Reading Maisey Yates’ Bad News Cowboy gave Miss Bates déjà [vu]rginity. Indeed, a virgin heroine in Yates’ fourth Copper Ridge romance followed Dahl’s in Taking the Heat. The treatment was different, but equally successful, with Yates falling into a more conventional deflowering scene. We met Kate Garrett as the quiet, tom-boyish baby sister to the heroes of Yates’ previous novels in the series, Part Time and Brokedown Cowboy. Our hero is none other than their flippant, promiscuous poker buddy, the handsome, enigmatic Jack Monaghan, Jack of turbulent waters run deep. Verbal sparring and sexual tension ran throughout Kate and Jack’s exchanges in previous novels and it’s great to witness everything coming to a head … enfin. In Bad News Cowboy, Kate’s changing, suddenly aware that her 23-year-old body and sexual self-effacement don’t suit. The safe emotional “cave” she created as hidey-hole in is too small, ” … she was alone … It was secure. It was familiar.” Her itchy restless feelings are her attraction to Jack. Jack too notices how Kate needles and insults him at their weekly Garrett family poker games. They’ve always teased and tormented each other, but now there’s a tension to their encounters they’ve not had before. As in the previous novels, Yates’ characters’ verbal jibes and jabs conceal emotional feints and this no less true of Kate and Jack.
Bad News Cowboy is concerned with two emotionally cautious people experiencing seismic emotional changes. Jack and Kate have been living in the shadow of their difficult childhoods and the protective “safe space” of Eli and Connor Garrett, Jack’s best friends and the teens who raised Kate when their mother left and father succumbed to alcoholism. For Jack, no matter how difficult the Garretts’ lives were, they were his safe haven from a cold, embittered mother and father’s rejection. The Garretts and Jack clung to each other like shipwreck survivors on a desert isle. But Eli and Connor’s marriages and, for Connor, impending fatherhood, have changed the dynamic of their survivors’ guild. Jack and Kate are adrift, grown up, but still carrying their childhoods’ psychic wounds and unable to emerge out of the secure yet static cocoons they’re woven around themselves. They’ll have to emerge: their world has changed and in its changing, their ambivalent relationship is winking at them … and that powerful romance force, sexual attraction, is slapping them around.
The shift in Jack and Kate’s emotional landscape is masked by their lust. Like so much of contemporary romance, the reasons behind the hero and heroine’s, well, coupling are contrived. Cognisant of Jack’s self-declared reputation as “an unapologetic manwhore who did whatever he wanted and never, ever made a commitment,” it suits Kate to make him her official deflower. Though aware of her plain-girl status, she counts on Jack’s willingness to do the beast with two backs with willing partners. What of Jack? Jack’s looked out for Kate since she was two, hanging out with his best friends, the two Garrett brothers, as they coped with their home life as a way to avoid his loveless one. The fact that he’s attracted to her now is entering dangerous bro-mance breach territory. Jack and Kate enter into a silly bargain when Kate is propositioned at the local bar and Jack punches the guy. Jack agrees to put Kate through “flirting boot camp” to help her deal with the opposite sex and the mating game of attract and parry.
The novel is then thrust into a double narrative: Jack and Kate’s emotionally fraught, secret, hot-and-steamy sexual encounters and their internal struggles to come to terms with their past and newfound feelings for each other. The emotionally cool Jack and Kate are soon at the mercy of the heart’s demands. And Yates’ somewhat flippant premise turns into a pretty fantastic angsty romance narrative. Jack’s feelings of unworthiness, as result of his father’s rejection, a vile character who makes several appearance to heap contempt on Jack and refer to his “bad” and “bastard” blood. Jack’s father’s claims are melodramatically reminiscent of some 18th, or 19th century histrom and do not strike a believable note. Jack’s feelings, on the other hand, make him all the more sympathetic and loveable to the reader … and to Kate. Kate too grapples with the psychic wounds of parental loss and neglect. She fears, and this is less convincing, that she’ll turn out like her mother, abandoning her family. Kate’s fear of love, being the younger of the two, is understandable. Jack, at 33, is much more willing to confront his feelings and own up to his desire for love from Kate, as well as the fall-out from lying to his best friends.
Miss Bates usually dislikes the hero who gets it on with his best friend’s/s’ baby sister, but in Yates’ case, it works because of Jack and Kate’s life-long connection. It works in that it doesn’t feel squeaky, but the resolution to their emotional quandary doesn’t. There is a beautiful moment of connection when Jack tells Kate about his father’s contempt/rejection and Kate responds so lovingly. The impervious Jack exposes his vulnerability and trusts Kate to respond accordingly. She does, with care and affection. This moment of recognition is beautifully rendered, but much about the narrative doesn’t convince as well. Jack’s emotional arc, at 33, makes sense: he’s ready to love, marry, have a family. He’s lovely about it too: declaring his love, but ensuring that the younger Kate will have a chance to grow and explore her career as a barrel racer, to go pro and travel. Kate, on the other hand, is really younger than even her 23 years and she rightly balks at how quickly life is changing. Bad News Cowboy‘s flaw lies in its abrupt resolution to their dilemma. The relationship’s development and its emotional authenticity are spot on … until an abrupt ending, causing reader whiplash. In a romance, when the obstacles to love are high, as they are here, the resolution must be commensurate to them. In this case, Bad News Cowboy weakens. If the emotional truth be told, Jack and Kate get their HEA and, in keeping with the pleasures of the rom narrative arc, the reader celebrates. But the reader also knows in her secret heart that Kate and Jack, in the spirit of narrative integrity, should have had only an HFN … ugh, pernicious thing that it is. :-\
Nevertheless, Miss Bates loved the Copper Ridge series and would happily return. Yates is a fine writer, with wonderful truth-telling dialogue, brave in cracking open her characters’ vulnerabilities and unflinching in exposing them at their most naked, the bedroom, yes, and the public square (worthy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips). Brokedown Cowboy remains Miss Bates’ favourite of the four, but she’d recommend the series as a whole. Please note that the volume also contains the introductory series novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy,” which Miss Bates reviewed.
Maisey Yates’ Bad News Cowboy is published by HQN and has been available at your preferred vendors since July 28th. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, from Harlequin, via Netgalley.