Read Montana Skies (You, Me and the Kids) (Harlequin Superromance, No 1395) Online

Authors: Kay Stockham

Tags: #Teenage girls, #Problem youth, #Single mothers, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Montana, #Western, #Westerns, #Sheriffs, #Fiction

Montana Skies (You, Me and the Kids) (Harlequin Superromance, No 1395)

BOOK: Montana Skies (You, Me and the Kids) (Harlequin Superromance, No 1395)
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Montana Skies (You, Me and the Kids) (Harlequin Superromance, No 1395)
Kay Stockham
Harlequin (2007)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Teenage girls, Problem youth, Single mothers, Contemporary, General, Romance, Montana, Western, Westerns, Sheriffs, Fiction
Product Description

North Star, Montana, sure isn't the big city. And that's fine with Rissa Mathews—but not with her daughter. Fourteen-year-old Skylar refuses to fit in. To Rissa's relief, though, Skylar finally makes a friend, Caroline, the daughter of Sheriff Jonas Taggert.

But Jonas isn't completely happy about the newest additions to his town. Truth is, the mother he likes; the daughter he may have to arrest. Which means his second chance at a family could be over before it begins.

Life as a single parent can be stormy—whether you're a mom or a dad—but thanks to Jonas, Rissa might be seeing blue skies again.

“I'd like to borrow you for a few minutes, if you have the time.”

“Sure, I have time,” Rissa replied. “I wasn't supposed to be in town at all, but my daughter and I had a huge fight last night and it carried over to this morning. Grace and Maura decided I needed a distraction.”

Jonas winced at her words.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

“Not at all. It's just that's why I, uh, need help—with my daughter,” he explained. “But it sounds like you've had enough girlish temperament today.”

Still no sign of Caroline. She'd be mad if he went in, but it shouldn't have taken this long and he had to get back to work.

“No, forget that,” Rissa said, waving a hand in the air. “What's up?”

He stared at her a long moment and saw the sincerity in her expression. “She's in the Blooming Rose picking out some…things, and she could use a woman's advice.”

“You mean you want me to—”

“Just check on her,” he begged, desperate not to have to go into the store himself. “If I get within twenty feet of the entrance I'll be blasted for humiliating her.” Jonas hesitated, clearing his throat. “Thank you for doing this. Moments like these aren't easy on a single dad's ego.”

Dear Reader,

Ever hear a song and instantly get an image in your head? Recently I heard music from Disney's
Mulan,
and while I'd heard the song numerous times, this was different. Afterward, I found myself “people watching” more than usual, and I saw, as in the song, that each of us wears a mask of some sort. My heroine, Rissa Mathews, is no exception, nor is her daughter.

Rissa is a single mom with her life in shambles and a teenager out of control. In an effort to move from the tragedy that killed her husband and turned her daughter into a Goth-girl stranger, she moves to North Star, Montana, to regain control and be close to family. Her cousin Maura is the chef at the Second Chance Ranch, and
Montana Skies
revisits a few of the characters from my first Harlequin Superromance novel,
Montana Secrets.

I love to hear from my readers and hope to hear from you! Send mail to me at P.O. Box 232, Minford, OH 45653, or e-mail me at [email protected]

God bless,

Kay Stockham

M
ONTANA
S
KIES
Kay Stockham

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kay Stockham has always wanted to be a writer, ever since she copied the pictures out of a Charlie Brown book and rewrote the story because she didn't like the plot. Formerly a secretary/office manager for a large commercial real estate development company, she's now a full-time writer and stay-at-home mom who firmly believes being a mom/wife/homemaker is the hardest job of all. Happily married for fifteen years and the somewhat frazzled mother of two, she's sold four books to the Harlequin Superromance line. Her first release,
Montana Secrets,
hit the Waldenbooks bestseller list and was chosen as a Holt Medallion finalist for Best First Book. Kay has garnered praise from reviewers for her emotional, heart-wrenching stories and looks forward to a long career writing a genre she loves. For more information on Kay's work, surf her Web site at www.kaystockham.com.

Books by Kay Stockham

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

1307—MONTANA SECRETS

1347—MAN WITH A PAST

To Johnny L. Evans, Emergency Medical Services
Pilot, for answering too many questions to count.
Any mistake is entirely my own. Thanks, Johnny!
To parents everywhere struggling to do your best by your child and raise them right.
To the FNGs—for more laughter, friendship and love than I ever imagined. I am so blessed. Thanks for making it all fun—or at least funny!

And, as always, for Chad. You are a hero in so many ways…just don't let it go to your head. ;)

CHAPTER ONE

R
ISSA
M
ATHEWS
glanced into the rearview mirror and groaned when she spotted red and blue flashing lights. “Oh, great. Oh, this is just
great!

She took her foot off the gas pedal and rolled to a stop off the road, the police cruiser following closely behind. Swearing under her breath, she reached beside her for her purse.

It wasn't there.

Mouth open in panic, she leaned over to feel beneath the empty seat beside her. Had it slid in between the passenger seat and the door? “No, no, no, you've got to be
kidding
me.”

“Put your hands where I can see them,” a deep baritone ordered from her left. “Slowly.”

Raising her head, she found herself staring into a pair of thickly lashed green eyes set amidst a sun-browned face and sharp, angular features. A broad-rimmed Stetson covered the officer's head and a khaki uniform shirt stretched across his wide chest, but it was the sun's reflection off the man's badge that had her imagining it was laughing at her.

She'd been pulled over by North Star's very own sheriff. What were the odds on
him
letting her go?

Rissa straightened—slowly—and immediately no
ticed from her higher position in the truck that his hand rested on the butt of his gun.

“Ma'am, do you know how fast you were going?”

“Not exactly.” Who had time to pay attention to the speed limit when summoned by an irate principal?

“You were driving seventy-nine in a fifty-five. License and registration, please.”

“Oh, ah…”

“Is there a problem, ma'am?”

Rissa looked at the empty seat beside her, her hands fisted in frustration. Why today of all days? “I don't have it,” she admitted, her voice low. “M-my license. I mean, I
do
have a license, but it's— I don't have it with me.” Her embarrassment heightened when one of the sheriff's eyebrows rose in response to her words.

“I see…. Your name?”

“Rissa Mathews.”

“And where were you going in such a hurry in the Rowlands' new truck, Ms. Mathews?”

The casually posed question didn't disguise the underlying query, and Rissa realized if she didn't talk fast, she'd not only wind up with a ticket she couldn't afford, but also a free trip to jail until he could determine whether the truck was stolen. Then where would her daughter be?

Probably right beside her.

“Do you know the Rowlands?” she asked, hopeful. “I'm Maura's cousin—I'm staying at the Second Chance and helping Seth and Grace. You can call and confirm I have permission to drive the truck.”

The sheriff stared at her, his gaze assessing. Maybe loosening up a little? She and Maura resembled each other, had the same hair and build passed on from their mothers.

“I just might do that,” he drawled with a bit of a western twang, “but first tell me why you were speeding. Are you on an errand for the ranch?”

She wanted to say yes, but she would be lying and she was a horrible liar. The Second Chance was a fully operating year-round ranch and vacation resort, one for physically impaired guests and their families. Guests could ride horses, fish, snowmobile and ski with full thought and consideration given to any special needs. Maura had made two trips to town this week to obtain something for a guest so trips into the small town weren't unusual.

“No, but…I'm late. I ran out of gas and had to walk back to the ranch and borrow the truck. Now my daughter's waiting for me to pick her up at school, I'm late for appointments I
can't
miss, and—” She clamped her mouth shut. If he were going to give her a ticket there was nothing she could do about it. Rambling certainly wouldn't help, and doing so only reinforced the typical first impression most assumed when they spotted her blond hair and curvy frame.

But pride or no pride, she couldn't afford a ticket. Smothering a moan, she rubbed her aching temple. “Look, Sheriff, I know you've probably heard every excuse under the sun when it comes to people trying to get out of tickets, but I had my purse in my car when I left the house.
Really.
I must've left it behind when I switched vehicles. And I know I was speeding,” she reluctantly added, “but I had the truck under control, no one else was on the road—”


I
was on the road.”

“And most highway speed limits are seventy now so I wasn't driving
that
much over the norm.” She tried to
appeal to his sense of fairness. “Surely you've been late at least once and driven faster than you were supposed to?”

Her direct question earned a slight lifting of his lips at the corners, and Rissa chose to take the gesture as a sign the lawman was softening. Hope soared, and she gave him a rusty smile. Why not? Her appearance was often a hindrance to her goals, and it was definitely a hindrance when it came to her job. A female pilot in a male-dominated world, she'd often downplayed her looks. Maybe this once they would help?

Without comment the sheriff's gaze shifted from her eyes and face to where her arm rested along the window, his expression carefully neutral. “Give me your social security number and spell your name.”

She did and watched while he wrote them down.

“Keys?”

He lifted his hand, palm open, the calluses on his skin rough against hers when they brushed together during the exchange. A tingling sensation shot up her arm.

“Don't move.”

Rissa watched him in the rearview mirror, unwillingly noting the masculine grace in his long-legged stride.

A couple cars passed, and she wanted to sink down and hide when the occupants rubbernecked to get a look. Ignoring them the best she could, Rissa leaned her head back against the seat and stared out the window up at the cloudless sky.

She pushed aside the upset she felt at herself for making such a stupid, costly mistake, and thought about the long list of things she needed to be doing instead of sitting by the side of the road with her fate in the sheriff's hands, awaiting what would probably be a huge fine.

Minutes passed, and with them her impatience grew
until she spotted a bird flying high overhead in the vast sea of blue and focused on it instead. Dipping and soaring, gliding, the sight brought a smile. Some women took hot baths to relax, she liked to skim the treetops. But since 9/11, pilots had become a dime a dozen in the flailing market, her wings clipped, and that left Jake's brand-new Dodge Ram pickup taking the honor of being the fastest thing she'd piloted after selling her BMW Z4.

“Ms. Mathews?”

She started at the sheriff's return, but if he noticed her reaction, he didn't let on. Instead he studied his notepad, the broad-rimmed hat shading his face until all she could see was his mouth and chin.

“It seems speeding isn't new to you, and you received a ticket a little over a year ago for the same problem. Were you running late then, too?”

Rissa straightened the hem of her light pink T-shirt. “Actually it was a family emergency. My…my husband and daughter had been in a car accident and—” she pictured Skylar lying in the ER hospital bed, cut and bloody, hysterical, screaming for her dad on the other side of the curtain “—my husband didn't make it. My daughter couldn't be sedated because— The hospital said to hurry so I did.” She wasn't about to apologize for it, either.

Silent, the sheriff shifted his weight and tapped the narrow book against his fingers twice. Finally he flipped it closed with a heavy sigh.

Rissa blinked at him, confused, until she took in his expression and realized she wasn't the only one who'd known loss and pain.

“If I let you go…”

“It won't happen again,” she promised huskily.

“Make sure it doesn't. You might be running late today, but no one is hurt. Slow down and keep it that way so that your daughter isn't trying to get to the hospital—
to see you
.”

“You're letting me off?” Relief swept through her, and she caught her breath at the wry twist of his lips she received in response to her question. It softened his angled features, made her heart do a little jump, skip and thump she didn't expect.

“Yeah, I'm letting you off—with a warning to slow it down or else pay the price next time.”

“Understood. Thank you, um—” she glanced at his name tag “—Sheriff Taggert. Seriously…thank you.”

He held out the truck keys. “Drive safely.”

“I will.” Rissa flashed him a grateful smile and started the engine, waiting for him to step away before she slowly eased back onto the highway. Within moments the sheriff's broad-shouldered image faded in the distance, but she had a hard time making him disappear from her thoughts. What had happened to him to put that look in his eyes? What kind of pain had he endured?

Fifteen minutes later she still contemplated the questions to keep from having to think about her own problems—namely her daughter—when she pulled into North Star Middle School's parking lot.

The office was located on the other side of a vestibule, and she continued through the second set of doors, pausing when a woman heard her and raised her head. A wary, dread-filled expression crossed her face before she quickly masked the look and pasted on a smile. “Mrs. Mathews?”

Rissa's stomach tightened. “Yes, I'm Rissa Mathews.”

“Delia Kline, counselor for the middle and high
school students. I was away at a meeting the day you registered your daughter.”

The woman held out her hand and Rissa shook it. “Sorry, I'm late.”

The counselor dropped several files on a nearby desk and waved Rissa deeper into the reception area. “No problem. It gave me some time to clear my desk while Mr. Kline and I waited.”

“Didn't you say your name was Kline?”

She nodded. “Yes. My husband is the principal here. This way, please.”

Suddenly awkward, Rissa smoothed her hands over her jeans and looked around, trying not to breathe too deeply. The school smelled of bleach and artificial air fresheners, the remnants of lunch and old paper.

Delia Kline's matronly form led the way down a short, tiled hall past several other offices, one of which had the woman's name written on it. Skylar was nowhere to be seen. They entered the office at the end of the hall, and a balding man in his late forties or early fifties stood, his weary expression declaring it had been a long day.

“Mrs. Mathews, welcome.”

Once again she held out her hand and made sure to keep her grip firm. “Mr. Kline.”

“Please, sit down.” He indicated the two chairs across from his desk. “I'm sorry to request a meeting on such short notice, but we decided it might be best.”

O-kay.
Rissa seated herself, but wished she'd waited when Mr. Kline rested a hip against the desk in a casual pose and his wife remained standing two steps away. Both stared at her, their faces pitying.

The principal cleared his throat. “Mrs. Mathews,
let me begin by saying we realize the first week at a new school is always trying, but we do our best to make sure new students are welcomed. However, I must admit your daughter has not made this experience easy.”

“I gathered that by the phone call.”

“Yes, well, I don't know how to put this other than bluntly, but your daughter's physical appearance has proved to be a little daunting to some of our students.”

They thought the students were daunted? A belligerent teenager had taken over and changed her daughter from the inside out. Removed her girl-next-door, fresh-faced appearance and changed it to Goth Girl, Child of the Night.

“Moving so far away from a place where her appearance might have been accepted can't be easy, and a period of adjustment is called for,” Delia Kline offered. “That's why we didn't immediately call you when she had trouble earlier in the week.”

Rissa shifted on the uncomfortable chair, the knot in her stomach growing with every word. Skylar's appearance hadn't been the norm at home, either. “What kind of trouble?”

Mr. Kline exchanged another glance with his wife. “The first was a spat, a group of girls arguing in the hall between classes. They were warned to behave, and the incident dropped. Today, however, there was a full-fledged fight.” He cleared his throat once more, his solemn gaze meeting hers. “One of our teachers witnessed Skylar throwing the first punch.”

“As I'm sure you are aware, our duty as administrators is to protect the student body and teach them, guide them, and to set examples when confronted with bad behavior,” Mrs. Kline murmured pointedly.

“Meaning?” The question came out soft and thready, revealing too much.

Delia Kline's mouth tightened. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Mathews, but along with today's punishment, Skylar has been issued detention after school all next week. Two hours a day, all five days. We understand this might be an inconvenience for you being so new to town, but we think detention is better than expelling her under the circumstances, with the school year ending in a matter of weeks.”

It certainly
was
an inconvenience. Staying two hours after school meant Skylar couldn't ride the bus out to the ranch. Rissa would have to come pick her up, the drive nearly an hour round-trip.

“I understand,” she murmured dazedly. What else could she say?

“May I suggest something?” The counselor unfolded her arms and walked over to sit in her husband's desk chair.

The move drew Rissa's attention and that's when she noticed the credenza behind the desk where a collage of framed photographs on top showcased the bright, smiling faces of their family. Older kids from the looks of it. What could it hurt to get advice from people who'd survived teenagers? “Of course.”

“Perhaps you could talk to Skylar about blending in more, easing up on the makeup and concentrating on making friends?”

BOOK: Montana Skies (You, Me and the Kids) (Harlequin Superromance, No 1395)
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