by Alessia Brio, contemporary (2005)
Phaze, $2.00, ISBN 1-59426-548-8
Alessia Brio's Erotique demonstrates sometimes why actual erotica can be more romantic than those stories marketed specifically as romantic erotica. Sometimes romantic erotica is constrained by various limitations like how the heroine has to conform to some antiquated definition of "virtue" or "innocence". In Erotique, the heroine Amanda Long is the one who isn't sure of committing herself to a relationship because she'd prefer to have a man in her life for uncomplicated recreational sex - friendship with benefits, if you will - while her good friend Bruce is the one who'd like to get them to move beyond friendship into something more. This doesn't mean that Mandy has serious family issues or sexual hang-ups like most heroines of her nature will have in truckloads in a more typical romantic erotica: Mandy is refreshingly normal in the sense that she's just what she is with no weird psychological complexes to justify to readers why she shouldn't be tarred and burned at the stake for being "selfish" or "immoral".
What isn't normal is the sex store Erotique in Philadelphia that Mandy hired from her dear departed Aunt Viv. Mandy is now the latest in the long line of Long women who maintained and run the store since pre-WW2 days. Over the years, Erotique has expanded: a museum displaying a wide selection of sex toys like whale-bone vibrators to religious relics of sex gods of various cultures has been added along with a spicier version of Starbucks. Mandy learns that Aunt Viv's will has an unusual condition for Mandy's inheritance of Erotique: Mandy has to spend the night of the next full moon alone in the store. The reason for this is that Erotique isn't just a store: some of the items on display in the museum wing can project visions of events in the past associated with their use onto people who touch it. Mandy will have to experience firsthand just how unusual Erotique is before she becomes its new owner. Who knows, her experiences in Erotique may just bring her closer to Bruce.
The best way to describe this story is that it is a naughtier episode of The Twilight Zone. What I like about this story - apart from the normal yet sexual characters - is the fact that Erotique comes off as an authentic store instead of some typical lingerie/sex shop that some silly virgin will inherit in a Brava novel. Which is to say, the descriptions of some of the items here make them come off as actual and real items that one may actually come across in a sex museum instead of something for the heroine to blush and shriek silly at.
Erotique is a short story at 28 pages and the $2.00 cover price of the book reflects that. Yet within that short length, there is enough camaraderie and natural banter between Mandy and Bruce to suggest that they'll be alright in the future. The sex scenes here are pretty spicy as well. This book therefore makes a pretty entertaining short and sexy read if you can overlook the Return Of The Living Dead cover.
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