Secrets Of A Perfect Night
by Stephanie Laurens, Victoria Alexander, and Rachel Gibson; assorted (2000)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81805-1

I don't usually comment on the back cover author's photo, but really, I think the photo here wins the Best Authors Photo 2000. Stephanie Laurens looks absolutely delighted, while Victoria Alexander looks stunned beyond belief. Cozied between them, Rachel Gibson looks as if she will choke trying not to burst out laughing.

The photographer is not a naked man, is he? There must be a story in here, somewhere, because the photo is just delightfully cute.

Anyway, the anthology. It is based on the theme of ladies falling in love on a New Year's Eve party/ball/gathering/whatever. Of the three, only Victoria Alexander's The Last Love Letter moves me somewhat. Shall I start with that? It's basically a Reunion of Lovers Torn Apart by Her Daddy story (sort of like a Hindi melodrama - those who have caught a few Hindi movies will know what I mean), but minus the usual angst and misunderstanding conflicts.

Rachael Gresham and Jason Norcross were lovers vowing to marry once, but their elopement was thwarted when her father found out and machinated a plot right out of Evil Snow White's Stepmommy territory. When Jason came to, Rachel was married to someone else, alas, when she believes he thought her dead.

Now, both are free to spark again. Will they?

This novella flashes back and forth in time, but I am pleased by the fact that Rachel's unwanted husband is not depicted as an evil bastard, just a man who loved his wife too much to let her know that her lover was alive (he didn't want her to leave him). Also, I'm pleased by the way those two try not to crucify themselves or think the worst of each other. Rather, they try to talk.

Sometimes I get irritated by the way those two just mope around, going Ah, if only... non-stop. Still, the ending is pretty moving, and besides, it's the least predictable of the three novellas.

Stephanie Lauren's Scandalous Lord Dere kicks off the anthology. This one is fun, fun, and little else. Lord Dere, Adrian actually, is fleeing his harem of overamorous ladies into the country when his faithful employee gets injured in an accident. He takes her to a nearby cottage where his old friend Abigail or Abby awaits. Sparks fly.

Make no mistake, this is a no-nonsense rehash of this author's sole repertoire of plot, ie foreplay, boinking, she says no, heavy petting, she says no, heavy petting, she says no, boinking, she says no, story needs closure, she says yes. Dere is yet another hero interchangeable with the Cynsters or that Captain Jack dude.

Not that it is bad. Since this story is short, the heroine's no-ooooooo-no song is tolerable, and the hero is okay. It's pretty readable, if forgettable soon after. Can someone tell Ms Laurens that there is more than one way a relationship takes place?

Fans of Laurens will be delighted. Me, I'm bored.

Rachel Gibson closes the anthology with the only contemporary story, Now And Forever. It's a high-school reunion thing, with former geeky girl-turned Uberbabe Brina resparking with former nerd-turned Uberhunk Thomas. This is Revenge Of The Geeks fantasy at its purest. Unfortunately, Thomas spends most of the novella with another woman, Holly, driving Brina into jealousy.

Thing is, Thomas is a robot. A robot in monotone, too controlled, too calculative. I'm not even sure if he likes women - not that he's gay or he hints to be one, but he more often than not thinks the worst of the women who are attracted to him. It's creepy. I wish he'd so something, anything spontaneous, that will show him capable of warmth and emotion, but no luck here. Thomas is a Grade 1 Robohunk Prototype, macho and emotionless. I have no idea what makes him tick, and I'm not too convinced at his proposal to Brina by the end.

Still, Brina's a great heroine. Just wonder what she sees in that icy fellow.

Oh, and Democrats with no sense of humor (understandable, what with the recent Supreme Court's decision and all), do be aware that this story may just light your fuse and send you over the edge in its one small, itty-bitty moment. You've been warned.

Secrets Of A Perfect Night makes a pleasant diversion from Christmas hassle, but it is so easy to put it down and forget about it completely. All three stories are, in essence, readable. There's something for everyone. But not one particularly stands out either. Except that really cute photo, maybe.

Rating: 77

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