Diane Gaston, The Wagering Widow (Harlequin, 2006)
You always know what you’re going to get with a romance novel; the only difference is the setting. I can’t even remember where I originally picked this up, but I have it in ebook form, and when I dialed it up I for some reason had the idea in my head that it was a Kindle short rather than a full-length novel. Wrong I was, obviously (it turns out, at least judging by an omnibus title released in 2008, it’s actually the second in a series of six loosely-connected novels; now I have to hunt down the other five…). But then I wasn’t terribly concerned; after all, it being a romance, I knew what I was getting, and while I was not surprised in any way, I wasn’t disappointed, either.
Plot: In one of those classic romance “we probably could have solved all this with a five-minute honest conversation” setups, Guy Keating, a Lord in name only who is saddled with crippling gambling debts incurred by his father, elopes with Emily Duprey, whom he believes to be an heiress. Turns out she’s as penniless as he is. Guy has sworn never to return to the tables, despite being a much more successful card sharp than his father ever was, but given his current situation, he can’t think of any other way to make money (ah, to be of the idle rich!). Emily, who believes (thanks in no small part from misinformation got from both her brother and her mother-in-law, as well as many, many evasive answers from Guy) Guy’s gambling debts are his own, believes he’s going out every night and losing his shirt, so she—also quite the card sharp—gets herself gussied up so no one’ll recognize her save her maid and heads out to turn the tables herself. Well, you know that eventually these two are gonna get together across a table. And here’s the important question: who’s gonna win THAT game?
At least, it’s the important question if you’re a poker player (I am). Gaston, on the other hand, takes it in the expected direction— [SPOILER ALERT!] Guy ends up falling for the masked lass and going through a major crisis of faith, while Emily is all too well aware that her husband is being “unfaithful” and is gonna milk that for all it’s worth. [/SPOILER] But, you know, this is a romance novel, right? It’s safe, it’s predictable, and it’s enjoyable as long as you’re willing to play by its rules. If a good historical is what you’re in the mood for and you’re a fan of the cardroom, The Wagering Widow will be right up your alley (or your ante). ** ½