Jan 8, 2009

High Stakes, Part 1: Even I had the incredible urge to shake Becca. I admit it.

High Stakes
by Lisa Jackson
Published: 2008

Harlequin calls this genre "contemporary suspense" and I'm not quite sure what that means, considering High Stakes is a two in one reprint of novels published in the mid-eighties. The suspense part I get, because once a gun pops up in a romance novel it's suddenly called suspense, even if the gun is never used and, in this instance, when it does pop up the main character decides he'd rather break out the whiskey than pursue the culprit. I will admit that I thought this was not only hilarious, but unusually brilliant for a romance novel.

Since this is a two in one novel, I'm going to split this up into two posts. Because I know how we all like our romance novels around here (or maybe not...whatever).
Gypsy Wind
by Lisa Jackson
Published: 1984

Passions run high in horse-racing circles, but thoroughbred breeder Becca Peters keeps a tight rein on her emotions. Except when it comes to Brig Chambers. Six years after he shattered their relationship with dangerous accusations, he's back, stirring up trouble...and undeniable heat.
I love this summary, because it's just so wrong. The book starts off with Becca Peters freaking out and dropping her coffee cup, which shatters into a gazillion pieces and gets coffee everywhere. Then she knocks all of these papers into the spilled coffee. And then she starts moaning incoherently at her quaint little black and white television. A tight rein on her emotions indeed.

Here's the deal: Jason Chambers, an oil tycoon, crashed his private plane. Becca happens to know him because he spawned Brig Chambers, the guy she used to have sex with on some sort of consistent basis. She is upset because she thinks Brig might be on the plane. There are rumors of passengers, and of course all of them are deeply bruised, possibly crispy corpses now. So Becca is having a major episode in front of her television as she ponders the possibilities of Brig's hypothetical death. Then her brother walks in and is all "hell yeah!" about it because Becca borrowed $50,000 from Jason in order to breed this filly, Gypsy Wind.

Anyway, because this is 1984, Becca has to wait until the next day so she can rush out and read the newspaper and crumple to the ground when she sees Brig's photo in the newspaper. He is alive! Now Becca can cry some more and rub herself against the newspaper, totally keeping her emotions in check as she does this. I'm sure. Because she can't contain herself any longer, Becca decides that she is going to fly to Denver and confront Brig about this $50,000 she owes his dead father, because it is so important. Maybe it's just me, but if you're the owner of a massive oil company, isn't $50,000 a paltry sum? In the long run, who really cares? But Becca cares so much that she decides she's not even going to attempt to get ahold of Brig at the company, and instead goes straight for the jugular. She actually drives out to his cabin in the woods, where I suppose she just hopes he'll be, because that was really random, actually. Of course, he's there, and he's getting drunk because of the stress, you understand.

She shows up and he immediately drags her to the bedroom, where they can immediately proceed with the sex, despite not having seen each other in six years. They also have more than enough baggage, so this is sudden. And in the middle of it all he actually wonders why his head is so fuzzy, and I think "it's probably because you drank three rather large glasses of scotch, you moron."

So they have sex and wake up the next morning to hang overs and Brig's sudden desire to "shake sense into" Becca. There's a lot of this desire to "shake" her, which I also find fascinating. Why do romance novels romanticize this sort of violence? I mean, Becca isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, clearly, but I don't think this justifies frustrated shaking. Of course, Becca keeps coming back for more. Then they drag the past up so they can stare at their baggage some more.

You see, long ago, Becca bred herself a filly. It was the most amazing filly there ever was, or ever will be, but unfortunately she's got a problem: she's sort of the shittiest filly there ever was, or ever will be. Naturally, that's a huge defect, but Becca is not going to be deterred. She's going to take this giant ass horse with legs the size and strength of tiny needles and race her into the ground! Brilliant! No, seriously. Eventually, she meets Brig because he happens to be in the racing scene. Her brother, Dean, wants to see if Brig wants to buy the horse, but when Becca discovers this she puts a halt to plans of buying Lady. Obviously at this point I wonder why they even bothered to drive the three hours to her farm from a yacht to look at this horse at two in the morning. What did you THINK he wanted to see the horse for, Becca? See, she's kind of a dim bulb. Anyway. Then they have sex. And Becca decides she's in love with him afterward, because five hours and a one night stand is all it takes to fall in love.

So they continue on in this manner for a while until the Ruffian vs. Foolish Pleasure plot rears its ugly head. Basically, Brig's colt is awesome and fantastic. Becca's filly is also awesome and fantastic, besides being genetically flawed and basically waiting to crumple to the dirt because her legs suck...you know, that's obviously going to be a problem. So someone somewhere decides a match race is in order and Lady totally fails and breaks down and they discover that she'd been given a dose of illegal steroids that would have disqualified her had she not been inherently unsound. Oh, the drama. The drama.

Back in the present, the two essentially accuse each other of drugging the horse. And then Brig discovers that Becca has gone off the deep end and petulantly bred a full sister to Lady. He's all "what the hell is wrong with you?" And she's all "I am so right and you are so wrong and you probably drugged Lady but I love you and let's have sex again." But they do not have sex. No, Brig overcomes his need to shake more sense into her so they can romp off into the meadows and hold hands and smell the woodsy sent of the woods and race through the daisies and whatever the hell that was. They arrive back at the house and have more sex. Despite basically accusing each other of all this treachery beforehand. I couldn't figure this out. It was like they had extreme short term memory loss, or something.

Anyway, they come to the end of their Colorado weekend getaway and Brig randomly wants to marry her, but she's all "we're only now beginning to trust each other and I still think you drugged my horse and I still want to race Lady's full sister despite my complete inability to think reasonably about breeding practices." And so she flies off to California and he eventually follows her and more sex happens, etc.

As we have all figured out by now, Becca's brother drugged the horse. We'll just skip to that reveal, because there was a lot of blathering that I suppose was suspenseful, but probably wasn't, about stuff that happened between then and now regarding Dean and his fooling around with some girl that resulted in a pregnancy and really...we'll move on. Dean is a gambler, and he wanted some quick cash, so he drugged Lady for Brig's (apparently evil) father. Dean then pissed that money away, and decided to take care of his sister out of guilt. Only then he's eventually arrested and the authorities actually take what he did seriously. That surprised me. So the story skips on and touches lightly on things that happen later. Brig and Becca get married, Gypsy Wind starts to race, wins the filly triple crown, and then the public starts to demand a match race. Just randomly, despite there being no other horse to really race her against, the public wants a match race...uh huh. That's likely. So the Triple Crown produced three different winners for each race, and they all race together, and predictably Gypsy sort of breaks down. Despite it only being a tendon injury, Becca totally overreacts and says "no more racing!" Just like that. Not only that, no more breeding! Maybe! (Honestly, that decision probably would have been a good one for the industry.)

So they go home and Becca thinks that maybe she won't give up the horse breeding, because now that she's married to Brig her farm is actually pretty now. But he says that maybe it's a good thing to give it up for a while, because, you see, she has to carry his children eventually and now would be the best time. Oh, Brig. Just try to refrain from shaking sense into her while she's pregnant, okay?

  • After the match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, the colt's trainer's dad said "First time they threw some speed at her, and the bitch comes unbuckled." People thought that was a little, um, uncalled for, to say the least. It's also something you really remember, and I wasn't even alive in 1975. So what does Lisa Jackson do? She paraphrases: "We threw a fast pace at the bitch and she just broke down." After this, you know the next scene: fictional horse dies the Ruffian death right down to the letter.
Now comes the moment when I have to address the sex scenes. Seriously, there were a lot of them in this book, and it's not a long book, so I'll just leave that to your imagination. I can't be trusted there, as I'll start giggling and this entry will take a sharp dive. However, after the first sex scene, I started skipping straight to dialogue within the sex scene and only reading that. For instance:

"Undress me."
"I want to make love to you. I want to make love to you and never stop."
"Then do, Brig, please make love to me."
"These last few weeks have been torturous. I tried to stay away -- Lord knows, I tried, but I couldn't. You're just too damned mystifying and I can't seem to get enough of you."
"I hope you never can."
"You're beautiful. I want you."
"Then love me, Brig, love me."
"I want you, Brig. I want you more than I ever have."
"Oh God, Rebecca, I do love you."

So, if you made it through that, congratulations. I didn't even pick the scene where he randomly calls her his cherished lady, or something. Who needs to read the details when you have that?

The second part of this two in one is called Devil's Gambit. I'll be back later to deal with that one.


Jenna said...

In romanceland, contemporary just means "not historical," one of the other primary romance genres. See also: paranormal, chick lit, etc.

Mara said...

I had a feeling that was the case, but it seems to me that there should be some exception for the 80s.