The Wager is one of those books that rides the fine line between romance and potboiler. Had the book been heavily edited to remove all the repetitious self-talk by the heroine about how her mother had lied to her and how her whole life was a lie and how could they all have lied to her, the plot would have moved along at a better pace. And if all that repetition had been replaced by romance or plot, this book would have earned a higher grade. As it stands, I read The Wager a couple of days ago, and as I went to write this review, I could hardly remember what the book was about. Not a real good sign.
The heroine is San Francisco assistant hotel manager, Laura Harte. At the beginning of the story, Laura’s mother dies in a car crash. Juliet Harte’s final words to her daughter are to let family friend “Uncle” Paul tell Laura the truth about her birth, and her father. It turns out that Laura is the illegitimate daughter of the late Andrew Jardine, only son of a prominent wealthy Southern family, and not the daughter or Richard Harte, a man Laura discovers never existed. Poof. Laura’s entire past is a lie. Now what?
All her life, Laura was led to believe her father was killed in Vietnam, but it seems Andrew Jardine did not die, but went on to marry someone other than Laura’s mother. Laura is shocked to learn she has three half-siblings, a grandmother, and all the wealth and power of the Jardines swaying in the branches of her family tree.
Josh Logan is a hotel magnate from a rival wealthy, prominent family, who Laura’s grandmother, Olivia Jardine, has asked to fly to California to try to convince Laura to come to New Orleans to meet the family she never knew she had. When Olivia learned that she had a fourth grandchild, one who was capable of running a large hotel, she was certain she’d found the only family member qualified to manage The Princess, crowning glory of the Jardine’s holdings.
Why would Josh care one way or the other if Laura meets her real family and agrees to manage The Princess? Because his grandfather had once owned The Princess but had lost the lovely old hotel to Olivia Jardine in a wager. So Josh enters a wager of his own with the calculating Olivia in the hopes of returning the hotel to the Logans, where he feels it rightly belongs. There’s lots more repetitious self-talk here as Josh goes over and over how his grandfather had lost the hotel and how Josh is determined to win it back one way or t’other.
However, when the extraordinarily handsome Joshua meets the lovely and beautiful Laura, he’s no longer certain if he can separate business from pleasure. The attraction is instant and mutual, but it takes a long time and lots of hot kisses and false starts (“No, we can’t!” “You’re right, we can’t!” “But I want to!” “Oh, but we can’t!”), before these two finally give in to their passions.
Laura and Josh both have huge families consisting entirely of young, good-looking, single brothers and sisters (who, unless I miss my guess, all live in Sequel City). The most obvious is Nick Baldwin, Josh’s old friend and Laura’s sexy boss, who one was in love with Josh’s kid sister, Faith (who is now grown and divorced). Olivia Jardine is a bitch on wheels, for the most part, and no rationale is ever offered for why she delivers the news to her grandchildren that they have a half-sister the way she does.
There is a teensy mystery that runs the length of the book: Why did a pregnant Juliet go to New Orleans nearly thirty years earlier, then leave without telling Andrew of their child? Who wrote the note that caused Laura’s mother to leave behind the man she loved never to look back? Mystery buffs will figure this one out in no time flat since there are only three suspects and two can be eliminated immediately.
The Wager is one of those books that’s difficult to review because it’s neither really bad nor really good. It held my interest, but just barely. I liked the characters well enough and if any of the (sure to be) sequels look interesting, I may give them a try.