Mountain Dreams by Gail Kennedy
(Laughing Owl Publishing, $12.50, PG)
ISBN 0-9659701-0-8
Mountain Dreams is a romance duet – two for the price of one. Or in this case, two for more than the usual price of one, and that may turn off some readers. Especially since the stories themselves travel fairly well-worn paths.

The first story, "Five Steps to Flirting," introduces us to Regina Citrano, now the only remaining unwed female in her generation of busybody family members. They all want to see Regina hooked up, especially her aunts. When Regina stumbles on a magazine article on flirting, the answer seems to be at hand, and the perfect place to practice is … the airport.

At first, all goes well. A few conversations with polite strangers build Regina's confidence. But when she approaches Tyler Novak, Regina is in for more than she can handle. Undercover cop Tyler has been watching Regina, half-convinced she's a contact for a cache of stolen diamonds. Or maybe she's a hooker. Or both.

Faster than the reader can groan "undercover cop?" Tyler is assaulted and both he and Regina are kidnapped. Now it's up to the two of them to escape.

While the quirky premise might pass muster, the stock characterizations and sloppy editing don't. Regina comes across as twittish; Tyler as beefcake and arrogant. Neither of them do much to change the reader's mind. Typographical and grammatical mistakes abound, as well. Reader, beware.

The second story, "Sunday School and the Secret Agent," struggles to get going but ends up an enjoyable read. Susan Stewart dreads returning for her high school reunion because she's told the biggest mouth in the senior class that she's engaged to an undercover cop. And said bigmouth has informed Susan's parents. Now Susan has to come up with a "fiancé," and she's not likely to find one in Judd's Western Palace in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she sits as the story opens.

Maybe it's too much to hope for a romance in which the heroine waltzes into her high school reunion in a red dress and announces, "I'm between lovers at the moment, how's life in the Junior League?", but this business of inventing a man in order to gain acceptance from friends and family seems dated.

Anyway, an undercover cop is conveniently located right there in Judd's, and by sheer coincidence, he's attracted to Susan. When Susan decides to ask bartender Ric Ramsey to pose as her fiancé, he's willing to go along. He's in Las Cruces to find his partner's killer and investigate a drug ring. Might as well divert himself with "Sunday School," as he dubs Susan. For all he knows, she could be part of the ring.

Don't let the stock premise put you off too much. Ric and Susan are likable characters. She's determined to put a little spice in her boring life; he's attracted to her wholesomeness. As their romance progresses, readers are treated to an enjoyable transformation in both of them – these two extremes find a way to meet in the middle, and it's fun.

The steep price tag and standard storylines make it difficult to give Mountain Dreams a wholehearted recommendation, but readers who enjoy stories with undercover cops may well want to invest.

--Cathy Sova

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