Rough Around The Edges
by Susan Johnson, Dee Holmes, Stephanie Laurens, and Eileen Wilks; assorted (1998)
St Martin's Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-96599-0


Rough Around The Edges is a mixed bag. The stories by Stephanie Laurens and Eileen Wilks are okay, while the one by Susan Johnson is ruined by a tacked-on plot device (more later). Dee Holmes' contribution is best read when one is in dire need of sleep and counting sheep and grains of sand isn't working.

First off, Susan Johnson's Playing With Fire. It's a watered down version of her earlier sensual works, this time having the usual uberrake Rupert Marsh, Duke of Ware forced to marry Olivia Overton, cit's daughter, in return for money. Oh, and despite our hero being a womanizer and compulsive gambler, be assured his state of bakruptcy is due to his late father's gambling and womanizing habits only. Of course.

Olivia is a perfect match for any rake as she has a no-nonsense disarming wit as well as the willpower to know that with rakes, a woman who succumbs may as well as be used toilet paper. Used today, flushed off tomorrow. She's fun. I like her.

Then the author tacks on a silly separation device that, in a herculean self-sabotage never seen since Wild E Coyote tries to have the Road Runner for lunch, turns Olivia into a whining idiot. Bah. I feel sick on poor Olivia's behalf.

Eileen Wilks' contemporary novella Simple Sins has a heroine that is a bit on the dim side, but otherwise, this dark story is pretty readable. Felicity Reed makes an inane excuse to hole up in black rogue Damon Reeves' place to retrieve some incriminating documents Reeves' evil granny used to blackmail Fel's mom. Damon is drunk and he definitely isn't buying her story. Uh oh.

Thing is, Fel really is a bit thick. When Damon first encounters her, he practically molests her until she is at the brink of tears. The next morning she claims that Damon is her fantasy man. Hello? Anyone home in Cerebrum Central?

Damon is a dark, Gothic hero but he does something really stupid at the end too. (Let's just say no one can pull off a James Dean Finale like James Dean, not even Damon.) Okay, so this one is a very readable story about two rather dim fellows falling in love.

Dee Holmes' contemporary novella Once Burned is a reunion story, sort of. Deke Laslo dumped Mariah Thornton one year ago because he can't commit. Now, as he drives Mariah across the country to her father's birthday, he suddenly realizes, voila! Let's get married. Maybe he wants to get out of this rather boring story ASAP. Mariah is a rather silly woman who has been Holding Out Her Heart On Her Sleeve for him all these years - definitely she hasn't be watching Oprah too often to learn that commitment-shy male twits aren't worth it.

Still, she gets her man, good for her. Let's just hope he doesn't walk out the next day when he sobers up. I mean, who are they kidding? A road trip, a quick boink, and ta-da, every neurosis is gone?

Stephanie Laurens ends the anthology with her historical entry Melting Ice, and oh dear, the heroine in this one probably wouldn't pass her SAT either. Fiona Winton-Ryder decides to drop by her old friend's house to spend the night (it's a long trip), but she is unaware of the signs that her very married friend is one of those happy free-loving swinger half of a couple who is planning a Major Orgy of a party there. Never mind, our hero Dyan St Laurent Dare, the Duke of Darke (hahahahahahahahahaha, what a delightful tongue-twister of a name!), who is in need of a wife, is there to protect her from the sins of orgasms. What better way than to keep an innocent innocent from the orgy next room by playing with her money box in the room next to where the party is taking place?

The things they do and say to justify hormones' siren call, I tell you.

(Oh, and Dyan insists that Good Rakes like he never takes part in decadent orgies like the one going on in the next room. Of course.)

This one is pretty fun, although it's a patchwork of every tired plot element in the Regency romance subgenre. And yes, he proposes, she says no and no. Thankfully, the story ends after the second no from her. This is one of the better products from the Stephanie Laurens Romance Cloning Mill.

Rough Around The Edges isn't worth $5.99 if you ask me, but still, it's not exactly a complete goner. Eileen Wilks and Stephanie Laurens save the day with their decent efforts. All in all, a barely okay read.

Rating: 60


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