Truth be told, Miss Bates would advise you not to read past this sentence because she loves every Maisey Yates romance she reads. You’ve been warned: you may have heard this before.
With each Copper Ridge and related romance novels that come out, MissB. anticipates disappointment: “finally, this one will be stale, tired, Yates will just go through the motions”. Nope, each and every one is good: thoughtful, sexy, centred on love, romance, healing, fidelity, and commitment. Hero and heroine are often many kinds of messed up, in need of healing what is soul-and-heart broken. They skirt around what their fabulous love-making intimates, dismiss it as lust, run away from what their bodies already know: this is your soulmate, the one person you’ve waited for, the one who ends all others for you, the one you love and will share a family with. It’s simple and familiar and Yates makes it fresh and wonderful every time. You either buy her view of love and marriage, or you balk at the notion of what the body knows, the mind must get used to; and, what the body knows, the soul recognized a long time ago. This is as true for Golden-Good-Girl Sabrina Leighton as for returned bad-boy, wrong-side-of-tracks Liam Donnelly.
When Sabrina was seventeen and Liam twenty, he worked at her father’s winery. Sabrina had a crush on him and Liam was, um, not inured to her beauty: what they had was friendship, attraction, affection, care, and a whole load of yearning, especially on Sabrina’s part. But Liam left, after her father paid him off, breaking Sabrina’s heart (though he saw his actions as nobly giving her up “for her own good” because he wasn’t good enough for her) leaving thirteen years of resentment and anger in his wake. Now, he’s back and their mutual business interests see them working together to open a wine-tasting venue.
Sabrina and Liam work together through Sabrina’s anger and Liam’s seeming charming indifference. They work through the flaring of their always-smouldering attraction. They work through dredging up past hurts. They work through their unfinished story. They work through islands of affection and connection which float into their fraught encounters. All around them are the wonderful characters and world that Yates built for her fictional Copper Ridge, Oregon (even a delightful sighting of Sheriff Eli Garrett, one of Copper Ridge’s first heroes). Liam and Sabrina’s reunited-almost-lovers banter and angry, resistant kisses occur amidst Thanksgiving turkey and pie, the town decked out in Christmas lights, the mayoral Christmas tree lighting, and the grand opening of their wine-tasting venue. They banter, kiss, argue, fight, laugh, smile, and confront what their bodies and souls have known all along: they love each other. Their journey is long, sexy, and angsty enough to make the moments of joy and humour all that sharper and better.
One of Yates’s favourite themes, which is close to Miss Bates’s heart, is that money doesn’t bring you closer to the ultimate human goods, love and family. Maybe it’s clichéd and/or trite, the stuff of Hallmark movies, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Yates, however, understands that Mammon’s pursuit is borne of inner “broken-ness”, especially for men. Liam is such a hero: an abused, neglected child, with internalized anger and feelings of worthlessness. He took Sabrina’s father’s money and went to college, made a huge success of himself, filled his coffers, bought a NYC penthouse, and wore Italian-made suits. He also found himself staring glumly out of the corner office, feeling empty. He returned to Copper Ridge and moved in with his brothers, whom he loves but keeps at a distance. Even now, working the ranch with them, Liam defines himself by what he believes is his only offering – money: “He didn’t have much to offer. He had capital. Which, when you were kind of an asshole, was always the smart thing to lead with … He knew … how to make money. And he knew how to give money.” Confronted by his brothers’ love and Sabrina’s, Liam cracks open: exposing fears of abandonment and not measuring up. For many of Yates’s heroes, love forces their seemingly indifferent, generous hand and brings out their little-boy need for love, care, connection, and affection. Like most of them, the faster and harder they run away from love in a beloved woman’s form (and family as a secondary story), paradoxically, the closer they come to becoming the men they’re meant to be: loving, faithful husbands and fathers. Liam is a wonderful example of this character growth.
Another of Yates’s favourite themes, and which Miss Bates also holds close to her heart, is the recognition of the beloved as preceding conscious thought. Liam and Sabrina, for example, had recognized each other when they were young and now, despite the hurt and separation, they recognize each other all over again thirteen years later: “The moment she had walked in he had looked, and she had found him. As if there was no space between them at all. As if there weren’t thirteen years between them. Thirteen years and some hard decisions and some hurt.” Those “hard decisions” and “hurt” have to be worked through and it’s painful, but body and soul know what the mind must reason through, with honest conversation between hero and heroine, often painful, wrenching, hurtful, but also clarifying, reconciling, and ultimately healing.
One of Miss Bates’s favourite moments in Christmastime Cowboy is when Sabrina works out and works through, in her head, how she used Liam’s actions to block herself from feeling and growing:
… until that moment she hadn’t realized that to her he hadn’t been real. He had been a symbol. A symbol of rebellion gone wrong, of her feelings, of her vulnerabilities. But perhaps, just perhaps, he was more than that. Faced with this, it was somewhat impossible to deny … on some level she felt as though her body had been created for this. Created for him. And his for her.
It’s an interesting and unusual idea that Yates posits here: that the hero can be as subject to objectification as the heroine. Liam became Sabrina’s scapegoat: she could attribute to him what she couldn’t admit to herself. When she recognizes that he too was vulnerable (and it takes some honesty on his part to help her come to this conclusion), he becomes more than a romance cliché: the bad boy, no matter how handsome, desirable, and dangerous, emerges into flawed, but loving and worthy of love three-dimensional person. And it is double interesting that the body knows and recognizes, through the rightness of fidelity, that she and Liam belong together on a plane that goes beyond the limitations of what they can rationalize.
Finally, Yates gives Liam one of the most beautiful Christmas romance confessions of love Miss Bates has read:
“You’re my Christmas, Sabrina.”
“My peace on earth. My hope. My joy. My love.”
As sigh-worthy a romance novel conclusion as any Miss B. and many readers have ever read. With Miss Austen, her reading companion, Miss Bates says of Yates’s Christmastime Cowboy, “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s Christmastime Cowboy is published by HQN Books. It was released on October 24th and is available through your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from HQN Books, via Netgalley.