Tag Archives: novellas

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! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: To All a Good Night Is Sweeter Than a Cup of Hot Chocolate This Holiday Season

10 Dec

To All a Good Night by Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis, and HelenKay Dimon (Kensington Books, October 1, 2009)

We live in a great age for books. Back in the olden days before Amazon, you would have had to rely on friends or paperback exchange stores to find a holiday collection published from a few years ago. Even today, when we are fortunate to find them used, or better yet, download them instantly on an ereader, the paper versions of these books appear on supermarket and bookstore shelves in October/November and then are gone, never to be seen again in a retail store, by New Year’s Day.

Social networks geared toward reading, like Goodreads and LibraryThing, are godsends in that they offer terrific reviews and reader-generated lists of favorites. We can see what books people have loved based around themes, historical periods, or particular kinds of characters (military men, heroines with paranormal abilities, etc.). When I spotted the To All a Good Night anthology on a Goodreads list of great Christmas reads, I was elated. I mean, Donna Kauffman, Jill Shalvis and my recent happy find, HelenKay Dimon? Color me there.

These women do not disappoint. We have three hot, sweet stories with satisfying romantic endings, plenty of emotion, and a heated level of sensuality.

“Unleashed” by Donna Kauffman

I’m looking forward to reviewing Kauffman’s The Three Musketeers series after the holidays!

Based on the books of Donna Kauffman’s that I’ve read (and I’ve enjoyed all of them), her heroines are determined, honorable and unconventionally pretty, a combination I really like. Emma Lafferty fits this mold as a new business owner trying to get her petsitting business off the ground. She agrees to take an unusual two week job at the weekend home of an extremely wealthy older man over the holidays since she hopes it will help build up a more high-end clientele. Driving through a horrible ice storm, she barely makes it to the completely empty mansion before the roads become dangerous. Once there, she easily makes friends with the dogs and parrot in her care, but jumps out of her skin when a sexy male voice asks what she’s doing there.

Trevor Hamilton was hoping to get what he needed and be gone by the time the petsitter arrived but mother nature clearly has other plans. While he needs to get away from her and search his great-uncle’s house, he can’t help but be fascinated by Emma. This petsitter looks at him hungrily – not like the women who want his trust fund, but as if she wants him, the man. He’s trying to keep it playful and not pressure her but he makes his interest clear enough and she’s responding like a dream. One taste of her and Trevor can feel his priorities changing. What suddenly seemed important might not be in the face of finding someone who will love him for himself.

I love stories where people get trapped together due to weather, and this one (with those great dogs and the funny bird) was delightful. Seeing Trevor and Emma just click together, like pieces of puzzle they weren’t aware would fit, was downright heartwarming and I fell for them as hard as they fell for each other. The only part that confused me was the epilogue. I don’t see anything linking this story to another book or series, but the final pages of the novella clearly indicate the connection to another character. I’d love to read a connected story (particularly if I can catch a glimpse of Trevor and Emma again), so if someone knows the answer, please tell me!

“Finding Mr. Right” by Jill Shalvis

I can’t emphasize this enough – whether it’s ball players or firefighters, Jill Shalvis is consistently one of the best contemporary romance writers on the market.

I think that you’re not a true fan of contemporary romance if you don’t love Jill Shalvis. I devour her books and appreciate that she writes novellas as well as she does full-length books. Whether it’s her Lucky Harbor series or her fantastic Animal Magnetism books, Shalvis is as rock solid dependable as her strong heroes.

Her heroines are also full of quirks and that aspect always makes me like them that much more. Maggie Bell has multiple degrees under the white lab coat she wears every day and she loves puzzling out her work, which could help melanoma cancer patients and save lives. She’s aware that her research could also make the company she works for a ton of money, but it’s secondary in her mind which usually is honed like a laser on her work. Since the building is undergoing renovations, however, she finds her mind more than fixated on an extremely fine, blue jeans clad butt belonging to one Jake Wahler, her former high school crush and supervisor of the crew. When her sister tells her to stop trying for the brainiac guys who are just like her and go for someone the exact opposite, her mind naturally turns to Jake.

Jake is pushing his crew to finish this job before the holiday so they can all get their bonus and he can fly to New Orleans to meet his brother and do some serious partying. He can’t help but notice the gorgeous scientist who almost always trips on their equipment as she walks distracted through the hallways, but he’s astonished to find out that she was the 8th grade prodigy who tutored him in high school. Maggie Bell definitely did not look like this, with her killer curves, flawless skin and hair his hands beg to be buried in. She’s acting like the hot sex they had on her lab table was a one-time thing, but when it’s clear she’s getting threatened by someone who wants to hurt her, there’s no way he’s leaving her alone.

Jake was such a guy, and I loved seeing him react to Maggie’s nervous fact spouting (which is the trait of the schoolteacher friend, soon to the be the next heroine, in the Animal Magnetism series, so I’m thinking Jill Shalvis loves her trivia!). The scene with her crashing into the dishwasher was priceless, and I loved the testosterone showdown between Jake and Maggie’s boss, who briefly dated her. Macho guys falling, and admitting they are falling, are some of the sexiest heroes out there and Shalvis never, ever disappoints. I heart her.

“Can You Hand Me the Tape?” by HelenKay Dimon

HelenKay Dimon has published several romantic suspense novels with Harlequin as well.

It was just this holiday “Countdown to Christmas” series that exposed me to HelenKay Dimon with her novella in Romancing the Holiday, and I was impressed enough to get excited upon seeing her name again in this anthology.

As in that novella, this heroine is also someone recovering her self-respect after a crappy relationship. Natalie Pritchard is a tough parole officer whose always been frustrated dealing with her boyfriend’s law partner, Spencer Donovan. She doesn’t think he cares enough about the clients he represents and they’ve had a few run-ins. His partner, Charlie, may be tall and handsome but he’s been a self-absorbed manipulator, too, and she had enough a couple weeks ago when she broke up with him.

But there’s a complication. She had made a “tape” for Charlie for Christmas (uh-huh, that kind) just of herself, but she doesn’t want him or anyone seeing it now. In the hullabaloo of the breakup, he accidentally took it (without knowing what it was) and she desperately wants it back. While it kills her to do it, Spencer is the person most likely to help her. She’s disturbed to find out that Spencer is dissolving his law partnership with Charlie, but she manages to convince him to help her, even with the whole courthouse whispering about the time they are spending together.

Spencer has always hated the way Charlie spoke to his girlfriend, Nat, so much so that it was one of the reasons he’s jettisoning him as a partner. But until Nat swallowed her pride to ask for his help, he never noticed before how beautiful she is and the thought of her making this “tape” has his head spinning with images he can’t ignore. Can she get over the emotional damage Charlie has inflected on her to see what they have is special?

Dimon does a great job showing that, even if you’ve lost a lot of weight, that heavier person still lives inside your head, coloring how you think of yourself. Nat wrestles with her sense of inadequacy but watching her regain her self-respect and throw off Charlie’s past control (the elevator scene was downright triumphant) is fantastic and actually very realistically accomplished. HelenKay Dimon continues to impress me – she’s definitely getting placed on my “must-read” list.

To All a Good Night is another enjoyable anthology by three outstanding writers. One of the benefits of novellas in this format is, if you have only a limited time before bed, or the minutes are ticking by until your kids need you, you can get in a whole story from start to emotional finish and feel like you accomplished something! It’s like three novels in one, and considering the under $5.00 price tag in ebook form or even less money if you find it as a used paperback, you’re clearly getting serious value for your money.

So make that cup of hot chocolate and sit down to something else smooth and sweet with this anthology. You won’t be sorry. 🙂

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