Miss Bates is always happy to salute Wendy the Superlibrarian; Wendy’s led Miss Bates into many a romance love and is responsible for her obsessive love of category romance. Miss B. made a mental note to read Lacy Williams after reading Wendy’s review of her first inspirational historical category romance, Marrying Miss Marshal, which languishes in Miss B’s TBR still. 😦 It wasn’t a wholehearted Wendy endorsement, but it stayed with her because, like Wendy, Miss B. was intrigued by a “marshal,” that is, law-enforcing Western heroine. Reading A Cowboy For Christmas, Miss B. doffs her Stetson to Wendy for recognizing Williams’ potential in that early review. Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas captivated Miss Bates from start to finish. Set in Wyoming in December of 1900, Wiliams’ novel tells the redemptive, healing story of two people who’ve suffered plenty and are ready and deserving of human and divine succoring.
Heroine Daisy Richards, with her “empty pinned up sleeve,” after a terrible runaway-horses-and-wagon accident, though fragile, frightened, and angry-sad, finds a way, with the help and support of the eponymous cowboy-hero, Ricky White, to embrace a full life. She learns to be strong and laugh again. Ricky (again with that unfortunate choice of name for a hero; what’s wrong with Rick?), former gambler, drinker, brawler, and promiscuous, with a new-found faith in God’s redemptive power, excavates the goodness that has been in him all along by helping and loving Daisy. As Daisy gains in confidence and begins to return Ricky’s feelings, what she doesn’t know is that he’s implicated in her accident.
Williams sets a great, family-in-transition opening scene: Daisy, now physically recovered from the loss of her arm, still emotionally vulnerable, sullenly attends her father’s wedding with her younger sister, Belinda, and Audra’s, her father’s soon-to-be wife and her step-mother, twin sons from her first marriage, Terrance and Todd. Also present are her Uncle Ned, and two hired cowboys: Beau and the man with the “unusual steel-gray eyes,” Ricky White. Other than the genuinely engaging romance in Williams’ novel are the strong secondary characters. Owen, Daisy’s father, though a vague figure for most of the novel, shows a steely spine when he, near the end, judges Ricky’s suit harshly but fairly. Audra too is hard, hard on Daisy, but not uncaring, insisting that Daisy re-enter life, re-enter, in particular, the social life of the town, see her friends, and attempt household chores. Nevertheless, Audra proves herself to be a caring, if not loving, stepmother. Her twins are unholy terrors, as twelve-year-old boys are wont to be. Daisy has a terrible time with them when Owen and Audra’s honeymoon leaves them to her and Belinda’s care. They stare at her truncated arm, tease and disobey her at every turn. Secondary characters are not all sun-shine and light and Daisy’s relationship with them remains strained, even while they care for her and she for them. Miss Bates loved that, unlike many inspirational romances, relationships can remain difficult even for a life-time. They felt real, believable. She thought this basically caring, steadfast, but NOT PERFECT family one of the novel’s strengths … among many others, which include Ricky’s more loving, more supportive, more understanding family.
What Daisy doesn’t know in that opening scene is that Ricky White knows he “was responsible for what had happened to her. He’d been drunk that night in Pattonville.” He caused the animals’ spooking and bolting. He doesn’t give himself credit for also sticking around to save Daisy from where she was pinned under the wagon. While she lay ill from infection, and then sequestered for months to be well enough to join the family, Ricky asked to work for her father, not returning to his own family (his father, Jonas, makes an appearance and provides a wonderful, key confession scene for Ricky). Ricky works at the Richards’ farm as a form of penance, hoping that he’ll be able to make up for what he did to Daisy, “with God’s help, he was going to make it right.” And, he does – in all manner of beautifully rendered ways. He is gentle, loving, kind, but never patronizing, or pitying of Daisy. He offers friendship and support; he offers help, but gives her the confidence, by inventive and sensitive means, to learn to do for herself. Audra, for example, wants no less for her, but she never shows Daisy how to reintegrate into life and her community, just tells her to. Audra is “snap out of it,” while Ricky is “here’s how you can still do this, but differently.” He recognizes the healing power of animals and gently lures Daisy into the barn where he helps her ride her horse, Prince, and spend time with a beloved family dog, Matilda. As Daisy gains in confidence, her beauty, intelligence, and strength shine. There’s a stunning, banter-full, and romantic scene of Ricky and Daisy finding and cutting a Christmas tree … also, a snowball fight. Normality for Daisy; delight for Ricky. Ricky is charmed and begins to fall in love … but feels undeserving in light of his role in the accident that has led to Daisy’s present difficult, if not hopeless, state.
What unites Ricky and Daisy, though neither confess it to the other, is shame. Shame is such a common, secretive human emotion that it resonated with Miss Bates. Daisy is ashamed of her appearance, yes, but also her inability to be who she was: a beautiful 20-year-old girl, with a loving father, who was ready to be courted, take on her father’s ranch, have a family. Suddenly, she is less than and this shames her; she has isolated herself on the ranch. Ricky cajoles, charms, and gentles her into re-entering the life of her family and community, returning to the things she loved, or wanted to be able to do, simple things like pour water out of pitcher, do laundry, or cut a slice of bread.
Ricky too is eaten up by shame, over his past behaviour, his role in Daisy’s accident, and, as we learn, his childhood. Ricky is ashamed as Daisy is, but his is the greater emotional burden because he is also guilt-ridden: of a loving, but saloon-girl mother, her death, his actions to survive, later, his carousing, and, finally, being the cause of Daisy’s accident. It is difficult for Ricky to see the good in himself. He believes that his sins are inherent, “Impossible to outrun something that lives on inside of you.” Part of the beauty of the novel is that by making the choice to repent, and atone, Ricky is already a good, a better man. He has to recognize that he’s his harshest critic and judge. He hasn’t any trouble seeing the goodness and beauty in others, especially Daisy, ” ‘You’ve got to figure out who you are now,’ he said. ‘So what if it’s different from who you used to be? You’re still beautiful. Strong.’ ” Before she understands his role in her injury, Daisy sees him as he is, “He just stood, steady and strong. A rock of a cowboy.”
Miss Bates thought about another strength to this novel: its portrayal of faith and how faith is manifested quite differently in the two protagonists. Daisy has experienced a life-changing accident; she has to re-adjust her life to her injury. Her life can be full and good, but it has to be different. And yet, Daisy never seems to engage, or interact with God: she’s not angry at Him, nor does she request His Help, or Comfort. Her faith is part of her everyday life, her culture, in the same way that running a ranch is. Her initial reluctance to return to church is about how her friends and community see her. Her internal ruminations are never a conversation with God, or prayer: they’re very much about her struggle to adjust to her injury, live her life well, to gain confidence, to not be so darn sad and angry about her amputation. However, when she does return to church, she enacts one gesture at the service that is truly what being a Christian is about. It seems to Miss Bates that the faith journey of the novel lies more with Ricky’s character who, unlike Daisy, engages with God, keeps Him in his heart and head. Ricky tries to discern God’s Will and follow it; he “sees through a glass darkly,” but he’s ever looking to his Saviour for answers. He is a newly-made Christian, a convert in his way, not from one faith to another, but from unbelief to belief and trust.
But Miss B., you’ll say, what about the romance? Williams’ novel doesn’t fail us there either. There are so many romantic scenes between these two and such lovely, sensuous kissing. But it is one early scene that won Miss Bates’ romantic heart over:
” ‘I’ve made some mistakes in my past.’ He swallowed. ‘Some of them involved women … and broken promises, and … I don’t want to do that with you. Friendship is all I’ve got to offer.’ His chest had tightened up as he spoke. He’d never felt this before – this urge to protect her. Even to protect her from the hurt he could inflict. She turned to face him, standing stock-still in the doorway with snow swirling around her, some sneaking into the barn around her. She examined him closely, for so long that he grew uncomfortable under her scrutiny. But finally, she whispered, ‘I could use a friend.’ He swallowed hard, though he couldn’t place the emotion that burned in his throat.”
Ricky’s confession is so heartfelt. His physical response, his body (in the swallow and chest-tightening) stand in for his intense emotions. And Daisy, silent and standing, with that beautiful image of the swirling snow, she returns her vulnerability for his. Williams evokes the newness of these beautiful young people’s feelings for each other: their burgeoning love from simple caring friendship.
Miss Bates loved Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas and in it found that “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart, Emma.
Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas, published by Harlequin (“Love Inspired Historical”) has been available since December 2nd at your favourite vendors in your preferred formats.
Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.
With this concluding review, Miss Bates hopes you’ve enjoyed her Christmas romance posts and will return for more of the same in November and December of 2015.