*In Angela Knight’s Mad Dog Love, a space opera about a politically oppressed princess and an enslaved werewolf, technology has given each person a nanosystem of molecule-sized robots flowing in their bloodstreams, that help fight disease, bolster strength, and house libraries of information. But when hacked or controlled externally, they can turn a person’s body into a puppet at the mercy of the programmer. In this particular story, it was more of an external plot device than something used in the romance, but you can see how easily it could take that turn.
*In Lora Leigh’s “A Jaguar’s Kiss,” the biologically engineered Breed subrace is characterized by, among other things, a heightened mating imperative. When a Breed recognizes his mate, his body begins producing high levels of a particular hormone which can be transmitted via fluids, ie, a kiss. The hormone, to put it bluntly, makes both parties unbearably horny for each other and unable to tolerate the touch of another. In this novella, the heroine, Natalie, receives this hormone completely unknowing of its implications.
*Virginia Kantra’s “Sea Crossing” tells of a young 19th-century schoolteacher, fallen from grace, who is leaving England for indentured servitude in Canada. A community of selkies, elemental sea creatures, arrange matters to bring Emma to their island to teach their adolescent population, teenagers on the brink of their first Change:
”You were needed.” His eyes pleaded with her for understanding. “And you’ve been happy here. Emma—“
“But I didn’t have a choice! Those poor people who lost everything on the ship didn’t have a choice! I may be human and mortal and insignificant, but I know we deserve a choice.” He was looking at her as if she were the monster, as if she were a strange, rare beast who might suddenly sprout fur and flippers and swim away.
“A choice,” he repeated.
Her chest felt tight. She stuck out her chin. “Yes.”
He nodded slowly. “Very well. I will speak to my lord. Tomorrow, after you have said good-bye to the children, I will take you wherever you want to go.”
Emma’s mouth dropped open. Her chest caved in.
What I liked about these stories though, is that regardless of the circumstances that brought the h/h together and their feelings around whatever deliberate manipulation or deception happened, in each of the four stories, the resolution required each character to choose to stay, to make the commitment, to explicitly decide that they wanted the other.
Some did it better than others. This anthology popped my Lora Leigh Breed cherry, so to speak, though I’ve heard an awful lot about them. Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed.
(Saban says…) “I’ve burned for you through the days and the nights. I’ve ached for your touch, and even that you would not give me. I flirted, I teased. I did everything those fucking books said a man should do, and nothing worked.”
Natalie stared back at him, confused, uncertain. “And you thought throwing me into this would?” she finally asked bitterly. “That forcing my compliance was the only step left? You forced this on me, Saban. How is it any different than rape?”
How was it different? His lips opened, fury pounded in his head that she would think such a thing, that she could ever believe that he would force such a choice from—
Saban felt it then, the knowledge, the certainty, from her point of view, that it was exactly what he had done. He had given in to his own frustration, his anger at her defiance, his hunger, and he had unleashed it on her in a way that she could never fight, one that she could never escape.”
Nice, huh? I mean, I guess it’s OK if he was REALLY REALLY hot for her, then it’s different, right?
(Natalie says…) “It’s not the same as rape.”
Saban clenched his teeth and fought the need to fist his hands.
“You decided this for what reason?” He lowered the grill lid and watched it, as though in watching it he could make it heat and burn away the shame inside him.
“Because I already suspected the truth of it,” she finally said. “I knew it existed and I pushed anyway because you were frustrating the hell out of me.”
Oh, OK. Since she was attracted to him, it isn’t really rape. Got it. Yuck.
I picked up this particular anthology for the Alyssa Day story, and liked it well enough. Not as complex or dark as the full length novels, but good characters, and I’m just OCD enough to need to read it because it’s part of the overall series arc.
I also liked the selkie story quite a lot; I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist picking up Sea Witch after the little teaser at the end.
The big surprise for me was the Angela Knight story. Futuristic, techy sci-fi space opera is probably my least favorite sub-genre, with or without romance; however, I’m a total sucker for compelling characters and Knight drew me in instantly. Within 20 pages, she establishes two unique main characters with compelling motivations; the ruthless depths of the primary villain, and an irresistible storyline where we’re already wondering who can be trusted and who has betrayed whom. Fabulous! And hey, how often do we get a good zero-gravity sex scene? I had my doubts about some of the technical details, but what the hell, it was good clean dirty fun anyway.