Unlucky
by Jana DeLeon
(LoveSpell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52729-5
***
If you can get past the somewhat silly premise of Unlucky, it’s a fun read. I admit I struggled to get past the first chapter, and it colored my experience.

Mallory Devereaux is notorious for her bad luck. Everyone in Royal Flush, Louisiana (port-a-john capital of the USA, of course) knows that if Mallory so much as touches someone, disaster will follow. Mallory has managed to make a career for herself as a foreman with a demolition company owned by kindly Harry Breaux, but now she needs money, fast, or the company will be sold to a local tycoon for back taxes. Then Mallory’s uncle Reginald, who owns a casino boat, offers to hire Mallory as a “cooler” for his high-stakes poker tournament and she reluctantly decides to take him up on it. She can dispense her bad luck among the gamblers and make sure they don’t clean out the house. In return, Mallory will get a cut of the profits.

This tournament feels fishy, and with good reason. Mallory soon meets up with Jake Randoll, who is supposedly just another card dealer, but is really an undercover agent on the trail of a money-laundering operation. It turns out that more than a few criminal types have been invited to this private tournament. True, Jake is a Yankee, but Mallory finds him pretty irresistible anyway. Jake scoffs at the notion of Mallory’s cooling capabilities, but after a few demonstrations of her “talent,” he’s soon convinced she’s telling the truth.

Jake and Mallory’s relationship heats up as the tournament gets underway. Other characters fill in the plot: Amy, Mallory’s closest friend, who is a graduate-student math whiz and card dealer; her good-old-boy pal, Scooter, an ace mechanic; and Father Thomas, a priest with a great fondness for alcohol and cards. Oh, and Walter Royal, owner of the port-a-john plant and known locally as the King of Crap.

The issue of Mallory’s curse ends up involving a voodoo priestess (well, this is Louisiana, after all) and Jake’s relationship with her may hang in the balance. The story is as fast-paced as they come, ricocheting from one locale to another. The dialogue is snappy and the sex is fairly hot.

The problem with this kind of story tends to be that it’s Romance Lite, sort of sitcom-style. Mallory and Jake have no great depth; she’s hot and causes trouble; he’s hot and is looking for some bad guys. They steam up the sheets a bit, all the while protesting that this can’t be love, and then suddenly, they’re in love. There isn’t much more to them than that, and not much more to the story, either. There is a subplot about a few Dark Secrets involving Walter Royal and Reginald, but it’s underplayed. Everything is tied up neatly at the end.

If this style of romance is what you’re looking for at the moment, Unlucky may just fit the bill. Fast-paced and fluffy can make a delectable treat. Jana DeLeon has a breezy style with enough of a comic touch to leave you smiling.

--Cathy Sova


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