I read a lot of Maisey Yates romance, rarely missing a new release. I read her as much for the intensity of the romance as for its ethos. Because it aligns with mine. And so, even though from a critical viewpoint there’s something repetitive about her romances, I enjoy each and every one. In Cowboy Christmas Redemption, Yates has dropped some of the relentless interiority of her recent work and created something deeper, better developped, with a more expansive theme and characters.
On the sidelines to Yates’s recent Gold Valley books (this latest is #8) are Caleb Dalton and Ellie Bell. Caleb is Ellie and her four-year-old daughter’s shadow. Since Ellie’s husband and Caleb’s best friend died, Caleb has been Ellie’s ” … rock. Her salvation.” Caleb was there to tell Ellie about his death, hold her when she grieved, hold her hand when she gave birth to Amelia, been there to repair the porch steps, drive Amelia to pre-school. He’s been everything stalwart and good Ellie could ever want, or need. But four years have gone and as Ellie emerges from grief, she wants more than being Clint’s widow. She makes a Christmas wish list, checks it twice, and goes out to get what she needs and wants after four years of single-motherhood and grieving widowhood. She wants a new dress, shoes, to dance in a bar, and flirt with a man. She wants to “feel like a woman again,” to experience intimacy once more.
In Yates’s world, there is no casual, no matter how much the lady, or gentleman doth protest. And this is why I like reading her romances, because more than any other value, Yates gives equal weight to the significance of physical intimacy as emotional. The body matters in a deeply significant, meaningful way. Ellie herself echoes this sentiment when she says to Caleb: ” ‘Sex isn’t casual, even when we pretend that it is. And I think we have a lot of layers of pretending in our world. But even if we decide emotionally it’s not that big of a deal, it’s physically a potentially very big deal. With consequences.’ ” Though Ellie is a woman protective of her heart (there be reasons), she cannot bring herself to have sex with someone she doesn’t know, trust, and like. So, in true Yatesian form, she propositions Caleb, friend and protector; then, watches, in horror, as Caleb, safe haven, transforms into something monumental. Suddenly, her familiar friend (to echo the psalm and this may be the best expression of Yates’s core-theme) with whom she used to hold sweet converse is a behemoth of unknown power, a tornado of intense as Ellie’s never before felt. Because in Yates’s romance universe, there is no casual, or connection that can be purely physical.
The Caleb-intensity comes from Caleb holding a torch for Ellie since the moment his best friend brought her to the Dalton family picnic. For Caleb, it was love at first sight, not lust, yes want, but love. And he’s held onto that love, mixed as it became with guilt, knowledge, and shared experience, for fourteen years. Now that he has Ellie within his reach, he will make the most of his time with her. As with every Yates romance, there’s a fierce antagonism to the male and female principals’/principles’ interactions, as much pain and resistance as pleasure and attraction. Ellie and Caleb’s physical intimacy is a reflection of their love’s dizzying, dangerous eddy. This is reflected in Ellie’s sudden experience of Caleb as an unfamiliar other, even while he’s still her familiar friend.
For Caleb, things are differently but equally disorienting. His self-effacement in the face of Clint’s loss and Ellie and Amelia’s needs is suddenly erased and his personality, his wants and needs, come to the foreground. In a Yates romance, love clangs into her hero and heroine’s lives like a dissonant unabating bell. It tears them apart emotionally, holds them only by the thread of their physical connection, only to remake them, whole and then ready to love and commit. Their bodies, however, know all along what their hearts, minds, and eventually tongues must avow.
Yates’s heroes’ and heroines’ impediments to love are always rooted in their past, more often than not in unresolved family traumas at worst, issues at best. For Ellie, her emotional anchoring when she married Clint was his emotional safety, having suffering through a childhood with a mother whose boyfriends were always more important than Ellie. The emotions Caleb arouses are frightening, alien, and precarious to Ellie’s equanimity. As for Caleb, his psychic wounds come from never being as clever as his friend Clint, though he loved him, because Clint was favoured in Caleb’s home with Caleb’s parents. Caleb is guilt-ridden over his desire for Ellie all these years, for ever being jealous of Clint. In the end, Yates always resolves her less-than hero and heroine to being enough and perfect-for-you-me.
Love comes slowly, fiercely, and inevitably in a Yates romance. Ellie and Caleb’s complexity expresses her core-theme of redemption, connection, commitment, and love perfectly in Ellie’s self-confession: “He was the love of her life. It would have destroyed her to admit that before. But life was complicated, and so was love. With beauty and tragedy at the bottom of each valley, and the top of each hill.” I’ve loved every Yates romance I’ve read, but it’s the first time in a long while I suspect Cowboy Christmas Redemption may make my “best of the year” list. If you read one Yates romance this year, and she is awfully prolific, make it this one. With Miss Austen, in Cowboy Christmas Redemption, we found “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s Cowboy Christmas Redemption is published by HQN Books. It was released in September 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I’m grateful to HQN Books for an e-galley, via Netgalley.