Avon Red, $13.99, ISBN 978-0-06-168939-0
Mixed Genre Erotica, 2009
How is this for life’s funny little surprises? In a designated “hot” anthology called A Red Hot Valentine’s Day, I come across one of the sweetest, most romantic, and tender stories I’ve read in a long time. I enjoy three out of four stories in here, which is quite unusual in my experience with anthologies, but I love one of these three stories so, so much that I find myself writing a long and gushy fan email to the author before recovering my sanity and deleting the whole thing just in time.
Lacy Danes starts the show with Torn Desires, and this story is the closest to being an erotica in terms of the rules it chooses to follow. The love story between two principle characters is unexpectedly sweet, but the characters here indulge in some happy games of musical beds before they reach the happy ending.
Sophia, a lovely and sweet widow, believes that she has found love with the Earl of Quinton. Sure, she is his mistress, but she is convinced that what they have are real and one day, he will make an honest woman out of her. You know what they say about being the last to know – the signs are there if she will stop living in denial. Quinton not only won’t introduce her to his son, he won’t even want to be seen with her in public. Due to Sophia’s lack of impressive pedigree, Quinton is even ashamed to have people know that he’s sleeping with her. Oh, he enjoys sleeping with her, he just doesn’t want anyone to know.
Anne Cathcort is an unusual matchmaker-cum-procurer who is in town with her companion Alistair. How will Sophia react when she learns that Quinton has summoned Anne in town to find him an eligible widow to wed? How will Alistair react when the woman he has fallen for is actually the mistress of his employer’s client? Sophia could very well stand between his employer and a job well done, so how will he reconcile his job with his feelings?
Everyone has a jolly good time here so even if they end up feeling blue, it’s hard to feel sorry for them, given that they have had such fun in this story. Sophia is naïve and gullible at first, but she’s a good-natured lady at heart and it’s hard not to feel for her when she realizes that she will never be Quinton’s wife and her heart breaks in the process. And good for her, really, for keeping her head high and not settling for second best when she realizes Quinton’s ghastly taking her affections for granted. Alistair is lusty lummox, but like Sophia, he has his heart in the right place. They are really sweet together, believe it or not. Anne, though, is an interesting secondary character who turns out to be an ally for our lovelorn couple.
Megan Hart’s Get There is my favorite story in this anthology. I read the two opening paragraphs and just fall in love – there is no other way to describe my feeling – with this story there and then.
I could get there by bus. Watch the country go by in ribbons of brown and green as we pass by towns the names of which don’t matter, because they’re not yours. The clatter-clack will lull me to sleep and I’ll dream of you. The mountains will become your breasts, the hills the slope of your hips, and the valleys… the valleys will turn into that sweet valley between your thighs, and I’ll wake with an erection hard enough to bore tunnels. And then, when I get there, all I’ll have to do is to lay you down and fill you up with all of me.
Because you’ve already filled me with all of you.
Isn’t that beautiful, profane, and poetic all at once?
Edie Darowish is in love with Tynan Murphy. But he is in Maine while she is in California. When the story opens, they have made plans for the future – Edie will move to Maine to be with Ty. This story deals with the last few weeks they will have to endure being apart as Edie deals with various loose ends with her job and such before she makes the trip to Maine. Now, you may be wondering how romantic or erotic can this story be when the couple is apart for the most of the story. Well, just read the story. This story isn’t just structured and written in a refreshingly different manner from a typical contemporary romance story, it also contains some lovely poetic love letters from Ty – he’s an artist, so he has the right to use such pretty words. What I really love about this story is how well Ms Hart draws me into her characters’ psyche. I can definitely sympathize to Edie in this story and I can definitely relate to her feelings. She’s standing at the brink of a new life, and yes, it can be a scary/exciting kind of thrill all at once to know that one’s life is about to be irrevocably changed no matter how this relationship will turn out. Get There puts me in the heroine’s shoes and makes me remember how I was in that exact position once upon a time. Love is fun, scary, and exhilarating – and this story captures all that perfectly for me.
I would get rid of the love scene late in the story, though. Sure, it’s nice that those two finally get to initiate physical contact after so many weeks apart, but this story would be perfect if it ends right when the two characters come face to face.
Jackie Kessler’s Hell Is Where the Heart Is is definitely the most sexually explicit of the four stories here. This one introduces Jezebel and Daunuan, the succubus and incubus from the author’s full-length series for Zebra, detailing a playful sexual encounter that took place one Valentine’s Day long before the series took place. This one is funny, sexy, and blatantly erotic – so much so that I am starting to suspect that Ms Kessler is secretly a Jessie/Daunuan shipper, heh. Still, I wish this one is a little shorter, because the sex scenes just go on and on that I actually feel exhausted on behalf of the characters when they are done. This one is fun, but yikes, I need to take a deep breath once I’m done with it because it does seem as if I’ve been holding my breath for years while reading this story.
Jess Michaels closes the anthology with the most conventional story of the four, By Valentine’s Day. And by “most conventional”, I also mean “most forgettable”. This one isn’t bad, mind you, but this tale of another dim-witted brown cow widow having to be seduced by a rake into not marrying the wrong person is disappointingly familiar especially when it follows stories that feature enough twists to make those stories stand out in my mind. This story is also the one where the heroine doesn’t enjoy sex as much as she needs the hero to shag her into seeing the obvious.
Sure, it is anticlimactic to have Jess Michaels’s story close the anthology after the exhilarating high I feel from reading the previous three stories, but on the whole I have a fantastic time with A Red Hot Valentine’s Day. Sure, Megan Hart’s story is a gem, but the other two I mentioned are fun in their own right. Red hot is definitely right when it comes to this baby.