Linda Lael Miller
Big Sky Country
Harlequin / May 29, 2012 / $7.99
The illegitimate son of a wealthy rancher, Sheriff Slade Barlow grew up in a trailer hitched to the Curly-Burly hair salon his mother runs. He was never acknowledged by his father-until now. Suddenly, Slade has inherited half of Whisper Creek Ranch, one of the most prosperous in Parable, Montana. That doesn’t sit well with his half brother, Hutch, who grew up with all the rights of a Carmody. Including the affections of Joslyn Kirk, homecoming queen, rodeo queen, beauty queen-whom Slade has never forgotten
But Joslyn is barely holding her head up these days as she works to pay back everyone her crooked stepfather cheated. With a town to protect-plus a rebellious teenage stepdaughter-Slade has his hands full. But someone has to convince Joslyn that she’s responsible only for her own actions. Such as her effect on this lawman’s guarded heart.
Big Sky Country by Linda Lael Miller begins a new series set in fictional Parable, Montana. Big Sky Country is about romance, but it’s also about families, in particular fathers and stepfathers. The hero, Slade Barlow, grew up unacknowledged by his genetic father and raised by his single mother, but serves willingly in the role of stepfather to a teenager, despite not being married to her mother any more, and despite her mother’s new fiancé. Meanwhile, heroine Joslyn Kirk has never fully recovered from the criminal business dealings of her own stepfather; even after his death, she is still trying to put right the crimes he committed without her knowledge, that forced her into leaving Parable as a young girl.
The other chief conflict in the novel, for Slade, comes from Hutch Carmody, who seems highly likely to be the hero of a future novel in the series.
Hutch’s presence made sense, since he was the legitimate son, the golden boy, groomed since birth to become the master of all he surveyed even as, motherless from the age of twelve, he ran wild. Slade himself, on the other hand, was the outsider—born on the proverbial wrong side of the blanket. John Carmody had never once acknowledged him, in all Slade’s thirty-five years of life, and it wasn’t likely that he’d had a deathbed change of heart and altered his will to include the product of his long-ago affair with Callie.
Carmody, however, did indeed acknowledge Slade in his will, awarding him half of his ranch and money, and setting the plot into motion.
Slade finally recovered enough equanimity to speak, though his voice came out sounding hoarse. “What if I told you I didn’t want anything?” he demanded.
“If you told me that,” Maggie responded smoothly, “I’d say you were out of your mind, Slade Barlow. We’re talking about a great deal of money here, in addition to a very profitable ranching operation and all that goes with it, including buildings and livestock and mineral rights.”
…Indirectly, John Carmody had, at long last, acknowledged his existence. He needed to be with that knowledge for a while, work out what it meant, if anything.
Meanwhile, Joslyn is trying to overcome her past; at this point in her life, she’s started an internet gaming company, then sold it for a high price, but that isn’t yet enough for her; she’s still looking for something more, as if she must live up to a future she imagined for herself before her stepfather’s crimes were revealed.
As kids, she and Slade had lived in different worlds, hers rich, his poor. Back then, she’d been his brother Hutch’s girl, which hadn’t helped, either.
…She’d been a spoiled brat back in the day, and there was no getting around it. She’d had too much of everything—too much money, too much popularity, too many honors, like being prom and rodeo queen, class president and the captain of the varsity cheerleading squad. But all that had been years ago, and she’d grown up since then. She’d accomplished a lot of good things, become a genuinely nice person. “People change,” she pointed out snippily.
“Not in my experience, they don’t,” Slade immediately replied.
This first novel in Miller’s new series interested me with its familial themes woven in and out of the romance plot, adding complexity and enjoyment to my reading. I’m now thinking of checking out her backlist.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. She has a World War One-set Spice Brief out in May titled “Under Her Uniform,” a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.