Masters Of Seduction
Featuring Marsha Canham, Virginia Henley, Jacquie D'Alessandro, Jill Gregory, Sherri Browning Erwin, and Julie Ortolon; paranormal (2011)
Smashwords, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-9877023-5-7


The stories in Masters Of Seduction all feature a magical pendant that plays a role in getting the couple in each story together. Each author handles a story set in a different time era, so we have everything from the Middle Ages to the 1970s. I give this anthology a paranormal label, but most of the stories contain only a mild amount of paranormal element. A part of me still wonders how the pendant can move from one place to another, especially when some stories are set just a few decades apart, but I guess that's where the paranormal aspect comes in. How? By magic, of course! What The Heart Sees, a tale set in the 12th century. True to the author's style, the tale begins with a castle siege. Naughty Prince John has ordered his henchman Omfrie de Caux to attack Belfontaine and oust Lord Thomas Purefoy out of the way, but the residents of the castle are not going to make it easy for Omfrie. These folks include Cassie, our heroine. Her father is a famous bowyer and fletcher, and Cassie is unsurprisingly trained to be very good with the bow. While she is busy like everyone else killing enemies and what not, she still has time to notice that Lord Thomas is very easy on the eyes. But will there be time for TLC when there is a siege out there? This is a readable story, but it feels more like a prelude to a far more exciting and longer story.

Virginia Henley tackles the early 17th century with A Rough Wooing. Our heroine Douglas Elliot is Scots and therefore she is feisty, hot-tempered, and loves riding her house with her hair streaming like a banner behind her. She is doing her usual thing when she meets Sir Lancelot Greystoke, that haughty English nephew of her neighbor who accuses her of trespassing into his land. But can she enjoy his amorous attentions when she and her family are raiding on his home turf? This is a short story, but it is also a surprisingly enjoyable one, as it is a throwback to the author's bawdy romps in her much earlier books from Avon and Dell - you know, before she started writing those boring and dry historical fiction for Signet. Both characters are deliciously immature, high-strung, prone to drama, and as randy as rabbits during mating season. This story reminds me of why I used to enjoy this author's books back in the old days. Sigh.

Jacquie D'Alessandro moves on to a very familiar setting - 19th century England. In Heart's Desire, William Lawton, the current owner of Lawton's Antiques and Curiosities, is knocked off his feet, so to speak, when Callie Albright walks into his store after leaving town about two years ago. They have been close ever since they were kids, but when her sister married a Marquess, she was hoisted into a different world, one that he, a shopkeeper's son, can never belong to. So he has to keep his feelings for her to himself, that poor dear. But when she happens to come back to town and asks him to pay her a visit, he realizes that he can't say no to her. This is a sweet story that does all the right things, although there are times when I want to knock some sense into William. That fellow is just too fatalistic and pessimistic for words. Still, Callie demonstrates that she can handle him and make him stop his melodramatic ways when the need arises, so I'm sure they will be fine.

Jill Gregory moves across the ocean to Wyoming in the late 19th century in There Was You. Gunslinger Gabe Morgan and unemployed Georgianna Daughtry knew each other briefly when they were kids, and they meet again when their paths cross in Lost Gulch. He is there to save his estranged father. The two of them never talked after Gabe decided to take the law into his own hands and the Judge didn't agree with his decision. Now that an enemy of his father is out of prison and is looking for vengeance, Gabe decides to protect his father as the man attends some festivities thrown by the town to honor him. Georgianna is there to look for a fresh start. Since she is staying at a cabin at his father's land, they have plenty of opportunities to know each other again. This is also a pretty entertaining story. The thing is, I don't fully get an idea why Gabe would be so emo, going on and on about how he doesn't belong to Georgianna's world because his own world is full of death and other dramatic nonsense. Still, he comes to his senses quickly enough, just in time for the happy ending. The story is fast paced, and the romance is developed as much as possible under the circumstances. All in all, a nice story.

Sherri Browning Erwin tackles Connecticut, 1978 in All That Glitters. Isn't it funny how we have historical romances in England but contemporary romances in America? I guess contemporary England doesn't cut it in some ways, heh. Anyway, Elyse Fontaine, our heroine, hates disco. She dislikes the garish theatrics of the Village People, hired to perform at her uncle and aunt's place. She'd rather die than disco! She also despises the Love Boat, and she refuses to get high on hash. And, get this - Elyse fancies herself a wild child. Even when she bumps into Bastian Blaze, a rock star, she spends her time complaining, whining, and pouting about every freaking that she makes this story excruciating to read. The only take home message I get here is that disco is evil but rock music is divine. If that is the case, why doesn't the author just set her story in the 1980s and have the heroine fall for an Alice Cooper lookalike? This story seems more like an opportunity for the author to dump her dislike of the excesses of 1970s pop culture than anything else.

We then move to the present day in Texas, where Julie Ortolon presents Happily Ever After. Luc Renard bursts into the Pearl Island scene in his vintage Porsche and with a scowl on his face. You see, he is here to retrieve his grandmother's pendant, and it is held by Chloe Davis, the girl he had a humiliating crush on when he was younger. Well, he'd just take the pendant from her and vamoose back to New Orleans and... oh my, is that Chloe? Look at those legs! Aside from the brief scenery chewing by a bunch of truly annoying and loud kids, this story is a charming tale of two sensible adults connecting again and having the time of their life. This is the best story of the bunch, I feel, because everything about it - the pacing, the chemistry, and the smooth blending of paranormal elements into the tale - feels right.

The stories in Masters Of Seduction are on the whole too short to leave a great impact on me. But, aside from Ms Erwin's story which is marred by an irritating grouch of a heroine, these stories are generally well-crafted, very readable, and very entertaining. I have not read enough books by Ms Erwin to make an educated judgment, but I can say that, for the other authors, their stories are actually quite accurate showcases of the best of their full-length stories. If you are new to these authors, this anthology will give you a good idea of those author's style. At any rate, an anthology with five out of six stories being pleasantly readable can't be all that bad.

Rating: 85


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