Harlequin HQN, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-373-77719-8
Contemporary Erotica, 2012
Hidden Paradise has a simple plot. A gay couple decide to hold a Regency-era costume party in their mansion, Paradise Hall, the kind where guests have to dress up in clothes of that era, but they can proceed to do whatever they want to do. Louisa Connolly is persuaded to attend, as the hosts feel that she needs to stop grieving over her late husband and rejoin everyone else in living in the present. She’s not sure what she will do there, but she has always had this fantasy about her and two guys… Mac Salazar is a journalist who wants to interview the staff of Paradise Hall, but it’s his other pencil that gets a workout here. Rob is a virgin who is hired to be one of the handsome male staff that tend to the guests in Paradise Hall. So, behind closed doors, what will happen and who will do whom?
Let me start by pointing out what the author does something right: the sizzle. There are some naughty scenes that are set up in such a way that, while the scenes themselves are not particularly detailed, the whole thing is still hot due to the tension and the chemistry among the participants. Louisa is a pretty well-done character, as her vulnerabilities feel real. Mac, however, is probably too real as this rather silly fellow who lives by where his little pencil leads him. His history doesn’t suggest that he’s good at long-term relationships, and it doesn’t help that his hottest scene is one in which the heroine is not involved in at all.
Now, the problem with Hidden Paradise is that the author seems to go the extra mile to push the story into some kind of normalcy that ends up ruining the whole thing. Louisa, Rob, and Mac would have made a great polyamorous trio, but no, the author breaks them apart so that Louisa and Mac get into a woefully traditional relationship by the end. Louisa spends so much time resisting any chances to get naughty, I wonder what she’s doing here. Her threesome fantasy seems like something thrown in because the author wants some naughtier-than-usual scenes to get this story its erotica label. And ugh, the threesome! What an anticlimax.
The author just has to ruin everything but having Mac and Robin only kiss in the threesome, before proceeding to have Mac tease Rob about whether Rob has “gone gay” yet in the aftermath. Please, I want to read naughty scenes with everyone bonking everyone else, so spare me the whole “too macho to be even curious” nonsense. This is an erotica, so put out or get out; go hard or go home. The hero’s threesome with two other women is so much hotter, because the two women have no problems getting it on with one another. I guess lesbians are okay, but the male kind of gay is icky? Weirdly enough, the author has no problems with the gay couple getting it on. I guess the issue here is that romance heroes can’t be even a little gay? People, listen to the wise words of our elders: it’s okay to be gay, let’s rejoice with the boys!
Hidden Paradise reminds me of those “straight people only” erotica published in the 1960s and 1970s, when lesbians are okay but holy hell, please keep the ding-dongs away from the guys. Unlike those erotica which portray the loss of inhibition and slip into decadence as great things, things that would make anyone happier, this story hammers mainstream values towards the ending, trying to get everyone into traditional monogamous relationships. This one doesn’t feel like an authentic erotica, as a result. Then again, I’ve always preferred democracy in my erotica. Everybody for everybody, and remember, people, it’s okay to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, whatever, as long as everyone is having wholesome fun. More fun than these disappointingly vanilla bores in this story, anyway.