A guest review by Jenre
A quirky romantic drama where our pool ace hero is blackmailed into playing a pool tournament in order to bail out his brother, only to fall for his blackmailer.
Drew Harris is a master when it comes to the game of pool, but family is always a crap shoot and Drew rolled snake eyes. His parents want little to do with him. The only time they call him is when they need money, or when they want him to bail his gambling-addict brother, Vic, out of a jam. So when Drew’s mother calls in a panic to let Drew know that Vic owes a local casino owner two-hundred and fifty grand, Drew’s not exactly shocked. Not shocked, that is, until he learns that the guy Vic owes doesn’t want the money: he wants Drew.
Casino mogul Evan Stacie never thought he was the kind of man to resort to blackmail, but the death of his brother two years ago changed a lot of things. He needs Drew’s skill with a stick to ruin the man who sent Evan’s brother to an early grave, and if Evan has to fight dirty to make that happen, so be it. Nothing, not his growing attraction to Drew or the soft spot Evan feels for the guy, is going to stand in his way.
This short story by Sara Bell centres round our hero Drew who owns his own business and is quite happily getting on with his life as far away from his family as possible. A phone call from his mother, who he hasn’t spoken to for 3 years, changes that when Drew is called back home to help bail his brother out of yet another gambling debt. This time, however, instead of expecting Drew to pay the debt, the man owed the money, local businessman, Evan, wants Drew to play in a pool tournament. If he wins, the debt is cancelled. If he refuses to play then Evan will insist on the payment, which will ruin Drew’s parents.
The strength in this story lies in the way that the author turns around our expectations. Not that I can say too much about that for fear of spoilers. However, both the characters of Evan and of Drew were not quite as they first seem. When we meet Drew he seems quite a strong minded individual and is scornful of his homophobic family, safe in the knowledge that they live far enough away for him not to care. It all changes after one phone call and the reader sees just how weak Drew is in the face of his family, as time after time he bends over backwards to help them, at great inconvenience and cost to himself. In some ways this makes Drew quite an unsympathetic character, and if it wasn’t for his dry sense of humour and sarcastic streak a mile wide, I may not have liked him as much as I did. As the story progresses and we see more of Drew’s interactions I began to like him more. He’s honourable and kind, even if it is misplaced, and it’s difficult to really dislike someone who gives and gives, even whilst being constantly rejected.
Evan is another surprise and I laughed out loud at Drew’s first reaction to Evan:
I stood in numb, open-mouthed shock as I tried to process the fact that I was being blackmailed by Doogie Howser.
Evan has his heart in the right place, even if he is consumed by the need for revenge, for reasons I’ll let you find out for yourself. Far from the ruthless businessman he seems, Evan is actually quite a nice guy and mostly sensible. The two men worked well together, even if they were a bit of an odd couple at first. The story only takes place over about a week, and I liked that the ending was very much a HFN. By the end I was happy for the heroes and felt that, given time, they would make it as a couple, something that is proved by the short epilogue – what more do you want for a romance?
By far the best part of the book though was the breezy tone and the use of humour, which lifted this story from what could have been quite a maudlin tale of unhappy families and revenge into something a little lighter. It certainly helps that Drew deals with life’s drama with an eye to the ridiculous, and his wry observations had me laughing a few times. There were a number of secondary characters, such as Drew’s aunt Quinn – a no nonsense, tell it like it is, woman who drummed in a much needed dose of sense followed by love into Drew – and Ollie – the pool hall owner who offered protection to Drew as he grew up – who added to the flavour of the book, rounding out the character of Drew. I also thought the way that compulsive gambling was shown through the character of Drew’s brother was realistically done.
If I have any niggles it’s that the first person point of view made it difficult to really understand what Evan is thinking, and that the epilogue was perhaps a little too far towards a Disney happy ending, although I can quite see why it was included. These were just a minor couple of niggles though in what was a pretty terrific little drama with great characters and a spot of pool playing for those who like the game. Highly recommended.