by Dee Tenorio, contemporary (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-035-5
The whole "Omigosh, I wanna be wild and I wanna get my best male friend to teach me how to be wild, only to - woosh, fall in love with him! Omigosh!" plot is very common the genre. It shows up with vexing regularity every month in several new contemporary or series romances and every story with this plot more often than not develops in a way that never deviates from other stories that also feature this plot. Dee Tenorio's Betting Hearts is one of these books, but with a nice difference: the characters in this story are actually likable and intelligent.
I know, I know, it is hard to imagine any rational heroine deciding one morning that she has wasted her life being some good gal so now she wants to get laid even when she squeals in terror at the sight of ugly hairy things that slobber in the night. But that's not what the heroine in Betting Hearts is like. Cassandra "CB" Bishop is always one of the guys in town. A tomboy to the core even now when she's an adult, she can raise a stink and kick butt with the rest of the guys in town. That probably explains why she doesn't become the object of sexual interest among many guys in town: she's their little brother of sorts. Still, she was nearly married two years ago to one guy, Luke, until he decided that he was gay at the eleventh hour and bailed out of town. He's back today in Rancho Del Cielo trying to sneak his girlfriend behind Cass' back so that he can introduce that new girlfriend to his parents. Cass catches him sneaking around with her, realizes that he's not really gay, and gets drunk.
Her best friend Burke Halifax knows all this because she shows up at his doorstep at 3 am in the morning completely drunk and moaning about how no guys want to have sex with her. After this dubious beginning, the story settles down very nicely as Cass decides to try to get people to see her as a desirable woman rather than the tomboy everyone grew up with and predictably enlists Burke's aid in the process.
While I am not fond of the predictable "Oh no, what will happen to our friendship?" doubts that plague Cass only after that silly lady has gone too far to pull out of her scheme, on the whole Cass is a likable heroine whose frustrations are believable. Even when she is being predictable at times, Cass still comes off as a well-written character with sympathetic insecurities. Burke is similarly likable with his motives and actions always within the realms of plausibility considering the situations he is in.
The fact that Betting Hearts doesn't have a paper-thin set-up that exists solely to have the characters have sex in the quickest way possible is its greatest strengths here. This isn't an erotic romance - the love scenes are around the PG-13 level, actually - and Ms Tenorio isn't forcing her story to be one. Instead, the characters spend time exploring their feelings and interact with each other, thus providing their relationship a convincing element of depth, and I have a fine time at the end of the day. I also enjoy the events leading to the climax of the story, where the story takes a turn for a slightly farcical yet so-dramatically-romantic bent without sacrificing too much in terms of believability just like in some romantic movies out there.
While the storyline and the characters in Betting Hearts are familiar, nonetheless this is a straightforward well-written entertaining romance with plenty of down-to-earth charms and likable characters that work very well with me. Maybe I'd be wise to place some chips on Ms Tenorio's board in the future.
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