The Christmas Bet, Alice Ward

The Christmas Bet by [Ward, Alice]

Humor, intensity, hotness, honesty, secrets, magnetism, distance.  So much to bring these two unlikely characters together and yet also keep them apart.  Will their passion drown them?  Will their enemies succeed in tearing them apart?  Will the darkness of desires swallow them both before they can come to terms with it all?

When Tabby is in NOLA for her bridezilla cousin's wedding she bumps into Owen Driscoll quite literally and he's thrown for a loop.  Not only is she nothing like the type of woman he typically gravitates toward, she has no idea how alluring she is.  She's also unaware of the shadows Owen usually hides behind within the secrecy of his Club to meet his specific...needs.  But after she appears and then just as quickly disappears he's determined to introduce her to his brand of wickedness.

Owen is enigmatic and interesting and intriguing.  He quickly wins over Tabby's sense of humor with his quick wit and banter and she finds herself unable to stay away from the handsome man.  He's hotter than sin and she's discovering something warm, hot, and decadently base within herself that is connected to the man she can't resist.

 The Christmas Bet, Alice Ward

Things move deeply rather quickly between them with both of them bending their strict rules of intimacy in favor of getting more with each other.  The introduction of The Blackjack Club opens doors for both of them and it's unclear through much of the story the purpose of the Club both for Owen and on its own.  I mean, I kind of get what it does but what it's accused of being near the end is basically the truth, the truth that any good lawyer would call slander but still an unspoken truth.  Despite that, though, I thought it would play a larger role throughout the story and not just be a cause for drama, splitting, and then reconciliation between the MC's.

I was expecting something darker and seedier, much like Tabby, when we are first introduced to The Blackjack Club.  I also had some predictions about the Club versus the organic relationship independent of it.  In both cases I was glad to be wrong.  While there were some elements that were reminiscent of The Mask with the secrecy of the club and its purpose, it only shared a couple of characteristics.  This eased my mind quite a bit right along with Tabby's but there were other secrets being kept that threatened the transparency required for relationship longevity.

As for Owen's desires, well I won't say they weren't dark, but they weren't nearly as harsh as was being built up.  They played a minor role in the whole scheme of things and didn't even get a lot of page time despite how often they were alluded to both internally and out loud by Owen.

What I appreciated about this particular character pairing was the banter, humor, and organic way that the relationship grew.  Owen had his rules and was trying his best to bend himself and Tabby's situation around to suit them but it never quite worked.  It only found satisfaction when the rules were fitted around what they were already building outside of his past's rigidity.  They were so cute together with all the tickles, joking, wit, and openness.  There were secrets, yes, but they weren't insurmountable once shared.  The drama and angst came from an expected source and the resolution was both amusing and empowering on Tabby's part.

There was so much to like about this story and while it wasn't my favorite book by this author, it was a solidly enjoyable story with a sweet and tender ending that spoke of so much love and understanding for their future.  While not exactly an HEA, it was deeper and definitely more than an HFN and it felt right for the characters and the story as a whole.

*Whether a fish or a shark you're guaranteed to win.
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 The Christmas Bet, Alice Ward

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