Luck of the Draw
Before I begin this review let me remind you how I felt about the first book in the Chance of a Lifetime series, Beginner’s Luck: IT BLEW ME AWAY. I loved everything about it (especially its leading man), including the premise that sets up the trilogy – three close friends enjoy a boozy night out together, buy a lottery ticket on a whim (no one is quite sure who suggested the idea), and win. Each book in the trilogy focuses on the aftermath of winning (they split the prize) on each woman’s life. That they remain close friends is never in question – but happiness, contentment, and peace of mind prove more elusive. Luck of the Draw features Zoe – the friend who already appeared to have it all, even before she won the lottery. But, as quickly becomes clear, behind her confident, beautiful and brilliant persona, Zoe is struggling with doubts, insecurities and regret. If Beginner’s Luck was largely about family and belonging, Luck of the Draw is about guilt and forgiveness (with a healthy dose of scorching sex and romance). I enjoyed this story from start to finish, but the marriage of convenience plot device is a bit too convoluted and contrived, and detracts from overall success of the novel.
When Zoe Ferris wins the lottery, she promptly quits her soul-sucking job as a corporate lawyer. Unbeknownst to closest friends Kit and Greer, her confidence and happiness have been slowly leached away by the the guilt and despair she’s felt with every settlement she’s negotiated on behalf of her law firm clients. Zoe hoped quitting would restore her peace of mind and give her the time and space to find a new purpose in life, but instead, she’s lost – unable to focus and overwhelmed with a need to atone for the pain she caused. Acting on impulse, Zoe embarks on an apology tour to make amends, but her plan derails almost immediately when she approaches the O’Leary family. After one of their sons died after taking medicine meant to help him manage his drug addiction, she negotiated a wrongful death settlement while the family was bewildered and grieving. Arriving at the family home, she’s surprised when Aaron’s twin Aiden answers the door. Based on his reaction to seeing her, Zoe knows she’s misjudged badly; their confrontation convinces her she’s made a huge mistake believing an apology will ever be enough.
When Aiden O’Leary opens the door to the ice princess/bitch who negotiated Aaron’s wrongful death settlement, he is furious, but despite his eagerness to be rid of her, Aiden can’t help noting how pale and shaky she is. As a medic, he can’t help but check to see if she’s okay – and in the midst of asking her whether she’s had anything to eat, she faints, and Aiden is forced to carry her into the house.
When Zoe wakes up, she’s surprised by a gentle touch and then horrified to discover her rescuer is Aiden. He explains what happened and brushes off her attempts to explain and apologize. But when she asks him what she can do to make amends, Aiden asks her to marry him. And then he explains exactly what he needs: the camp where Aiden and his brother spent many happy summers is for sale. The owners plan to handpick the new buyers and are hosting a series of weekends to get to know potential buyers. Aiden, who dreams of turning the camp into a rehab facility in honor of his brother, needs a wife to enhance his pitch. Zoe needs forgiveness. So Zoe agrees to pretend to be married to Aiden at the camp.
Oh dear. This plan has disaster written all over it. Aiden is depressed and angry; Zoe is lost and guilt ridden; they’re both so damaged… and they’re going to pretend to be married and make it all better. Yowsers. Look, I’m not going to spoil the novel by telling you they fall in love along the way. But friends, there’s nothing simple, neat or tidy about it- or the deep and abiding sadness they’re each trying, and failing, to live with.
Aiden thinks he failed his brother. He loved and tried to support him; but he couldn’t save Aaron, and he’s never forgiven himself. He’s retreated from friends and family as a form of penance – and Zoe’s arrival gives him a target for his anger. Gruff and hurting, Zoe is a reminder of everything he lost. He can’t help noticing how hard she tries to earn his forgiveness… and the more time he spends with her, the more he begins to understand how deeply sorry she is. Unfortunately, he also can’t help feeling attracted to her beauty, her kindness, and her heartfelt attempts to help him. But he tries. HARD. Zoe does her best to help Aiden, but he pushes her away and each time she’s reminded anew of what she did to the O’Leary family. She’s also inconveniently attracted him, but convinces herself it’s part of her penance. Even when Greer and Kit see what she’s doing and try to help her, Zoe puts them off. She tries to quietly fix the wrongs in her life – ruthlessly squelching any doubt that she deserves every hurt Aiden delivers.
Sadness, anger, guilt, and frustration initially link Aiden and Zoe and in less capable hands, this first half of the novel might have turned me off. Aiden is a complete asshole, Zoe is his unresisting target, and the novel feels heavy… until (thank god!) these two give into their lust for each other and do it. It’s frantic, fierce and not enough, but it finally allows them to start feeling something other than anger. It also allows Ms. Clayborn to reshape the narrative and her principal characters into likeable, loveable partners whose affection for one another helps them to heal. I loved the redemptive arc of the story from this point forward – I just wish there was more of it. Zoe is effervescent and glowing as she falls for her fake husband; Aiden is her quiet and strong champion. Once they team up, they’re lovely together and… well, there is a bit of a last minute twist – but it’s necessary and important for the growth of these two characters.
As with Beginner’s Luck, Ms. Clayborn does a terrific job with secondary characters. I love the relationship between Zoe, Greer and Kit (and super protective, awesome and amazing Ben), and the newer friendship Aiden develops with his work team. They enhance this already great story and add a nice complexity to the principal characters. The other couples competing for the camp are also hugely entertaining – and their appearance at the end of the story (oh man, it’s so romantic!) is the perfect cherry on top to Aiden and Zoe’s swoony happily ever after. I can’t say who ends up with the camp – but let’s just say I would have made the same choice.
Luck of the Draw is a lovely, heartwarming and gentle tale of forgiveness. I wasn’t crazy about the plot contrivance that brings the principals together, but the novel slowly grew on me. Poignant, romantic and charming, Luck of the Draw proves Ms. Clayborn is no one-hit-wonder and that luck has nothing to do with her talent.