by Leslie Kelly, contemporary (2008)
Harlequin Blaze, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-373-79373-0
One Wild Wedding Night is a collection of short stories revolving around the five bridesmaids of Izzie Natale (whose story can be found in the author's previous Harlequin Blaze Overexposed) running loose in town during Izzie's bachelorette party. A fire alarm interrupts the fun and causes the women to end up going off in separate directions into the night, leading up to some most interesting adventures to remember.
In Getaway, have Bridget Donahue, Izzie's cousin, who is sweet and shy. She wishes that she can be more outgoing like Izzie and in Overexposed, she tried plying her charms on Dean Willis, the man she has a crush on, the way she'd seen Izzie charm her men. It didn't really go anywhere in that book, her crush on Dean, but there are clearly some unfinished business between them that Dean, who is actually an undercover FBI agent, has decided to settle once and for all in this book. He kidnaps her after the party and informs her that he is here to protect her. The from someone who is out to make sure that she is not available to testify against her former employer. The whole matter is a spillover from the Dean and Bridget subplot in Overexposed. Bridget hasn't forgiven him for what she believes to be his plot to use her to nail her crooked ex-employer, so Dean, who has fallen for Bridget, has his work cut out for him. Bridget is smart enough to know when to listen when her life is on the line, but she's not that willing to trust Dean so easily again.
This one is short and simple, but eh, this one is also too much fun. Fast-paced and sexy with two main characters acting smart despite the huge potential for bickering and all kinds of misunderstanding in their situation, this one is just perfect to open the collection. It can also stand alone pretty well, I believe, although I personally believe that it won't hurt to read Overexposed first since that book is pretty good.
Then there is Leah Muldoon, a stripper colleague of Izzie's. In Runaway, she leaves the party and decides to wait for Bridget to drive them back in what she believes is their car. She has one too many drinks so it isn't long before she's dozing away in the backseat. The problem is, Bridget is at that moment being swept off her feet - literally - by someone named Dean Willis and Leah is dozing off in the wrong car. Rich fellow Sloane Kincaid assumes that Leah is an enterprising streetwalker who wants to get his attention - and oh yes, she's succeeding very well in doing so - so when Leah finally wakes up, she's confronted by a cute guy who asks her how much it will cost him for the entire night's worth of her services. Leah actually doesn't mind giving him one night for free since this is such a gorgeous guy, however, so this is indeed Sloane's lucky night. While Leah isn't a hooker, she is, however, a stripper, so it remains to be seen if anything will come out from this particular one-night stand. Or so Leah assumes.
This is a nice little fantasy and I really like how Leah is a woman who is in control of her own sexuality. She's playing along because she wants to sleep with Sloane and she also carries her own condoms in case she finds herself in situation like this one. I also get a chuckle over how she gets knocked onto her rear end when she assumes that their differences in living standards will come between anything they may have between them only to realize that she has severely underestimated Sloane. Even better, these characters don't pretend that they are in love by the end of the story. They like each other, they enjoy having sex with each other, and this is a start of something good that could very well lead to something more down the road. I like this credible handling of their relationship by the author.
Next, Three Way. It's exactly what you think it is. I know, I'm floored too when I realize that Leslie Kelly has taken it onto herself to introduce the more unconventional pleasures of the flesh to a mainstream audience and you can't get more mainstream than the readers of Harlequin. Izzie's sister Mia is a hard-nosed take-no-prisoners attorney more used to putting criminals behind bars than being a bridesmaid and doing "girly" things. Prior to coming here to attend her sister's wedding, she broke her blossoming relationship with Brandon Young via the phone (Brandon was away in Japan on a business trip) because she's cynical enough to imagine that a relationship between her and that easy-going laid back fellow won't last. She thought it was best they stopped seeing each other before they ended up in bed and made things worse.
Brandon, however, shows up fully intending to get at least one night of hot sex before they both go separate ways for good. If she doesn't want a nice guy, well, he will show her that he can be a more take-charge alpha male kind of nice guy. So there! Of course, he could use some help. This is where Sean Murphy, a fellow whose hobby is sleeping with bored wives of American expatriates in Japan, steps in. Don't expect any male-male interaction though, folks, because the two guys are going to play with only Mia instead of with each other as well. Also, Sean doesn't really go that far with Mia. I think the good people at Harlequin want to gradually introduce their readers to the whole nine yards instead of throwing them right into the midst of two guys shoving their tongues down each other's throat right away.
This one isn't bad at all, but as someone who is more used to getting at least seven of the whole nine yards when it comes to stories with three people in the bedroom, I'm somewhat disappointed by the relative tameness of this story. This one may be a good or horrible revelation to readers not used to dipping their toes into erotic romance, but I find this one rather disappointing due to the chickening out thing on the author's part.
In No Way Out, we meet Vanessa McKee who is Izzie's good friend from Izzie's dancing days in New York. She loses her red shoe on the way back to her hotel room and it is picked up by NFL professional Stan Jackson who decides to play the Prince Charming to the Cinderella that has caught his fancy. Unfortunately, while he doesn't recognize her at first, she sure does. Stan was her first boyfriend whom she went all the way with twelve years ago and who later abandoned her once her reputation was in tatters. She takes a swing at his face when he shows up with her shoe and it's all downhill from there.
I have mixed feelings about this story. As much as I like the two main characters who are smart enough to talk and put aside the big misunderstanding between them to set the sheets on fire, I find Ms Kelly's explanation about why Stan didn't write or call Vanessa all those years ago due to a promise he made a little too much on the implausible side. Sure, Stan was young at that time, but I find it hard to imagine that he'd just cut Vanessa out of his life like that. That's not very nice of him and it's even worse when it's used as a justification for his actions. I don't think I'd be so fast to forgive were I in Vanessa's shoes, at least not until after I've tied Stan to the bed, gagged him up, and whacked his rump with studded paddle until he admits that he's been a very bad boy who needs to be punished.
And rounding up the show is Gloria Santori, Izzie's oldest sister, who is happily married to Tony, the brother of the bridegroom. In All The Way, Gloria is starting to feel that her marriage isn't as exciting as it was back in those days before she had three kids and it was still one lovely honeymoon for her and Tony. This current getaway from Tony and the kids to attend Izzie's bachelorette party is the first time in months that she has any time to herself. But even so, the husband has to call about the kids. Men, I tell you. The poor dear decides that perhaps for the rest of the night she'll let her hair down and have fun before becoming mother and housewife again the day after.
She takes off her wedding ring, heads down to the hotel bar for a drink, and, oh dear, finds herself being hit on by a handsome gentleman who gives his name as Tom. How can she resist his seduction when he knows her feelings so well, about her loneliness and feeling of frustration when sometimes she feels that she is completely alone in having to deal with kids and all the other matters screaming for her attention? And then sometimes the husband is too tired to do anything more than to come home from work and fall asleep beside her, so she can't help feeling unloved at times too. Tom knows all this, plays on her vulnerabilities, and seduces her completely.
No, don't worry, Ms Kelly isn't so heartless as to drive the readers who are already shocked by the threesome thing into a heart attack with a story involving adultery. The "twist" can be seen coming from far away. Unlike the other stories, this one isn't as sexually charged as much as it is an unexpectedly effective glimpse into a very realistic and even unromantic aspect of a long-time marriage without sacrificing the optimism that defines a romance story. Which is to say, this is a very well-written and very real story that I can definitely relate to, but it also presents a romantic message that even when one is confronted with the more mundane, unromantic, and sometimes unhappy moments when the spark doesn't seem to be there anymore, one can always find the spark back if both husband and wife are willing. And really, "Tom" is such a sweetheart here. This unexpected side of Ms Kelly's writing is certainly a very pleasant discovery and it makes me realize that she's definitely capable of writing more than sexy highly charged romances if she puts her mind to it. If anything, this story is the perfect way to end the collection on a high note.
All in all, One Wild Wedding Night features sexy and fun stories with likable characters, only to end with a sexy story that floors me with how well it resonates with me. Oh, this one is definitely wild, but even better, it also aims for the heart. I think I like it.
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