A Kiss in the Dark

A Little Bit Guilty

Smoke and Mirrors

This Time for Keeps
by Jenna Mills
(Harl. Super.#1659. $5.50, G) ISBN 978-0373-71659-3
Category romances often involve characters who have had a misunderstanding, meet later and find that they still love each other and are ready for their happily ever after. Sometimes romances deal with emotionally laden subjects that allow the characters to split apart and yet, with introspection and generally with some unknown truths being revealed, they can heal, reconcile and all can see that they really were meant to be together. This Time for Keeps uses that plot device. However, I found the emotions too severe, the hurts too deep and the actions of each of the characters too permanent and final to really believe that within just a few weeks time they were able to fully change their lives and live happily ever after.

The story moves from the past to the present time to the past. So while this synopsis is fluid, it is not until almost the end of the story that all of the facts have been presented and the reader can put them together (even though the hints are easily read at times). Megan and Russell Montgomery met as a journalist teaching as a guest instructor and a student. They were immediately drawn to each other and after a separation, came together to find they shared a love of journalism and of life. They moved to the small town when Meg had grown up so that she could take over her family’s little weekly paper. Russell could still take pictures and he seemed to get a kick out of helping her figure out how to get into the world of e-journalism. But soon they realized they couldn’t have children and had to work at it. Finally the day came when the stick turned pink – but their joy was short lived when at the first sonogram, they discovered they had lost the little girl they both wanted so badly. Neither handled their grief well and six months later, Russell left on “an assignment” out of the country and just never returned.

It is now two years later and Russell is back. He is back to settle his sister Ainsley’s affairs, a sister who had come to Pecan Creek, Texas to be near her brother and had stayed when he left. In the time he was gone, she fell in love with a boy who went off to war and she had a child named Charlotte. At eleven months old, Charlotte is the spitting image of Russell’s family, with some of her father, a man who never knew he was going to be a father. Ainsley never told him, thinking that he needed to concentrate on getting home safe. Before she could tell him about Charlotte, Ainsley died in an accident. She made Megan the child’s custodian on her deathbed. Megan loves Charlotte like her own and has rebuilt her life since Russell left – times that she loathes to relive due to their pain, her vulnerability and a lot of stupid mistakes.

But Russell and Megan must interact due to the fact the Russell is really Charlotte’s relative and Megan shares no blood ties with her. And there is the fact that while they have not communicated with each other for over two years, they have never both signed their divorce papers. Looming custody battles are inferred multiple times but never really materialize.

This story reads like a major depressive counseling session, with both characters ruminating over their actions along with the actions of the other person, and both seeing things from two very different perspectives. Unfortunately, there is no mediator present to help them sort out truths from emotions or individual perspectives from facts. This leads to more and more misunderstandings, misinterpretations and fear of really getting to the sources of their feelings for the other. Friends and family tiptoed around the issues then and now. It was very difficult for me to believe that love would actually overcome all of the things that went on in the months of their marriage and the months following their marriage. The plotline of Charlotte’s father coming into the picture seemed just to be added for emotional angst. There was also a side plot of Meg’s cousin’s marriage that seemed totally out of place and unnecessary.

Overall, I just can’t recommend this story. Russell was a hero filled with sorrow and I never got a sense that he was able to really see his part of the marriage failure. On the other hand, Megan was a mess, both while Russell was there and more so after he left. Russell would insinuate that Megan was strong and had rebuilt herself, but I always felt like Megan had built a house of sticks based on the lies she told herself and they would have tumbled whether Russell came back or not. To me, those kinds of tenuous emotional states are not something to build a future on.

--Shirley Lyons

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