Partners in Marriage
by Allison Hayes
(Silh.Sp. Ed. #1205, $4.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24205-0
Shelley Matthews is starting over. She's moved from her home in San Diego and has accepted a teaching job in South Dakota. Four years earlier, Shelley's husband was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Shelley still hasn't recovered completely, but thinks that a new beginning is what she needs.

When she gets to her destination, she discovers that there's a critical housing shortage. After tracking down leads for a week, she luckily finds a house to rent. As she's about to finalize the deal, Blue Larson appears. The landlord had told Blue that he'll be the next tenant. Blue, a local man, needs a place to stay while he tries for joint custody of his children. Without some housing permanence and stability, his petition may be ignored. He can only live with relatives for so long.

Shelley discovers that her new landlord is prejudiced against Indians and will not rent the house to Blue. She comes up with what she hopes is workable solution. The house is adequate for both of them. Blue will need the space to study as he finishes his degree. Shelly wouldn't mind having a roommate. Why don't they share? Blue knows that this may be his only recourse, but he tries to explain to Shelley that this is SmallTown, USA, where cohabitation is not looked on as innocently as it is in the big city. Still, it is the only viable solution they see.

For a short time, the roommate solution seems to be working out. Shelley, reluctant to form any kind of bond, is slowly becoming aware of Blue as a man. Of course, when the caseworker investigating Blue's petition for joint custody arrives and sees Shelley and Blue involved in a long, slow, hot, deep, wet kiss (Costner and Sarandon), they realize that they've done damage to his chances to the joint custody ruling. What to do? Why, get married. What else?

While Shelley is initially reluctant to make this a 'real' marriage and instead wants a marriage of convenience, Blue convinces her to rethink her position. I, for one, am glad. What follows are tender, emotionally satisfying insights into a relationship. It's the intensity and closeness that begin to bother Shelley. For two years after her husband's murder, she vegetated and is still unsure that she wants to be emotionally committed to anyone. She shies away from anyone and anything that threaten to break though her emotional resolve.

Perhaps this is one story which would have benefitted from more length. There didn't seem to be enough time for us to understand Shelley's loss and despair. She meets an incredibly sexy and decent man, yet her reluctance to commit is not plausible in light of what we don't know about her past. Blue is a wonderful hero, a caring, sensitive, understanding nineties kind of guy. She's a mess, plain and simple.

How Shelley is able to obtain closure and final healing is a poignant episode, but again, we really don't see the Big Picture until near the end of the book. I liked Blue, but Shelley's continued reluctance to commit emotionally became somewhat tedious, considering that the background information about her late husband came in bits and pieces. What's even more confusing is that when she does make comparisons, Blue always wins.

I don't have any personal experience with the kind of tragic loss that Shelley experiences. I don't have any experiences with climbing Everest or spelunking or saving myself from vampires. I depend on the author to bring me into a story, to make me a participant, even if I don't want to be one. I'm sorry to say that I was never involved in Shelley's plight and that lack of involvement kept this book from being a recommended read.

--Linda Mowery

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