|Not having read a lot of Elizabeth Bevarly, but having seen lots of good reviews, I was interested in reading Neck & Neck. Now that I am finished I am still uncertain if I was entertained, bored to tears, frustrated with the monologues or able to enjoy not one but two romances for the price of one. I guess I actually would have to check all of the above, making this story clearly a two-heart “think twice” rating.
Russell Mullholland is a self-made billionaire thanks to some video games that became bestsellers. He is a widower with a teenage son and he is determined to enjoy his wealth and avoid publicity so he has hired his best friend Finn Guthrie and a team of bodyguards. Finn and Russell go way back from the days when both were in foster care. As Russell got rich, so did Finn, thanks to his extraordinary efforts to keep Russell and his son Max safe. Russell’s most recent efforts at entertainment include owning some thoroughbreds that he is planning to race at the Kentucky Derby. Russell is a man who abhors sentiment, and since his wife died he has shunned anything that smells of emotion, even keeping his son at arm’s length because of his fear of losing him. Finn has served as friend and advisor and now, at times, is the same to Max.
Natalie Beckett is a former Louisville debutante who abhors the life of high society. Despite being raised in the best homes, she is determined to own a business she can be proud of and use her Wellesley education. She is on try number three and this time she is so close to making it, she is worried. Because her party event business will sink or swim depending on the success of the Derby Eve party she is planning for socialite Clementine Hotchkiss. The event is to be a costume party fund raiser for a charity that helps kids in need of scholarship money and so far, the high and mighty have not been swamping Natalie’s email with positive RSVPs. She needs to score a high profile figure - and fast - to get people to agree to come. She sets her eye on Russell Mullholland. And to get him, she has to get past Finn Guthrie.
Without giving it away, Finn and Natalie hit it off, but both are leery, scared, not looking and a whole host of other reasons why they cannot get involved. Yet they spark every time they are near each other. Bevarly’s style is to use first person experiences and introspective to move the story along and this one is no exception. The problem is that these can often only be described as dissertations and rambling thoughts. Often, these would interrupt dialogues that were actually interesting, putting a real stop on the enjoyment of the interactions. Their interplay goes on through the entire book and includes scenarios like drunken stupors and unexpected run-ins. There are tender moments and raging arguments. At times, it worked and at times it did not. And at times Natalie seemed like a smart woman with her head on her shoulders and at other times she was an airhead debutante who deserved all the assumptions Finn made about her.
Meanwhile, Russell often seeks out entertainment of a short-term nature with women who accept payment for services rendered. He visits several gentlemens' clubs with names like VIXXEN and MINXXS. It is at the later one that he finds a waitress named Amber that intrigues him. Amber is actually Ginny and is a single mom trying to earn enough to save for her teenage daughter to go to college one day and not have to do what Ginny is forced to do to make ends meet. They have their own romance. It was enjoyable most of the time only because Ginny is the most genuine character in the story and one who garnered my sympathies and my support.
Neck & Neck will either appeal to readers or not. If you are a fan of screwball comedies and like your heroine to have scattered thoughts all the time, even in the midst of a crisis or an interesting encounter, then you will probably like this one. Otherwise, you will probably have periods where you are a little bored, other periods where you are vastly entertained and other periods when you just want the story to end.