Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86384-6
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Usually, characters who are physically awesome and are multi-talented in doing everything tend to be dull to follow, and their stories lack suspense because, come on, since these people are so amazing, there is nothing that can stand in their way. Interestingly, Love’s Wager proves that it is an exception to the rule: the hero Scott Russell and heroine Nina Torres may have perfection shooting out of their rear ends like a magical rainbow, but the story is actually quite entertaining.
Scott’s grandmother has won a casino in Reno, and she calls all her grandchildren to come back and help her reopen Casa de Mariposa and turn it into an elite casino for the wealthy, fabulous, and what not. Fortunately for Eleanor, or Miss E as she’d like to be called, each of her grandchildren is the most amazing and most capable ever in a discipline that is somehow perfect for rebuilding a casino. Only in romance novels, naturally.
Our hero was formerly military and, until recently, he was a bodyguard. Tired of babysitting spoiled and petulant wealthy people, he welcomes the opportunity to be the person in charge of security in Casa de Mariposa. Aunt E also calls in Nina Torres to the casino. Nina is the most amazing public relations consultant ever, and she can turn even turds into the most celebrated personality in Hollywood, so her abilities would be invaluable here. She can get celebrity endorsements, plan strategies to bring in the best kind of publicity to Casa de Mariposa, come up with awesome marketing plans, and more. Seriously, both she and Scott are so good at what they do, they practically have celebrities and politicians begging them to make these wretched people’s lives better.
Love’s Wager, therefore, is basically a story of these two doing their spectacular magic on Casa de Mariposa. They clash once a while when she comes up with grand plans that may threaten the peace of the casino and encourage risks that Scott believe are too much for them to handle, but these two are sensible and mature enough to discuss things calmly and professionally. Nothing fazes them, danger and complications amuse them, and together, they spell out AWESOME in capital letters.
Yet, this story remains very easy to read through in one sitting without feeling the need to put it down to do something else more interesting. A big part of this is because I find myself charmed by how our main characters are just so sensible and likable without flying off the handle or indulging in communication breakdowns.
Nina, especially, is a refreshing change of pace for a heroine because she approaches her work in a pragmatic manner rarely adopted by other romance heroines. Nina is a nice lady, of course, but when it comes to her work, she’s very focused, dedicated, and even ruthless when she has to. No emotional drama, no going out of her way to save kittens and unicorns, and when someone is clearly in the wrong, no screaming that the person must be given another chance to screw up again. She may be unrealistically capable without any hint of weakness or vulnerability, but the way she works – intelligently, coolly, pragmatically – is something so different and awesome compared to many other “career woman heroines” out there that I am utterly charmed by her. Seeing her work her magic on the casino is fascinating. She is very Olivia Pope-like, that is, the Olivia Pope of the first season of Scandal, and not the Olivia in season two and beyond who is being all stupid and emotionally cray-cray over the worthless men in her life.
Scott is also interesting in that he can be bossy and all “Do what I say!” at times, but he is at the same time so normal and likable. Like Nina, he is all no-nonsense when it comes to his work, and even if he clashes with Nina now and then, the two of them seem to realize that work is work and there is no need to drag any disagreements into their private time.
The romance is fine, as both characters talk and get along very well both at work and at play. Then again, it’s practically a given that two such perfect people will get together in the end, no?
What I am fascinated by, however, is how the author introduces a common plot device – the spoiled brat making a play at our hero – but turns this plot device completely to make it into something that is not at all clichéd. Nina is not at all jealous or irrational over Anastasia’s presence, while Scott is sensible enough not to get involved in dodgy scenarios that will create all kinds of misunderstanding. In fact, Anastasia gets a pretty amusing yet dignified treatment in this story – both Nina and Scott know that the silly girl is just being spoiled and looking for a daddy figure to love, and Anastasia even gets a happy ending here.
At any rate, Love’s Wager is a fun read, a surprisingly fun one considering how, on paper, the characters’ utter perfection and lack of vulnerability would have rendered everything dull and predictable. This story is predictable, but the author’s willingness to tweak things considerably and allow her characters to be what and who they are, instead of conforming to romance novel tropes, ends up adding ample sparks to make this one far more interesting and entertaining than it normally would have been.