Gambler's Woman, by Stephanie James (JAK)

>> Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sunday morning I read an old JAK, written under her Stephanie James pseudonym. The book was Gambler's Woman, and it was a B- for me.

Jordan Kyle is a professional gambler, a good one. He is a man who can calculate the odds and win or lose at his discretion when he gambles. Alyssa Chandler is just as good as Jordan. For Jordan, gambling is how he makes his living. For Alyssa, gambling is fun. A fantasy she indulges on weekends.

When they meet, Jordan knows that Alyssa is his. But Alyssa only has room for Jordan on a part time basis. In Alyssa's real world, she has a job that would be endangered by her gambling hobby. So her hobby must remain secret and so must her relationship with Jordan.

Jordan is not happy with his role in Alyssa's life. He doesn't want to be part of her gambling fantasy. He wants to be very real to Alyssa and hold a real place in both of her worlds. So when she cancels on him because of a previous engagement, he makes his presence felt in her other life.

This one was a guilty pleasure. I enjoyed it in spite of myself. The problem was basically the hero, who was perilously close to being an alpha heel. Jordan's the typical "you are mine" insanely jealous hero, who suspects every interaction the heroine has with another man. That might work for me if he realizes he's being unreasonable and he apologizes after the fact, but I never felt that with Jordan. After he ran off a guy who'd come to return some money to Alyssa and accused her of practically prostituting herself, he did listen to her explanations, but his attitude wasn't "I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. I'm sorry; I'll never do it again", but "I never again want to see a man giving you money. No wonder I thought what I did".

What didn't help this problem I had with the hero was that this book was written wholly from Alyssa's POV. We never saw anything from Jordan's, or rather, we saw one lousy paragraph from his POV. That was weird, actually. It wasn't even a particularly relevant paragraph. Anyway, if we'd seen what was going on in his mind, it might have been possible to forgive him some things. The way the book was written, no way.

Alyssa helped not make this a wall-banger. She forgave some attitudes she shouldn't have tolerated, but she wasn't usually a doormat.

What I liked about this book was its very original setting and plot. No cowboys and virgin brides here. In fact, it would have even been original for a single title, like many old, 1980s categories I've read. Plus, and this is why I call this one a guilty pleasure, on some level I do enjoy those heroes who just have to have the heroine. I prefer it when they are done in another way, but as always, there's something about JAK's writing that draws me in. Plus, I actually did sympathise with Jordan's frustration about being stuck being a weekend fantasy for Alyssa.

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