** "Private Eyes" by Dominique Sinclair.
*blinks* Well. That surprised me. My least favorite story in the anthology, and most everyone else cited this as the best story. How very odd.
I guess the story itself is pretty entertaining--private eye Nikki specializes in catching cheating husbands, and between that and her mother's past, she has a low opinion of men and of relationships. But a mysterious man keeps running into her, and there is a pretty clever misunderstanding-type plot between them.
However. I absolutely could not get past the writing. I wanted to take the author's (or the editor's--I'm not picky) thesaurus away and bury it. Seriously purple prose, and some misused words that set my teeth on edge (the heroine thinking that "her body was scintillating after a night of vivid dreams"? I don't think so.)
**** "The Ruination of Lady Jane" by Bonnie Hamre.
This was a sexy Regency romance. Lady Jane's guardian has arranged a marriage for her with and old, thrice-widowed man, and she, quite sensibly, IMO, has run off. The guardian asks his younger brother Havyn, who remembers Jane as a teenager with spots (zits, for those of you unacquainted with Regency lingo), to go find her.
He does find her, and she's definitely improved with age. What's more, she begs him to "ruin" her so she won't have to marry the old man.
It's a nice story, particularly if you enjoy the Regency period--it's just a little predictable, also particularly if you enjoy the Regency period. The sex scenes were quite sensual, even though I found the Kama Sutra references to be a little self-conscious.
***** "Code Name: Kiss" by Jeanie Cesarini.
Wow. This novella pushed every one of my buttons: spies, and friends turning into lovers, plus a hefty emotional punch. It was well-written, and I was on pins and needles through the entire story.
And of course, everyone else hated it. I'm seeing a trend.
Lily is a spy, and her mission is to infiltrate a terrorist camp as a sex slave, make contact with a double agent, and through him get close enough to the leader to plant a tracking device on his skin.
Seth is the agent in control of the mission, which he's leading via video feeds back at headquarters. Both Seth and Lily have a thing for each other, but due to their positions, neither has acted on it.
The story alternates chapters between Seth and Lily, keeping track of the mission time, which adds tension. Lily's chapters are in first person and are very deep POV, which is very affecting. Even though Seth's chapters are in third person, his emotional turmoil as he's forced to watch from a distance as the woman he's realized he's in love with has sex with another man is vividly clear.
"Code Name: Kiss" is emotionally wrenching, and better yet, the sex is an integral part of the story.
I was surprised to see in the "about the author" that Jeanie Cesarini = Jeanie London. I guess I'm going to take those recommendations for Jeanie London's books seriously now.
***½ "The Sacrifice" by Kathryn Anne Dubois.
Anastasia is about to become a nun, but she has definite ideas about those vows. She believes that for the vows to truly be meaningful, she has to know what she's giving up. For example, she was raised in a wealthy family, so taking a vow of poverty has meaning. However, she has no knowledge of carnal pleasures, so taking a vow of chastity is, to her mind, meaningless.
So she sets out to change that by going to the castle of the notorious debaucher Count Maxwell. It's a bit of a goofy premise, but I do rather like her reasoning about the meaning of sacrifice.
The first half of the story is sensual and sexy, but then it turns into something else. I found myself irritated that the oddly principled, determined young woman of the first half of the story turned into such a coward in the second half. It ended well, but I didn't quite get over that.