I Love Rogues
by Bertrice Small, Thea Devine, and Jane Bonander; historical (2003)
Brava, $15.00, ISBN 0-7582-0419-1


Bertrice Small's Zuleika And The Barbarian is the biggest cartoon of them all. Princess Zuleika of the kingdom of Dariyabar is not amused when she learns that her cousin Haroun has convinced her father to give her off as a concubine to the barbarian lord trying to conquer their fair city. Very well, Zuleika is no wilting helpless martyr. She has a genie at her command, so she asks this genie to help her out. She will meet this barbarian lord Amir Khan, seduce him into wanting to marry her instead of taking her as a concubine, and then ask him to kill Haroun for her. Isn't that a great plan?

To give credit where it's due, Zuleika's a great heroine. She fights back as good as she gets. I like her. And then the author reveals that Zuleika is sixteen. Why is the author doing this to herself? Is she trying to get dirty old men to read her books or something? Because what happens next is sex and more sex. Amir Khan announces that it is his people's custom to share the women, so there's a double honeymoon night thingie where Amir and his general Sabola take turns on Zuleika and her cousin Bahira, and this is after asking the obligating sixteen-year olds to put on a lesbian show for them. I have no complains about this if (a) the girls aren't sixteen, (b) the guys have the decency to put on a gayboy show in return, and (c) the whole thing doesn't come off like a bad and mechanical porn cartoon that has me howling with laughter.

But howls of laughter turn into rolling on the floor and thumping my fist to the floor while screaming out my laughter when later in the story the hero and the general and 98 other men must have sex with the Evil Woman while the heroine watches and gets turned on as she waits for the hero to finish and then move on to her. One hundred men? And the Evil Woman is having the time of her life? If anything, this story only demonstrates that while Ms Small may write erotica, she probably should read up a few good eroticas and pick up a few pointers on how to write credible spouse swapping and orgy scenes. Right now what I get in Zuleika And The Barbarian are mechanical, robotic "You stand here, he bend over, everyone let's hump until I say stop!" scenes.

Oh, and how can I resist gems like this?

"Bahira and I were taught the art of using dildos made of some magical material that grew hard and bigger as we sucked upon it. The juices within were always sugar water. Your juices are creamy, and slightly flavored with salt. They are very stimulating."

Where can I buy a few of those dildos? I bet they will make cracker Christmas gifts and will be a big hit at parties.

Thea Devine's All The Secret Pleasures starts off really good, but things become really tedious towards later in the story. Corinna Woodholme is a nice heroine: she's one of the more realistic women of the Ton in that she jilts Simon Charlesworth, the son of a mere Baron, five years ago to marry an Earl instead. The Earl, she reasons, is after all richer, more mature, and demands less of her than a young inexperienced buck. Today, she is a widow and tired of her pursuits of the perfect lover in France, she returns to England. This is where she meets Simon again. Simon has transformed into a dangerous and rakish man and Corinna realizes that she wants him as a lover. Simon wants Corinna to be his wife, however.

I find Corinna an appealing heroine because she is aware of the pragmatic aspects of relationships among the Ton and she certainly does not bleat about wanting to marry for love. Seeing this woman fall in love, therefore, should be fun. Unfortunately, Ms Devine has Simon playing really stupid mind games with poor Corinna when a simple proposal on his part will suffice. His unnecessarily complicated games borders of emotional abuse at times and it seems that he doesn't just want to marry Corrina, he wants to marry Corinna entirely on his own terms. That is, he wants Corinna to be totally codependent on him. I lose patience with this story early on when the stupid games to make each other jealous just keeps going on and on, and my regret is Corinna not running off with Simon's infinitely more attractive best friend Richard. The heroine is a great character but everything else about All The Secret Pleasures is needlessly tortuous and even juvenile.

Jane Bonander's This Bedroom Is Mine is the most conventional story of all three. It should be - it's a spiced-up reworking of this author's 1996 Precious Gems book of the same name. I know this because I have the original book in my bookshelf (it's one of the few Precious Gems book that I can reread more than once).

The widowed Lily Sawyer is the new cook for the lumberjacks working around the town of Twin Hearts. Her employer Samantha Browne even lets her stay at a nice cabin. She gets a shocked however when Ross Benedict, Sam's sister and the owner of the cabin, shows up and demands to know what she is doing in his place. Sam tells her brother to let Lily stay on in the cabin with him, reasoning that this is a lumberjack town and people don't care too much about propriety. If you can't tell by now, Sam is one of those crazy people that spend their time matchmaking unwed members of their families with strangers that have just come into town. Needless to say, Ross and Lily soon spark, but Ross' bachelor lifestyle and his commitment-phobia will always stand between them and the happily ever after. Or will they?

This is a pretty good story the first time around and the author's insertion of some extra padding doesn't really add much to the story. I wish she has done away with the contrived resolution of the story though. Lily and Ross have issues to address but the author puts him in a life-threatening situation, she realizes that she loves him, and that's it. While this is a short story and thus expedient resolutions can be excused, I guess, the author could have at least done it in a less blatant manner, couldn't she?

Other than that, Lily and Ross are familiar but likeable characters. The premise is contrived, but nonetheless the relationship is handled well by the author to provide an adequate entertaining read.

None of the three stories in I Love Rogues justify the cost of this anthology, although Bertrice Small's cartoonish novella is worth a peek at the bookstore if only for some easy and cheap laughter at the author's expense. Thea Devine's novella is too problematic. I feel mildly annoyed because no one saw fit to note anywhere on the book that Jane Bonander's novella is a reworking of her very short book from 1996. Still, if people can buy those Bad Boys anthology, I don't see why they can't buy this anthology as well. At the very least, at least the historical anthologies of Brava try to push the envelope instead of just rehashing the same old Harlequin Blaze "Attack Of The Dim-Witted Frigid Brigids" show like the gang from the Planet Of Lori Foster love to do.

Rating: 70


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