Secrets: Volume 6

Sandy Fraser, MaryJanice Davidson, Alice Gaines and Angela Knight
2000, Erotic Romance
Red Sage, $12.99, 202 pages, Amazon ASIN 0964894262

Grade: B
Sensuality: Burning

I'm always a little leery of romance anthologies. Even though I'm often in the mood to read a quick short story instead of a deeply involving tome, I've found that romance often doesn't work for me in a short format - there's simply not enough time to develop the relationship convincingly. Erotica, on the other hand, can often benefit from the short format. Love scene after love scene could become tedious if continued for the length of a novel, but seems fresh and interesting in a short story.

Fortunately for me, Secrets is a volume of romantic erotica, and after a somewhat disappointing beginning, it succeeds as both erotica and - most of the time - romance.

Contemporary Romance
Sensuality: Burning

Flint's Fuse by Sandy Fraser is the weakest story in this book. It starts out promisingly enough. Flint is hired to kidnap an heiress for a month for her own protection, and she's essentially at his mercy during this time. There's all sorts of chances to play with issues of dominance and submission and bondage fantasies, but every time it gets close to the point, the author shies away. She actually keeps them celibate for 3 and a half weeks out of four, only letting them go at it at the end of the incarceration. But she doesn't use those first few weeks for much character development. We get to know the heroine somewhat, but she's essentially a spoiled bitch and stays that way. Flint remains a closed box the whole time who rarely strings two words together. Inexplicably she falls in love with him and vice versa, but we just don't care. The sex scenes, when they do occur are kinky with all the explicit sex talk, but seem oddly aborted during the actual act. Grade: C

Shapeshifter Romance
Sensuality: BurningLove's Prisoner by MaryJanice Davidson is a werewolf story, but don't let that put you off if, like me, you thought a story with a werewolf would be silly. This is by far the sexiest and most romantic story in this collection, and alone is worth the cover price of the novel. Jeannie Lawrence is trapped in an dark elevator on the night of the full moon, one hour before Michael Wyndham is about to undergo his change. He is beside himself with lust for her; he can smell that she is ovulating and it is driving him crazy. He knows he is going to lose control, knows he's probably going to rape her because there's no time for a seduction, and you can feel his despair. He apologizes the entire time, holds himself back as much as he can, and by the end she's begging him not to stop. And that's just the first 8 pages. The rest is alternatingly charming and amusing and shockingly sexy. Jeannie is now pregnant with Michael's heir, and as he's pack leader, that's no small problem. He's recognized her as his mate, and as far as he's concerned, they're as good as married, but she doesn't share his tender feelings. She also doesn't believe he's a werewolf - who would? Given the fantastic element to this story, the characters always act surprisingly grounded in reality, and you can totally empathize with each of them. Davidson also manages to do what I thought was impossible: weave an honest-to-goodness love story in a scant 50 pages. And the sex? Wow. Grade: A

American Historical Romance (1800s Boston)
Sensuality: Burning

The Education of Miss Felicity Wells by Alice Gaines is the only non-contemporary story in this collection, taking place in Boston in the early 1800's (I assume). At the outset, the plot closely resembles Robin Schone's The Lady's Tutor. Felicity Wells goes to Marcus Slade, a renowned libertine, for instruction in the art of love. She is soon to be married and wants to ensure that she engages her husband's lust so that he never strays. It's a slightly silly premise, but one that has plenty of erotic possibilities. My only problem with the story is that although she went to him to learn how to satisfy a man, he seems to spend all the time showing her how a man can satisfy her. This goes on for several weeks. She only gets a chance to reciprocate towards the very end, and instead of engaging the reader's interest, this just makes the story frustrating. The sexual language used is very explicit, but essentially there is only one complete sex act, and it's standard missionary position, so this is actually the least kinky story in the book. Marcus and Felicity's love story, while more convincing than the one in Flint's Fuse, just can't compare with Love's Prisoner for emotional power - it just feels too rushed. Grade: B-

Vampire Romance
Sensuality: Burning

A Candidate for the Kiss by Angela Knight, is a vampire story. Now, I've never read the famous vampire series by Anne Rice, so I don't know how this will compare for diehards vampire fans, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Dana Ivory is a investigative reporter who is trying to get a story when she finds herself in the middle of a federal bust headed by - a vampire? She doesn't really believe it, and Gabriel Archer isn't going to let her write the story anyway. Unfortunately, he isn't able to control her mind as he can everyone else's, and thus realizes she is a perfect candidate to become a vampire. Instead of wiping Dana's mind, Archer spirits her away to his ancestral home so he can seduce her and convince her to receive "the kiss." Here's where it gets good and sexy: Archer is one studly vampire with a thing for bondage, which just happens to be Dana's secret fantasy. Their sexual exploits get pretty kinky, and although they fall in love in just 24 hours, you can almost believe it. Grade: B+

I started reading this anthology to take a break from the longer novels I've been reading for review. Even though I started with the weakest story, I was interested enough to continue, and after Love's Prisoner I couldn't put the book down and finished it in one sitting. If explicit language and borderline violent sex disturb you, then don't buy this book. But if you are a fan of erotica, this is a great blend of escapist fantasy you won't want to miss.

-- Teresa

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