The Winning Hand
by Nora Roberts, contemporary (1998)
Silhouette Special Edition, $4.25, ISBN 0-373-24202-6
Only in romance novels will I discover that winning over one and a half million dollars can be such a drag. Darcy Wallace, our heroine, is down on her luck. You see, after her parents died, she had to move to a tiny apartment because she was never good in managing her money and she had no savings (after college and all). And then, she was kicked out of her apartment after rejecting some guy and he retaliated by firing her and making her homeless. With exactly $9.37 to her name, she started driving. Her car broke down outside Las Vegas, and when the story opens, she staggers into Robert MacGregor Blade's casino The Comanche. In between blinking and gulping like an asphyxiated goldfish, she manages to run the last of her money into a slot machine. And wins $1,800,089.37.
Before you can say "opportunistic gigolo", Robert swoops in, installs Darcy in the best suite on the house, and has to resist giving her a full body search further because he's not ready to commit, he's too virtuous to corrupt the "one small, bug-eyed woman with a shy smile" (Ms Roberts sure knows how to make her heroines attractive), and really, we need a plot to fill the pages or someone is going to really fall asleep. Meanwhile, the smiling bug-eyed creature Darcy gives her best "Julia Roberts, but not in that movie about a prostitute" girl-next-door impression as she goes from zero to hero, moving up the ladder of humanity to become the new Nora Roberts even as Robert shags her into a Self-Esteem 101 crash course.
As you can imagine, winning that much money doesn't change her "Aw, shucks - but only when I'm not weeping" personality a bit. Apart from being a typical damsel in distress for the hero to undress, she doesn't have much to do here. Robert is also pretty flat. He's rich, he's supposedly territorial and possessive, but at the end of the day, he's not much different from the rest of the MacGregor males in this series.
Oh, and yes, Daniel MacGregor shows up to indulge in his creepy desire to ensure that his grandspawns are all married and spawning to enable the perpetuity of the MacGregor dynasty. One of his son might be a former President of the United States, but that's not good enough. Daniel won't rest - or die - until every human being on Earth carries the MacGregor DNA! He's like Ming the Merciless, only, his weapons to subjugate the galaxy are his spawns' sperm and eggs.
At any rate, The Winning Hand is a shamelessly blatant fantasy of a woman who is down her luck suddenly rising to the top, thanks to a series of fortunate events. And of course, Darcy deserves being that lucky because she's such a wide-eyed bleeding heart who only cares for ponies and unicorns and big fat penises of rich men who come swooping down on her in the name of true love. The guy is just another trophy for her in her rise to greatness, hallelujah. I feel so happy for Darcy Williams, moping bore, bestselling author, millionaire, and proud newest addition to the spawning basket factory of the MacGregor eugenics conglomerate, but heavens, must her story be this boring?
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