Maisey Yates opens Gold Valley romance #4 with the line “Grant Dodge was alone. And that was how he liked it”, ensuring the reader that Grant Dodge is about to NOT be alone and that his hold on his solitude is to be shaken by the heroine. Said heroine, McKenna Tate, is blithely slumbering in an abandoned cabin on the ranch Grant shares with his brother Wyatt, sister-in-law Lindy, and sometimes-around veterinarian brother Bennett and sister-in-law, Kaylee. A “full house” of family and connections, but Grant prefers his solitude: what’s up with that and how will it be “shook up”? My tone may be flippant as I introduce Yates’s romance, but the romance is anything but: it’s angsty, heart-wrenching stuff with two very broken, very vulnerable, pain-filled protagonists. One is broken by his first marriage and the other broken by a life as a foster child, unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Reading their story, I thought Yates penned her most painful story yet, unredeemed by humour, or playful sex, banter (okay, there are soupçons of banter, but hardly) tenderness or joy. Grant and McKenna are two suffering characters, with burdens making Aeneas’s look like fluff, and the romance suffers under their weight as much as they do.
Grant’s story has been lingering in the background of his brothers’ HEAs through three full-length novels. He’s the brother who married his dying high school sweetheart, nursed her through eight years of cancer and chemo, and remains Gold Valley’s saddest story. He suffers under the burden of not necessarily loss and grief – eight years HAVE gone by – as being defined by what happened to him and Lindsay RIP. McKenna’s story is also heart-breaking. She is the orphaned waif, young, tiny, hungry. Moving from foster home to foster home, never chosen or wanted (indeed, Yates weaves a wonderful Anne Of Green Gables allusion to her story), to add insult to injury, McKenna lost her job, truck, home, and savings to a worthless boyfriend. All she wants is to belong to someone, to find a sense of home and family. She has come to Gold Valley with this purpose, to reunite with the father (and his sons, her half-bros) who’s been named on her birth certificate, “rodeo royalty” Hank Dalton and his rodeo-daring sons, Gabe, Caleb, and Jacob.
Together and apart, Grant and McKenna’s stories are wrenching, their pain so palpable and sad, their romance pales in its wake. Grant and McKenna share attraction, passion, and a misery-fest friendship. They’re likeable and I really wanted them to be happy. I wanted Grant to find a way to redefine who he was in a loving, sexy relationship. And I wanted McKenna to find family and connection. Their passion for each other was beautifully rendered: it served them well. They found joy and pleasure. As two monogamously-inclined, serious people, they found a way to share their burdens by talking about them. They were resurrected, moving from under the weight of everything having gone so terribly wrong for them. I believed in their emotional return to life and I believed in their deep friendship. There was really not anything terribly “romantic” about their romance: no candle-light, no fun (except in the bedroom and even that felt overwrought at times), no teasing, not much by way of being immersed in each other. They understood and liked each other. When they suddenly internally declared they were in love, individually and apart, I couldn’t see it, couldn’t feel it.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that Yates is one of my favourite romance writers, as I declare it every few months, with every new release. Finally, Yates has disappointed me: she’s written very well about two wonderfully deserving characters and managed to leave me, at the end, feeling they should move on, unsure they should be together. It was like being doused with ice water to realize this about my beloved Yates romances, but I’m not abandoning ship. This was obviously a story she really wanted to tell and it did not smack of WF, thank goodness. I’m looking to the next one and a more convincing HEA. By all means, read A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas, it’s angsty and heart-tugging and sexy, just don’t expect the warm and fuzzy HEA. With Miss Austen, we say that Yates’s latest Gold Valley romance is “real comfort,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s A Tall, Dark Cowboy Christmas is published by HQN. It was released on September 25th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from HQN, via Netgalley.