Desert Isle Keeper Review

Secrets: Dark Passions (Volume 18)

Rae Monet, Larissa Ione, Linda Gayle and Cynthia Eden
December 2006, Erotic Romance
Red Sage, $12.99, 350 pages, Amazon ASIN 0975451685

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

Looking over the last couple of months, I've reviewed quite a few short story anthologies and novellas. To be honest, I was feeling a bit burned out by the genre, wondering if powerful love stories could be told with low word counts. But this collection is strong, erotic, emotional, and satisfying. Quite simply, this Secrets volume has restored my faith in romance short stories.

Futuristic Romance
Sensuality: Hot

Lone Wolf Three is part of Rae Monet's Solarian Wolf Warrior series. Before this story, I had never read any of the others, but found it completely unnecessary to my enjoyment. From what I understand from the story and a brief trip over to her website, Monet's series deals in futuristic ecological romance; wolves and the destruction of their habitat is of primary concern for her. In this story, the lives of the characters are intertwined with those of their wolves. The heroine, Lakota, is a Wolf Warrior, a soldier with a wolf companion as an aide. She is also a mediator and is sent to Elnar to help mediate a compromise between commercial interests and ecological ones, as the leader, and hero, Taban, fights to protect the planet's wolf population.

In a nice little twist from the norm, Lakota is emotionally distant and disciplined. She needs to be shown how to loosen up, how to relax, how to have fun. Taban, on the other hand, is closely tied to nature and his feelings, a little too closely in some cases. It is his anger, which caused him to walk out of negotiations and bury himself in the woods, that made a mediator necessary at all.

Monet doesn't rush the story - actually this is a theme through most of the stories. The authors manage to slow the stories down, take time to really build up the emotional connection. It's also what makes the stories worthwhile. Lakota and Taban spend quite a bit of time together isolated in the woods; Monet isn't afraid to skip ahead in parts, moving through the days quickly. So when the climax of the suspense subplot occurs, it is not only expected, but natural that they decide to fight together.

And the dance scene is very sexy! Grade: A-

Contemporary Romance
Sensuality: Hot

This story was my favorite in the anthology. In a slight trend (it didn't continue through the rest of the stories), Larissa Ione's contemporary Flesh to Fantasy is about a woman addicted to virtual reality, and utterly terrified of the real thing. Kelsa is a videogame tester, and completely stunted socially. The gorgeous Tristan next door and is more than curious about his reclusive neighbor. They meet by accident and he makes it his goal to draw her out of her shell - and straight into his arms.

This story has some fantastic emotional development; the characters both have their issues, and Ione doesn't rush through the resolution. The way that Kelsa eventually opens up to Tristan emotionally feels very natural for her, and it packs one heck of an emotional punch.

I especially liked the way Ione integrated both characters' slight work obsessions into the story, with Tristan visiting Kelsa's virtual world through a fantasy role-playing game, and Kelsa's visit to Tristan's very real world as a paramedic. Grade: A

Futuristic Romance
Sensuality: Hot

Earth has been destroyed and humanity scattered in Heart Full of Stars, a futuristic romance from Linda Gayle. War wiped out three-quarters of the population, sending the rest of them out into space. Some found jobs and homes and each other. Most, however, desperate to get off the dying planet in any way they could, signed contracts with mercenary aliens who forced them into servitude in return for their lives.

Fanta is a very successful singer - she's sold more albums than Elvis and The Beatles put together - and she is on her way back to Earth, now that the planet's ecosystems have been restored for recolonization. She's also in a big hurry. The terms of her contract may have been fulfilled, but her owner doesn't want something so lucrative to slip from his hands. On Earth, she'll be safe. Unfortunately, she crashes on Mars and meets Decker, a fellow human with emotional wounds deeper than the Pacific. He saves her accidentally, they have sex, he doesn't want to leave, she wants to get home. Complications ensue.

I'm not normally a fan of futuristic stories, but I liked the premise of this one, the idea of recolonizing, people returning home. There's a sort of nostalgic undertone throughout that adds poignancy to the denouement. The different types of aliens are fun as well. And, though Fanta occasionally comes across as a bit flaky, it's part of her façade. She has hidden strengths and depths that come out slowly through the story and are a lot of fun to follow. And Decker is a quintessential wounded hero. Together, they’re dynamite. Grade: B+

Shapeshifter Romance
Sensuality: Hot

There are three things I didn't like about Cynthia Eden's The Wolf's Mate, so I’ll get them out of the way right now. First, the wolf smells his mate and knows her immediately, thus justifying the overbearing/condescending/overprotective actions that follow. It's okay, because she’s his mate. That drives me crazy.

Second, she's frigid until she meets him. However, I'm adding a caveat. The guy she was with before the novella begins never took the time to turn her on, and he was a little scary, so there are lots of good reasons why she wouldn't be able to respond sexually. That being said, Michael, our hero-wolf, is pretty scary too. This particular trope is explained relatively well, but it did make me roll my eyes when I first came across it.

Finally, he's French. And he refers to her as "ma petite". Maybe the author hasn't read Laurell K. Hamilton interview, but lots of others have, and it's a little too close for comfort.

That's a heck load of stereotypes and well-visited concepts to get over. But, in the end, I liked this story. This is the second in a series, but stands alone just fine on its own. In fact, if the author hadn't tried to tie the two stories together, I would never have known. The world building is sufficient enough to make this story independent.

It is the heroine who really saves the story. Kat (get it? Kat and Wolf? Cat and Dog? Yeah, me too) actually shows a lot of backbone, which is refreshing in an overbearing, "you are my mate" storyline. She needs to be kidnapped to go along with Michael to his secret wolf lair where she fights with him. Sure, she freaks out a little when he turns into a wolf in front of her, but for the most part, she's got her life planned out, can solve her own problems, and, barring a rape attempt, can handle pretty much everything on her own. She's also fiercely protective and independent, which, again, is refreshing. She pulls the story out of cliché and into "B" territory. Grade: B-

I finished this anthology with a feeling that has been mostly missing in my romance reading this year - deep pleasure and full satisfaction. Though I reviewed this Secrets volume electronically, I'll be looking for the print version come December. I've already saved the spot on my keeper shelves.

-- Kate Cuthbert

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