Cop of the Year by Kathryn Shay
(Harlequin Superromance # 774, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-70774-6
****
High school teacher Cassie Smith is about to see her worst nightmares come true. A teacher of At-Risk students, she's quick to ensure the release of one of her students when he's picked up on suspicion of theft. Police captain Mitch Lansing, the arresting officer, turns out to be her newest classroom volunteer. He's participating in a program to bring the police into the schools and help erase some of the "cop stigma". It looks like his first pupil needs to be Cassie.

Cassie has had an uneasy relationship with the police ever since she was a troubled teen herself. She knows they need to do their job, she just doesn't want them in her classroom. Gradually, as she begins to understand how Mitch can help her students and how this might be a good thing, Cassie must put aside her old hostilities and work side by side with Mitch.

Mitch has a few skeletons in his own closet. Having left the New York City police force for a job in this smaller Long Island town, he doesn't want to get close to the kids. His armor is firmly in place. He'll do his job, and do it well, but nobody is going to get inside the wall he's erected.

Well, maybe he'll make an exception for Cassie. And these darn kids won't leave him alone…

Kathryn Shay has penned a most unusual novel. The teacher/cop relationship isn't new by any means, but she has imbued Mitch with a very intriguing twist in his character. I can't give it away here. Suffice it to say that he's a Vietnam veteran. Cassie is more of a stock character. Her personality comes across as borderline abrasive at first, but Shay manages to redeem her by the first hundred pages or so. Their relationship feels natural enough, and the dialogue is a standout.

But oddly enough, though I found the romance to be satisfying, it's the secondary characters of the kids I remember most from the story. Probably comes from being a teacher myself (as is Ms. Shay). The teenage pregnancies, the gang involvement, the drug usage; all are a part of today's high school scene, but Shay makes this a story of hope, not despair. The ending almost brought me to tears.

And Shay makes several valid points about the reality of being a high-school teacher in the 1990s. Three cheers!

Cop of the Year is a solid effort by an author who keeps getting better and better. I understand there's a sequel in the works. I'll be watching for it.

--Cathy Sova


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