Based on the image I clearly chose to lead this post with, as well as the fact that I can’t not blog about additions to the Iron Seas series, which readers know I consider the best steampunk writing currently published, it’s rather obvious which novella propelled me to pre-order the Enthralled anthology the moment it became available on Amazon.
That said, I was thrilled to discover that the list price – which I will always pay for a Meljean Brook book – was more than fair after I cheerfully had devoured each story in the volume. I had read Lora Leigh before and enjoyed her Breed series so she was no surprise, but consider me a newly minted fan of Alyssa Day and Lucy Monroe!
Lora Leigh – “The Devil’s Due” (Breeds #28)
Can you believe that Lora Leigh’s Breeds series has had 28 installments? God love this woman and her ability to create romance and intrigue around science gone awry. To be honest, the Breeds series books have often proven a little too much for me. The sex is blazingly hot, but the heroes are usually too alpha – bordering on asshole level of alpha – with their animal counterparts so close to the surface as to dominate much of their decision-making. Heroines run the gamut from strong women to wishy-washy vacillators, but the most interesting aspects of the stories come from the network of villains inhabiting the labs that knowingly created and tortured these people. As the series has progressed, they’ve gone from hidden entities to a group of people enjoying nation status similar to that of Native Americans tribes, so there is no an overlay of government interest which helps propel story lines.
Gorgeous Devil has a reputation like the angel of death (to see him is to know that you are about to die) yet one glimpse of sixteen year old Katie and he knows she’s his mate. Unfortunately for everyone, the red-headed and talented Katie is a special Breed, one whose genetics do not kick in until she is in her early twenties. She reads as human, yet years later gets taken to a human hospital because she’s experiencing a 107 degree fever with her Breed qualities emerging. This fact inspires a conniption by the paranoid government in Ireland and also puts her between the sight lines of crazy anti-Breed proponents. Feeling betrayed by her parents, who knew her secret yet chose not to tell her, she agrees to go to the United States to live in the Navajo compound with other shifters, some of whom Katie considers friends. That the stunning man known as Devil is around, clearly avoiding her, is bound to lead to not only a confrontation but the acknowledgment of the unbelievable desire Katie feels whenever she is around him.
Honestly, this novella posed more questions than it answered, which is clever on the part of Leigh who will undoubtedly address the “lost but still living fathers” issue in a full-length novel. Even with my not having read every Breed book to date, this story was an enjoyable read with compelling characters and a quick-moving plot filled with intrigue.
Alyssa Day – “The Curse Of The Black Swan” (League Of The Black Swan #1.5)
While the title of this novella might seem like a ballet romance gone very, very wrong, in actuality Day’s writing felt like one of the reinterpreted fairy tales I enjoy, maybe with a dash of urban fantasy thrown in. This makes perfect sense since the League of the Black Swan series is categorized under urban fantasy and has all the elements necessary – a secret area of Manhattan (known as Bordertown) dedicated to shifters, demons and fae, dark magic and intentions looming around every corner, and naturally a good/evil battle that threatens to bring the world down around everyone’s ears. In other words, awesome!
This novella begins with a beautifully written prologue detailing a curse brought about by the moon. A lovely young woman, in a desperate effort to save herself from a marauding leader bent on her submission, sends a plea to the sun and moon to which she sings daily. The moon chooses to save her, but exacts the payment of every third night the woman turns into a black swan and must sing all night long to the moon, with each eldest daughter of her line taking over the duty.
This is not a recipe for happiness. Brynn has made a good name for herself with her pet grooming business in Bordertown, but has stayed far, far away from any man that she might deem really tempting. She feels out of control every third night when her curse compels her to make her way to the Black Swan fountain and sing and she has no wish to inflict her curse on a daughter.
Firefighter Sean O’Malley is having a rough night when he stumbles across a beautiful swan singing in the midst of bordertown. Not only is he keeping his fire demon identity a secret (prejudice abounds regarding them), but a murderer is setting dangerous fires around the city with lives lost as a result. On top of that, Sean’s loving mother has just received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Yet all those troubles get pushed to the back of his mind when the singing swan morphs into a stunning, very naked woman. One who agrees to go to a local diner to get something to eat with Sean.
Sean might be Irish, but he’s not been blessed with a silver tongue with the ladies, so he’s worried about convincing Brynn to see him again. She walks away from the diner having enjoyed herself so much that she clearly spells out she never can see handsome Sean ever again. But fate has other plans when he appears on her business doorstep with a cranky Persian with gum in its tail. Seeing these two work their way through all obstacles to their happy ending (plenty of witches to help with those moon curses, FYI) is wonderful and very sexy to boot. I’ve ordered a copy of the first book in the series, The Cursed, and if this novella is any indication, I’m going to enjoy every page.
Meljean Brook – “Salvage” (Iron Seas #3.5)
Despite my adoration of all things Meljean Brook, it’s a fact that I hate reading reunion romance stories. Estranged couples just rub me the wrong way (I know that it makes no sense), so it’s a testimony to how much I trust Brook that I didn’t hesitate to dive into the story of Thom and his wife, Georgianna.
Thom was always a quiet and steady man, appearing on Georgianna’s father’s doorstep with his skeletal iron arms after the tower fell and the masses were freed from the Horde. Working with her father, he learned the art of salvaging while also wooing Georgie when he was not out at sea. When she agreed to marry him, she thought she was getting a man who understood that she wanted a husband “who would hold her in his arms at night”, but Thom left her – after three disastrous nights of their marriage – to go back to sea.
Four years later, Georgie is astounded to discover his body washed up on shore near her home. He’s horribly wounded and the bug fever that sets in might very well kill him, but she’s shocked to discover that his skeletal arms have been replaced with fully functioning ones of a lovely grey metal. Nursing him back to health, it’s clear that he plans on leaving again right away, this time to spare Georgie from the pirates which took his salvaged treasure and sunk his ship and submersible. She’s not about to let him leave without a proper divorce and, inflicting further pain in her heart, he agrees.
Thom cannot get over how Georgie is even more beautiful than when he left her four years ago. He didn’t want to reveal his shameful behavior under the Horde to this lovely woman who had lived in relative safety, but after her father encouraged him to go out and make a fortune for Georgie, he was obsessed with doing so, particularly when it occurred to him that he might be able to pay for real arms, ones that would hold Georgie at night. Thom is horrified to discover that her parents died soon after he left, leaving her alone, but his horror is nothing to pain he feels when she asks him for a divorce. But they are both snatched by the rich bounder who injured him and took his gold before they can go to town to file the paperwork.
Captive aboard the ship, Georgie and Thom are united in their desire to escape, and their proximity to one another inspires another kind of desire. As the couple finally reveals their past and innermost feelings, they tear down the wall built over the years to find that they are two people still very much in love. Committed to fighting for a future, they each do what they must in order to go home.
I had tears in my eyes at the misunderstanding between two naturally reticent people and loved the fact that Brook interjected all the drama and heartbreak with some very real moments of humor. Her writing goes right to my heart every time and this is an outstanding addition to the Iron Seas series. For anyone who hasn’t read the novella telling the story of the pirate Mad Machen and the talented Ivy Blacksmith, take a look at the Burning Up anthology for the novella which tells their story in “Here There Be Monsters” or wait until October of this year for the stand alone novella to be published. Ivy and Mad Machen are both referenced and tied to Thom during his time away from Georgie.
Lucy Monroe – “Ecstasy Under The Moon” – (Children Of The Moon #4.5)
I love shifter romance (particularly great series like Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound) but I was intrigued with the idea of the usual constructs regarding shifters finding mates and tension between breeds in an older setting. In the highlands of Scotland, the shifter clans, long estranged from one another and now interwoven with humans who are usually kept ignorant of their true nature, are finally beginning the formal motions of re-establishing ties between the species.
Una lives a life of self-imposed solitude among her her Eagle shifter clan and is shocked and fearful when her king and their spiritual leader announce that a convoy of wolves will soon arrive to live among them. Una was captured by wolves years ago who tortured her for sadistic fun and her father was gravely wounded as a result, losing his eye and his ability to fly in his eagle form. Her fear and guilt have kept her from taking her role as a protector and warrior in her clan and she cannot keep the panic at bay as the wolves arrive.
Bryant is a wolf who believes in his leader’s intentions of reuniting the clans. With recent matings falling between shifter clans and even with humans (and so perfect that the couples are dream tied to one another), he believes that healing the rifts between species to be of benefit to everyone. When on his first night in the eagle village he falls asleep only to meet a lovely woman who kisses him on the spiritual plane, he knows that his life is going to take a drastic turn, one he welcomes.
But Una is not convinced. Her dream self is far more bold and does not experience the panic of being trapped as she does in real life. She does not deny that Bryant is handsome, compelling and gentle. When she finally drums up the courage to meet him in person, she knows that he must be confused by her reticent demeanor compared to her ease with him in their dreams. His patience with her prejudiced father does not go unnoticed by her, just as Una’s interest in Bryant does not go unobserved by her all-too-aware mother, who is happy to help both her daughter and husband accept a mating that was clearly meant to be.
Bryant was a fantastic character who was very easy to fall in love with right alongside the lovely and damaged Una. Patient and caring with firm convictions and a sense of honor, he was exactly what a strong hero should be, and the fact that he turns into a gorgeous wolf who climbs into Una’s treehouse to sexily consummate their relationship (after he has killed the remaining men who hurt her) is icing on the cake. I fell so in love with Monroe’s writing that I promptly ordered several of the books from this series and can’t wait for them to arrive. I have a feeling I will greatly enjoy reading about shifters in her well constructed world!
The title for this anthology could not have been more appropriate – each of the couples are truly “enthralled” with one another, but I think the real magic is going to come from the readers, when they fall under the spell of each talented author as they read the four novellas in the work. Many thanks to all of them (and to Berkley publishers) for such wonderful additions to these series.