Bad Boys Next Exit
by Shannon McKenna, Donna Kauffman, and EC Sheedy; contemporary (2004)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 0-7582-0556-2


While turning the pages, I half expect Lori Foster to leap from a page and yell, "Surprise! Thought I was really not in the anthology, did ya?" What? It is quite disconcerting to realize that for once, I am not reading a Brava anthology that is headlined by the first lady of Brava.

Bad Boys Next Exit doesn't seem to have an obvious common theme apart from the "let's make some quick buck" theme that's more relevant to the authors than the readers, except perhaps that the couples in the anthology rush into sex without knowing much about each other only to somehow fall in love in the last few pages or so. Needless to say, the romance doesn't work too well in this anthology, while the sex doesn't actually push the envelope too much. In short, I'm bored.

Shannon McKenna's Meltdown highlights what seems to be her trademark style by now: utterly, absolutely over-the-top alpha jerk heroes that come really close to being outright dumb and a heroine who can't seem to understand that one plus one is two even after six weeks' worth of remedial classes. In this novella, Jane Duvall is a headhunter who uses sneaky tricks to get past the receptionists to get to the employees that she targets her clients' job offers to. Her latest stint however is intercepted by Michael MacNamara who knows what she is up to. She doesn't know that her game is up, however, and she blithely steps into Mac's trap. Oops.

Mac is the kind of hero that exists only in romance novels - he makes ridiculously over-the-top judgment calls that, were he a businessman in real life, he would be homeless on the street after one month in the rat race. He immediately hates hates hates Jane because Jane is a liar and his parents were liars and all liars are liars and liars liars liars liars DIE LIARS DIE DIE DIEDIEDIE. Mac has no boundaries or perspectives whatsoever when it comes to his thoughts and emotions. At the same time he lusts after Jane too and they end up having mighty he-man king-kong sex all over his hotel rooms. All the time Jane wants to confess but her mouth keeps getting distracted by phallic-shaped plot contrivances, which only makes Mac's angry horny inner beast even more worked up.

The whole thing is ridiculous. I keep waiting for those two to self-combust from their overwrought, melodramatic, soap-operalike love-hate affair. This story isn't unrealistic in the sense that it is very possible for two people who don't like each other to have earth-shattering sex with each other, but the rushed happy ending however rings false.

Donna Kauffman's Exposed is the best of the bunch, but it is too short to be convincing as a romance story. Austin Morgan and Delilah Hudson are two photographers who don't like each other. But when they are forced to spend time together in a train during a snowstorm (don't ask), they start taunting each other by snapping photos of the other person (I guess it's more exciting than a snowball fight). Somehow the clothes fall off during the process. Wow-ee.

I like Del - some of the words from her mouth can make a sailor blush. It is not often that I come across a romance heroine who talks dirty in bed, but Del does that wash-your-mouth-missy thing so well. Austin and Del manage to talk and explore their feelings for each other (albeit superficially) amidst the sex so in a way, they are more convincing as a couple than the other pairings in this anthology. Still, they aren't that convincing.

EC Sheedy closes the anthology with Pure Ginger, which reads like a Harlequin Blaze nitwit story gone haywire. Ginger Cameron is fed up of getting burned by love affairs that go nowhere but down the drain, so she decides to drop that Paris Hilton image of hers, give up sex until she finds an ugly single guy to get down with, and, er, audition to star in the TV adaptation of a Harlequin Temptation novel, I guess. Meanwhile, Cal Beaumont is looking for a way to jazz up the publicity for his new theatre and Ginger, a PR person, may be who he is looking for. Alas, he thinks that she isn't sexy enough (maybe he expects the PR person to perform sexual favors as a way to jazz up his theatre, I guess). Ginger is insulted but instead of filing a lawsuit, she decides to show him that she can be worth his time provided that he gives her a chance.

This story could have been very offensive, especially when Cal starts insisting that Ginger doll up for the job. I also find it a cop-out that Ginger is actually beautiful and sexy underneath her Plain Jane exterior so Cal is really getting off easy for his behavior. Still, I must confess that when Cal falls hard, he falls like an elephant crashing down through the roof and it makes some enjoyable reading. Awkward phraseology in the love scenes - some of the scenes seem more at home in She Had A Vase Plugging Her Down There And Other Weird Tales From The ER than in a love scene - and an annoying conflict late in the novella ruin the fun, however.

Perhaps if Bad Boys Next Exit is an anthology about one night stands or brief affairs, it will work better. As a romantic anthology, it feels rushed and contrived. Perhaps it's cheaper to skip this anthology and invest in some Harlequin Blaze novels instead. At least with the Blaze novels as opposed to this anthology, you will get similar milquetoast attempts of romance authors at writing sexy romances at a cheaper price!

Rating: 72


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