Friday, June 13, 2008

A Game of Chance by Linda Howard ****

I've been a Howard/Mackenzie series fan since I downloaded the first 3 in the series on audio from Unfortunately for me, the first one is abridged, and I keep thinking one day I'll get the book so I know what I missed.

The first one is Mackenzie's Mountain, and it's the story of Wolf Mackenzie, half breed, and Mary, a teacher, new to town. She meets Wolf when she goes to track down a student, his son Joe. I'm not doing a review of that one here, suffice it to say there's an attraction, there's an obstacle or 2 and Mary and Wolf get married. I gave it 3 stars, probably because it's abridged. They go on to have 3 boys and a girl (after the book ends), and Howard wrote stories for Joe (Mackenzie's Mission), Zane (Mackenzie's Pleasure), and daughter Maris (Mackenzie's Magic). They also adopted a homeless teenager, and A Game of Chance is his story - his name is Chance Mackenzie.

Since it wasn't on audio, and the reviews were mixed, I've avoided getting Chance's story. But last week in Safeway, there it was on the rack. On a day when I paid full price for Susan Andersen and Julia Quinn, it seemed only fair for me to pay full price (really full price) for a Linda Howard book, so got stuck in the cart next to colas and pizza.

I should have known better than to trust the reviews, and I found Chance's story heart warming if slightly shorter and therefore less satisfying than a full book, at only 200-some-odd pages.

We get Chance's backstory in the prologue, although to be honest, I'm thinking it's in one of the other books as well. He was found by Mary, sick with pneumonia, at about age 14. He had never known his name, his birthdate, or even had a family or any socializing at all. She managed to somewhat tame him while he recuperated in the hospital, and with the enormous amount of patience and love she and Wolf gave him, he became almost civilized. He does manage to be able to love his entire adopted family, including all the nephews his brothers bring into the world as well as the infamous Nick, the one niece introduced in the epilogue to Mackenzie's Pleasure. It's a kind of family joke that the Mackenzie children can only have boys -and then when Nick comes into the world, she's a holy terror that keeps everyone constantly on their toes.

His life now revolves around his career as a... well, they never put a name to it. Operative? He operates some covert company that does what the US Government isn't allowed to do, going all over the world tracking down and neutralizing the bad guys. AKA assassinating them. You know, the kind of guy who can sneak up on you without your knowing it, carrying all kinds of unheard of and illegal weaponry on his 6'3", 250 lbs of solid muscle body. Zane is also involved. Both were trained by the government but are now off on their on. Sorta like Elizabeth Lowell's St Kilda Consulting, only there is no name.

The book opens with Chance meeting with Zane to discuss a terrorist who has eluded them for years. He's located the terrorist's daughter, and assumes she is in cahoots with her father, Crispin Hauer. He has a plan to track her down and use her to get to Hauer. While he's discussing this, he's bottle-feeding one of Zane's twins, while Zane feeds the other. This gives us a chance to see the downy underside of both these lethal killers and plants the seed in our brains that he's a soft touch for kids. Seed, hell, it's a full grown redwood tree in Howard's hands.

Heroine Sunny Miller has been on the lam since before she was born. Her mother left her father while pregnant with Sunny, taking her older sister with her. She spent years underground, training herself and her 2 daughters in keeping hidden, and committed suicide rather than reveal the whereabouts of them when they were teenagers. The girls were actually adopted and raised by another couple to help hide their identities. Think Terminator and Linda whasshername. Her current occupation is actually unrelated to her father's activities - she's a courier. Well, she accompanies packages by airplane, not bicycle and messenger bag. Chance discovers her when a package she was carrying was stolen and made the news.

He assumes (that's 2x for him now) the packages she carries are also associated with terrorist activities as well. He has a plan: he will run her to ground by messing up her latest delivery and then pretending to be her savior. He pretty much lies through his teeth to her about everything, gains her trust and she doesn't even realize she's being kidnapped instead of being helped.

However, he miscalculated on one important issue: Cupid's arrow. Yeah, he was going to use her, boff her, and dump her, all to get her to reveal her father's whereabouts. Dang if he didn't find himself falling for her instead. She's confusing him - she shows her survival smarts which reinforce his assumptions about her involvement, then she reveals another side which negates them. And she's already fallen for him in a big way, even knowing how she must drop him when they return to civilization to keep him from getting involved in her life on the lam.

Once he decides she isn't involved, bastard that he is, he decides to use her as bait to draw in the old man. He knows this will mean the end of the relationship even though now he doesn't want to end it. The Mission of neutralizing the target is all important, more important than his own desires.

This is the part that gets a little dicey for me. 1, I had a hard time accepting that a terrorist would chase his grown daughters around the globe for a couple of dozen years for the reason she reveals. 2, there's a betrayal in Chance's organization which is introduced in Zane's book - and I just didn't follow the logic. 3, there's obviously a word-count restriction on this book, because she wraps it up neat and tidy and way too quickly at the end. I think this is the criticism many people have for it - Sunny forgives Chance way too handily after the crap he's given her.

But I teared up at the end, in the epilogue, at the name they choose for their first born son - a tribute to Howard's skill with words. Oh, come on, that's no spoiler - you knew it was a romance and they had a HEA! 4 stars.

I do have to add that I feel cheated that 2 of the Mackenzie boys didn't get their own books, or even a part as the secondary romance. Of course, she's still writing, so maybe one day...

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