Review. Texas Outlaws: Cole, by Kimberly Raye (Harlequin Blaze March 2014 Bundle)

Texas Outlaws: Cole - Kimberly Raye

Book Links for this Review:
Texas Outlaws: Cole
Harlequin Blaze March 2014 Bundle 

This was a tough book to review. When I first started reading, I thought I was going to hate it: The heroine’s name is Nikki Barbie, she pretends to have a “bad girl” reputation to please her mother, and takes this as far as pretending to take pole dancing classes instead of the gourmet cooking degree she’s actually pursuing. Oh, and there’s a marriage of convenience. That was enough to make me grind my teeth. However, as I read on, all of this started to make sense, and for a while I was enjoying myself. And then I ran into a bunch of editing problems that made me dislike the book all over again.

So yes, the heroine is named Nikki Barbie, and her mother Raylene has made sure to instill in her and her sisters the notion that men are fun for flings, but nothing more. The Barbie women are therefore known to be fun and flirtatious, always up for a good time. The problem is that Nikki’s sisters, Crystal and April, have “retired” from this lifestyle, and the book opens with their double wedding. Nikki is crushed, because until now she’s been able to fake it by letting her sisters take all the attention; she herself dresses the part, and talks the talk, but most definitely has not walked the walk. Instead, she’s been squirrelling money away for a move to Houston once she finishes her cooking course. She has big dreams that don’t involve the little town of Lost Gun or the honky-tonk bar her mother runs, and where she’s spent years working in the kitchen. She knows that, with her sisters gone, Raylene will turn her full attention on Nikki, and make her getaway almost impossible.

Enter Cole Chisholm, a rodeo star and the town’s bad boy. He and his brothers have a reputation of their own to work on: while they won’t pretend to be angels, they do want to have their names cleared from the townspeople’s minds for a robbery that their late father had committed years before. As the story starts, they’re digging up the last of the money that Silas Chisholm had buried before setting himself on fire, and they intend to return it to the bank. It’s important to them to return the original money; they’re certainly wealthy enough to pay it back from their own pockets, but they understand the importance of giving back what was actually taken. For his part, Cole plans to leave town once the money has been returned and he’s attended the wedding of two of his friends to April and Crystal; he no longer cares what the town thinks of him, but is willing to help his brothers make amends.

All of this makes for an interesting setup, and any qualms I had about the novel were temporarily eased by how great the chemistry was between Cole and Nikki. They’re paired off as part of the wedding party, and neither of them can wait to get out of there. By coincidence, they end up in the same hiding spot, and their facades begin to crumble: Nikki is drunk and confesses her desire for a different life, while bad boy Cole is enjoying a glass of milk and some wedding cake. Before they know it, tipsy Nikki has proposed a sham marriage, and Cole agrees to do it: it will surely drive Raylene away and give Nikki time to study for her cooking finals, and Cole will have respite from the women chasing after him so he can concentrate on training for the rodeo finals. They grab the judge, who’s still at the reception, and get hitched before an astonished crowd of onlookers.

And here’s something I really appreciated: although Nikki and Cole are wildly attracted to one another, and begin to act upon that on their way back to her place, they cool off before going all the way. This provides a healthy dose of tension that will last until they finally do make love. In the meantime, they will spend their days getting to know and trust one another, and becoming friends. They have known each other all their lives, and there’s a sweet story about Cole helping Nikki get home from kindergarten many years ago. I like the fact that there was a history between them, that they’d certainly noticed one another before now, but that they had hesitated to pursue that interest for various reasons. It lent a lot of depth to their story, and went beyond the “instalove” trope that I often find hard to stomach in romance novels.

Unfortunately, for me the novel started to show some serious editing problems early on. Some of these problems have to do with pacing and continuity, while others are language related.
The first of these issues is the jarring transition between chapters 8 and 9. Near the end of Chapter 8, Raylene leaves Nikki’s apartment after an argument. Cole then returns to pick up the duffel bag containing the money he’s set to return, only to find it’s gone. The chapter ends with Nikki remembering that her mother had picked something up off the floor on the way out.

Chapter 9 begins in Cole’s RV, where he and Nikki are supposedly staying while chasing Raylene across the state. This is such an abrupt and temporarily confusing transition that I’m wondering whether a scene was cut out in the final edit, where Nikki tells Cole that Raylene might have stolen the money, and they come up with a plan to travel together after her. Also, it’s never explained how they manage to track Raylene’s credit card transactions; how do they have access to what should be a private account?

The final chapters of the novel also had some pacing issues for me. Once they find Raylene, there’s a race to the story’s conclusion that left me thinking, once again, that some scenes might have been left on the cutting room floor. I understand that Harlequin category romances have certain word limit requirements, and maybe Texas Outlaws: Cole fell victim to some overzealous pruning.

There are also some continuity issues within shorter scenes. In one, Nikki is described as wearing tight leather pants at a bar; but when she and Cole start making out in the alley behind the bar, she’s suddenly wearing a skirt! Likewise, during a scene on the RV’s rooftop, Cole is said to be wearing jeans; later on, though, he’s wearing shorts. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it’s often hard for a writer very involved in her work to catch mistakes like these. However, there’s absolutely no excuse for an editor or proofreader not to have seen these glaring errors.

A proofreader should also have been able to correct several typos and misused words. For example, Nikki says at one point that her grandmother “had a ton of euphemisms… Like, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.’” Which is, of course not a euphemism, but a saying or (if we want to get fancy) a proverb. During the past few years of reading, I’ve noticed the quality of writing deteriorate at an alarming rate; not just in self-published works whose authors may not have had access to copy editors, but in novels from large publishing houses that should be able to afford them. So Harlequin, if you’re reading this: I’m a freelance proofreader/editor! Let’s do lunch some time!

One final thing that really got on my nerves as I continued reading was the constant change in point of view. The novel is told in third person, alternating between Cole and Nikki. Sometimes this technique works, normally during long stretches of text; but at other times there was too much hopping back and forth for me to remain immersed in the story.

So overall, I’d recommend this novel for the interesting story and lively characters. I mentioned earlier that I’d initially been prejudiced against the book on the basis of the character backgrounds and the idea of a marriage of convenience. However, within the first few chapters I understood Raylene’s desperate attempts to give her daughters the take-no-prisoners attitude she thinks they’ll need to get through life, as well as Nikki’s ultimate rebellion and strong connection to her deceased grandmother. These are truly not one-dimensional characters, and I found the friends-to-lovers progression of Cole and Nikki’s relationship very satisfying. When they finally declared their love for one another, I believed them, because I (and they) realized that they’d loved each other for many years.

However, the pacing, continuity, and language issues that plague Texas Outlaws: Cole bothered me enough to break my immersion in the story time after time. This is the second book I read from Harlequin, and both have shown to have less than stellar editing. Let’s see if the third novel in this bundle fares any better!