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Big Sky Country
by Linda Lael Miller
(HQN, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0373776436
Linda Lael Miller kicks off a new trilogy with Big Sky Country, set in the small town of Parable, Montana. Joslyn Kirk has come home to Parable, where she once reigned as the town rich girl/beauty queen/rodeo princess. Then her stepfather was arrested for bilking many of the town’s residents out of their money, and Joslyn and her mother left Parable in disgrace. Joslyn hopes to make it up to the victims, having sold her own successful business before she returned.

Sheriff Slade Barlow was the illegitimate son of the wealthiest rancher in Parable, and nobody was more stunned when his father died and left him half of Whisper Creek Ranch. It’s an inheritance worth millions. Slade is on tense terms with his half brother, Hutch Carmody, who views himself as the rightful heir. Hutch is willing to buy Slade out of his half of the ranch, but Slade isn’t sure he wants to sell.

Slade and Joslyn cross paths, and sparks fly between them. But Joslyn is wary of an entanglement, and Slade doesn’t trust the former beauty queen. As they slowly get to know one another, the have to face their feelings. To complicate matters, Slade’s teenaged stepdaughter arrives to spend the summer.

The story proceeds at a measured pace, and a considerable amount of time is spent setting up the main characters in the trilogy. Besides Slade, Joslyn, and Hutch, there’s Joslyn’s best friend, Kendra, who shares a past with Hutch she’s not talking about. Joslyn’s former housekeeper arrives to keep house for Slade and Shea, his daughter. The romance between Slade and Joslyn gets the short end of the stick, and it felt abrupt – it was only a few short pages from wary avoidance to a full-on love affair.

Slade is portrayed as a man who is comfortable with himself despite his humble upbringing. There’s no chip on his shoulder, and he has easy, loving relationships with his mother and Shea. His was a mature character, one I enjoyed. Joslyn was a bit less memorable. She’s a bit shy, a bit defensive, and wants to anonymously right the wrongs done by her stepfather, though I wondered why she was so determined to keep it under wraps. Her refusal to tell Slade why she’s back in Parable causes him to distrust her, a conflict that felt forced since things could have been cleared up with a single sentence.

Hutch and Kendra were intriguing, and their story will be featured in the next book. Here’s hoping their romance will take more of the spotlight, now that the first book has set up the series. Big Sky Country is a good start, and things should only get better.

--Cathy Sova

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