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In The Flesh by Emma Holly
(Cheek, $12.95, NC-17) ISBN 0-352-33903-9
****
I always suggest to erotica reading virgins that they start with Emma Holly. In this reviewer’s opinion, if Holly’s erotica doesn’t move you, then maybe the genre just isn’t your thing. For those of us who enjoy spicy romance, Holly continues to be the benchmark of good erotica writing. Her sex scenes are hot, her characters interesting, and low and behold – there’s actually a plot outside of the marathon boinking.

Cheek has been reprinting Holly’s earlier Black Lace backlist, giving the books jazzy covers that make them look like hip Chick Lit. It’s been a godsend for readers hunting for her earlier work – most of which has been a little hard to come by. In The Flesh is one such book that has eluded me until recently – and frankly I found it rather impressive. While the sex is straight-up erotica, the plot reads much more mainstream. If it weren’t for the multiple partners and one homosexual encounter, this book could just as easily have been published by Brava.

Chloe Dubois is a bad girl. A former stripper, a parking lot altercation with her latest boy toy leads to her meeting David Imakita – a wealthy CEO of his own computer software company. David is immediately entranced by Chloe’s incredible beauty, and upon driving her back to her ransacked apartment, decides to rescue her. He takes her home to Vermont, where he intends to protect her and coax her out of her bad girl shell. However there is definitely more to Chloe than meets the eye, and David’s bodyguard, Sato, is not about to let the vixen run amok.

Yeah, I know I said there was a plot, so why the one paragraph description? Because Holly’s story really revolves around her characters. While there are certain outside elements that add conflict, most notably Chloe’s past, the conflict here is largely character driven.

These are not nice people. In fact, they are very flawed people. Chloe has spent her life manipulating, mostly as a defense mechanism, because she has discovered that she can survive by controlling men. She is a seductress, a woman secure in her beauty, power and sexual appeal. She enjoys sex, and isn’t above using it to her advantage. But more importantly, she feels that showing any vulnerability on her part is a sure sign of weakness. Essentially our girl has serious control issues.

David is a man torn between being an American and his Japanese heritage. He wants to fit in both worlds, and has to certain level given his business success. He is attracted to Chloe more for her wild ways than anything else, but as his feelings for her grow – he must fight his all too human desire for her to conform. For her to become something she is not, for fear it will ultimately come between them. This conflict is further illustrated by Holly’s attention to the Japanese culture – which makes for fascinating reading and gives this story a more worldly and exotic feel.

Watching these two people, people who aren’t always very nice to each other, figure out that they do care is captivating. However what seals the deal is Sato – a former sumo wrestler who is David’s head of security. His vow to protect David from harm is much more – given his unrequited feelings for his boss. Chloe’s appearance on the scene turns Sato’s precarious world upside down – he cares for his boss, but has managed to hide his infatuation. Chloe, being the master manipulator, sees through this façade, and is soon privy to all the of secret’s of David’s household.

While erotica, Holly’s early books tend to have a romance of sorts – even if it is an unconventional one. In The Flesh does have a happy ending – for all of the characters – but isn’t wrapped up with a pretty bow like a traditional romance novel. Chloe and David will have to work to maintain their relationship, and Sato? Well let’s say the author leaves Sato with a world of possibilities. All in all, In The Flesh is highly satisfying. For readers who enjoy erotica, take the opportunity to grab this long unavailable gem while you can. And for those erotica virgins out there – take a page from Chloe’s book. A little risk can sometimes lead to very good things.

--Wendy Crutcher


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