Desert Isle Keeper
The premise of Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series is simple: three close friends (Ekaterina, Zoe, and Greer) impulsively buy a lottery ticket and win. The purchase is a mostly vague memory – they’d all had a bit too much to drink, and no one is quite sure whose idea it was the buy the ticket – but Ms. Clayborn doesn’t belabor the point. The series instead focuses on the aftermath of the windfall on each of their lives.
Beginner’s Luck, the first novel in the trilogy, features Ekaterina (“Kit”) Averin, a research scientist. After a challenging, nomadic upbringing – her father was an alcoholic with a gambling addiction – Kit craves stability and a place to call home. Happy with her career and close friendships with Zoe and Greer (her adopted family), she uses her winnings to buy a fixer-upper; she keeps the news of her lottery win a secret from everyone but the older brother who raised her, and quietly returns to work with no one the wiser. Her orderly, predictable life takes an abrupt turn when she’s approached by a handsome and charming corporate recruiter named Ben Tucker.
Ben has taken a leave of absence from his job with Beaumont Materials to return home and care for his father after the latter was injured in a fall. His recruiting partner (and best friend) Jasper calls asking Ben to approach a local scientist that Beaumont is interested in. Multiple attempts to contact E. Alverin have gone unanswered, so Ben impulsively decides to approach him in person instead. But moments after arriving, he regrets the decision and his lack of preparation. E. Alverin is obviously annoyed and dismayed by the surprise visit and… he’s a she. Beautiful, supremely intelligent, and irritated by her unexpected visitor, she does nothing to make things easier for Ben. She’s determined to turn Beaumont down and despite her interest in the hot recruiter, she makes no attempt to make him comfortable in her space. After an incredibly awkward first meeting wherein Kit makes it clear she has zero interest in anything he has to offer, Ben departs. But he can’t get the brilliant Ekaterina out of his mind.
Ben has his hands full at home with his father. Still full of resentment for the mother who left when he was a young boy, being back stirs up memories best left in the past. After an afternoon spent caring for his father and managing the family business – a salvage yard full of furniture and building materials – and reflecting on his disastrous first meeting with Ekaterina, he decides to send her an apology – and get to work getting to know everything he can about her.
Since his visit, Kit has tried to wipe Ben’s handsome face and job offer from her mind, but when she receives a package from him, she can’t lie to herself. She’s eager to see what’s inside it – and curious about the sender. She’s surprised (and delighted) to discover door handles inside – a perfect match for the ones missing from her 1950’s era lab cabinets. The handles are a thoughtful, attentive gift, and Kit finds herself eager to connect with Ben again. So she impulsively calls him to say thank you and offer to hear his pitch.
Kit’s call – and Ben’s family business – provide the means for the pair to get to know each other. Kit needs help with her house, Ben has what she needs to restore it – together with the know-how to help – and despite Kit’s suspicions about Ben’s motives, they find themselves spending time together. Beginner’s Luck is slow burn romance at its best and while the palpable attraction between Ben and Kit simmers from their first meeting, all their interactions are complicated by Ben’s job. Kit likes Ben, but doesn’t trust his motives for getting to know her. She doesn’t want to leave a job and career she loves; there’s no incentive – location, salary, lab resources – worth leaving the home she’s created for herself. Ben knows he’s fallen hard for Kit, but he’s working through issues of his own. Recruiting her could be the ticket to freedom from Beaumont, and the start of a new business with Jasper. But he’s attracted to everything about Kit, her beauty and kindness, and especially her mind… though he’s frustrated by his father and his recovery, he also discovers a comfort and familiarity being home and working for the family business.
Obviously, Kit’s disinterest in Ben’s offer – and Ben’s growing realization that his work is in the way of a relationship with her – is a rather large roadblock. I won’t tell you how Ms. Clayborn navigates this sticky wicket, except to say she offers no easy answers, and as they slowly work it out, we get to enjoy this supremely likeable couple. They dance around their lust (oh it’s so good!) whilst working together to restore Kit’s house and tiptoeing around Ben’s job. The author rather deftly illustrates that despite how capable and successful both are in their professional spheres, they’re novices at romantic relationships, learning as they go. Meanwhile, we get to know the assorted (terrific) secondary characters that help them navigate a way forward. Ben’s father, Kit’s brother, young employee River, the salvage shop and Kit’s lab figure all figure prominently in the evolution of the story, and their inclusion enhances this love story.
Ben and Kit have great chemistry and I loved everything about them as a couple. Ben tries to be what Kit needs, and Kit tries to trust him. They’re such appealing principals and their relationship is sexy, sweet, challenging and marvelous in every way. Both have doubts about the future they’ve crafted for themselves – but they’re still too new at love to look to each other for answers. They persist in pretending that sex and friendship is enough – and they ignore Ben’s rapidly approaching departure. Shortly before it’s time for Ben to go, and just when it seems they might find a way forward together, a Big Misunderstanding splits them apart. I’m not usually a fan of this trope, but it really works here, and after a prolonged separation, it gives way to a believable, authentic happily ever after that’s romantic, swoonworthy, wonderful and true to their relationship.
In Beginner’s Luck, Ms. Clayborn has penned a charming, romantic, thoughtful and deeply affecting contemporary romance that is easily one of my favourite novels of 2017. It’s an amazing début and I loved it from beginning to end. I’ve already circled April 24, 2018 – the release date for book two – on my calendar.