Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-22493-4
Historical Romance, 2000
As the conclusion to the Wager trilogy, Devil’s Wager is the story of the gambler-charmer Proof Lad Walker, but it is revealed here that the smooth-talker cardsharp is actually a decent man in disguise. Only that the twisted romance reader than I am, while I do root for Lad and Diana, I’m more intrigued with the villain Eoghan Patterson, the Lord Carden. Now that’s one dangerous and obsessed sociopath whose darkness, hidden under a nice, rakish smile, oozes more sexual allure and thrill than the goodie-woodie Lad.
The story… hmm, how shall I give it without telling the whole story away? It all started when the Earl of Kerlain kicked the bucket and left the Kerlain holdings to estranged grandson Proof Lad Walker. Lad (you don’t want a hero called Proof, trust me – “Oh Proof you’re so manly” doesn’t have the right ring to it) isn’t too happy, especially when he may have to marry Diana Whitleby, the dead earl’s goddaughter, to get his hands on an estate he never wanted in the first place. Curiosity and misplaced family sentiments drive him over from America to London, however. And despite his reluctance, he marries Diana and set about repairing Kerlain.
Now, Diana has another suitor, mad, bad, psychotic Eoghan who is determined to have Diana no matter what. Diana knows Eoghan is no good, but she, the demure polite woman she is, can’t tell hubby just how bad Eoghan can be. And Lad, in his best Dah-ling, hubby knows best imitation, believes Eoghan to be his best buddy. When Lad mourns and gets drunk over the death of his beloved Uncle Hadley, Eoghan pours the liquor and when morning comes, hello! Guess who played games of cards last night and handed over Kerlain to Eoghan?
There you have it – two slightly befuddled main characters being bamboozled out of their very shirt on their backs by our wonderfully brainy and evil Eoghan. Heh heh.
Diana declares that she won’t be wife to Lad until he regains the money to rebuy the land. So off Lad goes to London and he soon learns the art of Captain Sharp.
This is basically the whole story, really, not that the reader wouldn’t know from the back cover. And while it is a wonderfully told and developed story with noble lead characters, it is also.. well, pretty unexciting.
Lad is decent, noble, and somewhat bland. Diana is a woman who seems to love the lands more than herself or her hubby – she is willing to give herself to Eoghan for the sake of the lands. The author doesn’t actually succeed in explaining the root of Diana’s obssession with Kerlain, hence Diana comes off as a cold and somewhat dull woman. Yet somehow Lad and Diana are right together. They click. And while they do exchange love words too easily – it’s love at first wedding-night wookies – the subsequent developments in their relationship provide some compelling reading. Things get even more interesting when Lad succeeds in getting back the lands – Eoghan wouldn’t give up, and Lad has to woo back his wife.
Dark Wager isn’t also very engaging. I mean, my attention is engaged, yes, but I don’t actually feel the grand chemistry or explosive passion between Lad and Diana. Both are proper, decent, can’t communicate that well but still well enough… and boring.
How can Lad not be boring when we have this obsessed nutcase who schemes and plots and does everything to have Diana? No other woman would do – it’s Diana he wanted since childhood, and Diana he would have. That’s rather… touching, don’t you think? Eoghan’s a bad boy, a nasty one with a sexy, harmless façade – the type of guys that haunt a woman’s illicit fantasies. Put him beside Lad and poor Lad can’t measure up close.