by Sharon Sala, contemporary (2002, 1995 reissue)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-108198-1

The conclusion to The Gambler's Daughters Trilogy, preceded by Diamond (pathetic) and Queen (average). Why this youngest sister is named Lucky and not Spade, Ace, Heart, or Poker I will never know. Poker Houston, especially, has a nice ring to it.

If you can't get enough of Nora Roberts' The Winning Hand and that subsequent MacGregor short story that exactly like The Winning Hand and every other "ditz in Vegas" story of this sort, you'll love Lucky. (Incidentally, I really like Nora Roberts' MacGregor series. They have something her Jove books always seem to lack. I'm bummed that she's not writing them anymore.)

Lucky Houston steps off a bus with very little in possession and walks into the bad, dangerous world of Las Vegas. Harrassed by men, no money, et cetera, she crosses path with casino owner Nick Chenault when she picks up a coin at the floor and puts it in her pocket instead of playing the slot machine. Intrigued, he tails her around and soon can't get her out of his head. She's after all innocent, vulnerable, beautiful, et cetera, a perfect forever grateful mutt that will lay her head on our hero's feet and sigh. Heck, judging from Lucky's easy-martyr mode and self-sacrificing tendencies, she'll be even more low-maintenance than a dog. Nick, you lucky SOB you.

Lucky doesn't want to be a stripper, a prostitute, or a glamor girl. She knows how to cut and deal cards, so she will be independent and make a life out of her own using those skills. But independence will have to wait. First Lucky needs to find the Romance Heroine In New Town Plot Device of Convenience: that old lady always with a room, food, and advice available. She finds one in Las Vegas - unfrickingbelievable - and then proceeds to ask for a job at Nick's casino, Club 52. (Not relationship and definitely not as fun as Club 54, in case you're wondering.) But first, our Independent Heroine needs the Romance Heroine In New Job Plot Device Of Convenience: the matchmaking older man who is the hero's loyal confidante and employee, who supports this gal from get go because he "knows" that she is perfect for Nick.

Only then can we get ahead with the items on Lucky's How To Be My Own Woman list. Forget that someone is trying to kill Nick and his father - he'll always have time to rescue our independent heroine from whatever troubles she finds herself in. Firstly, to be independent, we will have Lukcy moaning that she will pay him back even as she takes his money for everything. Then she will need everybody to coddle and pamper her even as she insists she's independent. Don't feel like going to work today? Don't go - the boss will understand. After all, he wants to sleep with her. Not that she wants to, because she doesn't like gamblers, even if this gambler is so hot, she'll work here and be a good hardworking lady and pay back every cent she took from him. After today's impromptu day off, that is. She has Issues, after all. Big, Important Issues like the neverending search for the new Daddy figure in her life.

But I have to admit, Lucky at least has wit compared to her sisters, and she really delivers some nice lines here. Sure, her independence is as solid as the rumors of my million dollar Swiss bank account, but at least she's snappy at places. Nick's an okay hero, and the mystery is okay, I guess. The bad guy is the usual psychotic megalomaniac who saws off a dog's paw once. Bad guys who kick puppies are nasty, but Ms Sala wants me to know that this bad guy is really evil.

Anyway, this book's okay. Better than the previous two books in this story, at least. I'm willing to forgive the flaws because there're some fine moments here.

Then the heroine does something stupid in the moment of truth: she fricking runs away like the dingbat she is. Even after I've lowered my standards for this book, that is just annoying. I can take lip service independence, mollycoddling of the heroine, cartoony villains, but when the heroine can't make a smart and decent decision at all, requiring rescue from herself to the bitter end, forget it. I've raising my standard bar all over again, the better to stomp my boot all over books like this one.

Rating: 74

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