Roses for Chloe

Make-Believe Mom
by Elaine Grant
(Harl. Super #1445, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-71445-9
Kaycee Calloway is a veterinarian who has just moved to Montana to escape a life she needed to leave. Raised with some privilege, she had been working on a thoroughbred horse farm, ready to marry an up-and-coming attorney. But he changed his mind on the day of the wedding, informing her he was marrying the owner’s daughter instead.

One of her first jobs in Montana after opening up her own practice brings her to widower Jon Rider’s ranch where a heifer is having trouble birthing. But more importantly, Jon is having trouble with Children’s Services over who is taking care of his seven children. One thing leads to another and Jon and Kaycee find themselves “engaged” to appease the social worker. If you can get past this rather incredulous plot line, then the story takes over and the enjoyment mounts. If not, you will find it hard to get through the story.

Jon is a widower because his wife and the love of his life died in a car accident in which he was driving. There are seven children ranging in ages from 13 to 2, with one set of twin boys in the mix. Jon is doing his best and the older girls help, but the fact that he is having trouble keeping a housekeeper is a major problem. The last one left when the twins locked her in the basement until she agreed to make brownies. In the background are Jon’s in-laws, who insist he should give up the children to them to raise. Their perspective is that Jon married their high society daughter, brought her to the wilderness and then killed her. Jon is determined to keep his children and while he is willing to work out a compromise, the prospects of that seem slim when they keep suing him for custody.

It is this fear of losing his children that forces Jon to agree to the deception and has Kaycee somewhat willing to go along with it. Kaycee and Jon have to spend some time together to convince the social worker they have a relationship. The kids win her over. And she starts to fall in love. Conflicts arise when one of the girls starts to resent Kaycee and the grandparents keep their nose in things. Add to that that Kaycee has a career and can never fill the shoes of Jon’s previous wife and we have a story.

I really liked Jon. Even though he misses his wife and partially blames himself for her death, he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He does what he needs to do and he is openly willing to see where things go with Kaycee. He has some doubts and they even fight about his concerns. But the fact that he sees his unreasonable expectations and actually apologizes about his actions go a long way to endearing him to this reader.

Kaycee is a little harder to read at first. It seems like her willingness to go along with this is premature. But she is a genuine person and when she falls in love with both Jon and his children, it seems natural.

The only thing that rang hollow was the lack of real interaction with townspeople. Generally in these kinds of stories, everyone knows everyone’s business and there would be more interactions. Kaycee has a few people she knows and Jon knows everyone, but there is no real sense of community. That seemed a bit out of place on the one hand, and yet, this lack of interaction maintained the façade that these two could fake an engagement and get away with it.

Make-Believe Mom is a make-believe story. And it works most of the time thanks to two engaging and believable characters.

--Shirley Lyons

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