When Jove Belle’s collection of three erotic novellas turned out to be my assignment for this month’s review, I was especially pleased because the final story in the book, “Hollis,” is an expansion of a short story originally published in one of my own anthologies. Those characters were clearly etched into my memory, and I looked forward to spending more time with them. I clung to my principles of reviewing, and resisted reading that piece first, since the order of stories in a collection is an important aspect of the whole, and a fair assessment of a book takes into account the way the parts work together.
The bit of text on the cover, cleverly positioned in the curving space between a pair of stiletto-heeled shoes, gives the reader a clue as to what the book offers: “Sometimes sex is the only way to say ‘I love you.’” This is both promise and warning. Many devotees of lesbian romance would rather not get too far into erotica, and some readers of erotica would prefer not to have the sex get too diluted by romance. Like it or not, this book intends to offer both, and just how far the author intends to go is made clear by the pair of steely handcuffs encircling those lipstick-red stilettos.
This is truth in advertising. Each of the novellas delivers on both counts, and if I found the erotic aspects more memorable than the romantic parts, that says more about me than about the writing. If I found one of the three pieces more compelling than the other two, that again is a matter of taste. Overall I was most impressed by the erotic passages, done with a sure hand and a pacing slow where it needed to be savored, accelerating when it demanded resolution.
The first novella, “Raw Silk,” is a good choice for the lead-off position because it tackles a tricky subject in romance, that of threesomes, while emphasizing the deep bond between two committed partners. I was at first put off by the office setting, even though I know that office sex is a popular sub-genre. I’ve spent a considerable lifetime avoiding that milieu, and the initial conference-room meeting complete with the sexy new female client making moves on the company’s only (apparently) lesbian employee left me cold. As far as I could tell there was no mention of what the company did or what the client wanted besides sex. But the real story was the central character June’s resolve to stay faithful to her wife, Ashlyn, no matter how tempted she was, and her wife’s reaction to the situation. Ashlyn, a quirky artist working from home, becomes the most interesting character, and she won me over so that by the end I really liked this story.
The second novella, “On Her Knees,” also has a big-business ambiance, in this case a law firm, although more happens at the company’s social events than at the office. Abby is a “beard” for her closeted gay friend Gavin, who works where her nemesis (and crush) from high school Simone comes to work. Much misunderstanding and miscommunication ensues, and long-suppressed anger on both sides complicates matters. The set-up is, shall we say, predictable, but the writing is good, the dialogue sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt, and the sex is very good indeed, with some original turns of phrase. This wasn’t my favorite piece in the book, and I’m glad it didn’t come first or last, but it could easily be just the thing to resonate with someone else.
Before I move on to the last story, I’ll take a minute to slip in a couple of complaints. These are matters of editing more than the writing as a whole. In the first two parts there seemed to me to be all too many confusing passages when it came to which “her” was doing or saying what to whom. It wasn’t so much that pronouns instead of names were used, as that when names were inserted it often wasn’t in the most effective places, and sometimes even easier fixes could have been used. The whole same-sex pronoun problem is magnified, of course, when a threesome is involved, but I noticed it through out these first two pieces. I also saw a hint that “Raw Silk” was originally written in first person rather than third, since a copy editor forgot to change “between us” to “between them” (and right in the middle of a long sex scene—maybe she was too distracted.) To my mind first person would have worked better all round, but here I have to admit that my own editorial preferences are just that, my own, and shouldn’t influence my reviews too much.
So now I get to move on to “Hollis,” which is every bit as good as I remembered, and even better with the expansion into a novella. Both of the central characters are strong women, in their forties, experienced in their work and in the BDSM scene. Jude, the one whose thoughts we get to follow, is a police Detective taking an FBI course in terrorist control as a change of pace from some soul-searing criminal cases. Hollis is the kick-ass FBI instructor. They strike adversarial sparks right away, since Jude has no hesitation in contradicting Hollis on matters she herself knows more about from experience, but they also recognize something in each other that can feed a hotter fire. When Hollis whispers in her ear, “I want you in my office…After class,” Jude’s unspoken reaction is, “Holy Fuck. She’d been summoned straight to hell…and she couldn’t wait to get there.”
The writing is skillful, tight, clear, evocative. Details about Jude’s past and its influence on her character are presented succinctly and with maximum impact. While Hollis scans Jude’s dossier and notes the times she’s been decorated for bravery, and the times she’s been shot, Jude thinks about her second promotion after she’d brought in a serial rapist, and why she then asked for assignment to Homicide, where at least “the victims didn’t cry when she found them.” Hollis says, “Everything in here reads like a chief’s wet dream…So why are you here being such a pain in the ass for me?” That they’re each other’s wet dreams doesn’t need to be said. That they can become something more to each other develops more slowly, as it should. An excellent novella, worth the price of the book, and anyone who isn’t an obsessive editor and office-phobe like me will probably enjoy the other two stories just as well.