Matchmaking is in the air in Bliss, Montana. And the four elderly women responsible for two marriages so far have their eye on a third candidate: Maggie Johnson Moore. Widowed Maggie needs a man and her two children, as little daughter Georgianna points out, need a daddy. Georgie even has one picked out: Gabe O’Connor, father of her friend Joey. If only life was that simple
Maggie and Gabe have known each other since they were tykes, and they grew up on adjoining ranches. Maggie remembers her crush on Gabe all too well. But he married sleek, stylish Carole and she ended up married to ambitious, bitter Jeff. Neither marriages were wonderful. All ended in tragedy when Jeff and Carole were killed in a car wreck four years ago, on the way back from a Bozeman motel where they had been carrying on an affair. Since then, Gabe and Maggie have avoided each other.
Gabe and Maggie meet at the wedding of their mutual friend Cal, and Gabe can’t help notice Maggie in her vintage red silk suit. Maggie’s junk/antiques business fits well with her passion for retro clothing. But she’s neither slim nor inherently stylish; nothing like Gabe’s late wife. Gabe, whose forced marriage was a total disillusionment, finds he’s tongue-tied over Maggie’s blonde voluptuousness. When word gets around that Maggie is the object of the next matchmaking attempt, Gabe finds he’s completely opposed to the idea. He really doesn’t want a relationship himself, you understand, but neither does he want his old pal Maggie to end up with some jerk who won’t appreciate her.
What could have been a slightly grim story, given the setup, is instead borderline hilarious. The tale is told primarily from Gabe’s point of view, and watching this handsome rancher grapple with his own stubbornness is a delight. Gabe doesn’t want Maggie. But he doesn’t want any other guy to have her, either. Well, maybe he does want her - in the worst and best possible way. As Gabe puts it to Cal,
“She’s my friend, that’s all.” She was a friend he wouldn’t mind kissing again -- and touching. And more. Shit.
“Uh huh.” Clearly Cal didn’t believe a word.
Neither does anyone else except Maggie, who is sure she’ll end up second best to Carole again.
The dialogue is a standout - clean, dead-on realistic, and funny. The kids add a lot to the story with their hijinks; we get to see both Gabe and Maggie deal with the normal little crises that make a family. Georgie and Joey scheme to get their parents together. Twelve-year-old Kate is drawn to Maggie when Maggie offers her a “real job” helping package orders. Lanie, the littlest, falls in love with Gabe’s dog and spends time watching TV with it or joining it under the kitchen table. And anyone who’s ever left a fresh-cut Christmas tree outside in the snow, only to find a neighborhood pet has “marked” it, will appreciate the Christmas Eve scene where Gabe’s carefully-laid plans go awry. The poor guy finally makes up his mind and the gods still conspire against him.
I did have a bit of trouble following the cast. Gabe and Maggie, their exes, their kids, the old biddies, the newly-married friends, and several other characters make for a confusing read in spots. I had to stop and think “Now, who is this person again?” That’s the problem with reading the last book in a trilogy. Most of the previous characters make a cameo, at least, and it’s a bit too crowded in there.
A Man for Maggie Moore is a great lighthearted read for a winter’s evening. And don’t miss the author’s note at the end, where Kristine Rolofson describes the romantic Christmas Eve that was never meant to be. No wonder her family scenes are so funny - she’s been there herself. Enjoy!