Parlor Games
by Jess Michaels, Leda Swann, and Julia Templeton; historical (2006)
Avon Red, $13.95, ISBN 0-06-088229-8


Parlor Games is comparable to a typical Secrets anthology. Jess Michaels and Julia Templeton are Secrets alumni, after all. If you want the real hot stuff, needless to say you are better off searching for those published by the likes of Ellora's Cave and Loose Id. I don't know what this anthology has that makes it worth buying, to be honest, because only one out of three story is remotely decent.

Jess Michaels starts off the show with Fallen Angel. John Valentine, a disgraced ex-Bow Street Runner (he was used by a female criminal mastermind for her dastardly plots), is hired by Arabella Nichols to protect her from someone who wants her dead. I'd say that Arabella is a madame running a brothel but she insists that she is no such thing. You see, the members of her club pay a lump yearly fee so that they can have all the sex they want with the women hired by the club. That's different from a common whorehouse due to the "all you can eat" buffet system, I suppose. Anyway, it doesn't matter because the intelligence of the two main characters are completely shot.

In this story, "bodyguard duties" consist of sex. I'm surprised the villain doesn't just murder those two while they are busy having fun because that's how stupid this story. When the two main characters aren't shagging, they're arguing like children. Stupid Arabella cannot tell Jess why someone wants to kill her or provide him with any details that he can use to protect her because she likes to keep secrets that way.

A typical scene that represents the rampant stupidity taking place in this story is the pivotal scene where those two argue like children until he starts walking away. He hears her calling his name but he won't look back because he's so mature like that. Only when she shrieks his name in pain after calling for him for a while does he realize that someone has sneaked up on her and stabbed her while he's busy playing the wounded Prince Charming. I have a good laugh over that scene, I tell you. Let's just say that Fallen Angel is too stupid for words.

Leda Swann's Parlor Games (the title of the anthology is derived from the title of this story) perplexes me. This author must have confused the word "erotic" with the word "unsavory" because for the life of me, I have no idea why this story is otherwise included in this anthology. This is a story of a destitute woman who ends up becoming a prostitute only to be saved by the first man she meets in the brothel. This story is such a stereotypical example of a "When Puritans Write Erotic Romance" moment that it's not even amusing. The heroine ends up in all kinds of sexual situations but of course she's not held accountable for her actions since she's innocent or gullible. The sex here is unsavory and has a "Will the ugly fat guy pork her now?" hint of menace so I don't think I am supposed to be titillated by these scenes. The whole story has such an overpowering disapproval with regards to its premise that I wonder whether the real Leda Swann has been kidnapped by a disapproving and concerned Bible-thumping relative who substitutes the original story with this "Harlots and Sinners, Repent Or You Will Be Porked By A Disgusting Fat Pig!" tale.

Julia Templeton's Border Lord is the only fun tale of the three. Modern-day heroine Terri Campbell is still raw from catching her husband doing the ugly with his assistant that when she finds herself transported through time into the body of Annabelle MacLellan, she's not too upset. Annabelle, according to history, was kidnapped by vengeful Brochan Douglas to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Annabelle's father. Right on schedule, Brochan shows up and kidnaps Terri from the covent, intending to ravish and impregnate her before sending her back to her father. Terri decides that she may as well bedevil the hot brute so that he won't execute her or anything.

Terri is a fun heroine in that she's smart and can take care of herself, which is more than I can say about the sorry examples of heroines in the previous two stories. Border Lord is plenty of fun with sexual tension and more. The thing is, though, Ms Templeton tries too hard to redeem Brochan. He starts out a complete sex pig like a throwback to the mean bad alpha brutes of romance novels from the old days, but by the last page he's such a gentleman that I'm hard-pressed to reconcile the two extremes of Brochan. I have a good laugh when Brochan insists that he's no murderer so he's just going to shag Annabelle pregnant and abandon her with her father. Yes, back in those days they are always very kind to women perceived to have been dishonored by men, I'm sure. The obvious but unconvincing heavy-handed forcing of Brochan into a politically correct hero aside, this one is a most entertaining read where the plot and the sex scenes actually complement each other without coming off as awkward or forced.

It's one decent story out of three in Parlor Games which puts it way below the average point. File this under "Borrow, don't buy".

Rating: 55


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