has also reviewed:

Born In Fire
Born In Ice
Born In Shame
Captive Star
Daring To Dream
Finding the Dream
From The Heart
Hidden Star
Holding the Dream
The MacGregor Brides
Megan's Mate
Montana Sky
Once Upon a Castle
Rising Tides
Secret Star
True Betrayals
Waiting for Nick

As J. D. Robb:

Ceremony in Death
Holiday in Death
Immortal In Death
Rapture in Death
Vengeance in Death

The Winning Hand by Nora Roberts
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1202, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-24202-6
Unlike many Noraholics, I am not a MacGregor maniac. Oh, I read the series years ago and enjoyed it, but frankly there are other Nora series that I enjoyed even more. So I was a bit wary of The Winning Hand, a new entry in "MacGregors: The Next Generation." However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I particularly appreciated the fact that there was more of a focus on the non-MacGregor heroine, and therefore less time spent trying to remember which MacGregor progeny belonged to which MacGregor parents.

The story begins with a bang. Darcy Wallace limps into Las Vegas with a total of $9.37 in her possession. She has just left her hometown in Kansas to get away from a domineering man who won't accept the fact that she has broken off their engagement. Unfortunately, her escape has been problematic. Her purse was stolen, her car broke down, and she ends up walking the last mile to Las Vegas. She stumbles into The Comanche casino, puts her last few dollars into a massive slot machine and promptly wins almost $2 million.

Timid, shy ex-librarian Darcy suddenly has the opportunity to fulfill every dream she ever had and some dreams she never even dared to imagine. The owner of The Comanche, Robert MacGregor "Mac" Blade, feels responsible for this nave woman and appoints himself as her personal protector. His feelings turn passionate when he gradually learns that although Darcy is sheltered, she is no dumb pushover. Her fairy- like appearance and her enthusiasm for life enchant him. But he's convinced that she has no place in his life because that they are too different to stay together. He's sure that Darcy will eventually want a nice guy who is real husband material not a guy who stays up all hours running a casino.

Although it's part of the MacGregor series, the focus of the novel is definitely on Darcy. After writing more than 100 books, it must be difficult for Nora Roberts to come up with different character types, but she manages that feat here. I can't remember reading any books of hers that featured such a shy, unsophisticated heroine who comes into her own. It was rewarding watching Darcy's transformation not into anything unrealistic, like a femme fatale, but into a woman who can stand up for herself and realize her own dreams.

Mac's parents, Justin and Serena, as well as The MacGregor himself, Daniel, show up and engage in a minimal amount of meddling. Caine MacGregor is also on hand to lend some legal advice to the new millionaire. But I didn't find the supplemental MacGregors to be distracting from the love story. They stayed very nicely in the background, even Daniel. And it was very poignant to see Darcy, whose late parents were cold and unemotional, find affection and support from the warm-hearted Serena.

The only quibble I had with the book was Mac's reason for resisting Darcy. His protests about her being too nave and inexperienced just didn't ring true. Coming from the loving and close MacGregor family, it didn't seem in character that he would try to turn her away. He just didn't have the background to be a tortured hero.

Personally, I think the MacGregors are more rewarding in this full-length category format than in the novella format of The MacGregor Brides and the upcoming MacGregor Grooms. Whether you're a fan of the family or not, I think you'll find that The Winning Hand is a strong effort from the incomparable Nora Roberts.

--Susan Scribner

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