After the Night

All the Queen's Men

A Bouquet of Babies

Kill & Tell

Now You See Her

Shades of Twilight

Son of the Morning

Under the Boardwalk

White Lies

A Game of Chance by Linda Howard
(Silh. Int. Mom.#1021, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27091-7
Hallelujah, Eureka and Amen! The wait for Chance's story is finally over. To those of you who aren't familiar with the other four Mackenzie stories, pardon me while my head does a 360° Linda Blair Exorcist spin. Wolf, Joe, Zane and Maris Mackenzie helped to elevate the status of category romances . . . okay, with a bit of help from Linda Howard. The Mackenzies are to category romances what Mona Lisa is to the art world, Elvis is to rock and roll, and Harry Potter is to children's literature. I frequently recommend Wolf's and, more often, Joe's story to people who haven't succumbed to the allure of category romances. These books are awesome.

In A Game of Chance, we finally learn about the elusive Chance Mackenzie, who came to live with Wolf and Mary Mackenzie when he was fourteen. Chance had an unspeakable childhood, living on his own and foraging for food and shelter, much like a feral animal. Mary tamed him and gave him a loving family, a turning point that continually amazes Chance. He feels that his early years still taint him, making him reluctant to have any emotional intimacy with anyone outside his Mackenzie family.

Chance is returning to Wyoming to meet with his brother Zane as they plot out their latest operation. In a scene that shows what an complex man he is, Chance cuddles Zane's twin sons, yet calmly explains his plans to lure Crispin Hauer, an international terrorist, to this country. Chance's ace in the hole is Sunny Miller, Hauer's daughter. Setting up a complicated sting operation, Chance will use Sunny as bait to capture her father.

Sunny Miller has lived a nomadic existence all her life. Knowing from an early age that her father would harm her if he ever caught her, she's moved from place to place, with no security and no emotional ties, always staying a few steps ahead of him. She's totally unaware that her meeting with Chance is anything but an accident.

Thinking that nothing is amiss, Sunny accepts Chance's offer to fly her to Seattle, not knowing that she's about to be a pawn in a life or death game. When Chance has to make an "emergency" landing in an isolated canyon, Sunny isn't really worried. She's lived by her wits for years and actually has a tent and emergency food with her. Chance wrongly assumes that the fact that she's prepared means she's a terrorist who's always ready to make a fast escape.

To say that these two are attracted to each other is an understatement. Chance is in a continual state of lust. Sunny, who's never allowed herself to form any kind of emotional attachment, finds Chance fascinating. The love scenes are vintage Howard, which means that they're woooonderful ...torrid, tempestuous and off the Richter scale. And as Chance discovers Sunny's reason for her nomadic existence, he realizes that she's not involved in her father's terrorism.

Okay, here it is, up close and personal. A Game of Chance disappointed me a bit. Perhaps I expected way too much, considering how long we've had to wait. One thing that nagged at me and seemed to be so illogical is that Chance refuses to tell Sunny about his plans, even after he's determined that she is innocent. Why didn't he tell her about his plan to apprehend her father? That would have made sense and would have allowed her to protect herself. But he doesn't tell her, robbing her of any voice in the matter. That seemed less than ‘heroic.'

What surprised me about A Game of Chance is how detached I was. Usually Linda Howard's heroes are templates for Grade A heroes. But here it's Sunny who is a much stronger character, much more sympathetic and with more definition, more of a fleshed out personality. At times Chance is in her shadow. Her life has been more traumatic than Chance's, yet she hasn't let it warp her. She's good-natured, resourceful and amazingly gutsy.

As I read A Game of Chance, some of Linda Howard's stories kept coming to mind, especially Loving Evangeline, with shades of Duncan's Bride thrown in. It was a bit frustrating to see interchangeable plots and characters . . . the ‘been there, done that' syndrome. Sometimes I wonder if those of us who've read somewhat voraciously for many years are in danger of becoming jaded. I hope not, but I do wonder when plot lines begin to blur.

All of the Mackenzies make brief appearances, so we're treated to an update. Reunions like this are what's so appealing about a family series. Remember Nick, now a precocious three-year-old? She's still adorably language-challenged as she flirts with Unca Dance and begs to ride his moborcycle.

A Game of Chance, according to Linda Howard, "will probably be the last of the Mackenzie books." I'd love more, but it's hard to gripe when we've had five opportunities to savor the Mackenzies. In spite of my minor grumbling, I enjoyed Chance's story. My problem is that I expected WOW and got okay. Yet with many of the superstar, mega-talented authors, an okay book is usually better than the best of many other writers.

--Linda Mowery

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