Ever since she was a tween, Miss Bates has loved the film version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Miss Bates cannot resist the ethereally beautiful, vulnerable Audrey Hepburn or poignant Golden-Boy George Peppard. What Blake Edwards made of Capote’s novella is pure romance genre. More than anything, Miss Bates loved watching two morally compromised characters find love. They are, of course, morally compromised in their eyes, not the viewers’. Their growing love helps them re-evaluate who they are, see themselves in a better light, and give themselves what they deserve: love and belonging. In Nicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy, second in the Big Sky Cowboys series, Miss B. found just that, a viscerally satisfying romance about two people who are hardest on themselves emerging out of their dark nights of solitude to love, connection, family, and hope. Caleb Shaw is Mel Shaw’s brother; Mel is the heroine of Helm’s first romance in the series, Rebel Cowboy. That novel opened with Mel’s struggles to keep the Montana family ranch afloat. Bro’s on the bottle and father, paralyzed in an accident five years ago, has given up, checked out, and broods throughout the family home. When Outlaw Cowboy opens, baby bro Caleb has taken the ranch reins. He stopped drinking and desperately wants to retain ownership of the family land. Caleb is haunted by his mother’s abandonment and one terrible night he almost beat a man to death when he saw him holding a gun to his daughter’s head.
Said daughter is bad-girl Delia Rogers, back in town, and hiding out on Caleb’s land. Like Caleb, Delia’s sole purpose is to retain, save, and hold onto her family. Since escaping her abusive father, Delia’s raison d’être has been to save her sisters from the same fate. She has one left, the baby, Steph. She’ll beg, borrow, steal, and like Holly Golightly, use any man to get what she wants, the money, power, influence, and cunning to get her sisters away from their father. As much as Delia wants “home” to be anything but her abusive father and passive mother, Caleb wants to burrow himself into the ranch so deep, no one will ever take it away. Except there’s something between him and Delia (how Helm, by the way, plays with Delia’s name and the Johnny Cash song is brilliant), a connection, a need, an attraction, a pull more powerful than any to the land.
There isn’t much Miss Bates didn’t love about Outlaw Cowboy. Like Holly and “Fred”, Delia and Caleb define themselves as “bad”: bad blood, bad actions, bad mistakes, failures at love and caring. The reader has the pleasure of witnessing how mistaken they are: their care for, their carefulness of, others, their gruff affection and self-sacrifices. They do no less for each other; their falling in love, in all their vulnerability and pain, is beautifully rendered. Though they see themselves as morally damaged, they are “pure in heart”. They would do anything, risk anything, to ensure the people they love are safe and cared for. Miss Bates loved how they hid their light: Caleb, under a gruff exterior; Delia, making herself out as hard. But, they’re softies: loving, tender, protective. And really really sexy: the love scenes, not overtly frequent, nor overtly crude, raw and real, were reflective of Caleb and Delia’s developing relation.
Was there anything Helm did wrong? She’s a fine writer too. Miss Bates was moved, amused, and spent her Outlaw Cowboy reading-time on the edge of her seat and not because of the romantic suspense plot of rescuing Delia’s sisters. The narrative tension comes from Caleb’s and Delia’s impediments to love: their assumptions about themselves, their questionable sense of self-worth, the way they let past self-misconceptions rule their present, their deep-seated inability to accept love. If there is a criticism to be made, it’s in the narrative tilting more towards Caleb’s emotional healing and growth. Delia’s a great character, but she does turn into the avenue of the hero’s emotional redemption and her own journey is somewhat stunted. Even so, there are important revelations for Delia near the end. And Caleb? The hero least likely to think of himself as one pulls off Delia’s well-deserved HEA single-handedly. (Helm really lays it on thick and wanders too much into sentimentality and fantasy wish-fulfillment, but she has created a heroine who deserves all the vindication.) With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Helm’s Outlaw Hero is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Nicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on May 3rd and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks, via Netgalley.