All I Want For Christmas
by Lori Foster, Dee Holmes, Kinley MacGregor, and Eileen Wilks; assorted (2000)
St Martin's Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-97680-1

External factors may have come to play in my final opinion on this anthology. For one, I saw Robert Downey, Jr sing River on Ally McBeal (the only reason I tune in that crap show) and fell in love with him all over again. I finally listened to the musical Rent for the first time and fell in love with Mimi's rendition of Out Tonight ("Take me o-OOOOOOOOOOHHHH-out tonight!") as well as what seemed like a hundred other fabulous songs on that magical two-CD experience. What I wouldn't give to watch the actual musical. Take me o-OOOOOOOOOOHHHH-out tonight!

There's no way this anthology could compete for space on my list of Great Week Happenings. Only Lori Foster's Christmas Bonus makes me see stars, red-hot f***-me shoes, micro-miniskirts, and naughty scoundrels on Harleys. The other three are just too typical or badly flawed in some way to be interesting.

So let's start with the great stuff - Christmas Bonus. That one, by the way, might as well has Out Tonight as its theme song. It's about Eric Bragg who has been waiting for the boss's daughter Maggie Carmichael to grow up so that he can finally put the move on her. Unfortunately, the lady in question happens to inherit the company after Daddy croaked.

Now poor Eric is in a fix. If he asks her out now, wouldn't everyone think he's just in it for power? That won't do at all. But Maggie doesn't know what she is getting into when she asks him to help her plan a Christmas party as well as be her date. And when he discovers her secret life as a romance author, and better still, when he realizes he is the man in the story whose fingers are up the heroine's... whatever, he decides maybe it's time he breaks some rules a little.

Maggie and Eric are on equal grounds in this game of seduction, okay almost, which makes this seduction game fun. It's sexy, the sexual tension is cranked up to a fevered pitch that I am surprised these two fellows' clothes don't just explode in flames. Funny, exuberant, and absolutely chocolate-sexy, this romance makes me want to kick my legs up and sing, "Take me o-OOOOOOOHHHH-out tonight, baby!"

And trust me, I don't do that often.

The other three novellas are pretty so-so. Eileen Wilks contributes a historical, The Proper Lover, which has a heroine who decides to get ruined by a rake to avoid a marriage. The two main characters share some good quiet moments, but really, it's too familiar to be interesting.

Kinley MacGregor's Santa Wears Spurs is one of those he-leaves-her-after-one-night-and-comes-back-years-later story. It could have been poignant, it could have been a readable standard fare if it's much longer, but since it's short, it isn't very interesting. I mean, heroine says she will make him pay for dumping her, he makes love to her, they make up, the end. Hello? The short length makes both characters come off as pretty shallow people.

And A Night With Emily by Dee Holmes has also a reunion theme. Old boyfriend comes back to small town and is charmed by small-town, simple-living, lots-of-love-for-everyone heroine. Nothing new here, nothing interesting, right down to the typical hurt-by-women hero and Christmas schmaltz.

Still, despite three rather ho-hum stories, am I glad I read Christmas Bonus. When Ms Foster is good, she is really, really good in putting a big grin on my face. CB is so kicking-up-my-black-high-heels fun that heck, I'll be generous. I'll give this anthology an 82.

Now, excuse me, I'm going to replay that Ally McBeal episode. Isn't Robert Downey, Jr a dream?

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