Mills & Boon, £3.15, ISBN 978-0-263-86216-4
Contemporary Romance, 2007
Yes, they are the Men at Work, and you better run for cover, fam, because they are going to come to your land down under. Sorry, I have to do that. This one is an anthology with a common thread – there is a calendar featuring naked men, their naked bits strategically covered by hats and what not. Oh, and the titles are all designed to have dirty double meanings.
I know, a naked men calendar is so clichéd by now, but you have to remember, this one was published back in 2007, a time when romance authors and publishers finally realized that there are romance readers out there who like reading stories that involve more than missionary positions. But because this is a mainstream line and no one wants to offend too many people, a hot naked guy is as risqué as a category romance dared to be at that time. It’s that or innocent virginal heroines inheriting sex toy shops or naughty lingerie stores, and I have read enough of those “Ooh! The heroine is touching a pair of lacy panties hanging on a rack that says 30% off! and because lacy panties are so naughty, you must be now going OMG SEXY PANTIES SO X-RATED OH OH I LOVE EROTIC ROMANCES!” nonsense, thank you very much.
Anyway, this one. Yes, these stories drop some wet fish kind of sexy and expect me to go OH OH OH I LOVE EROTIC ROMANCES. Sadly, they all rely on this to sell the story, as heaven knows, there is no space or time for credible relationship or character building.
Karen Kendall kicks off the sexy show with Through the Roof, which has middle class hot stud Ben Delgado – half-Peruvian, and don’t you forget that, because that’s like 17 out of his 21-inch personality – deciding to dump his fiancée, our heroine Marina Reston, with a letter and then vanish without a trace. Why, you ask? No, it’s not because his medical test results show that he has every strain of STD known to man. No, he didn’t fall in love with a trann… er, trans woman and decided to spend the rest of his life making YouTube videos devoted to explaining the 94 flavors of human sexuality. No, no, no – he lost his business to some hurricane, so now he feels that he cannot support his wealthy wife-to-be, so he will now dump her for her own good.
Marina wants him back, of course, but I can’t for the life of me see why. This is exactly the kind of conflict that cannot work well in the short story format, and because characterization is threadbare, I finish this story convinced that he’d dump her again, maybe next weekend when he runs out of change and Marina once again pricks his pride by having to pay for their dinner. Add in Ben’s annoying tendency to drop mi corazon and mi vida and mi whatever in his conversations, and I can only go, “Oh shut up!” He’s only half-Peruvian, and his name is Ben, for heaven sake. Oh, and Ben also doesn’t believe in love, blah blah blah, until Marina helps him see the light.
No, I don’t see his appeal and I don’t care to. Next story, please.
Oh, and that’s Cindi Myers’s Taking His Measure – cue eyeroll – which has the calendar photographer Samantha Delaney reuniting with her teenage crush, Josh Kittredge, who is posing as Mr Syphilis or something. They connect, their bodies connect, some minor angst gets all cured by all this connection, and I can only wish them both the best. This one is utterly unremarkable and familiar, and to be honest I have a hard time remembering much of it. It’s an average story, so by default it’s the best of the three, but because it’s also lacking in any stand out kind of awfulness, it is also the most forgettable one as well. Hmm.
I do remember scratching at my head at how photographing beefcakes is depicted as a one-woman show, with the guy just walking in and the camera going click, click, click. Please. No one to do the make-up? To rub oil over the guy’s body? To make sure that the lights are angled in a way to flatter the muscles the most? To spray water to make things shinier? And, seriously, what kind of cheapskate beefcake calendar are we talking about here, to have the photoshoot take place in a single studio anyway? They could have at least rented a condo or a strip joint to be the backdrop. And no, I have not been watching all those beefcake behind-the-scenes videos of underwear model photoshoots. What makes you think that?
Colleen Collins closes the show with a story that has the best title of the three – Watching It Go Up – but the story itself is utterly flaccid. Gina Keys is a former law enforcement officer turned PI who is trailing Hawk Shadow Bonaparte, a suspect in a case involving missing stuff at his worksite. He has his own suspicions, but he won’t say anything even if it means coming off as the main suspect because of the following Hey Chief Hiawatha Knows the Secret of Good Living philosophy of his:
He’d never speak to this investigator, no matter what tactic she tried. He could explain to her that it was part of his upbringing to never speak about others in a negative way, whether they were present or not, but even he knew his reasons run deeper than that.
There was darkness at the work side. There were workers whose energy was like the stealthy weasel. Then there was Bowen, who seemed to respect money more than people. But to explore suspicions was like blaming the wind. It did no one any good.
Ah, but I bet he knows why the bobcat grins, and he must have tasted the sun sweet berries of the earth!
There is hardly any romance here. Just Gina trying to do her thing, and Hawk Bonaparte being difficult and opaque, although he has no problems having sex with her despite everything because, remember, he knows the colors of the wind. Is this where I make a tacky joke about flatulence and this story? Oh, and yes, he really does tell the heroine to listen to her heart, because one can never too be clichéd – all that is missing here is wigwam sex with the hero wearing full native American headdress and the theme song of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly playing in the background.
If my brain is an office, Men at Work leaves me wanting to hang a “Closed!” sign at the door.