Dare Me
by Cherry Adair, Jill Shalvis, and Julie Elizabeth Leto; contemporary (2005)
Signet Eclipse, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21437-4


The anthology Dare Me is a concise Exhibit A of why I find most romantic suspense stories that aren't well thought out problematic. You have the hero and the heroine trapped in what are supposed to be matters of pressing urgency. So how on earth do you find time and space to make them fall in love? Many so-called romantic suspense authors take the easy way out by making the main characters lovers in the past, thus giving the authors a way to bypass the courtship of the two main characters. The result is a rushed obligatory "We've had sex - now we're back together, yay!" relationship that doesn't ring real. Other authors throw caution to the wind and have the characters have sex left and right (and the reader is expected to make the extrapolation that good sex is equivalent to true love) without caring as to what this shag-a-thon will do to the story. All three stories have either problems of the first or second type.

Cherry Adair starts the anthology with Playing For Keeps where our air-stewardess Danica Cross is on a plane trying not to smack some kids when the plane takes a nosedive down. Oopsie. Her husband, who is just a paper away from becoming her ex-husband, Jon Raven, rushes to her side. When Dani is caught in a plot involving the President's son, Jon has to come to her rescue. The lesson here is, if you're on the verge of divorce, stand in front of a crossfire and the marriage will be saved. Or you will die and the hubby gets off with not paying alimony. Hmmm.

Anyway, this is one of those stories where "divorce" is just a contrivance to keep the characters apart. Actually, I can see why the marriage crumbled, come to think of it, because the two characters have bricks for brains. Dani is drugged, moved from her hospital out of America to a secret facility under hush-hush circumstances, and she actually thinks Jon is being paranoid when he's worried about where the mysterious people are taking her. She also acts as a hindrance to Jon by keeping several important information from him, all in the name of I Am An Independent Woman So I Can Do Everything By Myself, Thank You. But of course, she isn't and she can't, so really, thank you, Dani. Jon is a ridiculously over-the-top alpha male who all but thumps his fists into his chest as he steamrollers over everyone in his way to plunge his Alpha Dong into Dani's grotto of love. Naturally, he wants his wife back. And just as naturally, instead of wining or dining her, or at least flashing her an Amex card, he snarls, grits his teeth, and acts like some crazed dog out to terrorize the cats in the street.

On the bright side, these two are really compatible when it comes to their lack of intelligence and obvious need of psychiatric evaluation, so I have to say that Ms Adair is probably onto something here. Although I don't think that something is my thing.

Moving on now to Jill Shalvis' Nothing To Lose. Our heroine Jade Barrett, whose personality swings from being a very stupid and helpless nitwit to being a surly and determined but still useless nitwit depending on - I suppose - whether her mood stabilizers are kicking in, has been cheated on and cheated by her ex-boyfriend Tomas. Her day is further ruined by Will Malone, an ex-CIA agent bent on avenging his sister whose innocence he fetishizes to a truly disquieting degree in his introductory scene. Boy, I'd hate to see what he will do when he realizes that his sister may not died a virgin. Anyway, he crashes into Jade's life looking for Tomas and she ends up being dragged along for the ride as bullets fly from the bad guys' weapons.

This story can't give off rebound vibes any better if it is a squash ball bouncing around in court - Jade because she's screwed by an ex and Will because he can't sleep with his dead sister. After all, the whole story takes place in one day. Am I supposed to believe these two when they declare that they are in love forever and after? As for the suspense, just like how badly-planned historical romances with Spy Subplots always have a Magic Book containing a code that only the hero can decipher, this story as a Magic Palm Pilot that has everything everyone needs to solve the case. Nothing To Lose is right - there is nothing to be had from this story in the first place.

Julie Elizabeth Leto's Dare To Desire is a Silly Sex story. Not because the sex scenes drip purple so much that Barney the Dinosaur will come off as green in comparison, but because we have two convincingly strong-willed ex-lovers-cum-secret agents trying to find a code to stop missiles from flying from Russia to the US only to spend the whole story having sex left and right. Sometime into the story, the head of the heroine's agency comes in to act like some paternal godfather figure when any head of spy-stuff department would have said, "You go, girl!" Whatever promise Macy Rush and Dante Burke have as characters are ruined - as is their sexual tension - by a plot that comes off too much like a flimsy excuse to have the chracters shagging left and right. It is one thing to give terrorists the finger by reducing them into a porn-movie subplot, I'm sure, but the result doesn't translate to a "story of high-stake romance" like the front cover promises. Macy and Dante would have been better off in a different kind of profession in a different kind of story, if you get my drift. Hey, don't laugh. Charlie Sheen married Denise Richards for quite some time, after all!

As anthologies go, Dare Me does it job very well as an introduction to the romantic suspense subgenre. Let's face it: most of the stories in that subgenre are formulaic serial killer ex-lovers-have-sex angry-guilty-sheriff/cop/SEAL/agent ultra-tormented my-sister's-dead-boo-hoo heroines crap pot concoction. It is an impressive feat from these three authors to effectively encompass and showcase all the essences of mediocrity that plague the subgenre since Tami Hoag and Iris Johansen prove that there is money to be made in romance-suspense crossover. It is as if indeed, they are waving a challenge to readers to step right in and experience for themselves the mediocrity pervalent in the subgenre. Dare Me indeed.

Rating: 53


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