Characters are what Susan Andersen does best. Her latest offering is no exception, delivering Las Vegas showgirl Treena McCall and world-class poker player Jax Gallagher, along with Treena's best friend, fellow showgirl Carly, ex-librarian Ellen, and handyman Mack. We meet all of them as we step into rooms with them and watch them interact. Then, once we're on friendly terms, we're let into their heads, experiencing their thoughts and feelings through casual, yet touching prose. They are all wonderful people, sensitive, strong, and flawed. The men, in particular, are well-drawn, their natural masculinity preserved even as we see the chinks in their armor.
The story begins as Jax listens in on Treena's 35th birthday celebration in a bar at the fictitious Aventurrato Casino on the Las Vegas strip. Treena, recently widowed, had been married to Jax's father, Big Jim McCall, and is now in possession of a valuable World Series baseball handed down by Jax's grandfather. Jax knows exactly who Treena is, but she has no idea of his real identity.
Jax's image of Treena as a gold-digging trophy bride is wildly inaccurate, though, as he starts to discover during his staged pursuit of her, the ultimate goal being to abscond with the baseball. Jax finds himself throwing away opportunities to find the ball, however, as he falls in love with Treena, even though his health is dependent on his plan's success, since the man he lost it to on a bet is threatening to break his hands. As things between Jax and Treena deepen, Jax realizes he needs to come clean with her about who he is and why he sought her out. Naturally, he does it too late.
At this point, unlike an unfortunate number of her contemporaries, Susan Andersen does not fabricate a contrived emergency that throws our hero and heroine back together, nor does she stumble through a sloppy resolution that drags on. Instead, she comes through with flying colors, taking the opportunity to really show us what these characters are made of, from the wrenchingly painful depths of their emotions to how they behave under pressure.
Though I didn't get as excited about this book as some of Andersen's others, I liked it a lot. I appreciate her female characters in particular; strong, self-sufficient women with both feet on the ground, working hard and fulfilling their own lives without giving up an ounce of vulnerability or femininity. This book has the added bonus of a deftly-handled senior romance as a side story that fits neatly, as well as a tease into what will next surely be Carly's story.
This was a very nice, very satisfying modern romance with surprising depth.