Here are the best of the Romantica e-books I read in 2005; all were published by Ellora's Cave. Each goes beyond Burning, but some are more "beyond" than others, even those with large doses of humor. If you consider yourself curiously adventuresome and don't mind the most explicit of language, you could probably handle the first few listed. I've ranked them in order of how "acceptable" they might be to romance readers. By the time you near the end of my list, unless you're very tolerant and are willing to read stores that do have an HEA but otherwise are more Erotica than Romantica, you'd do best to skip them.
These first three I would recommend unconditionally:
- Fever by Kimberly Dean (Contemp, pub 2004) - This one came thisclose to earning DIK status, and it's a favorite for our e-book reviewer, Ha Nguyen. When Delia comes down with a raging fever at work, she goes home to recover, but the heat builds and builds. A man shows up at her apartment hours later to care for her, but in her delirium she doesn't know who he is, only that he'll do anything to help slake her fever all through the night.
This is a very sexy, romantic, and different take on the "knight in shining armor" story.
- By Moon Rise by Tielle St. Clare (Shapeshifter, pub 2004 in Tales from the Temple II anthology) - A woman secretly in love with her werewolf boss is quarantined in a hotel with him for two days. Unfortunately, the moon is on the rise, so in order to keep Luc's wolf at bay, Caitlin must assuage his sexual needs. Although werewolf sex tends to be pretty raunchy, because of what the werewolf in question discovers about himself and his pretty assistant while said assuaging occurs, this short story is surprisingly sweet.
- Jane and the Sneaky Dom by Hannah Murray (Contemp, pub 2004) - After yet another disastrous relationship, Jane decides to look for a man completely different than the yuppie wussies she's been dating. She wants a man who will take control. Ian overhears her hatching a plan with her best friend, and decides he's the right man for the job...and he is. But he soon realizes he means to be there for the long haul, and sets about to make this short-term experiment last for a lifetime. This is a fun and funny book that explores on a very gentle level themes of dominance and submission. If you've ever used a scarf or feather in the bedroom, I think you'll like this one.
Ranking the next three books wasn't easy, and I actually think that the first of this next grouping could fit into the grouping above. I decided against it because it delves into themes of sexual dominance and submission at a deeper level than Murray's book, albeit still in a playful and very non-threatening way.
- Lion in Love by Elizabeth Lapthorne (Contemp, pub 2005) - Leigh, a divorced mother of a young son, decides to live out her fantasy of being in a submissive sexual relationship to a man. Leo, tired of women who are submissive in bed and out, longs for a lover who will submit to him sexually, but otherwise challenge him. Leigh is no pushover, so it's a perfect match, one the hero means to last forever. This is definitely a love story, but because the D/s "play" is more formalized than Jane and the Sneaky Dom, it may not work for everyone.
- I had a tough time deciding whether Lapthorne's book, or Against the Wall by Rhyannon Byrd (Contemp, pub 2004), should start this second grouping. Ultimately I decided that the intensity level of Byrd's writing, combined with its extremely raw nature, puts it after Lion in Love, even though no fetish is involved. I like this author a great deal, and some may actually like her better in smaller doses (I'd recommend her short story A Shot of Magick), but this one, featuring a woman tired of waiting for the man she loves to make a move, really did it for me. Ryan hasn't avoided Shea out of lack of interest, on the contrary, he's avoided her because this bad-ass ATF agent thinks she's too good for the life he's led. When he eventually succumbs to her charms and his desires, she gets a tremendous introduction to life on the wild side, and falls all the more in love. Rhyannon Byrd's heroes remind me of Linda Howard's - if they were on steroidal Viagra 24 hours a day.
- Hooked by Diana Hunter (Contemp, pub 2005) - In this short story, Jim makes amends to a woman he wrongly assumed was a hooker by offering to give her the sexual experience of her life, if only the passionate Tania will allow him to teach her the virtues of patience. Placement for this book was difficult as well, because again, Byrd's writing is so raw, but there's an early fantasy scene in this D/s-themed short story that may make readers uncomfortable. It's also the least "romantic" of any of the titles on my list.
The final four titles are way out there and it's likely many of you would find any or all of them objectionable unless you already read Romantica and/or have an "anything goes" attitude:
- The Empress' New Clothes by Jaid Black (SF, pub 2000) - Kyra is kidnapped and wed by Zor, a giant alien warrior claiming to be her Sacred Mate. Life in the seventh dimension is far different than life on Earth, particularly where sex is concerned. Her new world is very male-dominated and caters to erotic hedonism in a manner unimaginable to humans. This is first in an often hilarious series, one that explores more and more bizarre - and kinky - worlds as the series progresses.
- Bound by the Dream by Angela Knight (SF, pub 2002 in the Captive Dreams two-in-one e-book) - Celeste, who writes futuristic books, is kidnapped by Jarred, the star of her stories, when he can no longer stand the torture her imagination creates for him. His plans for revenge lead her into a D/s relationship with her captor. The other story in this two-in-one, written by a different author, is one I didn't like, and features the writer's sister, whose fantasy novels have similarly tortured her hero. Captive Dreams will be reissued by Berkley in 2006.
- No Fear by Jaid Black (SF, pub 2002) - In this fifth book in the series begun by The Empress' New Clothes, Brynda, a plain librarian, yearns for some excitement in her life, and gets it when she is captured as the Sacred Mate of Jek, another giant warrior from the seventh dimension. This is the funniest book in the series because of the very lovable hero, and that he and the heroine are so playful with one another, but be warned: "hot monkey sex" on one of the planets they visit along the way to his home may simply gross you out.
- Triple Play by Rhyannon Byrd (Contemp, pub 2005) - On the night Gabe turns 35, his best friend Jonah shows up on his doorstep with a present: a blindfolded Denny, the personal assistant Gabe silently lusts over, and secretly loves. Jonah knows that only this lush woman can erase the pain in his friend's heart, but also that Gabe will never admit it unless they share her, providing the illusion of a lack of intimacy. Although Denny cannot believe that these gorgeous men desire her, she loves Gabe and will do whatever it takes to break through his icy veneer. All but the epilogue span that one, long and raw, sex-filled night, and even with the threesome, I found it remarkably romantic. This is my "never-say-never" book, as in, "I would never enjoy a book with more than two people in a bed at one time."
(It's probably not accurate to classify the three "SF" titles listed above as actual SF stories, but as they take place in outerspace and/or other planets and dimensions, it's what I've used.)