Desert Isle Keeper
The Winning Hand
Picking up a Nora Roberts book is seldom a disappointing experience, because Nora Roberts almost always delivers. The Winning Hand is no exception. It’s like reading a fairy tale, a Cinderella story with a rags to riches plot and deeply satisfying characters. It is also part of the MacGregor series, so fans have the added bonus of being reunited with beloved characters from other novels. This is a great read.
Darcy Wallace’s car breaks down a mile outside of Las Vegas. Exhausted and starving, she wanders in the Comanche Casino, pulls a progressive slot machine, and promptly wins $1,800,079.37. As the lights flash and sirens blare, she faints. When she comes to she is in a hotel room with Robert “Mac” Blade, the oldest son of Justin Blade and Serena MacGregor. Mac operates the Comanche Casino, and he helps Darcy get her bearings. Darcy was running from a controlling ex-fianc‚ in Kansas who had caused her to lose her job and her apartment. Her purse had been stolen in Utah, so the money she used to pull the slot was almost all she had.
Mac feels protective of Darcy. She seems so fragile and naive to him, and so unready for a city like Las Vegas. The hotel comps her room, and she stays there while all the financial details are settled. Serena and Justin Blade make an appearance, as well as Caine MacGregor (who is acting as Darcy’s lawyer), and Daniel MacGregor. All of them are taken by Darcy immediately, and they know she’s the right person for Mac. It takes him somewhat longer to figure that out. Initially, he feels like he is taking advantage of Darcy’s naivete. He tells himself that a woman like her will get eaten alive in Vegas, and that she needs to stay away from men like him. Meanwhile, he can’t get her out of his head. Darcy quickly realizes that she is in love with Mac. He’s told her he’s not ready for marriage, but she gambles that she can beat the odds and make him fall in love with her.
Darcy and Mac are wonderfully satisfying characters. Darcy blossoms during the course of the book. When we first meet her, she is an out-of-work librarian who has always wanted to write. After she wins the money, she buys a laptop and gets busy. She also learns to indulge herself occasionally, and she even stands up to the domineering ex-fianc‚ when he comes and tries to collect her and her money. Mac is the kind of hero that is so fun to read about. He’s so sure he’s not ready for marriage, yet he gets mad with jealousy when any other man comes near Darcy. He loves his job, but he’s afraid that he can’t ask someone like Darcy to stay with him. His love for Darcy is obvious to everyone but himself.
Writing books in a series can be a real balancing act; you want beloved characters from the older books to make an appearance, but you don’t want them to overshadow the current love story. Nora Roberts strikes this balance perfectly. Although Daniel MacGregor didn’t orchestrate Mac and Darcy’s meeting like he did with some of his other offspring, his presence is amusing and effective. He steals every scene he’s in, but Nora Roberts uses his presence sparingly. Darcy also develops a wonderful relationship with Serena, and Justin comes in and gives his son the final push he needs to ask Darcy to marry him. The secondary characters are the icing on the cake in this story.
The one tiny flaw, for me, was the ever-present gambling imagery. Especially toward the end, every move the characters make is phrased as a gambling metaphor. Should they roll the dice? Fold? Cash in their chips? Play the odds, even though they favor the house? It was a little much for me, but then, Mac’s whole life has been casinos and gambling, so it’s not really out of line.
It is important to know that you can read and enjoy this book without having read the previous MacGregor installments. I haven’t read most of them myself, but I intend to. Fortunately, all the previous books are being released in double book format, starting with Serena’s and Caine’s stories in December. If all the genealogy gets confusing, there is a genealogy chart in the front of the book.
How does Nora Roberts pack such a riveting conflict and such full-fleshed characters into a series romance format? I don’t know, but I’m glad she did, and I’m glad that there are so many more of her books to enjoy. Go ahead and abandon yourself to the fairy tale of The Winning Hand.