Honk If You Love Real Men
by Carrie Alexander, Pamela Britton, Susan Donovan & Lora Leigh
(St. Martin’s, $13.95, NC-17) ISBN 0-312-33916-X
Incredibly dopey title aside, this is the hottest romantica anthology I’ve read in ages.

Harlequin Blaze and SuperRomance author Carrie Alexander gets things rolling with “Naughty Girl.” Every day, spying from her bus seat window, Estrella Ianesque drools over the hunkiest construction worker she’s ever seen. He’s a bronzed Aztec god. He’s a total babe. Oh man, does she want him bad. But it seems out of the question – until her boss loans her a sports car.

Estrella gets Jesse “Drum” Drummond’s attention all right. While he tends to only have bad luck when it comes to women, he just can’t say no to the delectably naughty Estrella. These two are soon burning up the pool and the sheets. But what will happen when Jesse finds out who Estrella really is? And will Estrella go running when she learns of Jesse’s past?

The main conflict of this story is the “Big Secret” that Estrella is hiding. Essentially she’s misrepresenting herself to Jesse – and when he learns the truth, she’s already surrendered her heart to him. I really enjoyed this story, which featured two sympathetic, blue-collar characters. Yes, “the little people” can fall in love too.

Pamela Britton delivers the surprise of a lifetime with “Wanted: One Hot-Blooded Male.” This author known for her historical and Harlequin American titles delivers the hottest story in the anthology and stomps all over a huge romance taboo. Brava!

Breanna Miller has survived a traumatic sexual experience. While therapy has helped, she’s still naturally wary of men. So she decides to take matters into her own hands by tracking down Trent Walker – her first love and the man she lost her virginity too. Trent is surprised to see Breanna, and once he learns of her plight, he decides he’ll do anything to help her. Anything.

Britton’s story is a lot more erotica than romantica. Oh sure, there is definitely a love story here, with a happily-ever-after, but Britton writes the ultimate taboo in Romance Novel Land; a same-sex encounter featuring one of her main characters. Boy howdy! It’s daring, it’s certainly different for a romance story (even if this is romantica!), and not every reader will be pleased. While I wasn’t entirely pleased with the way the scene comes to a close – I still applaud Britton for taking a big risk. Could there be some erotica novels in her future?

Next up is the tamest, and rockiest, story of the bunch – “Mercy Me” by Susan Donovan.

Winifred “Win” Mackland is a screenwriter with a problem. She has writer’s block. Never a good thing, but especially when the studio is clamoring for the latest, and final, installment to her popular action film series. Her agent orders her to use his cabin in the Berkshires and demands to see her final script in just four weeks. It’s when she arrives at the cabin that she meets her fantasy man come to life, Navy SEAL and her new next-door neighbor, Vincent “Mac” MacBeth. He’s just the muse Win has been looking for.

Things get off to a rocky start when Mac saves Win’s bacon while she’s hiking in the woods and she yells at him for it. The story never quite recovers from that first initial meeting, although Donovan does write an interesting story with-in a story – showing how Win comes up with scenes for her screenplay.

Ellora’s Cave author Lora Leigh offers up the last story with “Reno’s Chance.” A tale that’s long on dominant Alpha male and hot, hot sex. Raven McIntire has always had a thing for her best friend’s brother, Navy SEAL Reno Chavez. But he also scares the heck out of her. She does not want to give her heart, body and soul to a man who may one day go on a mission and not come home. She saw what that lifestyle did to her mother. But Reno is determined to have Raven. He’s waited several long years for her to grow up – and now that she’s a woman, he’s determined to make her his.

Leigh can certainly write sex scenes, as this story boasts several of them. However readers have to be able to stomach Reno – who is the definition of bossy Alpha male. By the end of the story, one suspects that Raven has got his number and knows just how to handle him – but while she’s running scared and he’s running hot, his personality can be bit much.

All in all this is a very successful anthology. The Britton and Leigh stories are certainly the hottest, while the Alexander story is a nice change of pace, featuring down-to-Earth characters. Even a slight initial misstep by Donovan quickly recovers into a good story. This is a very strong romantica anthology, dopey title and all.

--Wendy Crutcher

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