Like Clayborn’s hero, Alex Averin, I don’t like “luck” … well, the idea of it, anyway. I don’t like its randomness and I don’t like its hidden possibility in what might NOT happen. It played a much larger role in Clayborn’s third “Chance Of A Lifetime” romance than in the previous one I’d read. In Luck Of the Draw, luck was the set-up: three friends win the lottery and how they use the money puts them in certain circumstances, ones they wouldn’t’ve been in had they not won. It didn’t seem all that important to Luck Of the Draw, but in Best of Luck, it becomes an ongoing debate between hero and heroine. Heroine Greer Hawthorne has reason to believe she’s lucky, not only because of the money she won, but what fate dealt her: an illness that marked her childhood and adolescence and continues to be a daily reminder of both how lucky she is and how unlucky. What are the odds of being diagnosed with a life-altering birth-defect? As good as the odds that the surgery Greer had would help her lead a more active, engaged life. “Luck” for hero Alex is a bane and reminder of a childhood of want and neglect, thanks to his “luck-dependent”, gambling-addicted father.
When we meet Greer and Alex, they’re carrying this baggage. Greer, however, is on the ascendant; her lottery money has allowed her to pay off her family’s debts, brought on by her illness, near-complete her social work degree, and find herself on the cusp of independence from her overprotective family and onto a career and her own place. Alex, on the other hand, isn’t in the same place. He is in home-town Barden, Virginia, to give his sister away at her wedding (heroine of book #1). Alex was solely responsible for his sister’s upbringing and well-being, though a child himself. Since Kit achieved her career, independence, and now with a family of her own, Alex has built a career as a world-famous photojournalist, never spending more than a few weeks in one place and only sporadically coming home to see Kit. When the novel opens, however, Alexis a mess: he has panic attacks and his work is suffering. Ready to leave post-Kit-and-Ben wedding, he can’t resist the lovely, quiet, shy Greer’s request to help her finish her final college credit, a photography class that will furnish her with the art credit she needs to graduate.
Though I loved Luck Of the Draw from the get-go, it took me much longer to warm up to Best of Luck. I liked both Alex and Greer: I liked their voices, their struggles and their humility. I didn’t like them very much together, however, mainly because Greer’s condition sat there between them, this great big ole secret. I understand Greer’s reasons for keeping it from Alex: their affair is temporary, and, more importantly, Greer likes feeling powerful, beautiful, and free of that hovering protectiveness she’s lived with from family and friends. I also really liked how Clayborn uses Alex helping/teaching Greer about photography as a way to develop their friendship. There’s one particular scene where Alex helps Greer photograph a ladybug that is fabulous. What I didn’t like and kept me from engaging deeply with the novel is that, with Clayborn’s choice of first-person, alternating-Greer-Alex narration, the romance felt estranged from its romantic purpose: there was the lovely Alex and the equally lovely Greer, in their own heads, with their own struggles, and not much came together.
On the other hand, Clayborn implicated intimacy when Alex and Greer become lovers. This is a favourite comeuppance trope that the genre does so well: the hero and heroine may think that physical intimacy may be kept separate from emotional engagement, but they’re always proven wrong. Clayborn didn’t make either Greer or Alex indifferent-to-emotions sex: they were warm and affectionate with each other, droll and tender. I liked that about them, but their affair was suffused with time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near: Alex is only in town till his next assignment and Greer knows it too well. Greer too is eyes-on-the-prize about her future and its glorious independence.
Once I got past the 40% point on my Kindle, I fell in love with Clayborn’s romance. It was heart-breaking and heartfelt, funny, tender, and angsty. Alex and Greer were so darn nice, not a bland, cookie-cutter nice, but decent, honest, messed-up in the best humble way, but the novel was so hopeful and they make such good decisions. They do the right thing; they act so well: Alex, for example, at Greer’s urging, sees a therapist, who is maybe the novel’s greatest character. (Romances often don’t get enough credit for their secondary characters, but the best ones, I find, often develop secondary characters who are vibrant and interesting, not mere plotty placeholders.)
Though Greer and Alex’s growing love for each other is two-steps-back-one-step-forward to the HEA, there are great scenes of heart-lifting and/or heart-wrenching love. One such is when Alex takes Greer for a beach-dip on the eve of Saint John the Baptist’s Day:
“Tomorrow’s Saint John the Baptist Day.” That — does not have anything to do with anything, so far as I know. I blink up at him, confused. “It’s a tradition for some cultures to — well, you spend the evening at the beach, the night before. And then at midnight, you go in the water. You splash away your bad luck. You get good luck.”
“You don’t even believe in luck.” He looks at me for a long time.
“I don’t,” he says, simply, a small shrug of his shoulders. “But I believe in you.”
This is where Clayborn’s theme is redeemed: both Greer and Alex are right about luck. How can we deny that chance plays its part in our encounters and circumstances? Even for someone, like me, who believes in divine purpose, it nevertheless remains a mystery and we still have to make sense of the way things transpire: we have to parse them and understand them and figure out how to act on them. And Alex’s perspective: the importance of believing in something that gives meaning to our lives? Life is pretty empty without it … and purposeless, or as Alex says about Greer: ” … she affects me like an anchor, in this place that sometimes feels like a vast, unpredictable sea?” Isn’t this idea so much better than Matthew Arnold’s contrived “Love, let us be true to one another?” Its pathetic appeal to fidelity, even though, really, we are “on a darkling plain,” over romance’s assurance that love anchors us in the sea of randomness?
In the end, I loved Clayborn’s romance and stayed up till the wee hours to finish it. With Miss Austen, we find in Best Of Luck evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Kate Clayborn’s Best Of Luck is published by Kensington Books’s Lyrical Press. It was released on November 27th and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Kensington Books’s Lyrical Press, via Netgalley.