by MaryJanice Davidson, contemporary (2003)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0646-1
Now this is how it should be done! Forget all those stupid "erotic romance" novels that only have the main characters doing stupid things just to have sex. MaryJanice Davidson's debut Brava offering is a startling gem if only because the sex here is so fun. The heroines have sex because they want to, and best of all, they know they want to have sex and how to go around doing it. If you are tired of all those contrived "erotic" brainwaste books that have the heroines either stripping for martyrhood purposes or worse, MaryJanice Davidson is here to guide you back to the fold.
Under Cover is actually a compilation of three related short stories. Needless to say, characterization is not this book's strongest points, and let's not even talk about relationship development. What this book offers is three very funny sexual fantasy romps with a touch of espionage and characters that straddle both sides of screwball wackiness and outrageous likability. All stories feature characters that are so charming and likable - yes, both heroes and heroines - and even better, the sex is there because these people like each other so much, they want to have sex. No silly excuses like missing Daddy or accidental sex.
The first story Sweet Strangers stars Renee Jardin, the head of security (she knows how to kick-ass), and Eric Axelrod, a private eye with a mission. Renee, in a blink of an eye, goes from a respected employee of biotech firm Anodyne to a wanted criminal suspected of having ties with bioterrorists. What actually happened was that she went home a few days ago and oops, how did the vial of PaceIC cells get into her tote bag? PaceIC is a breakthrough cell culture that can replace pacemakers. How did it get into Renee's bag? She tries to explain to her employer, only to find herself fired and strange people with guns chasing after her. She bumps into Eric in a most unlikely sort of serendipity (for Eric, that is), and now she can't shake off the private eye that wants to catch her for the bounty on her head.
This one is fun because Renee and Eric are so good together. Both characters did their share of mildly stupid actions once or twice, the plot is ridiculous in a good way (ever watched Alias?), but seriously? Renee and Eric have not only red hot sexual chemistry together that the pages threaten to ignite, they are so cute together. Running around while being shot at is never this sexy.
Peter Random is Eric's ex-boss turned rival for the capture of Renee. After Eric and Renee run away to the sunset, poor Peter is out of a job in the next novella Lovely Lies. His sweet genial landlady is going to kick him out of his apartment because he is two months behind in his rent. The lottery number thing isn't cooperating with him (tell me about it - the lottery has never been cooperating with me for more than thirty years now, damn). The last thing this guy that likes to imagine that he's Sam Spade back in the 1930s needs is a runaway heiress trying to hire him to protect her from her greedy stepfather and stepbrother. Lori Jamieson starts out on a shakey note as she seems to be another of those silly Daddy's Girl in distress and the Peter Random in Lovely Lies is not the same Peter Random that is presented in the first novella. Still, soon both characters turn into one really fun couple as they laugh, love, and stumble their way giddy to a truly enchanting happy ending. Fun and sexy, this one is a complete hoot.
Thea Foster, genius, is the woman that slipped the PaceIC vial into Renee's tote bag. She did this to bring down the Big Bad of Andoyne. In Delightful Deception, now that the good guys have won and the bad guys are being manhandled in the prison showers, the "IQ" lady is set to face the new management that has taken over Anodyne. James Edward Scrye II is also a science genius and a multi-millionaire to boot. Luckily for Thea, James have another motive for taking over Anodyne and that is not to fire her. No, he wants her to work on her long-neglected artificial skin project for a personal reason of his own. However, when he arrives at the company wearing a Superman cape and asking everybody to chant some silly Superhero mantra along with him, IQ lady here is far from amused. Nothing can beat the power of Nerd Lust, however, and soon our two geeks (beautiful geeks, of course) are happily enjoying each other's biochemistry the way nature intended them to.
Thea is far from the usual "innocent but genius" stereotypes typical of heroines of this sort, and trust me, she is far from neurotic about her looks or abilities. James is a little over-the-top in the "Boy Genius" act at first, but he settles down nicely soon after and his infectious sense of humor complements Thea's quiet playfulness very well indeed. The sex scenes here is the least explicit of the three novellas but this story has enough potent chemistry between the main characters to supplement the playful eroticism to make up for the lack of sexual bonkathons. The scene where Thea gets noticeably turned on watching a documentary of her scientist hero even as James pouts jealously is pure comedy gold.
With sparkling humor and enough chemistry and delightful repartees between her characters, MaryJanice Davidson has crafted not one but three wonderful couples that recall the best in playful antagonistic banters even as the couple fit together like charm. The sex scenes stand out because the mischievous eroticism flows freely and unforced - the characters genuinely like sex and they are having sex because they find each other really hot. And yes, they will still respect each other in the morning, if they haven't decided to get married first. Plotwise, this book isn't exactly a standout, but with superb comedy and great romantic chemistry, MaryJanice Davidson easily persuades me to believe that in the case of Under Cover, who knows? Maybe love at first sight does happen and a whirlwind bonkship, I mean, courtship will pave the way to a happily ever after. After all, these characters really belong together - look at them!
Playful flirtations, fun comedy, wisecracking banters, and happy endings - shouldn't this be what romantic erotica is all about? Under Cover is easily one of the most entertaining laugh-out-loud fun-and-sexy reads I've come across in the recent months. Here's hoping for a few more books just as fun from this author in the future!
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