LynneC’s review of Dealing her Final Card by Jennie Lucas
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents 22 Jan 13
Where do I start? A Jennie Lucas is a very special thing – an old-style Harlequin Presents. It tips its hat to reality, then sticks two fingers up at it – or in this story’s case, in it. The story depends on whether the hero and heroine are depicted in a sympathetic way.
In this one, Bree is an ex-adventuress, who has spent the last eight years in low-paid jobs, trying to keep her sister and herself under the radar. Before that, she worked with her con-man father to survive, playing cards and other games, and they made a good living. Her epiphany was telling a man she loved him, and then watching him walk away because she deceived him. The man who walked away was, of course, the hero of this story, Prince Vladimir, a man who has made a fortune from mining. Bree’s betrayal also cost him his close relationship with his brother, who, one assumes, is the subject of the next book. But Bree has turned from bad girl to good girl and remained a virgin. She didn’t want anyone but Vlad, who she just knows has a magic dick, although she’s never even seen it.
However, Vlad isn’t a complete domineering pain in the butt, as some of Lucas’s previous heroes have tended to be. He wins Bree in a card game, as his slave, his property, because he wants her, and he’s never stopped wanting her. However, he doesn’t want to do it without her agreement, so he sets her to cleaning his floors. Which she does. At one part of the story, he has her dressed like a tart, but she makes the silk and lace teddy, which doesn’t sound like a tarty outfit at all, look sexy, not tarty. Because she has the magic vagina that matches his magic dick. Like very special magnets, they are drawn to each other and nothing else will do. Although, of course, Vlad hasn’t remained a virgin for her. That would have been interesting. This book does have a “Fifty Shades” vibe, with the “you’ll be my slave forever” thing, but it doesn’t live up to that promise. He doesn’t make her do much, other than pointlessly cleaning his floors like a squaddie on jankers.
Bree has the martyr gene that all Lucas’s heroines seem to have, and Vladimir has the alpha jerk streak, but he’s willing to be tamed. Readable, then.
Bree and Vladimir don’t really come to life for me. They both seem to be amalgams, bits of people stuck together. The consistency, especially for the heroine, is out of the window. The trouble is, Lucas wants us to believe in an adventuress who has stayed a virgin, not because of any believable trauma, but because she doesn’t want anyone else. What, there’s only one hot man in the world? I can’t buy into that, just can’t, especially for the modern woman. Maybe Lucas ought to write about an ex-nun (I’m serious, because hell, that would be interesting. An real ex-martyr!) And she remains untouched, like orgasms are a revelation for her. No, just no. I’m sorry, but what was considered “Nice” half a century ago, isn’t the same now, and if a girl doesn’t know how to bring herself to orgasm, or hasn’t explored her own sexuality a little bit, there is something wrong with her. “Tried it, didn’t like it,” okay, but not “Never tried it, because it might sully my perfectly innocent body” or “Never tried it because only the man with the magic dick can do it to me.” She has denied her sexuality, and it’s up to Vlad to wake her. Which he does, fairly easily.
There’s a delayed virginity scene which is a bit weird, because he shoves “Two thick fingertips” inside her before he takes her, then he doesn’t actually break her virginity until he’s pushed “himself” some way inside her. The hymen, the physical sign of virginity, is actually at the entrance to the womb. Right outside. Interference of the two thick fingertips kind will most likely rupture it, and if that didn’t work, the first insertion would have done. The hymen is not deep inside the body, it’s outside. He’d have broken it before he brought his “Shaft” anywhere near her. He has a big one, of course, and I don’t mind that in my fantasy romances, but she doesn’t feel much discomfort, and after they have a row, go back and roger each other senseless, she’s not even a bit sore the next day, where most women would have been walking bandy, if they’d been walking at all.
I think that is one of my problems with this and other old-school romances. The physical side isn’t realistic enough. In the days of purple-headed mushrooms of passion and honeyed caves of desire, the sex was so otherworldly as to be downright alien, as in from another planet. Those days have, thankfully, gone, but the sex is still often not realistic. A virgin is using new muscles during sex. A big man will have difficulty entering a woman for the first time, and he might squash her a bit or he might sweat and drip all over her (oh, yuk). While I don’t want too gritty, I do want some semblance of reality, so I can carry on suspending my disbelief and really buy in to the story. Not here. After he rips through her virginity, says, “Wow, you really were a virgin,” something in this book I don’t have much problem with, since Bree was a con-woman when he last knew her, they go for a paddle in the sea before he takes her back to bed.
The plot only has the barest acquaintance with reality. A woman who sits, uninvited, at a private poker game and calmly offers herself as a stake—really? Poker players aren’t interested in that, even if they are sybaritic sex fiends away from the table. That’s not what poker’s about. This isn’t a friendly game, it’s diehard players and big stakes. The game also includes women hanging over the shoulders of the men. No. They would be at the bar, in the rooms, at the back of the room, but definitely not that, because they could be helping the player cheat. It’s poker 101. Moreover, they don’t tell Bree which kind of poker, she just knows. And everyone playing is the kind of stereotype you find in online poker games, a persona or sock to hide behind. That includes the hero, the big, bad Russian billionaire.
Then he whisks her away to his palace. He uses “Prince” because the title’s his by rights, even though Russian titles were done away with a century ago, and he has no right, only a weird inheritance thing that has no reality. He has mines and has made his fortune, then after the split, his brother founds a mining company and makes a fortune. Just like that, as the late, great Tommy Cooper used to say. There are good causes and puppies and a helpless sister who makes me want to slap her stupid, and a martyr sister who has spent eight years caring for her sister. She doesn’t use her skills to make a stake, because she wants to stay under the radar. Hello, she could do that pretty easily. A couple of short cons, and she’s got something she can invest. But she’s a good girl now and her father was deluded, sent mad after the death of her mother, enough to con men out of millions. Some madness. I know the short format of these books gives the writer little time to work with complex problems, but stating it is so doesn’t make it real.
There’s a dreadful, unnecessary twist at the end of the story that only serves to set things up for the next book, but I won’t spoil you with it. Just be ready to groan when it arrives.
But this book didn’t make me angry, so I’m not DNF’ing or F’ing it. It made me laugh. It was frequently funny, as sometimes happens when you get over-the-top stuff that doesn’t quite come off. So after helping a friend with a tax return (our deadline for online is the end of January, and there are a lot of frantic people about – they’d have to be to ask me) it came as light relief. Easy to read, it took about an hour and a half and a break from reality.
Style, yes. I wish she’d just leave speech tags alone, especially the one I’m noticing creeping in to more Harlequins these days, and so frequently I’ve started to count them. “He breathed.” Folks, “Breathe” isn’t a speech tag. It’s just, well, breathing. And the use of reflexives was beginning to get me counting. “Himself” and “Herself.” This can actually be redundant, as in “He pushed himself inside her” which could read just as well if it read “He pushed inside her.” Snippety-snip.
Time to read another. I’ve not had a lot of luck this week, started a Blaze and barely got into the first chapter before I had to put it down, so I couldn’t, in fairness, DNF it. It’s about an ex-soldier, now boxer, who is punching opponents to try to forget the torture he was forced to endure in service. Honestly, it is so unrelentingly gloomy and sickeningly violent, I didn’t want to read any more. Well written, at least the bit I read was, but perhaps a bit too well written. At least I read the whole of the Lucas.
So any suggestions? A bright, twinkling star of a book we just have to read and review?
“If my card is higher, you’ll belong to me, obeying my every whim, for as long as I desire.” As Bree Dalton hears the icy words of Russian Prince Vladimir Xendzov, the man whose ring she once wore and life she once ruined, she nervously accepts the biggest wager of her life. Her body for a million dollars.
Bree knows better than to doubt the steely ruthlessness of this man. With everything to lose and the weight of Vladimir’s gaze upon her, she will have to play the best she’s ever played—or run the risk of losing herself completely….
Read an excerpt.