Miss Bates has never NOT had a book on the go; once she finishes one, she has the next lined up. Sometimes, new-book-starting is a desultory affair: tepid, reluctant, maybe even a tad depressing. “Will this satisfy my reading-pleasure-principle?” “I have limited reading time, will this be worth the precious half hour I have nightly?” MissB started reading Maisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy in this mode: half-heartedly, maybe even sullenly. But she’d loved so many Yates-romances and went into that good-reading-night anyway. Yates’s Oregon-set Copper Ridge series has had one winner after another, would Take Me, Cowboy exhibit series-exhaustion?
Certainly the romance’s opening had Miss B. scowling: wait a minute, this sounds awfully like the last Yates Miss B. read: Bad News Cowboy, with its plain-Jane, best-bud heroine and looker-womanizer hero who find themselves on friendship’s wrong side, as lovers, prey to powerful desires and frightening feelings.
Yates has populated her fictional town with two families, the Garretts and Wests, and myriad related characters. She’s written the series mainly with HQN, but ventured into Blaze, penned several novellas, and, as in Take Me, Cowboy‘s case, migrated to Desire, a line Miss Bates rarely enjoys. And yet, dear readers, Take Me, Cowboy overcame MissB’s misgivings. It was fresh, visceral, funny, and moving. Miss B. can only say: “Copper Ridge, I just can’t quit you.”
As with so many contemporary romances, the premise bringing the couple together is puerile. Anna Brown, the town’s tractor mechanic, is goaded into a bet with her brothers. They tease and torment her that she can’t get a date for a local charity ball. Anna’s grease-monkey-strictly-overall looks, height, and small bosoms haven’t won her many “gentleman callers”. The one steady man in her life, other than her brothers and now-deceased father, is best friend Chase McCormack. Chase can’t let Anna’s brothers win the bet. Besides, he’d love to hit the wealthy Wests, the ball’s hosts, for investment money as he expands McCormack Iron Works, which he and his brother Sam inherited when their parents were killed in a car crush. This inane premise, nevertheless, produced a marvelous romance: tightly executed, poignant, witty and droll too.
Yates has a weakness for heroines who aren’t overtly feminine, or, like Anna, don’t know how to be feminine. They don’t know how to wear make-up, totter on high heels, are flirt-challenged, and dress in an androgynous daily uniform of jeans and t-shirt. Anna, and many a Yates heroine, lacked a feminine role model. Her stiffly-upper-lipped father brought her up along with rambunctious brothers. Anna never had the benefit of female company to serve as role model. Her mother abandoned the family when she was yet a child. The result is a woman who believe men alternate between “pity or a kind of merciless camraderie” when they interact with her. As Chase proves and Anna realizes in time, this is Anna’s perception, not reality. But Anna at 30 is ready for something different.
Hero Chase is sexually savvy, assured, and confident in his masculinity. He is also emotionally closed-off. Like Anna, Chase lost his parents and was left with a family legacy/business to continue. He works solely for McCormacks’ success and avoids emotional involvement. He looks for sexual release with a plethora of sexual partners and keeps his friendship with Anna as his life’s lodestone. When he offers to make Anna over into an irresistible woman, he is hoisted on his own petard as he discovers his physical desire for her. When things get physical between them, interesting things ensue: Anna lets go of her insecurities and allows herself to experience desire and love. In the meanwhile, when Chase is beset by feelings, he is frightened and confused and staves off the inevitable heart-commitment any way he can because “a friendship like theirs represented years of investment. One simply wasn’t worth sacrificing the other for.” As long as Chase keeps Anna in the safe-friend zone, then he doesn’t risk losing her, or his heart. Like so many of Yates’s romances, the hero and heroine’s childhood wounds have to be understood and transcended to make it possible for them to love and commit.
Yates’s strength is an ability to counterpoint scenes of wit/banter with emotionally compelling ones. Yates’s verbal sparring is used to reveal and develop character. It’s also incredibly fun! When Chase and Anna first consider fake-dating, Anna responds with “I’m not your type,” to which Chase retorts, “You could be. A little less grease, a little more lipstick.” Chase convinces Anna to accept his terms and go for the feminine make-over. He tells her, “By the time I’m through with you, you’ll be able to get any date you want.” Miss B. LOVED Anna’s retort for its sheer allusionary power: “She blinked. ‘Are you … Are you Henry Higginsing me?’ ” When Anna shed baggy overalls and donned dress and heels, Miss Bates thought her response to her mirror-image a hoot, ” ‘I look like the woman symbol on the door of a public restroom.’ ” And yet, there’s a sadness there too, isn’t there? Anna’s sexual shyness is wittily rendered in “She was blushing like a beacon. She could probably guide ships in from the sea.” Anna’s response to wearing heels for the first time, ” ‘I feel like a newborn baby deer.” Anna gains sexual and emotional self-assurance, distinguishes her needs, wants, desires, and is able to enjoy the body and give of the heart. Chase, on the other hand, falls apart under the onslaught of his feelings for Anna. How she calls him on his cowardice and he finds the way back to his heart’s desire makes for the novel’s equally great second half.
Maybe the premise is tired, maybe overdone, but the execution is worth every moment of your reading time, dear reader. It’s a snippet of a book, but it pulls an emotional punch and furnishes snort-guffaws too. Misses Bates and Austen say that in Maisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy, “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy is published by Harlequin. It was released on April 5th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.