Jason Kellerman and his daughter Maggie are vacationing in a Montana national park. It was Maggie’s dream to go to Montana and Jason saved up for the chance to take her. Jason had Maggie at age 17 with his high school friend, but after Amy died in an accident, Jason has been parenting alone. In fact, he is pretty much doing everything alone as his parents disowned him when he refused to give over custody of Maggie to them. Jason has been determined to prove that he is capable of taking care of Maggie on his own and is a caring and doting father. But at only 25, being a single parent to a lively eight-year old is not easy.
Ben Hettler is a park ranger and he loves his job and the outdoors. But he has found himself stuck in kind of a rut, especially after the end of his 20-year-relationship. All the things Ben dreamed about, marriage and family, his ex has now found with someone else. Ben is back living in his father’s old cabin, wishing for something more, but not able to get himself motivated to look beyond his routine.
When Ben meets Jason and Maggie, the three hit it off right away. Ben finds Maggie charming and clever, and he enjoys spending time with Jason as well. Ben can’t imagine that anything can really happen with Jason. Jason is much younger, lives across the country, and has never been with a man. But the more time they spend together, the more Ben finds himself drawn to Jason.
When a killer on the loose kidnaps Maggie, both Jason and Ben are frantic to get her back. They take off on a chase to save her, searching desperately through the forest. Fortunately, they are able to recover Maggie without harm, but the experience brings the men together, bonded through the traumatic event. Both men want to take things further, but the road blocks between them seem insurmountable, especially since Jason feels like his sole focus needs to be on Maggie. Now that the men have found one another, they must figure out if there is a way for them to make their lives work together.
So Keira Andrews pretty much had me at “age gap” story and “park ranger.” Both of those things are pretty much catnip to me, and add in that I am a huge fan of Andrews’ writing, I was really excited for this one. Right away Andrews sets the stage well with the beautiful Montana setting. We get to see how much all of these characters enjoy the outdoors and how charmed the men are by Maggie’s enthusiasm for all things nature. Andrews really does a great job evoking the beauty and wonder of the beautiful location and I felt myself very immersed in the setting.
I also loved the set up with these men. Jason was a teen father and no one believed he could handle raising Maggie on his own. Jason has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about it honestly, after being told so often he can’t do it. This isn’t helped by the fact that his parents disowned him and sued for custody. Jason has worked tirelessly to take care of Maggie and has sacrificed everything of himself to always put her first. You can really feel the bond that the two have, and how much Jason gives of himself to support his daughter. It makes for an interesting conflict as Jason has basically isolated himself from everyone, making Maggie his sole focus. So suddenly he is experiencing feelings for Ben, but at the same time feels guilt that he shouldn’t be having a life outside of her. For Ben’s part, he is sort of stuck in a rut after his break up. He loves his job, but he feels like he is going nowhere, and all the things he wanted out of life he nows sees his ex achieving. He wants Jason, and dreams of the kind of life they could have, but he also is careful to not pressure the younger man. You can’t help but root for these guys, as they are such good men, so caring and dedicated, and I loved seeing them finally find their way together.
The suspense part of the story involving Maggie’s kidnapping actually happens fairly early on in the book. We get some definite “child in peril” scenes, but nothing too traumatic. There is some nice suspense here as Ben and Jason frantically chase after the killer, trying to find him and Maggie without tipping him off that they are out there. The placement of the action earlier in the story then leaves the mean dealing with the aftermath for the rest of the book as they act on their feelings, as well as try to figure out if something can work between them. I think the structure worked here, but it did take a tiny bit of the energy out of the book for me, especially after the point where the men act on their attraction physically. But I also think it is a nice way to move the focus from the conflict involving Maggie to the more grown up conflict involving the two men.
Speaking of Maggie, this is one mature kid. I am not going to say it is not realistic, because I know every child is different and there are surely kids out there that are this mature and precocious. But I found myself at times pulled out of the story as I remembered she is supposed to be eight; she read more like 12 or 13 to me a lot of the time. She achieves a level-headedness and clarity of thought during her kidnapping that I am not sure I could achieve, let alone an eight-year old. So I am not saying at all that this isn’t possible, but for me it was a little bit distracting because she seemed so much older than her years.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I am such a huge Keira Andrews fan, I would read pretty much anything that she writes. And I love the way this story comes together, the way the men figure things out and make it work. We get to see nice growth from both Jason and Ben and an effort to recognize their own roadblocks and move past them. This story is sweet and romantic, with a touch of suspense and a nice opportunity to get immersed in the beauty of the wilderness.