Naughty, Naughty by Susan Johnson, Adrianne Lee, Leandra Logan
& Anne Marie Winston
(St. Martin’s, $5.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-312-97174-5
Never has a title for an anthology been more accurate than this latest offering from St. Martin’s Press. But while the stories are full of seduction and steamy sex, the romance is lacking in substance and the weak characters undermine the collection.

Susan Johnson offers up a slice of Regency sexual intrigue with “A Tempting Wager.” In 1815 Vienna, Georgette St. Germain (Georgie to her friends), enters into a wager with three of her closest friends. Her mission is to lure the dashing Simon Mar into her bedroom. If she manages this task, she wins a pair of diamond earrings. Now if he stays the whole night, after he is informed of the wager, she gets the matching necklace. Simon is a rake with a notorious reputation for being an amazing lover, and a womanizer.

The plot is interesting, but the story is just not made for an anthology format. First, for those not familiar with European politics in 1815 or Napoleon, the story will be confusing at times. A lot of this subplot is assumed and not explained. Also, while Simon and Georgie have steamy and frequent sex, I just could not see the romance in this story. Sex does not equal romance, and while I understood their lust for each other, I just never quite figured out how they fell madly in love.

“Winner Take All” by Adrianne Lee is a contemporary story set in Missoula, Montana. Mitch Bohannah is an advertising executive that really gets around. While Mitch isn’t exactly drop dead gorgeous, women find him irresistible. His way with women leads to a very active sex life, until the day he beds the daughter of his firm’s wealthiest client.

His boss, Charlie, is in a rage after the wealthy client decides to take his business elsewhere. Charlie and Mitch get an explosive argument and the two eventually decide to strike a deal. If Mitch can abstain for 3 months, then Charlie will walk away from the business. However, if Mitch succumbs to temptation, Mitch walks away.

Mitch takes off to his ranch, only to be confronted by Carroll Sydney, a 26-year-old virgin librarian who is determined to experience sex for the first time. Mitch’s reputation in bed must be well known, because he’s first on Carroll’s list for prospective partners. Will Mitch risk losing the bet and give in? And why is Carroll suddenly and drastically changing her lifestyle?

The contemporary setting was well thought out, and the description of the Montana countryside added romantic atmosphere. However, the characterizations were weak, leaving me with the feeling that I never really got to know Mitch and Carroll. And without giving too much away, I found the plot improbable.

“Strangers in the Night” by Leandra Logan is sweet slice of romance and revenge, a thoroughly enjoyable story and the high point in this collection. Jack Taylor and Andrea Doanes meet up in a hotel bar after their flight is cancelled due to bad weather. Jack rescues the very classy Andrea after a fellow first class passenger becomes drunk and starts harassing her. Andrea is going through a messy separation from her wealthy and famous husband, and Jack’s heroics have restored her faith. Sparks fly and the two are soon captivated with each other. But how is Andrea going to escape her controlling husband? And what secret is Jack hiding from her?

Andrea and Jack have steamy sex, but they also talk. Because of this communication I felt like I actually got to know the two leads. The plot may be a stretch at times, but I found myself caring about Andrea’s predicament and cheering her on as she works to escape an unhealthy marriage.

“The Maine Attraction” by Anne Marie Winston tells the tale of sculptor Beau Cantrell and cookbook author Emma Hamaker. While on vacation on the coast of Maine, Emma’s ocean view cabin becomes damaged by Hurricane Sela. Beau invites Emma to share his cabin for the remainder of her vacation. The attraction between the two is apparent from their first meeting, but will they overcome their emotional baggage to embrace a future together?

This story has sexual tension in spades, but is slim in substance. Outside of continually denying their attraction for each other, Emma and Beau have little to do and the conflict is minimal. A nice story that needs some added punch.

Naughty, Naughty left me feeling confused and unsatisfied. The way the collection was put together didn’t make much sense to me. One Regency story and three contemporaries? Three stories where the women are the seducers and one where the man is? The only thing these stories have in common is the frequent and hot sex, which is exciting to read, but left this reader ultimately unsatisfied. Stronger characters and more good old-fashioned romance would have made this latest anthology shine.

--Wendy Crutcher

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