuted this series. Did that add pressure or complicate the writing process?

REBEKAH WEATHERSPOON: Here's the tricky part, we're in a pandemic, so everything feels like crawling across glass right now. This is the third book I had to write during the pandemic. It's just been increasingly more and more difficult. The unique part of this one is that I wrote it in the last quarter of the year, so I'd already been in quarantine for like 10 months, so the struggle here was writing a community. And I haven't seen other people. So that was really hard because I was like, "What are people like?" That part of it was really difficult — I have to write this guy and his brothers and his parents and his grandma and all their friends and their employees. I haven't been around that many people in two years.

As far as Jesse goes, when you write series, sometimes you'll put a character in the first book, and the first book's not about them, but you know the second you put their name on the page that everyone's gonna be like, "Who is this person?" And you're going to end up having to write a book about them. Luckily, we sold the trilogy to Kensington knowing that I was going to write a book about Jesse. I was ready. I was like, "This is the man he needs to be." The story is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast. I went back and read all of the original versions of the fairy tale. And then, of course, watched the Disney version and all that stuff over again. I was trying to think of what kind of guy that prince is, and he's actually really giving. In the original fairytale, he just keeps giving her presents, and he's lavishing her with gifts and stuff. So, I wanted to make Jesse a really hard exterior, but then once you get past that, he's the nicest man you've ever met in your entire life. That was fun to write because I think out of all my heroes, he's the softest and the sweetest, even though he starts off as the coldest and the meanest.

The first two books were inspired by Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, this is Beauty and the Beast — how did you choose which fairy-tale went with each brother?

I was looking at all the fairytales, but I knew those three were the main ones that I wanted to do. Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast were the two easiest ones. I don't want to say easy because writing is not easy, but Cinderella is the easiest trope, a rags to riches trope, or just like a girl who's kind of down on her luck meets the best guy, and everything turns out great. Beauty and the Beast was also easy, but Sleeping Beauty was really hard. I sold the story, and I was like, "Oh crap, I have to write this." I couldn't have her sleeping for half the book; I had to figure out a way to have that whole thing work out. I had to tool with it, and I did the amnesia plot. With Beauty and the Beast, it was pretty easy to translate that into a romance in this way. I weaved in some of the Disney-specific tropes because the Gaston character's not really in the original. I did a little combining of original fairy tale and the Disney movie.

Please tell me we get a riff on the Beast's library.

I'm not gonna spoil anything. I had to figure out what the big gift was going to be, and the heroine in the story is also rich. She could have whatever she wanted. There is a big surprise, but it's more like he did a lot of emotional work for her. I don't want to spoil it, but I put a couple of things that mirror some stuff that happens in the Disney version. There's a couple of things from the movie that are big moments that I tweaked a little. And then I worked in some stuff on The Bachelor. [Laughs] Because Jesse is a big fan of The Bachelor and Bachelorette. So, I worked that in there.

The book dips into the world of politics and running for office, which can be fraught. What made you want to set a book in that world?

The political aspect is more about where Jessie is in his life and what he wants to do with his life, if that makes sense. The story is not politics-heavy. It's more horse-heavy. But there's a thread that runs through it that is about a career in politics. That's more about where Jesse is in his life. I don't like go into rehashing the last five years or anything like that. It's more on like the state level too.

Tell me more about the cover — it definitely feels homier than the ranch settings of the other two with the barn and the dog. What was the thought process there?

To be completely honest, I didn't get a lot of say in the cover. But I did tell them Jesse has a black cowboy hat and the most important thing is the dog. He has a black lab named Clementine, and that's his baby. I was just really happy that we were able to get a black lab on the cover. Sometimes it's hard to like find the right scenery and the right dog, and I was really happy with the way that comes together. The barn is also important to the story. And the dog is very important, so I was very happy with the way that all turned out.

How does A Thorn in the Saddle fit in with the newly announced option deal for the series?

It's for all three books. The show would be all three books, but we'll see. [Creator Valerie C. Woods] has definitely been writing the early stuff, so it foreshadows everything in all three books. Valerie is amazing; she'll call me and be like, "Okay, what do I need to know about this, so I can make sure in the very beginning we have all the hints?" It's definitely going to be inclusive of all three books. It's a pretty dense universe, and depending on what we get to do with it, where Sam is on a given day, where Zach is on a given day, we can really work in a lot of the characters.

You knew going in Jesse was the Beast. How did you figure out who would make his perfect "Beauty?"

Lily-Grace is one of my favorite heroines I've ever written. She's really funny. She's really tall; she has vitiligo. She comes from the world of tech, and she's taking a break. She has worked on a few big-name apps and she's stepping away for a little while. I don't want to give anything away, but in one of the earlier books, Zach and Sam are talking about Jesse and what they're going to do about his love life. One of them comments that the person needs to be a combination of all of the women in their lives — specifically a combination of their cousin Cory and their mom, so someone who is a pageant queen but also really sassy and does not take any s---. And that's how Lily-Grace is — she's beautiful, statuesque, totally has it together, self-made woman, has a lot of money, and just caring and loving and sweet. She has a great relationship with her dad but she will also fight you in the middle of the street if she has to. She's really tough.

This was pitched as a trilogy, but do you have any plans to tell more stories in this world?

I would love to. Right now, I have like eight other things in the pipeline. I was like, "Let me just finish Jesse's book, and then I'll think about what's next." But Lila is their cousin; we'll see if something can be done with her. And maybe one day, I might write a couple of stories for Lila's brothers. I did have an idea about doing a little back in time and writing the story about how Miss Leona fell in love with her husband, Justice.

Can you tease the book in three words?

If I can do four words, I would say Jesse gets his girl.

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