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December Read-a-Thon: Married, Marine, and Menage Are Three Holiday Gifts Put Under Your Tree with Menage on 34th Street

16 Dec

I actually managed to somehow not realize that this story, as well as the already-reviewed Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin, is part of a Carina Press erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction. While I have no problem reviewing each story one by one (particularly since you can buy them that way), if the quality of writing I’ve seen so far is any indication, an interested reader should probably demonstrate proper holiday frugality and purchase the collection. ;-)

This novella possessed an edginess that I realized was also present in Matzoh and Mistletoe. Rather than gloss over real conflict or turn to a magical “love conquers all” scenario, both stories face the complications and difficulties of the potential situation head on in a way that was slightly reminiscent of author Lauren Dane to me. Yet unlike Dane, who has the book length to get her couples and triads to a happily ever after, Menage on 34th Street ends with a “happily for now” that honestly has me fretting for the characters I’ve come to care about.

Kat and Liam are a happily married couple who have both missed someone for over a decade. Their friend, Hunter, wanted Kat for himself and upon finding her with Liam, bolted and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Ten years later, he’s back in Baltimore and not looking forward to seeing this happy couple again since it represents what he can never have.

Liam lies to Hunter, telling him Kat is visiting her sister in another state, in order to lure him over to their house on Christmas Eve. What Hunter doesn’t know is that Liam knew Kat better than Hunter did back in the day, realizing that one man would never satisfy her. He had hoped to add Hunter to their relationship, particularly because Liam also felt that Hunter desired a relationship with a man as well as with Kat. But Hunter ran from both of them, not realizing Kat’s predilections and frightened of his feelings for Liam. Now that it’s Christmas, Liam can think of no better present for all of them than to be together the way they should have been.

Season of Seduction anthology, with stories by Jeffe Kennedy, Christine d’Abo, Elise Logan & Emily Ryan-Davis, and Jodie Griffin (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

When Kat walks downstairs in a barely-there piece of lingerie given to her by Liam, she’s startled to see Hunter, who left her without so much as a goodbye all those years ago. While she loves Liam, he occasionally invites a temporary and carefully vetted third into their relationship for them both, but that’s gotten tired. One look at Hunter and Kat realizes she’s been trying to find someone to fill his place, something no one clearly will manage after one glimpse of the smoking hot Marine who has replaced the troubled boy who left before.

This story leaps pretty quickly into the sexual situation yet simultaneously delivers an astonishing amount of backstory effortlessly, a fact that impressed the hell out of me. The reader is exposed to all the messy emotions and feelings of each character, generating a terrific amount of empathy for each of them. Triads always have the complication of having to negotiate not two but three people’s feelings and baggage, no easy feat.

The hardest part for me about this relationship was not the rough emotional baggage of Liam and Hunter, but Hunter’s career with the Marines. He’s brutally honest about exactly how hard his work and possible deployments would be in a relationship – particularly without the military support system offered to official spouses – but that all three would have to keep their relationship a secret in order to not endanger Hunter’s career is a huge obstacle. How on earth can they manage that and still have a healthy relationship? This was why the ending is a “happily for now” and not something with a more permanent resolution, and truth be told, I’m still thinking about these people, worrying about their future! These three love each other so much and have since they were teenagers; I don’t want to see anything happen to break their hearts.

This uncertainty makes me wonder if the writing duo of Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis (who share a website at Scorchedsheets.com) don’t plan an additional book about these protagonists or some of the interesting secondary characters they introduced. If so, I’ll certainly be buying it! Their writing has an incredible mix of finely drawn characters, plenty of conflict and unbelievably hot sex scenes. That’s my go-to trifecta when it comes to must-buy books.

Consider adding this particular menage story to your holiday pile – you will not need to turn up the heat to get warm while reading it.

Happy reading!

December Read-a-Thon: Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin Delivers Emotion and Eroticism to a Blended Holiday

14 Dec

Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin (Carina Press, November 21, 2013)

The Jewish holidays are always given short shrift in the ocean of holiday romance that comes out this time of year, and it’s really a shame (I think I need to write a sexy, Hanukkah romance to prove to myself that it can be done more often). When I spotted Matzoh and Mistletoe, a novella by Jodie Griffin, I was elated to have a Jewish protagonist. What took me aback was how beautifully emotional this BDSM holiday romance was, and by the last page, Jodie Griffin had made a new fan.

Rebeccah Rickman is used to volunteering her time on Christmas and Easter at her local police precinct. For the last five years, she’s fulfilled her family’s tradition of doing a mitzvah, a good deed, by riding in the same car as First Officer Jeremy Kohler. Since she was a married woman, she’s managed to keep her attraction to him a secret, simply reveling in his company. Handsome, smart, dedicated and with a wicked sense of humor, he’s the total package. She’s seen him in the best and worst of situations observing him in his job during their time together.

Unfortunately for her, she’s been through a lot in the last several months, including an ugly divorce brought about by physical abuse suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, who had very specific ideas about what a “nice Jewish girl” should want in the bedroom (and out of it). Rebeccah has been made to feel guilty about her own desires and her time with a therapist has made it clear that her ex’s verbal abuse of her has left scars during the course of their years together. But she’s taking hold of her life and living it the way she wants, and that just might include Jeremy, if he’s interested.

Jeremy is no saint; he’s volunteered for Christmas and Easter duty because it was the two days of the year he has gotten with the chestnut-haired beauty doing a good deed. He’s actually forbidden the other officers to request her, keeping Rebeccah all to himself, although he knows she’s off limits as a married woman. When he’s startled by her tired but beautiful face and obvious weight loss, he asks her what’s wrong and is angry to hear that she’s been single for nine months – nine months without him knowing she was free for him to pursue. Seeing her reaction to his anger makes him realize an inkling what she’s been through, and her experience might be exactly what could keep them from acting on their attraction to one another.

Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay

Throughout much of history, mistletoe was seen as an embodiment of the divine male essence – which is why you kiss under it today. (Public domain image of mistletoe via Pixabay)

That’s because Jeremy is a Dom in the bedroom and while Rebeccah is a natural submissive with inclinations clearly geared toward that life, her abuse makes her associate the word “submissive” with anything but pleasure. Jeremy has never been with a woman who didn’t already know all about the lifestyle, and never with anyone with a history of abuse. He’s not sure that this woman he would risk everything for can adjust to his needs in the bedroom, even if she admits that it’s what she has always fantasized about. Just as Jeremy would never ask Rebeccah to be anyone other than who she is, he can’t be someone he’s not.

For a 100 page novella, this story managed to be outstandingly full-featured, with Rebeccah and Jeremy shown as compelling characters you instantly like and cheer for, yet each carrying baggage that presents an obstacle to their happily ever after. I liked that Rebeccah referred to her therapy and was conscious of how she was reacting to certain triggers based on her past with her ex-husband. Equally as helpful, Jeremy had clear experience and training regarding domestic situations, as well as being an experienced Dom, which has its own set of communication guidelines. This combination made it obvious that he was doing everything he needed to in order to set boundaries and help Rebeccah feel comfortable. The BDSM piece was a little more intellectual with some very interesting psychological twists I didn’t expect, and it made the sexual intimacy truly illustrative of the couple’s growing feeling for and trust in one another.

At a mere $2.51, I would recommend every erotic romance reader who wants something other than the small-town Christmas story (and I love those too, but change is good) to trot to their nearest e-bookseller and grab Matzoh and Mistletoe.

Happy reading!

Lauren Dane’s Federation Chronicles Aren’t Just Great Erotic Science Fiction, They Are Amazing Science Fiction. Period.

30 Nov

Undercover (Federation Chronicles #1 – Brandt, Sera, and Ash) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2008)

That isn’t to say they aren’t erotic – they are damn erotic – but so much of erotic science fiction is heavy on the unusual penises or having some earth woman show an alien what love really is (and hey, I’m not judging since I read it). What gets missed in that emphasis is kickass world-building with deep conflict and political machinations which highlight the flaws in society, while hopefully giving the reader insight into the inequities in their own world.

Lauren Dane does all this in her Federation Chronicles. And she does it so well that it leaves me reeling and wanting more.

You do have to be comfortable with the erotic part, and a reader unused to a high level of steamy might find the first book a baptism by fire since it involves not just two people, but three and is heavy on a BDSM dynamic. But in case you’re worried this is going to be “who puts what in where,” don’t be. This is Lauren Dane, the writer who gave us contemporaries like the Brown Siblings series and the Chase Brothers series, and paranormal series like Cascadia Wolves, the de La Vega Cats and the recently concluded, terrific Bound by Magick series. Triads pop up all the time in her writing, sometimes accepted by the culture, sometimes not, and she deftly highlights those tensions while infusing the relationship with such emotion that you are cheering for everything to work out (and it does, thankfully, since it’s a romance novel!). While Dane has written this series so each book can be a stand-alone, with world-building like this, I’d strongly recommend reading all of them in order to truly appreciate the story arc.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

The Federation is actually a federation of universes (or ‘verses as the citizens refer to them) settled by humans descended from Earth colonists generations upon generations ago, with a network of official Portals linking vast distances to shorten travel and enhance commerce. Comprised of millions of people and controlled by Houses, a handful of powerful families wield sole control over the masses. Think of the Houses as medieval aristocracy in terms of power and financial control and you won’t be far off. Members of the Houses are “Ranked,” meaning they possess tremendous status and privilege in addition to vast quantities of wealth at their disposal. While ranked men and women can have affairs with unranked people, it’s extremely limited in nature, with the more prominent ranked having to enter political marriages arranged (or at least approved) by the head of their House. Naturally with this arrangement, the men often have unranked mistresses, basically courtesans, and Ranked women are raised to think only of enhancing their family’s status through marriage as their destiny.

The first book, Undercover, focuses on Lieutenant Sera Ayers, an outstanding operative for the Federation military, known for using her facility with languages and cultures to good effect in undercover operations. Coming from an extremely modest background, she’s worked hard to find her place, but has finally achieved a level of respect from her superior officers and her peers and assembled a crack team which she leads successfully. When she’s called into her CO’s office and told that her team has been reassigned to someone else so she can work with the two men in front of her on a secret assignment, she’s both stunned and enraged, primarily because the one man, Ash Walker, is the ranked jackass who stole her heart ten years ago and then shredded it with the offer of becoming his official mistress when his arranged marriage was announced and finalized. She ran from him then and she’s going to run from him now, but not before landing a terrific punch to the face.

Ash Walker knew Sera was likely to still be angry with him, even after a decade apart, but he didn’t expect this strong a reaction. He’s never stopped loving her and while he knows that she is perfect for this mission, he also knows that he’s hoping that he can show her that they can finally have a future together. His sham of a marriage fell apart after only a few years, and the best thing he got out of it was the man sitting next to him, his once brother-in-law, Brandt Pela, who is not only his best friend but his occasional lover as well. Ash suspects – no, he knows – that Sera might be the final piece to bring the three of them together, if she would just lower her defenses.

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Image purchased under a web license from Shutterstock

Brandt Pela might also be a wealthy ranked man but he sees what Ash stubbornly doesn’t, that Sera was so shattered by Ash’s treatment of her years ago that her lack of trust endangers their mission, especially since Ash constructed their cover so that Sera would have to pose as his mistress. Brandt knows that Sera is astonishingly beautiful and obviously a terrific soldier. Since he quickly decides he wants something more permanent with her as well, he offers to have her be his mistress on the mission, with the clear understanding that they will have to have sex and that the world they are traveling to is going to expect him to share her with Ash.

Sera hates Ash (and her reaction to him after all these years) but she doesn’t have a choice in this assignment. With the good-looking and considerate Brandt trying to make it work with switching the proposed roles, she accepts his offer, knowing that this mission is dangerous both physically and to her heart. When she discovers that her understanding of Ash’s choices ten years ago was not as clear as it should have been – and that the betrayal they are slowly uncovering on their assignment strikes at the heart of Ash and Brandt’s families – Sera decides she will do whatever it takes to fight for her world, even if it means having her heart broken all over again, this time by two ranked men.

I’ll be honest, this book is the most painful of the entire series for me to read since Sera and Ash are still both so raw from their loss of one another, even if it has been a decade. Sera was young and naive, at least to the point that she didn’t understand that Ash’s marriage involved the livelihood of tens of thousands of unranked people like her. Ash is an entitled ass who still doesn’t get it, but he is so in love with Sera and so tender with her as her relationship with Brandt develops that she is able to take the risk and be with him once more. Both Brandt and Ash are dominant, which works fine as Sera loves being a submissive to them (only in the bedroom, however), and the M/M action between Brandt and Ash *fans self* is quite steamy, even though Sera is their ultimate focus. Even though BDSM is not my thing, Dane writes it so well that it was clear the dynamic was about satisfying everyone’s desire to express their love and affection for one another, so it never made me uncomfortable.

I was so wowed by how Dane managed to figure out an HEA for these three since I spent a large part of my first reading desperately trying to brainstorm how on earth she could solve the problem of their status inequity. Yet these two ranked men use everything at their disposal to follow their hearts and find happiness, while also shedding the cover they’ve held for years of dissipated playboys, enabling them to be honest about both their undercover military service while at the same time honest about their love for Sera and each other. As tough as the first half of the book is, the last 30 pages always initiate a gigantic burst of warmth in my chest as it all comes together!

Relentless (Federation Chronicles #2 – Abby and Roman) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2009)

The second book in the series, Relentless, is actually my favorite (by a close margin, but still manages to move ahead). Centered on the Federation’s home world of Ravena, the focus of power and commerce in this polarized world. The powerful heads of houses and their heirs meet in councils to discuss issues and events, and the recent exposure of corruption in the houses of Walker and Pela (fortunately by two honored sons from those houses in the military) have stirred unrest among the unranked.

Heading it is the beautiful and dynamic Abbie Haws, a respected barrister and head of an organization which seeks greater representation for the unranked among the Houses. Abbie considers herself fortunate when she can get one of the House’s personal assistants to return her calls, but she draws attention when a nursemaid to one of the Houses is accused of stealing and fired, coincidentally right before she would qualify for her pension and retirement. The ranked members of the House involved are incensed, and Abbie is almost attacked in the courthouse. That near assault draws the attention of the most powerful man in the Federation, Roman Lyons, the head of House Lyons.

Lauren Dane mentions in her acknowledgements page that she wanted to specifically thank actor Daniel Craig since he was her inspiration for Roman Lyons, and I defy you not to think of that sexy actor as you fall for Roman. Married incredibly young at the age of 17 in a political union, Roman produced two wonderful sons quickly and then watched their mother waste away to a disease brought on by her last birth. Serious and intense, Roman has the weight of millions on his shoulders with literally the responsibility of hundreds of thousands of people directly working for the benefit of House Lyons.

Daniel Craig (the sexy beast). Whether he’s playing James Bond on screen or Roman Lyons in my head, he brings sensuality and incredible strength of purpose to the role. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

So naturally he’s astonished when he meets the troublesome Abbie Haws in his office to discover that the two of them have an immediate, combustible chemistry, one he has literally never experienced before and which ends with her having an orgasm within 10 minutes of their meeting. (That is my kind of meeting!) The two of them recognize that there is something there but the need for privacy is vital as the press getting a hold of any whiff of anything between them would be disastrous. Considering the work Abbie is doing, work that Roman grows to respect and wants to foster, her reputation would be horribly undermined with the taint of sexual connection between them. Roman also knows that as the head of House Lyons, it’s his duty to negotiate another political marriage and strengthen his House.

Knowing that there is no future is no guarantee of not falling in love. Abbie takes Roman undercover to see the lives of the unranked he controls while she gains insight into the unbelievable pressures and responsibilities he has. The Roman Abbie discovers is a man who adores his two sons and is incredibly loyal to the people who work for him. In turn, Roman discovers the truth behind Abbie’s many scars and realizes that a woman who has every reason to despise the ranked instead confronts them daily working to forward the rights of average person. The more each of them uncover, the more amazing their connection, and a hopeless love develops between them, one that they both know must end. For Roman the agony is knowing he will have to deal with everything in his life without the joy and fire that is Abbie grounding him; for Abbie it’s knowing that she will need to go on with her life seeing Roman on the vids (video) and hearing about him at every turn, particularly after he’s married to someone else.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Image purchased with web license via Shutterstock.

Oh. My. God. There is no way you don’t come away adoring Abbie – the love she has for her family (and they for her), her handling her narcissistic and idealistic father, the older brother who almost went to jail for her before accepting a military position instead, the ex-fiancee who has remained a good friend. Particularly after hearing the crucible she went through at such a young age when she was assaulted, you will be ready to get BFF necklaces and take her out for a drink! Roman is actually her perfect match, as her playful demeanor offers him an outlet he never before possessed and his intense support with no agenda other than helping her is a welcome relief from the many people who demand a piece of her. Their heat is off the charts – muy caliente – and when that sensuality is combined with the tenderness between them, it’s enough to break your heart, particularly knowing how doomed they are.

Which brings me to the number one reason why I think this book should be made into a movie. Of all the books (and the whole series would be an incredible movie franchise if middle America wouldn’t flip out at the M/M action and the triad relationships), the ending of this book, literally had me standing up shouting “Yes, YES!!” the first time I read it (and I still do a fist pump with each subsequent re-read). Dane just surprises the hell out of me with her ability to pull an emotional yet believable HEA out of what previously appeared to be thin air. Suffice it to say that you’ll be so much more in love with Roman than you were before, if that’s possible.

Insatiable (Federation Chronicles #3, Phantom Corps #1 – Daniel and Carina) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2010)

The third book, Insatiable, stars none other than Abbie Haws brother, Daniel, who works for Roman Lyons’ chief military officer in what’s known as the Phantom Corps. In fact, Dane has created a mini-trilogy within the larger construct of the Federation Chronicles, continuing the story arc of political corruption within the Federation and demonstrating how the brave men and women of this elite undercover force ferrets out information and eliminates threats to the universes.

This book brings in a fascinating angle to the series’ story arc of the growing threat to the Federation by exposing us to the threat inherent in Imperial territory. The Imperial ‘Verses are the direct competition and insidious enemy of the Federation although no conflict is officially declared. One of the most powerful men in this ‘verse is a sick bastard by the name of Fardelle, who is about to marry off his twenty-three year old daughter Carina to further cement an alliance with one of his underlings.

Carina has perfected the facade of a shallow, stunningly beautiful woman just waiting to be married off to further her father’s agenda. Her mother, Fardelle’s first wife, has worked quietly behind the scenes to undermine her husband and support her children at every turn, for all the good it’s done her.  Her oldest son literally disappeared and his name stricken from all records and portraits, her youngest son died suddenly of a mysterious and virulent illness, and now her daughter is to be married to a violent lecher who will make the rest of her life a hell. Stealing vital data chips from her husband’s home office, Carina’s mother convinces her to accept the coded data as a subdermal chip, intrinsically linked to her body’s system so that in order to extract the data, Carina must be alive. Contacting Federation forces, Fardelle’s wife arranges for an operative to ferry Carina to Federation territory and safely out of her father’s hands.

Carina agreed to be the carrier thinking that this would undermine her father’s evil while helping her and her mother escape, and she’s dismayed at the last minute by her mother’s announcement that she plans to stay behind. Carina fleeing a horrible marriage is believable versus the more treasonous implications of the two of them disappearing. When the handsome but bossy operative Daniel Haws arrives in disguise, Carina can tell she’s in good hands even if the agent in question treats her like an utter moron.

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Public domain image courtesy of Pixabay

Daniel is shocked at not only how beautiful Carina Fardelle is, but how her public face of a vapid, shallow daughter of wealth completely disappears and in its place is that of a vibrant and capable young woman eager to experience the world and feel her freedom. He must get her out of Imperial territory alive, however, and back to Ravena where the information on her chip can be decoded. Fardelle is suspected of trafficking in bioweapons with the goal to attack Federation outposts and the human costs could potentially be in the millions. Yet as he and Carina evade Imperial forces with the help of his fellow agents, Daniel finds himself sexually and emotionally pulled toward this brave young woman, all the while knowing that when they return to his home planet she will be inundated with proposals of marriage from ranked men. But Carina didn’t escape her father’s control to not take the reins of her own destiny, and she knows her future includes Daniel, if he can let go of his belief system to see it.

Dane does a terrific job showing us the phenomenal pressures of Carina’s life, pressures which force her to don an impenetrable mask in order to avoid detection. But although Carina is a virgin, she is a sensual, slightly naughty one with a propensity for voyeurism, so she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and she plans on trying all of them with Daniel. There is no way for Daniel to resist her for long, at least not once his instincts confirm that this bold, courageous woman is the real Carina, and he knows she may just be one person he can never let go. I loved them as a couple, adored their heat, and felt that the sense of imminent threat to the Federation was so well done, I wasn’t sure what was making my pulse pound more – Carina and Daniel’s sexy times or the urgent need for them to get her information back to Ravena ASAP! Meeting the other members of the Phantom Corps helps understand the dynamics of their operation while introducing us to a few key people, namely the heroes of the next two books.

Mesmerized (Federation Chronicles #4; Phantom Corps #2 – Andrei and Piper) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2011)

The first fellow Phantom Corp agent with his own book is Andrei Solace, the enigmatic assassin who helped Carina and Daniel get to Federation territory. Now in Mesmerized, with the escalation of animosity from the Imperial forces a growing rumor – particularly with their use of mercenaries to traffic bioagents and ammunition – Andrei is sent back to his home planet to investigate. There is one mercenary in particular who he never forgot and who he is sure will help the Federation. But seeing her means confronting his past and, more importantly, having the strength to walk away…again.

Piper Roundtree thought Andrei might have died when he disappeared at age 17 and it broke her young heart. Always best friends, their affection for one another became an all-consuming young love which had them taking one another’s virginity. But Andrei and Piper both lived a hardscrabble existence on the wrong side of the law, and while Piper had her siblings, Andrei was alone after his mother died and his siblings were taken away. After his arrest, the Roundtrees never saw him again, only comforted by the occasional packets of credits marked with a single “A” that helped them survive in their isolated compound during the hard years.

But when Andrei turns out to be the mysterious sniper who just saved Piper and her family from annihilation at the hands of Imperial soldiers pressuring her to ferry illegal cargo, Piper has the realization that nothing has changed regarding her feelings for Andrei. Yes, he’s now a man when she loved the boy, but realizing the work he’s done and how he has made himself into a deadly soldier only makes her more determined to show him that he is loved exactly for who he is. Andrei knows that who and what he is will only stain this incredible thing that he has with Piper, but he can’t help needing her, even when he knows he should push her away.

Andrei was a sexy beast in Insatiable and had a demonstrated wry sense of humor, but seeing him revisit his painful past is worth it to find Piper again. She is so upbeat and stubborn (both in the best possible way) and most importantly, she knows him well-enough to understand all the shame and worries he brings to their renewed relationship, allowing her to blast past those barriers one at a time. For Andrei, being an assassin and spy is so much of who he is (and that part of him that he doesn’t want Piper to know) that for him to see her actively take part in his life – using her shady contacts, her ability to bluff and her amazing piloting skills to help him and the Federation – is this eye-opening moment where it occurs to him that his vocation doesn’t have to be separate from the love of his life. I adored them both and cheered for them to figure it all out, even when the ending of the book broke my heart with Piper’s loss during the plant raid.

Captivated (Federation Chronicles #5 ; Phantom Corps #3 – Vincenz, Julian and Hannah) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, 2012)

That final mission in Mesmerized had a big impact on more than just Andrei and Piper. In Captivated, we see the story begin back at the raid, as Vincenz Fardelle (Carina’s older brother who disappeared and then enlisted in the Phantom Corps) helps raid the plant in an effort to discover more about his father’s Imperial plans for bioweaponry. As he is making his way through the deserted labs, he spots a naked, filthy woman, clearly tortured, in one of the glass cells. Glancing at the lab’s information to insure that she is not infected or dangerous, he’s angered and horrified to discover that she has been subjected to an experiment for over a year at being deprived of touch or interaction of any kind other than experiments involving pain or violent treatment. He scoops her up and takes her to the transport to get her out of that hellhole prior to its detonation.

The woman, who is identified as scientist Hannah Black, is naturally terrified of doctors of any kind, reminded all too much of the experiments and pain inflicted upon her in her captivity. Vincenz, who has rejected his father’s name and taken his mother’s surname Cuomo, is in a relationship with fellow Phantom Corps member Julian Marsters. Brought together soon after Julian lost his best friend in the attack on Ravena in Insatiable, Vincenz and Julian discovered that their love for one another has pushed back the darkness they each carry. Perhaps because of this, they empathize with Hannah’s struggle to fight to gain back the pieces of her shattered memory and personality, immediately protecting her from the Federation doctors who want her in a hospital under their care.

In the weeks after her rescue, Hannah feels nothing but frustration at her fragmented intellect combined with intense affection for the two gorgeous men who protect her. Deprived of human touch for so long, golden Vincenz and the dark Julian keep her sandwiched between them at night, making sure one of them is always close by for her to hold if she needs them during the day. When it becomes clear that she was kidnapped for a reason by the Imperial scientists, Hannah agrees to undergo a painful experimental treatment which will hopefully amplify the piecing together of her memory in order to help the Phantom Corps with information. In the process, a part of herself she thought permanently lost – that of sexual desire – returns with a vengeance and is embarrassingly directed at the handsome soldiers who saved her.

While Vincenz and Julian may have begun their acceptance of Hannah into their home based on the need to protect her, the weeks of witnessing her daily bravery have deepened their feelings into much more and they both admit to each other that their feelings are quite carnal. Helping Hannah reclaim this part of herself as well is nothing but a pleasure to all three of them, but with Julian still withholding a part of himself over grief for his friend and Vincenz facing his father’s demons in an important mission, Hannah wonders if the feelings she has for these two men will have to come to an end.

Public domain image via Pixabay

Public domain image via Pixabay

Okay, this is the book practically tied with Relentless as my favorite of the series. Vincenz and Julian are both hot and sweet with one another – brainy, hunky soldiers with dark pasts who nevertheless find something precious and wonderful in one another. The development with Hannah is all the sweeter for them not realizing it was anything they needed or wanted, they just woke up one day realizing that her happiness was incredibly important to them and that she was a woman whose beauty, inside and out, made her an intrinsic part of their relationship.

Hannah is an amazing character and I think Lauren Dane is nothing short of masterful the way she conveys how Hannah’s brain has morphed into something truly different, yet how that change has simply revealed the core of her amazing personality. Seeing Piper and Andrei again was a pleasure, particularly when they both explain how Vincenz and Julian are seriously stepping in it and hurting Hannah. There’s no way you don’t have a smile on your face when Andrei lectures the two of them on how to treat a woman! Dane offers great further development of threat from the Imperial forces and a really exciting denouement when we return to the compound from which Carina escaped back in Insatiable. There is joy and heartbreak in the final showdown, but once again, an unexpected HEA that makes you cheer for this triad and the future they have together.

While Dane has made clear that while she is busy juggling other projects in 2014 (and I’m looking forward to them!), she’s is planning at least two more books in the series – Wil (the hot head of the Phantom Corps who we have already seen flustered by a woman back on Ravena) and Deimos (Roman Lyons oldest son who I carry a crush for based on how much he loves his father and how he wants to help Abby). Her website states that she’s hoping their books will come out in 2015, but luckily for us, these five books are so amazing that whenever I get itchy for fabulous science fiction, I just reread them!

There All Along by Lauren Dane and Megan Hart (Berkley, December 3, 2013)

I did want to address the cost of the books – the ebook editions are strangely expensive (like around $11) which I don’t understand at all, but there are mass market paperbacks for each of them with a normal price of $6, and honestly, whatever you pay, they are utterly worth it. I have most of mine in paper format, but considering where they rank in my list of favorite series, I’m going to slowly add the ebook versions since I like to have both formats for books I consider to be romance classics, and these fit the bill.

Many thanks to Lauren Dane for being such a kickass writer that she can do multiple genres with aplomb. She has another (what sounds like) science fiction story (unrelated to the Federation chronicles) coming out this week in a duology with Megan Hart, There All Along, and Dane’s story “Land’s End” about a lone gunman and the woman who’s town is attacked, sounds amazing – I’ve already pre-ordered it!

If you enjoy science fiction, love science fiction erotic romance, or just plain love Lauren Dane, do yourself a favor and get the Federation Chronicles on your to-read list ASAP. This a phenomenal series by a phenomenal writer – you’ll love it!

When Romance Isn’t Romance at All – The Disappointment of Vristen Pierce’s Between Friends Erotic Novella

10 Oct

Between Friends by Vristen Pierce (Forever, October 1, 2013)

I’m going to try and not belabor this post. Normally, I only review books that I recommend for purchase, but in this case, I think this book makes a really important point that publishers need to listen to, particularly with the giant wave of erotica that the Big Six publishing houses have decided to surf. There is one simple rule of romance. One.

Romance novels have a happy ending between two people.

We can amend that to two or more people in the case of menage erotic romance, but it’s a hard and fast rule that you cannot break. If you do, your book isn’t romance.

Between Friends by Vristen Pierce is not romance.

Yet, Grand Central which publishes the very popular romance line of Forever, has chosen to publish this book under exactly that category, a choice that I believe has led directly to its abysmal ratings on Goodreads and Amazon. Romance readers pick up books because of this one rule (see above) and when you don’t deliver, we wind up like a Cy Young award pitcher, ready to hurl this book across the room and never, ever buy a book from the author again.

And I’m disappointed, because not only did this book have a tremendous amount of potential since there is a substantial following for menage erotic romance, but it also featured an African American heroine in an interracial relationship. That’s awesome and something we do not see enough in romance.

The novella starts off with Stacy Washington getting dumped by her boyfriend and heading out with a friend to have a good one-night stand to remember that she’s a desirable woman. In addition to the hot bartender Evan, she finds gorgeous Justin with whom she promptly fulfills her goal of the evening. The sex is great and a few days later she wants more, this time from Evan since her best friend has reminded Stacy of the rule of not going back to one-night stands (it smacks of relationship). Stacy ping-pongs between the two men (who happen to be friends) and it’s really just sex. Everyone likes each other, Stacy feels empowered at work and begins to make some changes, and before you know it, she’s headed off to England. Alone.

*needle screech* I’m sorry, what?

Yep, not only do we not see either guy develop into anything resembling a relationship (and we are told that she’s falling for each of them because they do end up hanging out but we are never shown any kind of deeper connection), but Stacy doesn’t want to choose so she figures it’s easier to just leave the country.

First of all, I get annoyed with first person erotica (it feels lazy to me and I want different perspectives) unless it’s in the hands of a maestro like Charlotte Stein, and Vristen Pierce is no maestro (and what is with her name – Vristen? If her parents named her that, it’s mean and if she chose it as a pen name, it’s weird). Because there is little to no emotional intimacy with the characters, the sex is flat (because good sex scenes are not about putting tab A in slot B), and we get zero happy ending. Second, it is not a mystery that this book is in the under 3 stars category on Goodreads, because the author and the publisher has literally betrayed its faithful romance readership by putting out this novella under their name. It’s not romance.

I’m going to stop here, but I think that Forever did Vristen Pierce a huge disservice not editing her novel differently and certainly by putting this out as a romance. I think she has succeeded in alienating readers (certainly me) when there was a terrific opportunity to put out a erotic romance novel with a fresh new perspective.

The Erotic Tempo of Heavy Metal Heart by Nico Rosso Will Have You Making Finger Devil Horns While You Read

7 Oct

Heavy Metal Heart (Demon Rock #1 – Trevor and Misty) by Nico Rosso (Carina Press, September 30, 2013)

I do enjoy rock star romances as long as they don’t descend into skeevy groupie sex territory. As long as everyone is consenting and of age, I’m usually the first to admit that this environment is terrific for erotic romance as rock n’ roll is all about sexual energy. Like the drummer from This is Spinal Tap says in the bathtub, “Well, so long as there’s sex and drugs I don’t need rock n’ roll.”

Nico Rosso’s Heavy Metal Heart, the first in his Demon Rock series, is a thundering paranormal romance set in this world of rock star celebrities. Trevor Sands is understandably jaded. When you are a near-immortal satyr capable of channelling the elements, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Together with his bandmates, they rock audience after audience in order to feed off their energy as they’ve done since the Bacchanalian revelries of ancient times. Yet throughout it all they have practically given up on the ideal of the “Muse” – a destined mate for each satyr who once found can feed him forever.

But even while admitting it’s probably a myth, Trevor has always dreamed of a green-eyed woman, even immortalizing her in his music, but it’s been over a millennia and she’s never appeared. When she does turn up at one of his gigs in Los Angeles, the connection is palpable and thankfully she seeks him out after a high-energy concert where she stood out like a beacon in the crowd. Trevor found himself singing directly to her, yet knew that if she was the one, she had to come to him.

Nymph and Satyr (1860) by Alexandre Cabanel. Image from Wikipedia.com.

Misty Grant couldn’t stop her feet moving toward Trevor Sands if she tried. She has felt a connection to him since the first time she heard his music and listening to him sing directly to her tonight has only strengthened her desire to be with him. But when he, emboldened by their unbelievable sexual encounter, reveals his true self to her, she runs – right into the heart of a world that could kill her for what she is.

This is a nonstop, page-turning story imbued with not only highly poetic language but also a cinematic narrative. Like many movies, the action is relentless and I imagine this pace is a direct result of the novella length of the story. My only criticism is that I did wish for a little lull in the sex and violence (not that I didn’t enjoy those aspects) so I could see the two characters relax and get to know one another in a less stressed environment. (I think it would have strengthened their connection even further.) It was unsurprising to discover from Rosso’s bio that he worked in the film industry, both from his insider knowledge crafting Misty’s mind-numbing job as well as his approach to the conflict and action of the story.

The overwhelming eroticism in Heavy Metal Heart is natural in a world of satyrs born from the energy of revelry long since past. It’s impressive exactly how many sexual encounters Rosso manages to pack into about 130 pages ;-)! The hunger Misty and Trevor have for one another is amplified by the energy they are capable of exchanging with one another and it shows in sex where the earth literally moves. While Trevor has suffered more than Misty, their sudden connection must be like someone sitting down to a banquet table when they haven’t really eaten in months.

Finger devil horn gesture – it’s all about appreciating the rock n’ roll, people.

This novel definitely falls under erotic romance, with voyeurism and a little back door action part of the sexual experience of the protagonists, so check your reservations at the door. At least Rosso didn’t give the satyrs two penises like I’ve seen in other paranormal romance involving this type of supernatural creature (that just sounds unnecessarily complicated)!

Fans of music throughout the ages will enjoy the numerous references to musicians past and present as well as Trevor’s original lyrics quoted throughout the story. He has put his centuries of experience – particularly his yearning for connection with the mysterious green-eyed woman who has lived in his fantasies – into his songs and this lends a wonderful dimension to the narrative. The poetic phrasing and dialogue does take a little adjustment as a reader, but it seems appropriate that long-lived creatures would not speak with the same cadence as the modern era around them.

I would definitely pick up the next book, particularly since I think the shorter length of the novella lends itself to world-building over the course of a series. I’m now heading over to Spotify to listen to some growly, fast-paced rock n’ roll, so I can flip my own devil horns to the computer screen while thinking about Trevor and Misty. Thanks, Nico Rosso!

Cake by Lauren Dane Serves Up Her Trademark – Delicious Sensuality and Emotional Oomph

17 Sep

Cake by Lauren Dane (Cosmo Red Hot Reads from Harlequin, September 17, 2013)

I have to confess to being super impressed with Harlequin’s roster of authors for their Cosmo Red-Hot Reads partnership. I mean, Tawny Weber and now Lauren Dane? I’ve made no bones about how amazing I find Dane’s many series (the Brown Siblings series and its spin off series, Delicious, immediately come to mind as some of the best erotic romance on the market) so I was thrilled at the announcement that she was having a novella-length short published under this imprint’s umbrella.

There is no way any fan of Dane could possibly be disappointed by this wonderful story. We have all the elements of her typical romance, yet with Dane’s usual twist of piecing them together in a way that seems utterly fresh with each new partnership. (How does she do that??) A confident woman, a man with a bit of an edge, and strong friendships give not only plenty of heat in the sexy times department but an emotional layer that have you heaving a sigh at the final page.

Wren Davis is a part-time bike messenger who is blazing her own path in art school where she is studying animation and illustration while creating wonderfully crafted graphic novels. With her best friend Kelsey working as the personal assistant for famous artist Gregori Ivanov, Wren has discovered someone whose mind fascinates her as much as his body. Over the last year, Wren and Gregori have developed a kind of flirty friendship. She realizes that he comes off brusque and intimidating with his dyed mohawk and tattoos – to say nothing of his demanding tone and that killer Russian accent – but to her he’s a great artist and someone she really respects. She also sees the people fawning all over him (women included) and wants to make sure that whatever is between them is with the understanding that she doesn’t want anything from him, just whatever he can give her.

Gregori has Laduree macaroons mailed to him in Seattle. What. A. Man.

This is not to say that she doesn’t want more. The man is sex on a stick and she has caught him giving her the once over, even when he keeps their relationship to tea and the speciality cookies and cakes he gets shipped from Paris to satisfy his sweet tooth. In Gregori’s mind, Wren is much more than the women he casually sleeps with and discards and certainly more than his emotional vampire of an ex-wife. When Wren turns up dressed to kill at one of his shows, Gregori can’t help but take a kiss…and immediately wishes he hadn’t. She’s even more delicious than he imagined and soon Wren’s persistence wears down his barriers and they fall into an unbelievably hot relationship. You have to love it when Wren, draped on his lap, challenges the worried Gregori:

Question is, Gregori, do you enjoy me as much as you enjoy cake? And how can you know unless you take a taste?

And taste he does! If the relationship part doesn’t make him break out in hives, the tenderness between them is bound to since – if there’s one thing Gregori believes – it’s that he is horrible at relationships and great at casual. Yet with Wren he’s happy and productive, and totally terrified, which naturally leads to some typically y-chromosome stupid decisions. Wren’s patience and persistence are probably what make her such a talented artist and I adored seeing her understand Gregori so much that she would work past her hurt and do what she knew was right for both of them.

Remember that Dane is unique in her voice – she’s gritty and erotic (plenty of piercings and f-bombs in her writing) yet so phenomenally emotional that she writes the appearance of love in thoughts and actions better than any author I know on the market. At approximately $3.00 for this novella, you’re getting a story just as delicious as the best cake. Do yourself a favor and savor it.

Lauren Dane’s Delicious Series Combines Friendship, Food and Hot Romance

24 Jul

Cherished by Maya Banks and Lauren Dane (containing Book 1 of the Delicious series “Sway” – Daisy and Levi’s story) (Berkley, August 2012)

Lauren Dane is undoubtedly at the top of the pack when it comes to erotic romance; she’s an author who can be counted on to supply some key basics to any story. Her work is deeply psychological, filled with strong women and the men who grow to love and worship them, in an atmosphere filled with internal conflict and with characters surrounded by rich, caring friends. Yet, for all these consistencies, each one of her many books (and I’ve read a lot of them) is as unique as the characters who inhabit them – characters who you feel could step off the page and hold a conversation with you. But talking might just be overrated since Dane is renowned, and rightly so, for her romance novels burning up the erotic end of the spectrum, rife with love scenes so hot you’ll think your e-reader is developing an electrical problem.

Her Delicious series is set on the picturesque spot of Bainbridge Island, next to Seattle, where a group of friends (Gillian’s good friends from Dane’s Brown Siblings book, Never Enough) have a long-standing supper club, one that becomes a thriving business for several of them. In the dual anthology Cherished, Lauren Dane starts off this series with the novella “Sway”. Levi Warner is tired of his brother’s fiancee making demands of their family leading up to the wedding, particularly when one of them is that every member of the wedding party attend dance classes. Levi knows how to dance but is happy to take lessons when he catches sight of his partner, a tattooed, vintage-dressed, twenty-something Daisy Huerta. She’s one of the dance instructors and her beauty stimulates Levi as much as her intelligent bright eyes and the way her body submits to his on the dance floor. They are both left a little breathless, but with Levi almost twice her age in his early forties, he knows she’s not for him.

Beautiful Bainbridge Island has a bridge, but the picturesque ferry is a popular way to get there.

Convinced they inhabit different spheres, he’s surprised to see her in the foyer of his friend and lawyer Cal Whaley’s building supervising an art installation. Daisy is elated to see the sensual older man whose air of command got her blood flowing in their dance class. She wants to run her hands through that salt-and-pepper hair and see if his dominance extends to the bedroom as well, but he’s clearly shying away from her. When they finally do spend some time together, she can practically smell Levi’s affluence but they both put aside their possible incompatibility in order to explore what’s between them.

Levi cannot resist this incredibly talented young woman whose confidence and art ability puts her in an older emotional class than her age of 24. With Daisy, Levi is able to be himself in the bedroom, a dominant, and like a true Dom, he cherishes and lavishes pleasure on his sub. He knows his loving but prominent family would never accept the artsy Daisy yet he cannot stay away from her. With his disaster of a first marriage behind him, he doesn’t want forever, but Daisy is not shy about calling Levi on his avoidance of mixing her with his life and family. His reluctance might force him to lose the person who has come to mean everything to him – who lets him be exactly who he is with no pretense.

I’m going to honest that BDSM holds zero interest to me but, like lots of other sexy times in romance novels, if there is emotion and character development in the midst of that sexual practice I’m happy to read it and see how it advances the plot. Levi and Daisy in the bedroom would be a good way for someone unsure about BDSM stories to dip their toe in the water since they are both so tender and exciting with one another that the sex is less about collars and rope and more about two people revealing their innermost selves and finding they are a perfect match.

“Sway” is also a great introduction to Lauren Dane’s style of writing, which I adore. Yes, everyone has a certain amount of emotional baggage but, with the rich setting of Bainbridge Island and Seattle as a backdrop, these people work through their internal conflicts to find the love they so richly deserve.

Tart (Delicious series #2 – Jules and Cal and Gideon’s story) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, November 2012)

The second book in the series, this time the full-length, 350+ page novel Tart, focuses on one of Daisy’s good friends and business partners, baker Jules Lamprey. She owns the bakery of the same name and part of her expansion with her catering friend Mary Whaley is that they both want to start using local suppliers for more of their goods. Jules heads out to one of her favorite farmers, Patrick Carter, only to discover that his gorgeous grandson Gideon has moved back to help his grandfather. One look at Jules and Gideon zeroes right in on her, wasting no time going to her bakery and making his interest clear. They embark on a hot, sexy relationship that Jules feels is the icing on her cake until one BIG complication rears its head.

That complication comes in form of her best friend, Cal Whaley. Cal has loved Jules since he kissed her when she was fifteen and he was seventeen, but numerous relationships with men and women later and he suddenly realizes that Jules isn’t waiting for him anymore. Seeing the intensity of her relationship with Gideon goes way beyond her usual approach to dating, he corners her outside the bakery and gives a scorching kiss, one that sets her back on her heels and pisses her off.

Cal has had seventeen years to make a move on her and she came to terms with him not wanting her when he starting dating guys. When he also started dating women, however, Jules was hurt since she clearly wasn’t good enough for him to be with romantically, and now he has the nerve to kiss the stuffing out of her just when everything is amazing with Gideon. She storms back to the farm to tell Gideon what happened with Cal following in her wake, only to have Gideon shock the hell out of both of them.

Be warned, the amazing food in both Tart and Lush will make you hungry (and wish that these women were your friends).

Be warned, the amazing food in both Tart and Lush will make you hungry (and wish that these women were your friends).

Gideon knows that Jules is it for him. His failed marriage behind him, he has a clear view of what he wants and needs and this kind, blond beauty with her cadre of loyal friends and demanding family is his future. When Jules bursts into his house upset, with her best friend Cal on her heels, explaining how Cal kissed her and that she responded, Gideon applies his own brand of logic to the situation. Gideon doesn’t want to lose Jules and knows there is a serious spark with this man who has been in her life since she was small. He doesn’t want to be the reason that Jules loses someone important to her and, truth be told, Gideon has had plenty of relationships with men as well as women. Cal is gorgeous so Gideon suggests that Jules and he open the relationship to include Cal.

That was the last thing Jules expected to hear. She has seen successful triad relationships like that of her friend and famous bass guitarist Erin Brown with her two partners (whose phenomenal story is the first of the Brown siblings series, Laid Bare). Could she possibly do one and particularly a relationship with two such dominant males as Cal and Gideon? Her immediate family has abandoned her, one person after another, and the thought of Cal and Gideon maybe preferring each other in the long run and leaving Jules behind is a very real fear for her.

Without my knowing how many actual committed triad relationships there are in the United States, it’s had for me to know what’s normal, but there is something incredibly realistic about Lauren Dane’s writing when it comes to these committed situations. Gideon, Jules and Cal are wicked hot and sexy together, but their issues, fights and vulnerabilities are incredibly realistic as is the reaction of some of their family members to the announcement of their partnership. Yet where other books who’ve gone for “realistic” in menage relationships have seemed so unromantic to me, Dane makes these relationships filled with love and tenderness (and heat, yowza) where loyal friends and family just want the people involved to be happy and can see how good they are for one another. Having known so many women like Jules, who are so confident in every area except that of caring for their selfish family members, it was a joy to see her grow with the encouragement of Cal and Gideon into a person who can set boundaries and demand a healthy relationship from everyone in her life.

Lush (Delicious #3 – Mary and Damien’s story) by Lauren Dane (Berkley, April 2013)

Overlapping the events in the last third of Tart is the hot fling between Mary Whaley, Jules’ best friend and business partner, and the uber-sexy rock drummer Damien Hurley, detailed in the third book of the series, Lush. Damien is in town for all of the wedding festivities of his good friend and rock legend Adrian Brown to his English fiancee Gillian, and he is immediately taken with all of Gillian’s lovely female friends. One in particular, the curly-haired brunette siren Mary Whaley bowls him over with her sensuality and her talent. She makes it extremely clear that she would be happy to have a hot little fling with Damien. One taste of Mary and Damien realizes that she’s even more delicious than her food, and once will not be enough for him.

Mary is incredibly busy caring for her thriving business and a relationship with one of the most notorious playboys in rock doesn’t even cross her mind. But Damien keeps calling and texting her, building a real friendship with her – one that she’s happy to say includes benefits when they see one another. Spending a little more time together has her uncomfortable and astonished at the behavior of the women he encounters on tour. Damien keeps reassuring her that its her he wants but with them both so busy, Mary has her doubts that this powerful attraction between them can develop into more.

It’s impossible not to love Damien and Mary. Damien is so determined to finally have something real with this incredible woman but he has to face the reality of his past. That he comes from a down to earth family (many of whom are in the band with him) who have seen him at his best and worst helps keep him on track and making progress with Mary, but he’s aware the lifestyle sucks when it comes to relationships. Mary is a wonderful strong woman with talent flowing out of her pores. Yet she’s not afraid to stand up to her overbearing friends who think they are protecting her from the hurt Damien could potentially inflict upon her with his rock star ways. I’m hoping Damien’s scathingly hot brothers will continue the series since the Hurley family has plenty to offer Dane’s readers! *fans self*

Lauren Dane not only delivers emotionally pitch perfect romance time and again, but she’s capable of doing it in practically every genre. While she rocks contemporary erotic romance with her Brown Siblings series (I’ll have to do a post on it, it’s that good and there’s a new book coming out in October), paranormal romance like her Cascadia Wolves shifter series or her newer Bound by Magick series, and even science fiction in the form of the Federation Chronicles (which kicks total romance ass, btw). If you’re feeling a little hungry for erotic romance with amazing characters, take a taste of Lauren Dane’s Delicious series and enjoy!

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers Brings Four Erotic Short Stories to Your End Table

16 Jul

Love Letters: Wicked Whispers, Volume 3 by Christina Thatcher, Maggie Wells, Ginny Glass, and Emily Gale (Carina Press, June 17, 2013)

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, anthologies are always a pleasure to read since you never know when you are going to stumble across a new author to love (see my Lucy Monroe series post from yesterday). In looking over the larger body of work from these four authors, it’s interesting to note that more and more writers are becoming specialists, particularly in the area of short fiction. While short stories are not as interesting to me as the novella, I still enjoyed a small taste of romance in each of these works and certainly appreciate the skill it takes to make the reader feel the build up and resolution of the romance in a small number of pages.

The subtitle “Wicked Whispers” is your first clue as the nature of these stories. Words and speaking are a key piece in every plot – whether it’s unexpected naughty talk, writing a sex scene, reading a sex scene or practicing phone sex. It’s a great construct for the collection and each story was of excellent quality, to the point that I would cheerfully purchase the writing of any of the authors in the future.

“I is for Indecent” by Christina Thatcher

Annie is captivated by the image of the astonishingly good looking Stefan Cox in the wedding album of her friend and boss, amazed that someone that good looking can also be a talented architect. She scoffs when she hears that he is interested in meeting her, having admired Annie’s award-winning jewelry designs, but ends up at a dinner party where Stefan asks to see her again. Knowing she’s way out of his league – the man should date supermodels or corporate CEOs – she declines.

He doesn’t take no for an answer. Showing up at her jewelry studio, Stefan charms her into giving them one dinner, largely by gently and explicitly telling her exactly what he was thinking during the dinner party. Annie can’t believe that she’s this turned on by a man who hasn’t even touched her, but she agrees to the invitation. The dinner and what comes after is just as erotic, if not more so, but Annie isn’t convinced that the man she nicknamed “Adonis” has enough in common with her for it to last more than one night.

Great, richly drawn characters and some serious sexy talk make this short story a delight. It’s easy to understand Annie’s assumptions but the reality of Stefan is even more charming and lovable than his hot appearance.

“J is for Jaded” by Maggie Wells

Vaughn Hatch is the sexy, tattooed bad boy who sits in the booth of the recording studio Julie Poplin frequents when doing her voice over work for audiobooks. When he makes an offhand remark about her child acting, she’s crushed. She thought he of all people would appreciate building a second career and working past people’s assumptions. Vaughn used to be a guitar rock star before his lead singer overdosed and the band fell apart. He’s built a recording studio with an outstanding reputation but clearly he can’t respect what Julie does for a living.

It’s actually just the opposite. Vaughn lives for his time with Julie, listening to her sexy voice relating the steamy romance novels she’s become famous for bringing to life. He senses she might be attracted to him, but when she begins reading the latest work – a hot BDSM story – and accidentally uses Vaughn’s name instead of the hero, he knows he’s got her. But Julie makes clear that it’s just sex to her and Vaughn wants something more. Can they build a second act together?

Maggie Wells is able to dig into deep emotional territory very quickly and it was downright painful to witness Vaughn willing to have angry “just sex” with Julie (thank God for the following scene!). Two wounded individuals coming together and realizing that they are each just what the other need, despite appearances, is a wonderful trope and this well-written story hit every major chord, to the point that it read like a much longer story.

“K is for Kickstart” by Ginny Glass

Sophie Maddox has a major case of writer’s block and an even worse crush on her sexy, funny editor Oliver Gibson. As luck would have it, her laptop dies minutes before her editor calls to check in on her word count. Rather than accept her excuse, he orders her over to his house to use his computer…really late at night.

Oliver fell first for Sophie’s writing and then for her. He’s giddy at having her in his home like he’s always dreamed but his reinforced restraint falls to the wayside when she confesses to having a problem writing the sex scenes with her new hero. When a typo brings both their feelings to light, they begin a night of writing – from real life inspiration – that both hope will have a happy ending.

How could anyone not love Oliver? Brainy, loves books, handsome, funny and happy to worship Sophie from afar because they are friends and he’s worried about putting pressure on his favorite author and losing her. That Sophie was secretly using him as inspiration for her new hero? Priceless, and their writing session/sex scene was so hot I was fanning myself!

“L is for Lessons” by Emily Cale

Chloe always loves spending time with her friend Bethany, especially after Chloe’s painful and expensive divorce, a divorce made tougher by the fact her ex used her reason – that she’s a lesbian – to make sure Chloe got nothing past the bare minimum of child support. With her daughter growing like a weed, Chloe is sincerely worried about making ends meet and can’t help but notice that part-time dance instructor Bethany is always sporting the latest designer purses and has plenty of cash. When she works up the courage to ask her how she manages it, she gets an astonishing answer. Bethany is a phone sex operator.

Chloe, despite her shyness, is desperate enough to consider the profession and Bethany bolsters her courage explaining the many benefits – like great pay and flexible hours. But Chloe and Bethany both realize that Chloe needs a practice call before she does her interview, so Bethany dials her up. The result sends both women reeling with a desire they’ve tried to ignore, but it might be just the wake up call they need.

It’s wonderful to see a sexy F/f romance in an erotica collection and both Chloe and Bethany were wonderful characters who clearly care for one another, first as friends and then as perfectly matched lovers. Hot and sweet, I thought this was a great addition to the anthology.

S. E. Gilchrist’s Darkon Warriors a Great Addition to Erotic SciFi Romance

8 Jun

Awakening the Warriors by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, May 1, 2013)

I love scifi romance (the hotter, the better) but it’s often of variable quality. The good news is that it appears that there is a growing market for it, particularly in e-book form, so I’m seeing more and more out there. When I received the NetGalley short story, Awakening the Warriors, I confess I was so intrigued with the premise and the author’s voice that I went out and purchased the author’s full-length novel and other short and devoured all of them!

First off, I need to be upfront and mention that the author, S. E. Gilchrist, doesn’t have an actual name for this series so, to make it easy on myself, I’m just calling it the Darkon Warriors series since that’s the obvious binding factor. Maybe she didn’t want to imply that there was an order to the books since they technically could be read independently with little confusion, but I think it helps the reader to have the books clearly labeled in an order, so I’d encourage her to at least add that information to her Goodreads account. :-)

The Darkons are a dying species who used to rule a large amount of territory but now are fighting the Elite Forces, a military controlled by a dictator who would enjoy seeing the Darkons completely extinguished from the galaxy. It may happen without his interference; the Darkons lost all of their women and children six years ago to a horrible virus and have been, um, “unawakened” ever since despite exposure to the females of other races.

Legend Beyond the Stars by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, January 1, 2013).

I think it’s to a reader’s advantage to begin with the full-length novel, Legend Beyond the Stars, to get a sense of the world and the Darkon backstory. Captain Alana Knight awakens from her space stasis to more than just the requisite stomach cramping. It’s quickly apparent to her and the other female colonists supposedly bound for a new world that something is wrong. They’re no longer with the other colonists – no older women or men – leaving only women in their late teens to thirties in the spaceship transporting them to an unknown system.

Alana takes charge, finding the other leaders among the women and beginning to pump the aliens caring for them for more information. They discover that the space traders transporting them are not just providing a travel service but rather trade in flesh, a situation brought home when a group of extremely large alien males, clad in black armor and wearing helmets obscuring their features, inform the women that they have been purchased and are now Darkon slaves.

All the women take tremendous exception at this, with Alana shoving to the forefront and informing the leader, identified as one Commander Tarak El Rajan, that he is sadly mistaken if he thinks they will be slaves to anyone considering that they’ve been duped. The hard feelings lessen a little after they are taken on board the more comfortable Darkon ship, The Ark, and the men take their armor off. That they are all gorgeous provides at least a distraction from the women’s fear, which is further lessened when it’s made clear that, in Darkon culture, no man would ever take an unwilling woman.

Much to her dismay, Alana finds she’s not unwilling, and that there is a powerful connection between her and Tarak. He doesn’t understand why she’s not elated to be his slave and is baffled by her information that, in her culture, women are equals who fight alongside men. Before they all died, Darkon culture sequestered their women who were quiet and caring. But Tarak finds, along with his men, that human women, unlike any they have previously found, are capable of “awakening” Darkon men, and it’s not long before all but the youngest (Elise is only seventeen or eighteen) are “claimed” by the men. Alana’s spunky sidekick Jess is actually tied to two hot warriors and she’s not letting it worry her too much (who would?).

milky-way-67504_640The relationship between Tarak and Alana is obviously the focus, even as the political and social piece unfolds. Tarak is an uber-Alpha, so if you don’t like a man who finds it hard to let go of the “you’re my slave” piece, you probably won’t enjoy this book. His redeeming characteristics come in the form of his POV which reveals that while he’s saying that over and over, in actuality he is experiencing a tremendous amount of attraction and affection for this woman who frustrates him with her insistence on being treated as an equal. Alana naturally vacillates between her overwhelming attraction for Tarak, who can really burn up the sheets, and her knowledge that nothing can come of a relationship between too people so unequal. It’s that inequality which leads to much of the mistrust on her part, compounded by the fact that Tarak is the heir to the Darkon throne, and she doesn’t buy into a fairy tale ending.

Great world-building and compelling characters can be found in this novel. Aside from the mention of Jess’s menage relationship, I actually thought this book could have easily been labeled “scorcher” as much as “erotic” with the level of explicitness and language choice for it’s smoking hot sex scenes. All of the sex was very appropriate to the storyline and the characters’ relationship, making it always steamy and often a little heartbreaking as these two people struggled to express their love for one another.

Gilchrist did an excellent job at seeding conflict beyond the interpersonal throughout the book as well. There is a lot of evil in this world between the forces opposing the Darkons as well as their own brand of villain (who will make you shudder at how horrible they are). I loved that the only unmated Darkon warrior was Tarak’s slightly older second-in-command who was clearly attracted to Elise, but too much of a gentleman to make a move on someone so young. I’m hoping a future book will be their story set a few years in the future!

The Portal by S. E. Gilchrist (Escape Publishing, March 1, 2013)

Technically, the next book in the series is the short story (only 31 pages or so) The Portal, and people have expressed a lot of dissatisfaction about this one. It’s actually a very sweet tale of a Darkon warrior who had a brief interlude with a young salvager months before and has been looking for her since. I think that much of the complaining is due to its length (readers always want more) and the fact that it does jump back and forth in time. I wished for more heat, as the sex scene that bonded the two together was extremely brief. A little more of a tie-in to her having “awakened” him would have also helped, particularly if it had been made clearer that his experience was the cause of his pursuit.

The short story, Awakening the Warriors, has none of those problems, and even though its a mere 46 pages it packs quite a bit of heat between its e-covers. Fran is a geologist who signed on with a corporation to travel to a new world when her transport was intercepted by the Elite Forces. She’s being held in a cell with a group of other women of various species and they are becoming more horrified by the minute. Some of the females were taken away a few days ago and the remaining prisoners are beginning to think that it’s for experimentation. Word has gone out that a group of human women have succeeded in awakening the fierce Darkon race and clearly there is one government who would like to see them die out. The fact that their are Darkons in the next cell can’t be a coincidence.

prison-58320_640Because the only other human female is a sickly girl of 15, the other prisoners tell Fran it’s up to her to sneak into the nearby cell of the Darkons, who are regularly whipped and beaten, and use her sexual wiles to “awaken” them. Talk about pressure! By the time she breaks into their cell, she can tell one of the men is already dead and the other two are covered in blood. She washes away the blood and tends their wounds, all the while wondering at their beauty. While their encounter is out of necessity, Fran is astonished at the heat and tenderness with which they treat her. She’s attracted to both of them equally and it quickly becomes clear that Jerrell and Quain have no trouble with the idea of her being with both of them. Yet Fran knows that she plans on leaving for home at the first opportunity since there’s no future with two men with whom sex was a means of helping them literally break their chains and escape. Or is there?

This is a very tasteful and tender menage that is further understood after reading Legend Beyond the Stars. I would have liked to see a stronger tie to the overall story arc, namely with explaining why the warriors were being beaten – combined with the missing female prisoners, were the Elite Forces attempting to discover more about how or why the rumored Darkons were awakened?

Speaking of tiny discrepancies, in Awakening the Warriors, the point of Fran stealing into the adjoining cell with the Darkons is that if she “awakens” their lust, they will possess increased strength and fighting ability, enough to overcome their injuries and help the imprisoned. In Legend Beyond the Stars, while there was a LOT of awakening going on, this added piece was unaddressed. The warriors were certainly loyal and focused on the women with whom they bonded, but no one made reference to enhanced abilities. Hmmm.

Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed this author’s style and the world-building in which she engaged in all her works. I would say that anyone who loved Evangeline Anderson’s erotic Brides of the Kindred series might also find fun in the pages of Gilchrist’s science fiction romance (although keep in mind the men are waaayyyy more alpha than Anderson’s Kindred men!).

Countdown to Christmas: This Quintet of Erotic Romance Authors Will Light Your Christmas Fire in A Very Naughty Xmas

14 Dec

A Very Naughty Xmas by Stephanie Julian, Olivia Cunning, Raven Morris, Cherrie Lynn, and Cari Quinn (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, December 1, 2012)

One of the ways to have a toasty Christmas is to indulge yourself with some well-written erotica (or romantica, if you perfer that term for erotica geared to romance). When I saw A Very Naughty Xmas had a roster of some of the best erotica and erotic romance authors out there, this became a must-read.

And I want to make clear that this is both erotica and erotic romance. In case you’re unclear about what I mean, erotic romance has the end result of two (or more) people ending in a happily ever after or happily for now relationship with some type of commitment involved. True erotica, and some of these stories most assuredly fall into that category, has the focus of an intense sexual experience with no necessary commitment, although I prefer it if the encounter shows a degree of caring between the consenting adults involved.

While it won’t come as any surprise to fans of any of these writers, this is an outstandingly well-written anthology which falls under the “amazing value” banner since the ebook version is only $4.99 and you get 302 hot, well-written pages! I would cheerfully for over $4.99 for one novella from any of these authors to say nothing of one from each of them, so this is an example of Christmas coming early for me.

“Jingle Ball” by Cari Quinn

Des and Cole are business partners who share an apartment above their offices, among other things. They share women (and occasionally pleasure each other) but mostly they run a successful business. The only problem as Christmas approaches is that Des cannot stop thinking about his hot secretary, Wendy. She’s a sweet, beautiful woman who needs this job to take care of her sick mother, but all he can think about is her sexy Southern accent and killer body. After a year of getting to know and admire her, he’s not ready to admit to more than wanting her (although Cole knows better) but he refuses to be that boss. His mother knew all too well what it was like to have a boss who took advantage and Des would do anything to not inflict that heartbreak on a woman he cared about, especially one who needed her job.

No Dress Required (Love Required #1) by Cari Quinn (Entangled Publishing, December 25, 2011) – This great novella also involves the spirit of Christmas with two people who loved each other from afar finding each other when one Christmas party goes differently than they each expect.

Wendy doesn’t know about Des’ tortured past, just that she has been head over heels in love with her boss since she got a good look at him. That he’s a caring, hard-working man only makes him that much hotter, but she knows that she’s not likely to ever get a taste of him, and isn’t that a depressing thought for the holidays! Everything changes, however, at the building’s holiday party when Des catches Wendy in Cole’s office masturbating. He thinks she’s doing it thinking of Cole, but in actuality she couldn’t resist after seeing (and smelling) Des’ shirt draped on Cole’s chair. Des decides to teach her what happens to bad secretaries who do naughty things in the boss’ office, and calls Cole in to help him dispense a little justice.

I loved this story (Cari Quinn never disappoints) in the way she depicts such hot yearning between Des and Wendy without either of them letting on how deeply they care about the other person. The menage with Cole is really there to make Des more comfortable being with Wendy, but it is hurtful and confusing to her why she can have sex with Cole and do plenty of things to Des (and he to her) but Des never has intercourse with her. It was typical guy logic how Des rationalized that if he didn’t have sex with Wendy he wasn’t going to be like his father, but the ending was so sweet (and hilarious when her mother and aunt walked in on them) that I forgave Des any illogical thinking.

“Christmas Is Coming” by Raven Morris

Wow, wow, WOW. I honestly didn’t believe that married sex could be this hot, but Raven Morris (the erotica pen name of fabulous paranormal romance author Judi Fennell, who I have had the pleasure of hearing speak at a workshop for my romance writers chapter) proved me very wrong.

Jacked (Tied with a Bow #1) by Raven Morris (Amazon, July 1, 2012)

Deb and Jack are a professional husband and wife very much in love and with a smokin’ hot sex life. Previously that year, Jack gave Deb a present she’d always wanted – a threesome – arranging with his friend David to come over and make all her fantasies come true. This Christmas, Deb is beside herself at the thought of reciprocating. Her college roommate Amanda, gorgeous and always sexually adventurous, is in town for the holidays and Deb wants to tie her up with a bow and give her to Jack for the two of them to enjoy.

These two people live in a haze of love and sex so evident to others that the partner’s wives at the Christmas party pester Deb for sex tips and details about Jack. For one novella, this story packs so many jaw-droppingly hot sex scenes that you will need a pitcher of ice water to get through it (and you may need to pour it over yourself rather than drink it to cool off). I guarantee you will never look at a 16″ strand of pearls the same way.

While I’ve read plenty of menage erotica, I had never read one about a couple who each invite a partner into their bed (yes, David shows up as Deb’s present and Amanda is Jack’s present) so a menage a quatre was something new for me. I was a little worried about it, as multi-partner sex can devolve into who-is-putting-what-where but Morris blinds you with a writing ability that is so strong, the emotional quotient never wavers. This highly sensual experience is between caring people, two of whom are doing it to bring added pleasure to their life partner. It’s incredibly sweet, actually, which is honestly not something I thought I’d ever write about four people having sex together!

This is part of Morris’ Tied With a Bow series, the first book of which, Jacked, is actually the story of Jack presenting David to Deb for her birthday. As of right now, Jacked is available for free on Amazon, so I’d head over there and get this story downloaded to your ereader ASAP to double your pleasure. I’ve bought the first anthology of this series since I was so impressed with this story.

“Light Me Up” by Cherrie Lynn (Ross Siblings #2.5)

This story is actually part of the Ross siblings series and the epilogue to Cherrie Lynn’s second book in that series, Rock Me, an incredibly popular book in the world of erotic romance. Please note that this story and/or the anthology is not listed in the series list (something I hope Lynn can remedy) so if you’re a fan there’s no way you want to miss this!

Rock Me (Ross Siblings series #2 – Brian and Candace) by Cherrie Lynn (Samhain Publishing, May 4, 2010)

I can see why fans are so enthusiastic. Brian is the ultimate bad boy with a boatload of sensitivity under the surface. He and Candace have been together for about a year and a half and they are head over heels in love with each other, at least in her opinion. She comes from a pretty awful family, one of the rich ones in town, and her parents and siblings are not happy about her being involved with a Ross. After her mother corners her at the mandatory holiday party to ask her where her relationship with Brian is going, Candace doesn’t appreciate her raining on her parade.

But naturally it makes her begin to wonder, and watching Brian makes her even more nervous. It’s clear that he’s not comfortable with her mother talking to her about this and despite all their amazing sexing it up, she’s worried. Candace just determines that she’ll take Brian however she can have him because having him in her life is more important than having a ring, when he turns the tables and gives her an incredible Christmas present.

I immediately went and bought this book (and the first in the series as well) because of how utterly impressed I was with this story. While told totally from Candace’s perspective, this story showcased not only their deep love for each other but also how Lynn can infuse sexual situations with so much emotion that the overall reading experience is heightened beyond belief. Brian is the ultimate bad boy every woman wants to turn to the forces of good but he is one artistic, romantic hero who I imagine causes women to swoon all over the reading world.

“An Indecent Proposition” by Stephanie Julian

By Private Invitation by Stephanie Julian (Berkley, December 31, 2012)

I’m not going to lie, I am a GIGANTIC Stephanie Julian fan. I’m not joking, I have read all but three of her books and I still own the three I haven’t read and have them on my to-read list. She’s consistently one of the best erotic romance writers and I have learned more about Etruscan culture (no, that’s not a typo) than I ever thought possible via her hot paranormal series like Magical Seduction, Lucani Lovers (heart you, Kyle!) and the Forgotten Goddesses books. Like Raven Morris, I’ve also taken a workshop with Julian at my PLRW chapter meeting which was fantastic. This author is hard-working, creative, and extremely nice, with an air of earned authority wrapped in a friendly approachable package. What more can you ask for?

Had I known I would have asked for a super-hot erotic novella, but wait…Stephanie Julian just gave me one in this anthology! As usual, she manages to infuse what could just be hot relatively anonymous sex with caring and affection so the encounter becomes something so much more. I never get tired of her (which is why I’ve already ordered her newest book coming out in a couple of weeks – take a look at the image to the right).

Erik Riley and Keegan Malone have been best friends since their rooming days at boarding school. While in Princeton, they learned that sharing women brought them both a great deal of pleasure, so they dabbled in that while getting their degrees. Setting up a highly successful company, their good luck seemed to run out three years ago when Erik got caught in an explosion in one of their labs. Keegan is wrestling with his conscience as he was the one who was supposed to be in the building. While Erik has brutal scars that even reconstructive surgery can’t repair, Keegan has watched his vibrant best friend retreat into himself and show no interest in anything. Even their sex games, when Erik chooses to indulge, is about him watching in the shadows or participating in a way that no woman they share can ever see his face.

But things change when the company’s holiday party benefits from the beautiful Julianne Carter as a waitress. Keegan has a reaction once Erik points her out over the remote com they use so he can see the proceedings and their mutual fascination has them making an outrageous offer. They will give Julianne $500,000 if she comes to the house for a sexual encounter.

Julianne Carter can really use that half a million dollars. Her mother had breast cancer and her asshole father gambled their money away and spent a bunch of it on hookers while treating her mother like crap. He’s fortunately out of their lives, but there are plenty of bills to pay and her twelve-year-old Civic isn’t getting any younger. One of her friends works for the man making the offer, and has assured her it’s on the up-and-up; if she’s the slightest bit uncomfortable she can just walk away from the situation. Julianne enjoys sex, as long as it’s with someone she thinks is attractive and likes, so she’s uncertain whether she’s going through with this.

One look at Keegan Malone and her body practically makes a cha-ching sound! Sleeping with this gorgeous, strangely nervous man will be no hardship, but she gets the sense that there is someone watching in the beautiful shadowed Victorian room they are in. Keegan almost has a heart attack when Julianne calls into the shadows to Erik and even more of one when Erik decides to show himself to her. This could be exactly the breakthrough they both have been waiting for.

This was incredibly sensual and so utterly clever the way the situation and the sexual energy broke down Erik’s remaining barriers and let fly some of the tension between him and Keegan. I loved Julianne’s openness and she comes across as a hard-working, great daughter who is ready to try something safe and sexually adventurous, particularly when she realizes it’s totally on her own terms since she can walk away at any time. With her experience with her mother, she’s older than a lot of women her age and has already learned to look past the surface to the real person underneath. If I had any complaint, it’s that she drove away at the end of the night, although it was hinted that it wouldn’t be the last she’d see of Erik and Keegan. I’ve got my fingers crossed for another novella with these three since they’ve haunted me ever since I read this.

“Share Me” by Olivia Cunning

Try Me, Tempt Me, Take Me (the first three books in the One Night with Sole Regret series) by Olivia Cunning (Vulpine, December 6, 2012)

If you happen to love rock and roll and enjoy erotica, you need look no further than author Olivia Cunning. Famous for her fantastic Sinners on Tour series about a rock band and their finding lust and love on the road, she has also penned a slightly more mild (and it’s still raging inferno erotica, do not misunderstand me) series called One Night with Sole Regret.

More than any other story in this collection, this one is true erotica. In this prequel to the One Night with Sole Regret series, Lindsey and her best friend Vanessa are at a Sole Regret concert drooling over the band members and decide to follow the tour bus slogging through the blizzard to see if it stops somewhere they can meet the guys. When the band takes a break at a scenic view to wait out the storm, the two women end up on the bus, basically having hot sex with all the band members (and the bus driver).

Cunning does a great job introducing each of the band members and hinting at their personalities and/or tortured pasts. The two women are imminently likable and clearly indulging in a one-night only fantasy they can cling to when they have crying children with chicken pox somewhere down the road. While this story certainly didn’t have the emotional charge of many of the other stories in the anthology, the band members are depicted as caring, friendly guys who don’t want to push the women into doing anything they aren’t 100% on board with (and fortunately they are on board with a lot). It’s a facile vehicle for setting up with series as a whole and I was overjoyed when I discovered the above anthology of the first three books available for free as part of my Kindle loan program. I’ve got it until January 2013 and plan on using it to save on electricity since I’ll be able to turn my heat down while reading it!

In summary, this anthology represents the very best of erotica and erotic romance, lining up one powerhouse writer after another to take us on a variety of journeys, all of which occur during the holiday season. Like any good collection, this one nudges you to other books and series that will provide you with hours of enjoyment, while lighting your Christmas fire from deep within. Partners and spouses would do well to consider giving this book as a gift this holiday as it might very well be the gift that keeps on giving!

Many thanks to Stephanie Julian, Cari Quinn, Raven Morris, Olivia Cunning, and my new find Cherrie Lynn for being such hard-working and talented writers turning out book after wonderful book. You are all the best Christmas present a reader could ask for! :-)

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