Montana Skies
by Kay Stockham
(Harl. Super Rom. #1395, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71395-9
With a subtitle of You, Me & the Kids, you know immediately this involves romance between people who have children. Montana Skies is the second in a series and does a nice job of telling a story and pulling in characters from the previous story. It also finds the right balance between angst and healing, but falls into too much predictability to be fully recommended.

Jonas Taggert is the sheriff of North Star, Montana. He is also a single dad trying to raise a lovely daughter who is on the verge of becoming a teenager. Jonas is saddled with a meddling mother-in-law and an ex-wife who abandoned them, leaving scars. The daughter is Caroline. She is in eighth grade and has just started to develop physically, and wants desperately to be included with the “in crowd.” To do that, she is shying away from her studies and putting up with some rather rude and bullying tactics from the popular girls in her grade, girls who used to be her friends.

Jonas meets the new people in town when she pulls over Rissa Mathews for speeding. Rissa is widowed with a fourteen-year-old daughter, Skylar, who was in the auto accident that killed her father. Having just found out that her father was cheating on her mother with her best friend’s mother, Skylar is certain that she caused the accident. In the last year, she has started wearing Goth clothing and makeup and has reverted to being withdrawn and rude, someone completely opposite to who she was. Rissa is an out of work airplane pilot and is spending time on a local ranch and resort run by her cousin. She is working for them as a maid and gets another part time job as a waitress. The last thing she needs is a speeding ticket, especially since she is on her way to meet with the principal about more problems Skylar is having at school.

Rissa and Jonas form an unlikely alliance due to their attraction and their daughters’ burgeoning friendship. Skylar is actually befriending Caroline because she is being picked on, despite the fights she continues to have on Caroline’s behalf. However, with her outfit and attitude, everyone, including the sheriff, sees what they want to see and assumes she is the problem, not the cheerleaders. But both parents see positives in their daughters when they are in the company of the other. And they are both fighting an attraction to the other at the same time.

This is a story about finding oneself. Caroline and Skylar go through particularly terrible teenage issues that can be related to, even if their particular choices are not ones everyone would take. Rissa and Jonas are typical parents who love their kids but have no clear-cut way to respond and know that they are doing the right things. This sense of reality makes the story feel real. Stockham handles the many issues with aplomb and finds the balance between being sentimental, realistic and yet compassionate. The sexual tension builds nicely and the fact that Jonas is a nice guy and Rissa is a good person, shine through.

The downside is the obligatory climactic scene that causes everyone to open their eyes to reality. The mother-in-law acts like a caricature and even when the author tries to make her sympathetic, it is too little, too late. The other secondary characters are predictable. And the final burst of secrets that are revealed seems a bit overdone.

Overall, though, Montana Skies is a romantic story with four characters who must work through their current reality to find their happily ever after and make a family. The story meets this mark.

-- Shirley Lyons

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