Essence Of Midnight
by Julie Kenner, Susan Kearney, and Julie Elizabeth Leto; paranormal (2004)
Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83614-7


A bottle of perfume, the Essence Of Midnight in question, drives all three heroines of this anthology into getting horny and giving out. I'm sure many high school fratboys are right now writing pleading letters to the authors asking where they too can get their hands on the bottle.

Julie Kenner's Wild Thing is a werepanther romance story. It all begins when New Orleans policewoman Cate Raine opens an empty bottle of perfume - a gift from a friend - near the cage of a panther at the zoo and ends up having a werepanther Luc Agassou stalking her home from the zoo. Boy, she's lucky she didn't sit near the gorillas, isn't she? Written to be funny and sexy at the same time, this story is in the same vein as the other stories clogging the werebeastie romance subgenres out there. Nothing too bad but nothing too interesting either, just ho-hum.

Susan Kearney's Touch Me on the other hand is ridiculous. A beautiful therapist Dr Bonnie Anders is in disfavor from the medical community because of her special treatment where she gets naked and, armed with the ever-helpful perfume bottle, er, touch her patients. Our hero John Cameron needs to get over his PSTD to kick some terrorist ass so he needs to get naked with his shrink Bonnie. This The Penthouse Letters on the Axis of Evil is badly written and totally unsexy all the way from its ridiculous start to its eye-rolling end. Still, I have to hand it to Ms Kearney: not everyone has the guts or the courage to exploit the whole terrorist threat thing for a story with a premise straight out of a porno film.

Julie Elizabeth Leto's Surrender is the best of the three. I know this isn't much considering the quality of the other two stories but this story is really good. Armed with the bottle, Eve Baptiste attempts to solve a mystery involving Viktor Savitch, a warlock who was also called the Gypsy King and who lived a hundred years ago, What do you know, she manages to get Viktor back to life. While packed with standard paranormal romance elements like erotic dreams and what-not, Surrender has great atmosphere and the characters have chemistry that sizzle. It's the only story that doesn't feel by-the-book or trying too hard to be simultaneously sexy and paranormal.

There seems to be an upsurge in the number of "sensual paranormal romances" in the dead tree market nowadays when New York finally catches up with the e-book publishers like Ellora's Cave. But it's a shame that many of these stories are following an obvious formula too closely. Essence Of Midnight is one such anthology.

Rating: 65


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