by Daisy Miller, contemporary (2008)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-59578-416-2
Natalie Danvers is the newest employee of Fantasy Inn. Fantasy Inn is a straightforward name for an establishment that caters to your desire to dominate or be dominated - in other words, it's a BDSM brothel - and Natalie is the resident dominatrix.
This story takes place after Amazon Rose, which I haven't read, but Fantasy Rose is an easy story to follow nonetheless. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I understand, Natalie decides that she's going to do that whipping and punishing thing to get money to repair and maintain the vintage clothing store that she'd inherited from her grandmother. In this story, her boyfriend from the previous story had taken off for greener pastures and she's now taking up the gig at Fantasy Inn to get some quick funds to repair the roof of her store. Poor Natalie though, the owner of the place is expecting a transvestite instead of her.
The fact that her MIA boyfriend, Luke Pennington, is said to be staying at Fantasy Inn makes for some interesting twist. DeWitt, the guy in charge of the stables, however, is providing ample distraction to get Luke out of Natalie's head. Also present as a party crasher, an unwelcome one in Natalie's opinion, is the journalist Yuki Moon who is still trying to get an exclusive interview from Natalie after whatever sleuthing breakthrough it was that Natalie did in the previous book. Yuki's after Natalie for what she hopes will be a career breakthrough of a headline: Busting Crime in a Bustier: How a Part-Time Stripper ID’d a Killer. Yes, Yuki has contracted this piece to People. How can you tell? Yuki also has book deals in mind and she's willing to give Natalie a share of the pie if Natalie cooperates with her. Still, Yuki does poke her nose in a few places on Natalie's body that Natalie is more than happy to enjoy, if you know what I mean, so Yuki's not that annoying to have around.
When a young staff member ends up dead, the story takes a turn to become something like a game of Clue, this time with Miss Scarlett wielding a whip and all. The body count begins to increase so the party is only getting better.
Fantasy Rose isn't a romance, although there is a romantic element here that will end with a cliffhanger, Stephanie Plum and Joe Morelli style, no doubt to be dragged on and on into future books. Natalie is making it with Yuki, DeWitt, and Luke so she's more of a party gal than your typical romance heroine. The focus here is more on the murder mystery than true love.
Having said that, I find Fantasy Rose an interesting and pretty enjoyable read although the story peters out into a most anticlimatic revelation of the murderer, with the identity of the villain a cop-out to me as it frees Natalie up to prolong her "official" hook-up storyline into the future books in the series. Natalie is also a complete drip, much to my disappointment, constantly wailing that everyone she loves will eventually abandon her so she's just going to sit there and moan, thank you very much, and when Luke blinks at her, she's back all over again in love. What a pushover. I don't know what she sees in Luke because here his behavior is all over the place. He's alternately bossing her around, doing strange things contrived to prolong the "romance" storyline, and being an outright jerk at times, but with Natalie insisting to Yuki that Luke has the "soul of an artist", I suppose Natalie just likes to get her heart broken. To give Yuki credit, she's gagging along with me at the whole "soul of an artist" nonsense. I like Yuki. She's an ambitious lesbian hot geek gal after my heart.
What I find most memorable about Fantasy Rose are, one, the glimpse into the psychological workings of a female dominatrix and, two, the lesbian love scenes. Both elements are very rarely encountered in the erotic fiction landscape and therefore you can correctly say that perhaps I like the novelty of finding these elements in this story. Ms Miller (a fan of Henry James, eh?) has done a pretty good job in both elements, in my opinion, especially with the lesbian love scenes although I'm not too keen on the overuse of strap-on devices.
At the end of the day, Fantasy Rose covers some unchartered territory well which makes this one a memorable story, but at the same time, I wish Natalie is a less whiny and emotionally needy character and I wish she'd just wise up, ditch that loser Luke, and go hook up with Yuki so that they can spend many happy hours solving mysteries and writing trashy erotic suspense stories in their free time. Still, this story - and maybe even the whole series - has some potential and I think I will stick around for at the very least the next book just to see how things will go from here.
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