Lauren Layne is a new-to-Miss-Bates romance writer. Miss Bates read the third in her New York’s Finest series, Cuff Me, without reading the first two. Miss B. makes two conclusions: one, Layne is a rom-writer she wants to read again; and, two, part of the reason is, though third-in-series, Cuff Me didn’t have that tired-formulaic feel that too many “series” books do. It helped that Cuff Me has one of Miss Bates’s favourite rom-tropes, opposites-attract, especially when the opposites are a grumpy hero and effervescent heroine. Layne’s contemporary romance reminded Miss Bates of Maisey Yates’s Part Time Cowboy, which Miss B. adored. So if you love Yates’s Copper Ridge series, you’re sure to love Cuff Me.
Our curmudgeon-hero is Vincent Moretti, one of the NYPD’s finest homicide detectives, his perfect-solution record testifying to his abilities. His bubbly, tiny, blonde partner is Jill Henley. Together, playing on their bad-cop-good-cop personas, they’ve been getting their man for six years. When the novel opens, Vin is anticipating Jill’s return from Florida, where she’s been taking care of her injured mum. Vin’s restless desire to see Jill again perturbs him. He adorably grunts through a haircut, a further sprucing up at his apartment, and several rides around town trying to find the perfect welcome-home gift. He finally settles on her favourite donut, which he brings in a crumpled paper bag to his family’s celebratory dinner on Jill’s behalf. Vin’s close-mouthed happiness at seeing Jill again is dashed when his brothers and sister Elena, Jill’s BFF, corral him at the door to tell him about Jill’s engagement.
Vin and Jill’s delayed, thwarted romance is a parallel narrative to their frustrated attempts to solve the murder case of a faded, aged Hollywood star, Lenora Birch. Vin and Jill’s romance spins a tad too long for Miss Bates’s taste, even while Layne’s romantic suspense plot proves a decent distraction. What the romance novel totally has going for it is two marvelous protagonists. Miss Bates loved Vin and Jill and their ways, their banter, their vulnerabilities, insecurities, and their strengths, their solid, good hearts. Miss Bates also loved the Morettis, Vin’s large, funny Italian family.
Layne’s handling of the opposites-attract trope, and Miss Bates admits playing-favourites with this opposites-attract combo, is delightfully entertaining. Here’s an early snippet of what Layne tropishly achieves:
They’d been partners for six long years, and their pairing up as partners was proof of God’s sense of humour.
Jill Henley was Vincent’s opposite in every way.
Jill was chipper, charming, and smiley.
Vincent was … none of those things.
And therein, dear reader, you have the scowling-grump-hero and adorable-pixie-heroine pairing that amuses and cheers Miss Bates.
Layne’s novel is comfortably familiar without being clichéd. Vincent doesn’t carry any deep trauma, or broken-ness. He has trouble connecting to others, is socially abrupt, even awkward, on occasion, clueless, but he feels deeply, or he most definitely feels deeply about Jill and his family. And that makes him a damn fine hero. Vin is a typical introvert. He’s shy, despite his gruff “who cares” demeanor. Jill is, of course, all that is sociable extroversion and yearns for family, love, kiddies, and a white picket fence. Hence, her engagement to Tom Edward Porter who, it turns out, is not creepy, or dishonest. Tom really is just a nice guy and how Jill and he break up is a marvelous scene. Miss Bates thought the engagement went on for too long. She grew impatient for Vincent and Jill to get together, heck, even the first kiss was way too-long-delayed.
Thankfully, Layne provided a lot of opposites-tension-and-conflict, not of the angsty variety, to keep MissB amused. The best part of this rom-com humour is the leads’ banter. Here’s a great little example of it from early in the novel. This is one of Jill and Vince’s earliest car-convos:
He gave her a quick glance across the car. “Quit it.”
“Staring at me.”
“I’m not staring.”
“You’re looking at me without blinking with those big old eyes. It’s staring.”
She continued to look at him, deliberately trying not to blink now, just to annoy him.
See what Miss Bates’s means: pithy, rapid dialogue with Jill’s great eye-language humour. Layne’s Cuff Me is rife with this type of Jill-and-Vin exchange and Miss Bates got a huge kick out of them.
And then there are the Morettis, a bit standardized as far as rom-families go, like Stacey’s Kowalskis, but still a lot of fun. Underneath the fun, the genre, however, is saying something about what families should be: accepting, loving, supportive, unified, understanding, and fun, ribbing and inside jokes go a long way to indicating tight-knitted-ness. Like discovering your “other half” in the beloved, a person who knows you and loves you for what you are, even the worst parts of you, and the one you can reveal things to, the same goes for family. They know you, sometimes reveal your vulnerabilities, but only to help you, to move you towards a better, more fulfilling life. Near the novel’s end, Tony, Vin’s dad, and his brothers, Luc and Anthony, stage, aka “spring”, a truth-telling-and-revealing session for him. It’s as psychologically true as it is fun to read:
Anthony … shifted attention to Luc. “Luca. When you told Ava how you felt about her. How’d it feel?”
“I nearly shit my pants,” Luc said cheerfully, shoveling in another bite of chili.
Anth nodded. “Same with me and Maggie. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, putting myself out there like that. And the best. Easily the best. Dad. What about with you and Mom?”
Tony blew out a breath and looked away. All three of his sons looked at him, waiting.
“It was a long time ago,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“Dad,” Luc said in a coaxing tone. “Do it for our emotionally stunted Vinnie here … “
His father’s eyes flicked to Vincent’s for a fraction of a second. “I threw up. Before I told her how I felt. And after.”
“There you go, big guy,” Anth said with a clap on his dad’s shoulder. “You see, Vin, there’s no such thing as easy. You’re not damaged. You’re not broken. You’re just male.”
Vincent scratched his cheek. They made it sound so easy. Also, terrifying. Lots of body functions involved.
Maybe the Morettis are a stereotypically idealized rom-family, maybe their notions of masculinity are too. But the genre isn’t about what is, but what should be. They’re fun and loving and have your back. Like Jill, whom they adopted as part of the family, it’s nice to inhabit their world and witness the unfolding of Vin and Jill’s great love and HEA. Despite Miss Bates’s occasional niggles, like Wendy the Superlibrarian, she says “quibbles be damned” and with Miss Austen declares Cuff Me as indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Lauren Layne’s Cuff Me is published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing). It was released on March 29th and may be procured at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Forever for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.