Thursday, December 25, 2014

Emmy's Book Review... Kiss of Christmas Magic


Merry Christmas to you and your families from ours. Here is a little more Christmas for you all. Emmy made it through the 20 stories in the “Kiss of Christmas Magic” so your Christmas day can get a little steamy.

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Caribou’s Gift  - Eve Langlais- Kodiak Pointe Novella  
A Caribou shifter doesn’t want to be Rudolph for the christmas parade, but reconsiders when the one who wants him to participate is the cute cougar shifter that just blew into town with her little girl.  The Cougar is running from her crazy wolf ex.  Kindergarten cop style story - cute, but mostly fluff.  The little girl, Gigi, is hilarious.

Hunted Holiday - Mandy M. Roth
Vampire slayer Dani is attracted to her boss, Cornell, a vampire who heads up her paranormal investigation team.  He moved on to her street she thought to annoy her, but really was because she is/will be his mate.  This story is how they were finally mated thanks to a Fae with christmas decorations and another vampire egging him on to make a move.  This story better than the first in this anthology, and brought to mind the Anita Blake series in it’s setup.

Lost in Winter - Viola Rivard
Caitlin is on the run with her niece, Sophia.  Sophia’s father has been beating on the little girl, and when Caitlin’s sister brought her over for Caitlin to babysit she packed her into the car and lit out.  Unfortunately, their car breaks down in the mountains.  They have to leave the car and come across a bear shifter, Winter, and his son (cub).  She convinces him to let them come with him and his son.  They are attacked by wolves, both Caitlin and Sophia are injured.  They get back to the den and eventually everyone heals, Winter and Caitlin become mates, the end - lots of loose ends, but hey, still a good story, wasn’t looking for war and peace anyway. lol

Kissed by Temptation - Deanna Chase - Coven Pointe series novelett  
About a witch, Mati,  her incubus  demon hunter boyfriend, Vaughn, and a new angel recruit (female, Janie) who is being stalked by a demon.  They go to a sorority party (witch sorority) mixer where the charms they are given at the door teleport them from the person they are talking to someone new every 10 minutes.  A demon jumps into an incubus co worker of Vaughn to seduce Janie, then jumps into her actual date, Chad, after the 10 mins are up.  Mati manages to force the demon out of Janie’s date, but her magic isn’t up to full strength. Vaughn and his brotherhood of demon hunters appear and kill the demon.  they all take Chad back to the party.  - Eh, it was ok, doesn’t really make me want to read the series, but I did keep thinking of the Buffy episode with the fear demon - “FEAR ME!!!!”  lololol.

*Bear Witness - Michele Bardsley - Pearson Security #1
Bear shifter, former cop and security guard Rafe protects a woman named Gretchen and her murdered stepsister’s baby from hunters.  Starts off with Rafe - his wolf (not a shifter, and actual wolf) finds a baby and brings it home to him. Gretchen wakes up in the hospital after a car crash.  All she remembers is being rammed by a truck, hearing the baby cry after the crash and a wolf howl.  Her stepsister was also a werewolf.  Back when they were kids Vivian (the stepsister) killed a boy from a family called Blackthorne who was trying to rape Gretchen.  As retribution she was made to marry another Blackthorne and has been married to him for the last nine years.  She had been taking precautions not to get pregnant but eventually did.  She wouldn’t let him raise her baby in that family and that catches us up to where the story begins: she called on Gretchen to get the child out, knowing that her husband would kill her, but choosing to sacrifice her life to distract him long enough for Gretchen to get away with the baby.   

Vivian had asked her to take the baby to another pack called the Shadows.  Rafe tries to take the baby back to Gretchen, but the baby’s father (Rand) wound up with her anyway.  He and Gretchen go to the Shadow pack, gain reinforcements, and make plans to get the baby back. They storm the house and not suspecting that a human could do anything to him, Gretchen snatches the baby right out of Rand’s arms before the rest of the team could kill him.  She got shot in the vest, because Rand was using the baby as a human shield.  She will be fine, however, and the story ends with them successfully getting the baby back.  This story at least deserves an honorable mention for the tightness of the story and the well done action described.

*A Heart in Winter - VM Black - Aethereal Bonds world/series  
Sarah is married to a baron, named John.  They love each other very much, and have since childhood.  They have four kids together.  Sarah has developed consumption, and is very near to death.  John has brought every doctor he can get his hands on to her in a frantic effort to make her well.  he convinces her to see one last doctor.  Sarah knows as soon as she sees the doctor that there is something wrong with him, but lets her husband convince her to take this treatment from him.  the doctor is a vampire, and tells her that after he is done that she will have to leave with him, leave her husband and children.  She tells herself that will never happen.  

Well, the vamp’s cure is just as you might have thought, blood and sex, and a bond formed between them.  When she wakes back up he tells her again that she will have to leave with him, as the bond between them will cause her to waste away and die without him.  She asks what if the bond were to be broken, he says that she would just be mortal again, but cured.  He tells her that she will not feel the same way towards her husband.  He has also told John all of this.  While John is upset with himself for having forced her to do this and knowing that he would lose her, he would rather have her well and not with him than dead.  She doesn’t look at him the same, but they have sex one last time anyway.  Right towards the end something snaps - they broke the bond between Sarah and the vampire.  the vampire rushes in, yelling, upset, saying that she wasted such a gift.  He leaves, and the now cured -and once again mortal- Sarah and John go about their lives.  

This was a good story, but I found it kind of sad.  In these types of stories I’m generally rooting for the vampire - strange, I know - but I found myself involved in Sarah and John’s love story, and didn’t want them to have to part.  The author did a great job making me feel that much for them in such a short frame of time.  

Alpha’s First Christmas - Aubrey Rose / Molly Prince - Scraptown Shifters Series
Natalie, new mate to the Scraptown wolf pack’s alpha, Hutch, wants to celebrate christmas with a tree and decorations and Santa, the whole nine yards.  No one seems to be in the spirit and she finds out that they don’t really do Christmas, because of monetary reasons, and bad memories.  She plans a weekend away with Hutch to try to get him in the Christmas spirit.  Everything goes to hell, and the romantic weekend at a secluded cabin that she planned turns into a weekend spent getting lost in a blizzard, sleeping in a cave, and fighting a bear shifter over a deer shifter that he had kidnapped.  They return to the the pack and Natalie’s upset that her plans were ruined.  Hutch tells her it was the best weekend ever.  She learns that christmas spirit doesn’t have to include all of the trappings to be about feeling close to family and friends.  This was probably the funniest story so far.

**Witches Shall Rise - Terah Edun - Short story for Sarah Web series
Katherine is the younger daughter of the witch queen of Sandersville. She's the odd daughter, dark and strange, unlike her perfect sister, and possesses a strong dark power that she can't really control. It's Solstice, and her mom comes up with the idea that every witch in town should be bound to a fae for three days, to foster sympathy and understanding between them. In this world the fae and the witches had been at war for centuries and have only been at peace, uneasily, for the last 75 years or so. Katherine is dismayed to find that she has been bound to Natalia, a fae accused of murdering her whole family years before. Her mom encourages her to look deeper. This was a great story and is in the lead now for best story of the whole book. I want to read the series after reading this novella, so that should tell you something.

A Christmas to Bear - Carina Wilder- Wolf Rock Shifter Series Novella
Polar bear shifter Lucian lives in isolation at the ski town of Wolf Rock, interacting with no one for fear of losing control of himself and his strength. Aria has come to town to spend Christmas skiing and to get away from her annoying family. When she is injured on the slope he heals her broken leg -instantly, with his hands, that's his power- and they are both intrigued by the other. He saves her from an attack later, and she convinces him to go with her to a party in town. They try to hook up, but he nips her accidentally and freaks out about it. She tries to convince him that he shouldn't be afraid of himself, but he disappears and she has to leave town- her vacation is over. She returns home to find him waiting for her. Not a bad story, it was cute. The sex in this story was probably the best in the book so far.  Learned something I didn't know- that polar bears are the only animals that actively hunt humans. Good to know…. lol

****Shadows Beneath the Falling Snow - Cristina Rayne - An Elven King Prequel Story  
This one is a fantasy type, with elves- and is very, very good. Princess Miriel is worried when the supreme king Kirion shows up at her family home for Solstice. She has a secret that she is afraid he will be able to sense. Rumor has it that after several thousand years of marriage with no heir Kirion is seeking a royal consort. Certain that he will not think her worthy, she worries more about her secret. When she slips out of the celebration to attend to her own Solstice tradition she is surprised by the king, who had slipped out for a breath of fresh air of his own. They talk and she is shocked to find out that he is not just seeking a royal consort, but a new queen. His current queen lost a child thousands of years before and has not been able to conceive since. With the birth rate of all of the great royal eleven families declining Kirion fears that they are coming into a dangerous period of infertility which could kill their race.

They talk briefly of it some more then separate- him to go back to the party her to do her own tradition then join him. He follows her and finds that she is entering something she calls the rift, a portal to the human world. When he stops her she invites him to go along with her.   The rift opens to a town’s Christmas display and the king is entranced, walking among the lights. He reveals that he knew her secret all along- the she is actually human. Turns out her father found her in the In Between - another place similar to her rift- when she was five. She didn't know how to identify her home, and she was not from the humans of their world, but from the future. Her dad and mom used magic to make her appear elven and adopted her. She thinks that this will make the king not want her, but the opposite is true and he makes love to her right there amongst the lights. They go back to their reality to convince her parents that he wants her for his queen. I HAVE TO to read this series now too  - lol - **Runs to Amazon**

Home for the Howlidays - Chloe Cole - Montana Wolves Christmas Novella
Heir to the alpha, Nicklaus, comes back to town after a long absence- He left right after a double punch of drama -  his twin’s death and his dad telling him he couldn’t marry the woman he loved.  It’s now time, his dad says, for him to do his duty - come be the alpha of the pack.  He reasons that this would include taking a mate of his dad’s choosing, since his former lover (Petra) wasn’t good enough for his dad for some reason.   He returns to town, encounters his former lover and gets stuck with her in a blizzard. The next day he goes to his father and tells him that he will only marry her and he doesn't care what he says. His pop says that he just wasn't ready yet after the death of his twin and he doesn't care who he marries. The end, happy ending.  It was a solid short story, and I liked Petra very much.

****Everlastingly - Michelle M. Pillow
Officially the best fic in the book! This is a beautiful fever dream of a tale where the heroine is stuck in an endless loop trying to find a way out of her prison...and to Jack... if she could remember who Jack is.   She is running through the snow, in a party dress, but doesn’t know why.  She finds a house and makes it to the door just to see the lights inside, then wakes to find herself in a upstairs room with no doors.  She has has to solve a puzzle to get out, but she can’t remember anything.  Her memories are all fuzzy and all she can focus on is getting out, getting help, getting safe.  She keeps encountering the name Jack and a picture of a handsome man, and she feels a strong connection to the name and the picture, like she should know him, but can’t figure out where.  This story is like one of those movies that you have to watch from the very beginning to understand, like Vanilla Sky, or Eyes Wide Shut.  It’s almost surreal, the mood that the author creates.  You are drawn into and invested in the story before you even know it.  I was seriously impressed.   Most awesome!!

The Hunters Moon - Shawntelle Madison - Windham Werewolves 1
Werewolf hunter, Cyn , is afflicted with leukemia and doesn’t have long to live.  The treatment is slowly killing her.  Her brother drops her off with the alpha of a local pack, Kaden, in exchange for the pack’s safety from him and other hunters.  The alpha is able to use his abilities to heal her but it takes time.  Being a werewolf hunter, she objects to this, and tries to leave as soon as she wakes.  She is weak and sick however, and barely makes it 10 feet out of the cabin before she comes to her senses and goes back.   It’s one of those “the people I hated are just people after all” tales.  She and the alpha eventually become mates, and when it ended she was almost healed, and on her way to becoming a were herself.  It felt a little disjointed to me, mostly because I was trying to understand both of the characters considerable backstories at the same time.  Future tales in this series should be good though, once you understand all the history behind it.

A Ghostly Gift - Angie Fox - a Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries series Novella
Verity Long sees ghosts, and has a ghost of a 1930-something smartass gangster named Frankie attached to her.  She accidentally trapped him by dumping out his ashes in her rose bushes - she didn’t know that vase was an urn….so Frankie is how she’s a ghost hunter, which she does mainly for the money to save her old crumbling Victorian home.  She’s strapped for cash, so when her sister Melody comes to her saying that her friend has a haunting in her shop, Verity is all ears.  Apparently her friend Julie owns a secondhand/antique shop, and some ghost (maybe more than one) is getting into the expensive-breakables case.  When she and Frankie check out the place they find out from Julie that the building used to be an old bar, Doc’s Ale House, and it is full of the undead.  

The party never really stopped there, and the undead patrons are still hanging about the former bar.   It’s attracting other ghosts as well, all of them looking for a drink, so you have Civil War soldiers hanging out with ghosts from eras far past their time.  (Interesting visual there, I like that very much)  She makes the mistake of letting on that she can see them, which leads to her getting hit on - by a 1970’s era ghost named Ringo - lol - She speaks to the only ghost in the place that isn’t hitting on her.  He’s a soldier, named Johnny Cleveland, who tells her that he cannot find his fiance.  He can feel that she still loves him, but it’s fading.  She hasn’t passed yet, and he has no clue how to locate her. If her love for him dies before she does, he will never be able to find her in the afterlife, which is what he wants to do.  He is the one who wrecked the display case, because it was her engagement ring that he saw inside of it - he was trying to touch it.  He fears that she sold it.  He’s holding on to his tie to the mortal world just to wait for her.  Verity gets her name, and promises to find her.   She and Melody do research at the library and find her in the old yearbooks for the town, but after that the trail goes cold.  Verity rides out to the cemetery to Johnny’s grave, to see if anyone has left any flowers with a card or a florist’s tag that she can trace.  

There’s nothing there, and as she sits on one of the benches in the cemetery, thinking, and older lady comes and sits beside her.  They talk for a few minutes, then the lady gets up to go to a grave - Johnny’s grave.  It’s his fiance, Mamie.  Verity returns the ring to her and finds out her story.  Right after Johnny was shipped off to war she found that she was pregnant.  Her mom took her engagement ring, and shipped her off to her uncle’s house, states away from her home.  She raised their boy, but never saw the ring again.  Her sister and mother never spoke to her again.  Her sister had died recently, so it was in her estate that the ring was sold to the secondhand shop.  

Mamie is thrilled beyond words to have it on her finger again, and says that Johnny was and always would be her one true love.  Awwwww, this story is making me cry, this is so cute….  Several days later, Verity is lounging on her new couch (Julie paid her in furniture) when Frankie tells her she has guests.  She walks out to her back yard to see Johnny Cleveland and his Mamie, together.  Mamie had passed in the few short days since Verity had encountered her.  They could finally be together in death as they never could in life.  They returned to thank Verity for bringing them back together again.   That was a truly good short story.  I’ll probably be looking up this series as well.  The first book is due out next month, January 2015.

Love Singer - Mimi Strong
First of all, the guy on the “cover” is a dead ringer for Luke Bryan - so I’m already interested.  Good choice, author!   - lol-     Zebrina has a gift for music.  It’s a gift that her grandmother promised to explain, but unfortunately passed away before she could.  She did leave her a goodish chunk of change, a hot pink VW bus named Piglet, (omg, that’s priceless) and a letter telling her to spend the year after her graduation roaming the country singing.  At the end of that year she gets another letter, informing her that it was time to come off the road and go to music college - and that it was all ready bought and paid for.  Zebrina arrives at the college and in the space of less than a day discovers her nemesis and her new best friend.  

The nemesis is Arturo, an asshole from the school parking lot who turns out to be her new music professor.  The best friend, Kenny, uses her for a chair during her first class.  Zebrina being a stubborn little heifer, she doesn’t give up the chair, and Kenny is truly shocked at the end of the class to find out that she was there.  Kenny was verrrrrry high……. think Shaggy and Scooby high. -lol-   Zebrina enjoys torturing Arturo until the day he calls her out, telling her that she’s lost her mojo.  Embarrassed, she wonders if she has, and asks for help.  She meets him after class.  He proceeds to tell her that he’s a wizard, and she is a song witch, and in order to get her mojo back they should sleep together.  She slaps the shit out of him.  He tries to apologize, says he had no idea that she didn’t know what she was, but Zebrina is mortified (and a virgin, so also terrified) and quits his class.  

Meanwhile, her performances are getting worse as time passes.  She finally breaks and calls Arturo, hilariously telling him she wants for meet for a “sex date”.  At this point she’d do anything to get back on an even keel.  Arturo tells her that her grandmother was a song witch as well, and one of the founding members of the college.  He kisses her, and as sparks fly - real actual sparks - she realizes that he has been telling her the truth; magic is real, he is a wizard and she’s a witch.  He only points her towards the local coven, and not the bedroom, so Zebrina is beyond frustrated.  She returns home and eats some funny brownies by mistake, leading to a truly hilarious scene.  At the end of that whole mess she finds out that Kenny is a wizard as well, so all is not lost.  She hooks up with the local coven, and apprentices with another song witch, learning more than she ever did about how to use her gift.  

At graduation and the dance afterwards, she and Arturo hook up, and the next day he heads out on the road with her and Kenny and the dog for the summer.  Thanks to Zeb and Arturo falling in love along the way, she is the one known as the Love Singer, causing everyone at her concerts to either fall in love or back in love with their partners.  This was a cute short story, and funny as hell.  

Lord of Misrule, Part 1 - JS Hope - Lord of Misrule Series
I am so looking forward to this story.  Here’s the reason why, the teaser blurb: “ Reporter Alessandra “Alex” Donati is in Venice chasing the story of her career.  While the city prepares for the Christmas festivities, Alex is hot on the trail of a group that celebrates a much older - and much darker - festival, one that offer sex and sacrifice in exchange for power and wealth.”    Alex works for GNN, which is not the CNN you would take it for, it’s more of a Inside View type news outlet.  You know, the kind that regularly publishes interviews with Bigfoot.  In an attempt to make her boss take her seriously and give her some of the actual news stories (he thinks women can’t report real news) Alex promises an expose on a cult in Venice that uses Christmas for a cover for it’s debaucheries.  

Her boss grudgingly goes along with it, due to the fact that she is the only one in the office that can actually speak Italian.  The celebration is Saturnalia, which was and is still a real celebration for many worldwide. Her story is that the city’s elite are using the rituals to keep themselves in power.   Alex arrives in Venice, and vows to do whatever it takes to get the story.  She is originally from Venice, and hooks up with a childhood friend the next morning.   Gianni thinks she’s a little off her rocker, but agrees to look into the subject for her.  He knows more than he lets on, but as a cop, the subject was considered off limits.  While gathering information for her, his computer screen flickers, which makes him think that it’s bugged.  These are powerful people, he thinks, what if they are watching?  He gathers the information that he has for her, hoping that it’s not enough to really get her into trouble. On the way to meet her that night he realizes he is being followed.  

Paranoid, he stops at a delivery service and has the envelope of information rush delivered by hand to Alex’s motel.  He continues on, figuring his pursuers would make their move shortly.  They do, but not in the way he figures - he is killed, and Alex is none the wiser.  She receives the envelope as soon as she returns to the hotel, and spends hours pouring over the information.  The possible members of this cult are all rich and powerful.  Gianni also provided missing person reports for the dates of the supposed ritual time, and three of the women that went missing are similar in features, and all were last connected with a man named Paolo Galvan.  Galvan is the head of textile conglomerate, and a very powerful man in Venice indeed.  She finds out that he will be a particular party the next night and decides to bluff her way inside.  She goes to the party, and when she is rummaging in her purse for her “invitation” another partygoer takes her arm and tells the guard that she is with him.  This man is Cody Goodfellow, an American, who will figure into this in just a bit.  

They talk for a bit right after they get settled into the party, and Alex spots her target.  Cody notices that she only has eyes for Galvan, and leaves her with a warning: Galvan is dangerous, be careful.  Alex brushes his advice off, and within minutes decides the best way to get close to Galvan is to seduce him.  Her strategy works, and before long they are leaving the party in his helicopter to his mansion.  She seems to have lost all of her reservations (and inhibitions) about him, and they fall directly into bed.  She wakes hours later and nabs his phone off of the dresser, walking out to the balcony to poke around in it.  While she is backing up all of his info onto her phone, she hears a noise.  Thinking that it’s Galvan waking up, she ditches his phone.  But it’s not Galvan, it’s an intruder, who has killed the guard outside of the bedroom door, and before her very eyes gashes Galvan’s throat wide open.  She can’t get a fix on the guy’s face in the dark room, and mentions that it looks like his features are shifting, even as her comes after her.  She jumps over the balcony,  lands in the pool below, and hauls ass for the road.  

The killer follows her, and is on her heels when a black Mercedes races up to her and a male voice hollers for her to get in.  Not thinking twice, she jumps in.  Her savior is the mysterious Cody Goodfellow.  This is the end of this story for now, which made me scream with frustration.   The author(s) packed a lot of action in nine small chapters, and did an excellent job of making me want more.

Blood Deep - Jessa Slade - Vegas Vampires Book 1
Hugo de Grava is a vampire, and is somehow indebted to the fae king and his shifter queen.  They want him to spy for them in the human realm. They want the fae to return to the human realm.   The king’s former queen, known as the Undone Queen has escaped her iron prison, which being a fae, means that she had to have help. She may already be in the human realm.  The kind tells Hugo that the wards that kept the different realms locked were failing anyway, and it was just a matter of time before they would fall completely.  Hugo agrees to help them, on the condition that he be allowed to die - at his age, he has lived so long he has nothing to live for anymore.    Avery Hill is a reporter for Conspiracy Quarterly, which should tell you something from the name alone.  She makes her living “reporting” on things like UFOs and the like.  She is in Vegas hoping to track down the owner of the newest casino, Deon Barrow, for an interview.  

She’s convinced that there is more to him than it seems.  She is also searching for her mother, who is apparently a schizophrenic, and has been missing for some time.    Hugo tracks her down, thinking that the fantastical stories that she writes are true.  He’s looking for a way to introduce the fae into this realm without the humans losing their minds about it.  The fae king and queen, Raze and Yelena, also suspect this Deon Barrow is a fae or shifter himself.  They go to the casino and take a back booth.  They talk, and eventually the heat that sparked between them from the moment they met takes hold.  They kiss, and he gets her off, then surreptitiously bites her.  He tells her he is a vampire - his word is ravpyrii - and that he wants her to tell the world about him.  This is why he’s here; to reveal to the humans that there are other creatures among them that were once only thought to be legends, and pave the way for the coming fae.  

He can explain a little more about her mother to her; what she thought was schizophrenia, was not, and the wild, unexplainable adventures they used to have when she was a child were because her mom was somehow connected to these other realms. She saw her mom disappear into a ring of holly one Christmas, and has never been able to explain it.   He promises her the interview with Deon Barrow that she wants if she will publish his story.  They sneak downstairs in Barrow’s casino, and find that the preparations for the holiday parade aren’t the only secret down there - they run into another vampire, this one in charge of the parade.  That’s not the only thing down there.  A creature called an imp - think one eyed, scaly, three legged spider - attacks, and Hugo takes it down, with Avery’s help.  Apparently the imp was sent by the Undone Queen, who is in the realm and looking to go public herself.  She has chosen Barrow’s little kingdom as her own throne.  Needless to say, Barrow is none too pleased with this idea.  A vampire himself, he has built ComeTrue (the casino) as a safe haven for all of his kind.  

Vampires in this world do feed on blood, but more on the emotions and life force of the humans around them.  They could live there in secret and humans would never suspect.  Hugo and Avery offer him a deal:  They will help if the Undone Queen attacks, but as repayment ComeTrue would become the headquarters for the fae’s return to the human realm. Barrow agrees (reluctantly) and they begin to plan for the possible attack.  Along the way Avery learns that Hugo’s payment from the fae king for this is to be allowed to die.  She has gotten quite attached to him, so this upsets her greatly.  Little does she know, Hugo is questioning his desire to end it all because of Avery.  Things proceed, and just as they suspected, when the parade starts all hell breaks loose.  The Undone Queen opens a portal right on a float, and the battle begins.  Avery throws herself into to fray fearlessly, and she and Hugo are able to collapse the portal and cause the Queen to retreat.  The new fae king and his queen appear shortly thereafter, and Hugo tells them that he wishes to remain both alive and in the human realm to be with Avery.

This was one of the longest stories in this book, at 16 chapters.  There was so much action and history built into this that I felt like I had read a full length novel at the end of it.  I appreciate the new twist on vampires - I have never seen it done this particular way before.  I wound up liking both Hugo and Avery, although I had a hard time connecting to them at first.  This world has the potential to be so vast, with all of the different fae and weres that could be focused on.  If the author can keep us focused on the story that she wants to tell, then this series could be great.  

A Cold Winter’s Bite - Dawn Michelle
Hunter Wynn is a lawyer, high powered and successful.  He and his partners have a tradition every December to take a trip up the Canadian forest for a hunt.  What, you wonder, are they hunting?  This story teases you along for a good little while.  Hunter comes off as, I’ll admit it, a jerk, as many powerful men do.  It’s mentioned in the first few sentences that it’s his “turn” this year, but it’s a while before you find out exactly what they are talking about. At the party he meets Emily, his receptionist’s date for the evening.  It’s not long before they are involved in an affair.   Emily is confident and aggressive, which only makes him want her more, despite himself.  When he finds out that she has no other relatives, he decides that she is the best candidate to take on the hunting trip.  By now you are wondering what he means by that, and you are beginning to think that he and his partners are taking this chick up north to kill her.  You wonder if they are weres, but there is no concrete evidence given to support this theory, other than some heightened senses.  

Hunter continues the affair and finds himself getting more attached to this bold girl than he thought he would. The time comes to leave for the trip, and despite his reservations, he takes her with him.  He is possessive of her, which is a surprise to both himself and his partners (and the reader, to be honest).  She offers to do whatever he wants up to and including sleeping with all of his friends, if he wants.  I’m not kidding, this girl is bold with a capital b - she comes off a little trashy, which you would think would have put him off just a bit, or at least made him suspicious.   Here’s where the twist comes in.  She cooks all of the men a fantastic dinner, steaks just the way they like them, just shy of still mooing at them.  She nags them to eat their sides, and to appease her they do.  They may have been swayed by the fact that she was dressed up like a French maid at the time.  The outfit was her idea - like I said, this chick has no limits.  Anyway, they eat and then give over to the time honored tradition of drinking until they all passed out.  They didn’t notice until it was too late that it wasn’t just the liquor - she had dosed them.  Hunter awakens some hours later, and before he was supposed to, to find that Emily has killed all of his partners.  This is where the secret is confirmed - Hunter and his partners are, well, were, werewolves.  Emily is a wolf hunter, who has been undercover from the very beginning.  Just after all of this is explained and she is about to kill him - Blam! - the door is kicked open and a shotgun blast is heard - and Emily falls dead.  Behind the shotgun is Tiffany, Hunter’s receptionist, and the one who originally brought Emily to the Christmas party.  

Turns out they were both wolf hunters, and were partners.  Tiffany and Hunter have been flirting back and forth for the entire story, and it came down to Tiffany deciding that she loved him too much to let Emily kill him.  She asks him to bite her, to make her a were as well, to be his mate.  Personally, I would have liked it better if he had just ripped her throat out right then and there.  He bites her, and the story ends as she bites him, completing the circuit and starting her change.  Although this novella is a whole chapter longer than the previous tale, it doesn’t feel longer.  The chapters moved by quickly.  I was truly surprised by the twist, which earns it at least an honorable mention, in my book.

Dangerous Distractions - Lola St. Vil - Guardians Novella Part 1
This novella takes on angels - creatures previously unwritten about in this anthology.  Bellamy is an Omari, one of an elite group of angels that hunt and capture fallen angels.  An angel cop, if you would.  Bellamy has been on the trail of a fallen angel named Knight. Knight allegedly killed his girlfriend in cold blood, gave her something that sucked her soul out.  Bellamy is obsessed with catching him, to the detriment of her own relationship with her boyfriend Derek.  When the story opens Bellamy and Derek are sitting in a restaurant in Paris, and Derek has just proposed.  When Bellamy doesn’t jump on the idea, Derek calls her out, saying that she has made this case too personal, that he is sick of her picking her job over him.  They fight, until Bellamy realizes that he’s right.  But that’s not the root of her problem with him, she is dissatisfied with him as a whole, and in bed in particular.  She ends the disagreement by suggesting sex, and while he takes her up on it, she is upset that he is not more aggressive; he just doesn’t do it for her anymore.  She regularly has to fake her orgasams with him - and that’s not easy to do for her.  Angel orgasams are called arcs, and there is a physical “ball of plasma” that appears beside them when they have one.  

Couples can temporarily exchange a physical trait (like eye color) if the sex is really good.   So, yeah, not the easiest things in the world to fake.     I’ll admit, I was having a hard time connecting with Bellamy.  Maybe it was the fact that the first thing she did in the opening of the novella was describe just how gorgeous she was - I don’t know, it was funny when Lestat did it, I know, double standard, ugh….**ducks**  Maybe it was the fervency with which she described her passionate affair with shoes, such so that shoes “restore her faith in humanity” O.o??  Ok, I’m not much of a clotheshorse, maybe that one is just me as well.  

Anyway, moving right along.  They are heading home when her cell rings - Knight has been spotted, and she has to go to work.  Derek isn’t happy about that either, and when she leaves him it may very well be for the last time.   Bellamy flies to the place that Knight was spotted, still thinking about Derek and the fact that she may be getting a little too involved in this case.  She’s had intimate dreams about Knight, so that’s a sign that he’s been on her mind a good bit.  She arrives at the location ahead of the rest of her team.  She is reliving this dream when someone yells at her to get down, and she is attacked.  Demons are attacking, and her rescuer was none other than Knight.  They fight together, and when they reach safety she tries to arrest him.  Her team still has not arrived, they are protecting a ski resort down the mountain that is filled with unsuspecting humans.  Knight is injured, and but she is as well, and worse than him.  He has something that will help heal her, and against her better judgement she lets him help her.  

They talk - hey, haven’t you been chasing me all over the world for like ages now?  He’s noticed her every time that she has come after him, so she’s not the only one with a fascination.  They talk/flirt some more can he tells her that he did not kill his girlfriend, that the soul sucking potion was meant for him and got in her glass by mistake.  He has been hunting the killer on his own ever since.  He recently found the guilty party, which was the only reason he let her “catch” him now.  She comes back with a story of her own: her sister was killed by demons trying to protect her boyfriend.  The boyfriend was what she calls a Quo, a half angel half human.  The Quo lied about his ability to take care of himself, so her sister was killed in a battle trying to protect him.  She has identified her sister with Knight’s dead girlfriend, and thus is taking out her anger with her sister’s ex on Knight, obsessed with bringing him to justice, when she couldn’t do anything to the one who got her sister killed.  Well, the tension between them erupts with all of these revelations, and they lunge at each other.  Of course it’s the best sex she’s ever had, and in the end she and Knight have swapped eye colors, achieving what she never could with Derek.  She falls asleep, and when she wakes up Knight is gone.  He has left her a note in her jacket pocket, and catches back up to her after her team has left the area.    

This is only a novella to a full fledged series, so I can only assume that the story of Knight and Bellamy continues on in the full length novels.  I have to be honest, I didn’t love this one as much as I thought I would.  I just couldn’t get into all of the angel-specific terminology, and thought to myself that the story would actually be better if it was just about regular humans.  That would kind of disqualify it for this anthology, but I could see it better if it was a human cop falls in love with a suspect kind of thing.  

**Breaking the Stag - Jessica Ryan
This story opens with the heroine, Celeste, as a little girl. She and her dad live on the edge of a National Forest.  

She has wandered away from her backyard and her father into the woods.  She’s lost and afraid when she meets an elk calf in a clearing.  She feeds it a few Cheetos from her pocket, and the baby elk appears to understand what she is saying to it.  He sits down beside her on the forest floor.  She talks to him, and just as she hears her dad calling for her, the elk shifts into a little boy about her age.  He kisses her, then runs off for the woods.  While she is still standing there with her mouth open her dad finds her, but she never forgets the little boy who was an elk.  As time passes, and she sees him again occasionally in the edge of the woods behind her house.  She has never wandered into the woods again.  Years later, a now-grown Celeste has returned to her father’s home to bury him.  Her dad has been killed in a tractor accident.  Grieving, she doesn’t not want to have to sell her father’s home.  When an old childhood crush offers her a job coaching basketball at her old high school it seems like destiny.  After he leaves, she glances out of the back window, and sees somebody ducking back into the woods.  She just knows that it is the same guy that she met as a child, and decides to go looking for him.

On the other side of this story is Bray, the elk shifter.  He and his brother Dallas were raised in the woods, and seem to be more elk than human.  They have their own herd of females, also shifters,  and live mostly as elk.  Bray is the bull, or as he terms it, stag, of his pack.  Hunters have been steadily encroaching on their territory, killing their other brother last season.  When Bray encounters another hunter who nearly takes his head off he decides that it is time to move the pack.  He wants to return to their original home deep into the National Forest, where hunters are forbidden to intrude.  Dallas objects, pointing out that Bray has been obsessed with the little girl he met when he was a calf and is using moving the pack as an excuse to go check on her.  Bray is the alpha, so he backs Dallas down quickly.  Besides, he hasn’t been back over that way for the last five years, it’s not likely that she still lives there anyway.

Celeste runs out into the woods, on towards the hill she had always admired as a child.  She makes it to the summit, and Bray is there, in elk form.  She speaks to him, and just as before, he understands her.  He shifts back to human and kisses her again, this time as an adult.  They speak briefly before making love there on the hill top.  Afterwards Celeste is afraid that she has made a terrible mistake.  After talking with Bray about how he lives his life she knows that she has.  Bray tries to tell her that he doesn’t want to live from rut to rut anymore, that he wants to live with her as a human, but she says she can’t make him be something that he’s not and runs away.  He lets her go, although he regrets it.   A month later Celeste is coaching her high school basketball team, and living back in her father’s house.  She hasn’t  seen Bray since.  While watching the news on Thanksgiving she runs across a report that makes her blood run cold.  The park rangers will be letting hunters into the formerly forbidden areas of the park to thin out the elk population.  She tells herself she has to warn him to move the pack, to keep himself safe.  

Bray has been depressed ever since he last saw her.  He hasn’t wanted to bend to his instincts and rut, even though it’s rutting season.  His brother tries to tell him that it’s for the best, that him and a human just couldn’t have worked out.  He begs him to return to the herd and take up his responsibilities as alpha male again, for Dallas just isn’t strong enough to carry the whole herd.  Bray argues with him, tells him that he wants to leave the herd, live as a human, actually raise the children he fathers.  Right about then Celeste walks up, and is thrilled to hear what he has to say.  The rest of the herd is getting antsy, because the females didn’t see Dallas as alpha enough to follow.  Bray goads Dallas into fighting him for dominance, meaning to let him win.  If Dallas refuses to live as a human, Bray reasons, he should at least not have to suffer his pack walking away from him for not being strong enough.  They fight, and Bray lets Dallas win.  They shift back, and Bray prepares to leave with Celeste.  She remembers why she was there, and gives Dallas the warning about the hunters.  As it turned out, it was the real elk that were overrunning the park.  Were-elk were not nearly as populous as the natural versions.  Bray and Celeste leave together.  We get an epilogue set six years later. Bray and Celeste are married, living on the edge of the woods in the house she grew up in.  She has a successful coaching career, a little girl named Breanna, and a little boy named Randall.

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(*'s denote the stories that Emmy really liked. The more *'s the more she liked it. - Barb)

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