If you asked Miss Bates her favourite romance trope, she’d tell you “marriage-of-convenience.” Truth be told though, she gets more pleasure out of opposites-attract than she’s realized. This means that a “marriage of convenience” between “opposites attract” would be her favourite rom reading cocktail. 😉 Alas, Maisey Yates first novel in the Copper Ridge Oregon series, Part Time Cowboy, is not a marriage of convenience narrative, but it sure as heck contains two spitting-fighting protagonists in Deputy Sheriff Eli Garrett and crisis-counselor-turned-B-&-B-owner Sadie Miller – and you all know Miss Bates is a fan of fighting in romance. Also close to her heart is a narrative that sees a character, in this case, Sadie, return home years later with unfinished business (wild teen years of drinking, smoking, and trouble-making) to work through. (The theme also features in the returning hero of Yates’ introductory novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”) The opposites attract trope is obvious in a wonderful opening scene between Sadie, her car out of gas, and a certain Deputy Sheriff who rescues her, but had once arrested her for shenanigans ten years ago. Sadie’s barely entered town limits before she has a re-meet cute with her nemesis, “Officer Hottie,” Eli Garrett – if he’s filling her tank now, ten years ago, he cuffed her. It doesn’t take him long to become “Officer Stick-Up-His-Ass.”
Romance writers use conventional means to reveal character: if the writer is weak, there’s A LOT of rumination and back-story; if a writer is strong, there’s figurative language and strong, natural dialogue. There aren’t many stylists in romance and this is a weakness; Mary Balogh comes to mind in historical and Molly O’Keefe, in contemporary. This elevates romance and makes it particularly interesting to analyze, at least it does for Miss B. Dialogue, on the other hand, is another great revealer of character and Yates is really really good at it, which is why, the opposites-attract trope works so well for her when hero-heroine exchanges are as snappy and pithy as they are in Part Time Cowboy. Eli and Sadie don’t bicker (Miss B. hates bickering protagonists), they fight, born out of their fears and insecurities, temperaments and life-philosophies.
Sadie is a love-em-‘n’-leave-em, joke-cracking, running-scared gal who, nevertheless, earned a degree in crisis counseling and learned to listen with sympathy and caring, everything she didn’t have in her abusive father’s home … and the reason she hightailed it out of Copper Ridge. Strait-laced, by-the-book decent man Eli Garrett has the stressed traits of a multi-tasking working mother of five. His sense of responsibility comes from deep within his childhood, as he and his older brother, Connor, took care of their ranch and baby sister, Kate, when their mother left and father went into an alcohol-induced, self-destructive downward spiral. At 28, Sadie is a “runner,” getting out of town when things with friends and boyfriends get too close, too fast. Eli is, as Sadie says of him, a man “burdened by inescapable chivalry”; he’s a “stayer,” stays to take care of his family, his town … but he doesn’t want to take care of the woman who’s turning the empty house on the Garrett ranch into a B&B. Sadie’s training, Miss B. likes to think, brings her home for five years, to make a go of the B&B and to exorcise ghosts. But there’s one ghost she doesn’t want to deal with and that’s the man who arrested her on the worst night of her life.
Yates navigates Eli and Sadie’s relationship (gosh, Miss B. loved their names) with humour and pathos. Miss B. was tickled pink by the juxtaposition of Eli’s orderliness with Sadie’s messiness: when she put her sneakers on his kitchen counter … Miss B., who is herself, in her more rigid incarnation, a neat freak, cringed along with him. She loved how Eli’s literal-mindedness didn’t always pick up on Sadie’s sexual innuendos. Pathos enters with sex. Because once you’ve established your opposites, you gotta deal with the “attract.” The attraction between Eli and Sadie is immediate, visceral, and powerful. As long as it remains in the spontaneous angry kissing stage, it’s pretty great. But Yates has to bring them together and the requisite sex scenes make their inevitable appearance. Then, a tired, or at least Miss B. is tired of it, contemporary romance convention trots-out like an actor playing the same role for years: the agreement between hero and heroine to have sex without strings until their attraction runs its course … even though they continue to claim emotional indifference and, in this case, dislike. Miss B.’s problem with this isn’t the “uncommitted” sex; the rom writer creates two decent, ethical characters who claim they don’t have any problem separating their sex lives from their personalities. Equally inevitable is when Eli and Sadie share more than great sex, like laughter, coffee, and confidences. They grow to care for one another. Miss Bates is equally perturbed by the convention that makes hero and heroine hold up their commitmentless-just-fun-sex pasts as an ideal they cling to, even though everything they’re doing and saying in their present antagonists-with-benefits arrangement screams the contrary. To give Yates credit, however, the sex scenes do reveal character: especially the strait-laced Eli, who emerges with a truer sense of self and Sadie who, finally, can’t deny what intimacy makes her feel and want.
Miss Bates’ quibbles aside, Yates creates likeable characters, protagonists and secondary. She makes the reader care about them, root for them, and that is an accomplishment. Miss Bates says Part Time Cowboy doesn’t break any romance molds, but it sure does deliver. (Miss Bates looks forward to Connor’s story.) Miss Austen says Part Time Cowboy shows evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’ Part Time Cowboy, published by HQN Books, was released on March 31st. It’s available in “e” and paper at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to HQN for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.