I have an admitted weakness for Western romances. They can be historical or contemporary, but as long as they have a ranch, a couple hundred head of cattle, and a hero who rides the range, I am willing to give the book a chance. This book was definitely worth the chance.
Set in modern-day Sweetgrass, Montana, this is the story of Sam Dakota, former rodeo star/recent ex-con, and Molly Cogan, divorced mother of two adolescent boys. They are brought together by Molly’s ailing grandfather whose ranch has fallen victim to financial hard times and sabotage – the latter from a militia group who want to use the ranch as a training ground.
Molly’s grandfather proposes a marriage of convenience when he sees that Molly and Sam are attracted to one another. He doesn’t have long to live but can’t rest until he knows his ranch is in good hands. While a marriage of convenience might seem silly in a modern romance, it works here. Sam and Molly both have a vested interest in the ranch and neither one of them has anywhere else to go, and they are attracted to each other. The ranch is Molly’s inheritance and a fresh start for her family. Working the ranch has been a catharsis for Sam, who spent his time after doing time drifting. Sam and Molly not only agree to marry, they decide to make it a real marriage.
Sam and Molly come across as real people with real problems, although there is enough going on to balance things so that reality doesn’t seem like a dose of medicine. They don’t seem much different from the rest of us married folk, having little spats, or, in some cases, big ones. They’d apologize, make up, and move on – you know, like real people do. Along the way, they manage to fall deeply in love.
One of my favorite parts of the book is when Molly finally decides to tell Sam that they will soon be expecting their very own little bundle of joy. She plans a special evening at home complete with dinner and champagne. Sam, exhausted from working the ranch, falls asleep in a chair after dinner. Is that real life or what?
The secondary characters, including Molly’s sons, Tom and Clay, and her grandfather, are well drawn, well utilized, and add depth and character to the story. Sadly, Molly’s grandfather dies during the course of the story. I felt I had really gotten to know him and mourned his passing right along with Molly, Sam, Tom and Clay.
The suspense created by the unknown saboteurs adds something to the story. Sam and Molly try to figure out who is behind it and Sam even gets shot as he tries to stop some modern day cattle rustling he happens across one day while out riding the range. The unknown members of the local militia are trying to make it impossible for Sam and Molly to make a loan payment that is due soon. If they can’t sell the cattle, they can’t make the loan payment and will lose the ranch. The suspense in this book is not of the gut-churning variety, but it is enough to keep you guessing, and it never loses its edge. In fact, it came as a real surprise to me when I found out who the head of the local militia actually was.
An offshoot of the suspense subplot is a surprisingly riveting and heartbreaking secondary romance. I almost wished it could have been a separate story, but then it wouldn’t have been nearly so poignant. I’m also glad this story had an epilogue. Since I liked this story, I’m glad I got to find out a little of what happened before everyone rode off into the sunset together. I especially liked knowing whether Sam and Molly had a baby girl or a baby boy. I always hate it when a romance ends and the heroine is pregnant and I never know whether she had a boy or a girl.
Montana is not a book that screams greatness, nor does it push the boundaries of romantic fiction. It is a quiet, unpretentious story. In it’s own unassuming way, it left an impression on me. It made me feel good, and it also gave me pause to think that maybe romance really can be found somewhere within the everyday whirl of kids, jobs, and bills. Sam and Molly sure as heck made it look good.