Forbidden Fantasies
by Jaid Black, Jaci Burton, Ann Jacobs, Sahara Kelly, Sherri L King, Cheyenne McCray, Lorie O'Claire, and Jory Strong; romantic erotica (2008)
Pocket, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-4165-7869-7

Forbidden Fantasies is a culmination of sorts for the unholy alliance between Pocket and Ellora's Cave, being that this is the first Ellora's Cave hardcover book. I can only imagine that, in order to avoid bloodshed among their bestselling authors, the folks at Ellora's Cave decided that it would be more democratic to have eight of their bestselling authors to share the limelight instead. I personally wonder whether people will be willing to shell out $25.95 for an anthology as opposed to a full-length story, but hey, I'm not the one making the business decisions here.

Oh, and the stories in this anthology are new, so don't worry about getting recycled goods with your $25.95. The stories are pretty typical of the weekly offerings from Ellora's Cave, so this is also a case of getting what you are expecting from these folks. This includes some of the most ridiculous porn movie names ever for the characters in the stories.

Jaid Black starts off the show with a contemporary comedy, Bossy & Clyde, which pairs a psychic, Kandrea "Not A Porn Star, Honest!" Kane, and the fellow supervising the renovation of her house, Damon "Seriously, I'm Not A Porn Star! And I May Be An Interior Decorator, But I'm Not Gay Either!" Clyde. This one would have been good were not for the fact that Ms Black has the ridiculously-named Kandrea running around behaving like a bizarre and spoiled overgrown child most of the time. This one ends up being truly painful and even embarrassing to read because Kandrea is really that ridiculous, as opposed to being sexy and funny.

Jaci Burton is next with Legend's Passion, which I understand is part of her Devlin Dynasty series. There are werewolves in here, so yes, it's one of those stories. This one is a fun one, though. Our NCA operative hero Dylan Maxwell is investigating a series of brutal murders. When the story opens, he is waiting for his informant when he is mistaken by our werewolf heroine Chantal Devlin for her werewolf blind date (read: mail-order shag). During the hot shag that follows, she bites him and in the process accidentally transforms poor Dylan into another Ellora's Cave casualty. The crime is solved in a "Huh? Is that it?" manner but given that this is a short story, that is still reasonable. I don't buy the romance one bit as the "romance" is more like hormones and mating instincts acting up in synchrony, but this one is fun and sexy. The characters are also likable with the author not going overboard with ridiculous alpha male tendencies here.

Ann Jacobs offers Eternal Triangle, a BDSM ménage à trois involving our human Dom, Chad "La-la-la-la-la!" Lalanne, his vampire slave Katie, and the new addition to his slave fold, another vampire submissive Philippe. I find the erotic scenes well-done even if such kinky play is not my preferred erotic reading material, but I am not sure about the whole vampire thing here. I actually feel that this story would have been stronger if the three characters are human and the author has focused solely on their emotional and sexual dynamics with each other instead of tossing in all that "Ooh! We be vampires!" thing into her story.

Sahara Kelly offers the sole historical short story in this anthology, Lady Elizabeth's Choice, where we have one Sir Spencer Marchwood returning to town to prevent his former shag-buddy Lady Elizabeth Wentworth from marrying another man. You see, he wants to marry her. Don't expect much in terms of historical accuracy in this one as we have Elizabeth running off and acting like a sex bunny for Spencer when she's a young and unmarried lady in the spirit of "This is a hot historical romance... YEAH BABY!" This one could have been enjoyable if Elizabeth doesn't do a downward spiral into silly behavior as the story progresses and drags Spencer down with her.

Next up is the best story in this anthology, Sherri L King's futuristic romance Selfless, in which a woman named Eva awakes in a strange liquid-filled tank in laboratory-like room. As she slowly learns of who - and what - she is, she falls in love with the enigmatic Dante is definitely using her for some mysterious purpose. Will everything work out fine for Eva? This one has the strongest plot line as well as the best emotional build-up of all the stories here. Eva and Dante develop feelings for each other without having to deal with any mating instinct or other contrivances. My only disappointment here is how Eva, built up in this story as a tough heroine, collapses faster than I can blink when it comes to the grand showdown with the bad guy and has to let Dante take over from her.

Next is... hey, didn't I hear that Cheyenne McCray has vowed to have nothing to do anymore with Ellora's Cave? That must be a rumor spread by jealous haters, I suppose, because here she is with Wild Ride, a contemporary romance with a very familiar "Conservative whackjob woman goes wild and picks up a stranger in a bar" story line. Not that there is anything new or inventive to this one - Tess "Bristol, is that you?" Marsh wants to go wild and picks up a DEA agent named Diego "Wanna See Me Rhyme?" Santiago. Luckily for her, it's true love rather than herpes so she gets to have hot sex without having to deal with irate readers calling her a slut. This one is really boring. And no, the author doesn't acknowledge the existence of this story on her website either. Maybe the folks at Ellora's Cave have compromising photos of her or something to force the poor dear to keep writing these throwaway short stories for this publisher. Can I blame her for producing such uninspired stories as a result? Free Cheyenne McCray!

I have not read any of Lorie O'Claire previous works for Ellora's Cave so I'm sorry, I burst out laughing when I realize that there is a Cariboo lunewulf (yes, complete with italics) running around in Wicked. Seriously, what the hell is that? Okay, so a Cariboo lunewulf is the biggest of the werewolf breeds on Earth, or so it says in this story. Our hero Perry Roth is a Cariboo lunewulf who interrupts a confrontation between our heroine Jaynie Rousseau and her cousin's mate. Our booboo lunewulf hero is after that man too for reasons I've best not go into (this story is part of a series and it doesn't stand alone very well). What follows is plenty of pack politics topped with a slice of boo-boo-wants-Jaynie-now drama. I suppose I could overlook the silly names and the fact that the big guys in this story call their women "bitches" (seriously) to enjoy this one as the characters are pretty likable for the stereotypes they are... if I know what is going on here, that is. There are too many pre-established relationships here for me to figure out.

And finally, Jory Strong offers First Sharing, a by-the-numbers futuristic ménage à trois featuring two men that share their woman and all the associated clichés you can think of - plenty of silly names (Laith d'Amato and Rykken d'Vesti get to double-team our heroine Cyan Dupre), silly contrivances to get the threesome going (Rykken must be in the relationship or it is destined to fail, oh the horror), overuse of the word "mate", "mating fever" passed off as love, a heroine who is apparently so fragile that it arouses the two men into boinking her at the same time to... god, let's just say that this one is the mother of all Threesome For Dummies stories and be done with it. At least Cheyenne McCray's story is a boring kind of clichéd. This one is clichéd and hopelessly ridiculous.

So let's see, of the eight short stories here, I'd consider those by Jaci Burton, Ann Jacobs, and Sherri L King as the ones that are worth a look. That makes it three out of eight for me. For a hardcover with a cover price of $25.95, I think it would be better for everyone if this has been a full-length book by any of these authors instead of this lukewarm anthology that has more misses than hits.

Rating: 58

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