Behind The Red Doors
by Vicki Lewis Thompson, Stephanie Bond, and Leslie Kelly; contemporary (2003)
Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83569-8

The obvious theme tying the three novellas together here is that the story involves either the owners of an intimate female apparel and aphrodisiac store called the Red Doors or any innocent passers-by (females without self esteem and with drop dead gorgeous bodies only please, real uglies can get lost). The underlying theme is that the heroines of these novellas just cannot believe that they are gorgeous or that hero loves them, they can't!

Just when I thought series romances may not be that bad after all, these three authors just have to band together and create stories where the heroines resemble whackjobby morons rather than any decent lovable heroines. As for the heroes, only Leslie Kelly's hero is adorable, although maybe that's because I suspect that he's actually a closeted crossdresser with a thing for blue thongs.

Vicki Lewis Thompson's Heaven Scent kicks off the freak parade. Our two heroines Faith Sherman and Jamie Ruskin have made lots of money from ventures (yeah right!) thanks to the sage advice of Deverell "Dev" Shermann the Fourth, Faith's brother. (Would you trust anyone who encourages you to buy online stocks? I rest my case. This story is bonkers.)

As it tends to be when it comes to business ran by romance heroines, the Red Doors are on slightly shaky grounds when it first opens its doors. (Then again, any intimate apparel store that hires a stereotypical fiftysomething sassy granny to ambush the customers is really asking for it. Who wants to buy naughty panties when the first thing you see when you enter the store is a fiftysomething granny who may as well be the dotty Granny Hollis that lives next door and is a good friend to your churchgoing mother? I rest my case. This story is bonkers.) Worse, a rival store has hijacked the Red Doors' high tech mix-and-match database system! (The system is like this: men can go into a cubicle, fit in the data of the women they like - 50DDDD, 14, 38, for example - and the computer will show an image of the women in the lingerie of these men's dreams, sort like those Masturbation Motel things, I guess, only, of course, the authors call it "enterprising innovations". You have no arguments from me. I pity the cleaners though. And yes, this story is bonkers.) This means war.

So now they decide to improve their mix-and-match database to be the best ever. To do this, Dev and Jamie sit down to write down the traits of Dev's dream woman. I don't know how this will improve the database, but this story is bonkers anyway. Jamie has always been in love with Dev, but oh! Her meagre high perky breasts! Her pathetic curvy thighs! How can she ever earn his love! She must drive him away! And when he is driven away, she will lament about how unlovable she is! Oh, oh, oh! The pain of trying to be his dream gal just like his list! Does he love her or that stupid dream gal she pretended to be? Oh, oh, oh! The pain!

I hate these heroines. I suggest we round them up, release the dogs at the pound, and lock these stupid women in those cages instead. Or we can force them to eat Big Macs until they weigh six million pounds, and then we'll see how ugly they will think they are.

Dev and Jamie are two rather pathetic dimwits who just cannot do anything without miscontruing the action of the other person. It's tedious and annoying, especially when these two are supposed to be adults, not Archie and Veronica's slower siblings in love. Something doesn't smell right in Heaven Scent.

Stephanie Bond continues the saga of heroic stupidity in Diamond Mine. Carter Grayson, a cop, and Faith Shermann had a thing a year back, until he forgot Valentine's Day and she broke it off with him. One year later, Carter is asked to lay low since he's acting like a mule with a badge, and so he is assigned to be the new security dude at Faith's store.

Do cops do this sort of thing? Hmm. Maybe I should call that rather cute cop I saw the other day to come over and guard my apartment at night.

Dev thinks it is cute to set up his sister's ex as a guard at her store, and Jamie, Faith's friend, agrees, since once you marry in these kinds of novels, you lose all purpose in life except to see every other single person around you married as well. What is it they say? "With friends like these..."?

Each of them decide to pretend that they are happily engaged with somebody or other nonsense. As a result, the two of them, Faith and Carter, soon embark on a series of tiny little misassumptions and misunderstandings that add up to a giant pus-filled pimple of a gruesome story. Faith wants to display a very expensive diamond in her store, hires only two men to guard it, and she gets her man. Whatever.

It is debatable who rule the village idiots, the characters of this novella or Ms Thompson's.

Leslie Kelly's hero in Sheer Delights is cute and adorable. The hero Joe Santori reluctantly buys his brother's wife a gift certificate to the Red Doors (don't ask), but while fiddling with the Whack-Off Booth - sorry, "cubicle", he falls in lust with the model. He ends buying lots of female lingerie just to see this model. And I thought nothing would beat those pathetic Japanese losers and their preoccupation with Sailormoon porn.

How do these series authors come up with ridiculous plots? Do they sit together, get drunk, and howl like hyenas as they try to top each other's most outrageous plot in some campfire thing up in Ontario? I think I'll spy on the next time these people have their annual meeting - should be interesting, because I don't think people could come up with ideas like Whack-off Booths and sell them to purportedly conservative Southern ya-ya soccer mom types without having a laugh out of the whole thing.

Anyway, how lucky that while Joe is ooh-oohing in his cubicle - both hands on the table where I can see them, Joe Joe dear - the model Meg O'Rourke is aw-awing in the cubicle next door. I wish I can say that she is a lesbian enjoying herself with the interactive Victoria's Secret (My Red Door Version) next cubicle, but alas, no. Meg is one of those pathetic Welcome To The Dollhouse bug-eyed mutant creeps who must have worn a buttoned down black hairsuit 24/7 even when she showers, because she doesn't seem to be aware of her Victoria's Red Door body at all. She is shocked when she learns that she is the model of this sophisticated Intellectual Gift Matchmaking and Definitely Not A Whack-Off Booth program that made the Red Doors so popular. (Why wouldn't it be popular? 3-D interactive pictures of women in lingerie - free!) When men start whistling at her, she acts as if her world is ending and she will be shamed forever, oh, oh, oh. Naturally, when Joe puts the move on her, she gets horny and she suddenly realizes that screw that one lousy sex experience in her life and the myriad Horrible, Traumatic Bad Experiences With Men That Don't Involve Pokies in her life, she wants to have sex with Joe now. Do you hear her, Joe? NOOOOOOOWWW!

I don't know where they drag forth creepozoidal lamebrained idiots like Meg from, but I can't help feeling so sorry for Joe for having to spend his life pampering and coddling high-maintenance no-self-esteem idiots like Meg. He'd better off playing alone with the huge stash of undies he'd bought from the Red Doors. Joe is funny, he is sexy, and he is also adorably male in his thoughts and actions. Meg, however, like her Sisters In Spasticity in the other two novellas, should be pitied and put of their misery as soon as possible. If they want to whine that they are ugly or unlovable or unworthy, let them be just that and give them the Kervokian Send-Off, I say!

Macabre without the perverse entertainment value, Behind The Red Doors only drives home that there are few things in life more terrifying than a roomful of frigid contemporary heroines in a store filled with sex toys, unless we're talking about endless stories of these sorts from romance authors who really could do better, I'm sure. Then it's not just terrifying, it's a close-up on Michael Jackson's face kind of terrifying, which is just what this Valentine's Day offering is.

Rating: 46

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