Sinful
by Suzanne Forster, Maggie Shayne, Lori Foster & Kimberly Randell
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12725-6
***
Lingerie is the unifying theme of this anthology. How the arousing touch of silk and lace causes the protagonists to lose their inhibitions and indulge their wildest fantasies. At least, that was the premise. Unfortunately, it was successful only half of the time.

“Unbuttoning Emmalina” by Suzanne Forster is the lead story and, for me, the most problematic. Emmalina Price personifies Victorian era values. She runs a frilly gift shop, Priceless, from the front parlor of her Queen Anne Victorian, publishes a newsletter, “Modesty Manifesto” and dresses in full period clothing. Right down to endless rows of buttons that require the use of an old-fashioned button hook to release her.

Jeff Weston is a thoroughly modern guy, right down to coping with how to best carry his cell phone into the steam room at his health club. He’s never met Emmalina, but he considers her a “crackpot.” Jeff owns the property on which Emmalina’s house sits and he’s promised the land to developers, so it’s his task to persuade the prune faced crone to relocate. Naturally, Emmalina is no prune faced crone and Jeff is totally unprepared for his reaction to this woman who seems straight out of the past.

Emmalina’s tight grasp on the past left me puzzled. Several times the author alluded to a trauma that seemed responsible for her behavior, but it never was fully explained. Because we never understand Emmalina, she simply comes across as strange and that makes Jeff’s attraction impossible to comprehend.

Lori Foster’s contribution, “Tangled Images,” is much more successful. Single mom, Jessica Wells, is primarily a portrait photographer. The opportunity to produce a catalogue of men’s loungewear is quite a coup for her struggling business. That is, until she gets a look at the male model, Mack Winston. Jessica attended college with the much younger Mack, and although she was attracted to him, he was too much like her flighty ex-husband. She knows better than to get involved with that type again.

Mack, now a teacher, silently thanks his sister-in-law for coercing him into posing for her boutique’s catalogue. With a little help from some sexy men’s underwear, Mack will finally have the opportunity to convince Jessica that he is nothing like her ex.

The third tale, "Sinderella” by Kimberly Randell, seemed to best fulfill the requirements of this anthology. Frankie Brannigan has always been a tomboy and as owner of Brannigan Construction, she thinks she’ll never catch the eye of architect Connor McBryde. Until her brother’s masquerade party, where a black lace mask and a red satin teddy turns her into Miss Fantasy and the woman of Connor’s dreams. After a passionate night, Frankie slips away without revealing her identity, leaving the normally smooth and sophisticated Connor frantic to locate the mystery woman.

It was the adept handling of the characters’ growth that really made Randell’s story work. Not an easy task for a romantic short story.

Unfortunately, Maggie Shayne’s contribution, “Leather and Lace,” had a strikingly similar plot, and the unsympathetic male character made the story pale by comparison.

Martha Jane Biswell was Richard Gable’s prim and proper secretary until she was forced out by Richard’s voluptuous niece, Babs. Now, desperate for money, Martha Jane reluctantly agrees to model lingerie for her roommate, Kayla’s company, Leather and Lace….but only if she can wear a mask to hide her identity. When Richard falls head over heels for her lingerie clad alter ego at the fashion show, she agrees to go home with him, but only if the mask remains. When he discovers his mystery date has slipped away, Richard is determined to track her down and make her his own. Richard’s sudden change from randy playboy to attentive male never rang true.

To sum it up, Sinful (which wasn’t particularly sinful, by the way) only works half the time. Which is not really enough to wholeheartedly recommend it.

--Karen Lynch


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