By Thea Devine:

Sinful Secrets

By Susan Johnson:

Rough Around the Edges
Sweet Love, Survive
A Touch of Sin

By Robin Schone:

The Lady's Tutor

By Bertrice Small:

Darling Jasmine
The Hellion
The Innocent
The Love Slave

Captivated by Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson, Thea Devine & Robin Schone
(Kensington, $12.95, NC-17) ISBN 1-57566-450-X
Captivated is a collection of four novellas written by the reigning queens of erotic romance fiction: Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson, Thea Devine and Robin Schone. Kudos to Kensington Books for having the marketing savvy to publish the industry's first erotic historical romance anthology. These novellas are explicit; there's bondage, group sex, domination, sex toys, spanking and other surprises. It's lust in the dust and sex, sex, sex . . . sex everywhere except maybe hanging from the chandelier. Wait, there was a beam in the bedroom ceiling with that leather harness. . . .

These stories not only push the envelope, they rip it to shreds. The sexual rating is no exaggeration. If an X rating had been available, I would have used it. Let me reiterate that these stories are frank, graphic and adult.

"Ecstasy" is Bertrice Small's contribution. Prince Dagon of Aramas, heir to the throne, has been betrayed by his twin brother and is now a slave in a foreign land. He dreams of escape and justice. Dagon is bought by the High Procuress of Kava, who has plans for this big boy. Kava, a cross between Brigadoon and Shangra La, with a pinch of Egyptian mythology thrown in, is a land ruled entirely by women, with men used as beasts of burden and for sexual pleasure . . . the women's pleasure, not the men's.

Dagon has been purchased for Kalida, Kava's queen. It's Kava's custom for a queen to step down when she falls in love, but Kalida has never been tempted by any man. While she's had many, many lovers, she's never experienced true passion. That's about to change.

Kalida experiences true passion for the first time and is soon ready to renounce her throne, but Dagon cautions her to be sure that it's love instead of lust. And how is she to be sure? Why, she'll see if another young stud can bring her to fulfillment, a.k.a. multiple orgasms. If the young stud fails, then Dagon wins and will be her true, eternal love.

The title of Susan Johnson's contribution, "Bound and Determined," ought to give you a hint of where it's leading. Hugh Dalsany, Marquis of Crewe, is tired of sex, tired of servicing two or three women a night. He has plans to rusticate in the country for a while, hoping that this feeling of ennui will pass.

In a wonderful touch of irony, Hugh is kidnapped by the guards of a foreign ruler. Prince Marco has decided that it's time to produce an heir, but he'd rather not do it himself. He prefers men and is counting on Hugh's stamina and willingness. Hugh and the Prince's wife Sofia are taken to a country estate. Prince Marco is insuring his wife's cooperation by holding her mother hostage. Sofia, fearing for her mother's safety, knows that she must follow the prince's bidding. She's under orders to have sex with Hugh twice a day for a month.

Hugh is incensed, even if he is intrigued by Sofia. He refuses to cooperate, and the guards have to bind him to the bed. There is plenty of hot sex, but Johnson has an annoying habit of telling us that Hugh and Sofia are falling in love instead of showing us. I never saw it happening. The motivations are sketchy, and the political intrigue which rules Sofia's life is magically erased.

I found "Dark Desires" by Thea Devine to be the most disturbing of the stories. Drue Caledon is being forced to marry Courtland Sommerville in order to cancel out a nasty gambling debt that her father owes Court. Drue loves Gerard Lenoir and if she's forced to marry Court, she'll hate, hate, hate him until her dying day.

Court knows that Drue loves Lenoir. His plan is to sexually subjugate his new bride by arousing her carnally but never allowing her to achieve fulfillment. (I guess women don't go blind from that.) She'll be so frustrated that she'll beg for Court to satisfy her womanly needs. Court rationalizes that Drue will forget about Lenoir after she's had a few dozen orgasms.

First, Court forbids Drue to wear clothes, even at the dinner table, with the servants present. Secondly, she has to wear some leather bondage collars, cuffs and other interesting stuff. He has more toys and more tricks that are better left unexplained. If you've ever read Story of O, this had the same feel of total domination.

"A Lady's Pleasure" is relative newcomer Robin Schone's contribution. Robert Coally, a battle weary soldier, is in England to convalesce. On his way to the tavern to find a whore, he's caught in a vicious storm. Seeing a light from a cottage, he heads there and interrupts a young woman who's been reading her secret passion, erotic literature. Abigail, a twenty-nine-year-old spinster, is spending a month at the seaside, away from the strictures of polite society, away from people who cover piano legs so as not to titillate the senses.

Robert questions Abigail about her erotic reading, while she comments on her envy of a man's ease in seeking sexual comfort. Their candidness allows them to make a bargain. For as long as the storm lasts, they'll try to fulfill each other's sexual fantasies. These two are adults with adult desires and adult curiosities. Nothing is considered taboo or ugly.

With Robert as her guide, Abigail has experiences that rival her erotic reading. Robert, basking in Abigail's curiosity and gentle femininity, begins to believe that his years of war and carnage have not blackened his soul beyond redemption. Robin Schone uses no purple prose and no silly euphemisms, but instead allows humor, affection and caring to permeate the story. The sex here becomes intimate, emotional and fulfilling.

My reaction to the first three stories has nothing to do with prudery, but stems from their lack of depth and complexity. My favorite, Robin Schone's story, is the most erotic, the most daring. The first three stories aren't romances. The relationships are based on lust, and I'm not convinced that it ever gets past lust. The protagonists treat each other cruelly and have little concern for the other outside the confines of sex. Relationships based on lust without love and without caring are meaningless.

Bertrice Small's heroine falls for the guy because he's well equipped and has given her multiple orgasms. If erotica is well written, it won't cause you to laugh out loud, but every time I read about Dagon's ‘love lance,' I cracked up. Susan Johnson didn't convince me that her characters had really fallen in love. I guess I blinked in the wrong place. Thea Devine's hero is so controlling that he doesn't mind degrading the heroine, as long as she ends up hot for him.

Robert and Abigail save the day or should I say the book. Schone's characters express honest sexual curiosity. Nothing is done without the other's consent. "A Lady's Pleasure" is truly erotic and breathtakingly sensual, the only story I can honestly recommend.

Here's the bottom line. Captivated is provocative, erotic and pushes the boundaries for romance readers. If you're easily shocked, this is not the book for you.

--Linda Mowery

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