There are two romance authors I read for the sake of sinking into their familiar world: Betty Neels (I’m in the process of reading ALL her books, presently on 24 of 134) and Maisey Yates, incredibly prolific both. Do their books blend together and I don’t remember hide nor hair of any particular one? Absolutely. And yet, I can’t quit them. Neels and Yates, unlike in every way, share a deep, profound, abiding theme: no matter how chaste the Neels romance or carnal the Yates, the connection between hero and heroine is mystical, inevitable, and sacred. They are meant for each other: their bodies know this before reason accepts and acknowledges. Love is a realization arriving in an epiphanic moment. In Neels, the heroine believes the hero couldn’t possibly love her undeserving self, but she loves him; the hero, older, wiser, and more knowing, knows from their introduction the heroine will be his wife. In Yates, love is an agon, a passion, a difficult birth, many layers of ego, hurt, and lack of faith and hope must be divested for a character, more often than not the hero, to admit his love and need for the heroine. Once he does, however, his devotion, love, and protection are his sole purpose. The Neels and Yates worlds? One quieter, on the surface more conservative; the other, created out of the passions of the flesh and a tender antagonism.
Yates’s latest, Need Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge #8) is exemplary of the Yatesian romance ethos. Levi Tucker is released from jail, exonerated of murdering his scheming wife. While he suffered through the hell of prison, grew soul-hardened and fought daily for survival, she enjoyed his wealth on the Riviera. He returns to Copper Ridge bent on revenge. What better revenge than to show the world his wealth, power, and rub it in his ex-wife’s face. The first step is to build himself a grand house to look down on the town that looked down on him. He hires Faith Grayson, protegé architect to design his new home. The rest is Yates history: Faith and Levi spar verbally; Faith breaks free of expectations to reach for the dangerous ex-con; Levi sets an end to their affair with the completion of the house plans. Levi and Faith are lovers, but their connection goes deeper and farther than the bedroom. They grow close and intimate. Theirs is not a terribly “talky” romance, but a connection borne of deep sympathy and understanding. But Levi’s self-hatred and sense of unworthiness reject Faith’s love. Until he doesn’t. Because he has to see the light of hope, faith, and love and let go of hatred and revenge. Waiting at the end of it is Faith.
I couldn’t help but think of Yates’s Need Me, Cowboy as romance allegory for the redemption of the lost man, the lost soul. There’s a beautiful scene where Levi and Faith ride Levi’s horses in the rain. Levi strips off his shirt and lets the rain wash off the “ugliness” of prison. Still, Levi has to grapple with what it means to be free: echoing the final stanza of Lovelace’s “To Althea, From Prison,” Levi can love only when he gives up revenge, hatred, and hardness. Faith, as her name indicates, must be embraced, claimed, kept, and protected. I’ve made it sound as if the heroine has no say, no will, but Yates knows the genre too well not to portray how Faith must break out of her own prison of perfection, her safety net of family, talent, and career, to risk her heart for the dangerous, difficult Levi. The Yatesian lesson: love is worth it, the risk, hurt, loss of self. And because it’s romance, Levi, like a caged bird set free, returns and stays with Faith.
A reader not enamoured of the Yatesian ethos may not enjoy Need Me, Cowboy. The romance is mystically enacted; the connection between hero and heroine doesn’t grow organically. If that’s what you look for in a romance, you won’t find it here. Yates tends to a romance shorthand of revelation and confession: the hero and heroine realize their love, run to or from it, and confess or deny – until they don’t. Yates is an epiphanic romance writer: love comes as a road to Damascus blow, wings beating around hero and heroine with declarations written on waving white banners. I was happy to dwell in Yates’s world and will be again. With Miss Austen, we say Need Me, Cowboy offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s Need Me, Cowboy is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on April 2nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.
(Because I love it, I’m quoting the final stanza of Lovelace’s “To Althea, From Prison”: “Stone walls do not a prison make,/Nor iron bars a cage:/Minds innocent and quiet take/That for an hermitage./If I have freedom in my love,/And in my soul am free,/Angels alone, that soar above,/Enjoy such liberty.”)