Once Upon A Pillow
by Christina Dodd & Connie Brockway
(Pocket, $12.00, R) ISBN 0-7434-3680-6
****
When I opened up my latest shipment of review books, I immediately spied the advanced copy of Once Upon a Pillow. When I first learned of this joint writing effort by two of romance's better-known authors, I was immediately chomping at the bit. I’ve always been fascinated by “writing teams” - two separate voices writing one book. There’s a lot of room for error, but it can also come off with flying colors. What Dodd and Brockway have done is come up with an interesting premise that provides the framework for a memorable anthology.

The collection opens up with the introduction of that framework. Laurel Whitney is the museum curator, house sitter, and social historian at Masterson Manor in Trecombe, England. She loves her job, showing off the manor to tour groups. Unfortunately her time is limited - the manor has been sold, and Laurel is conducting her last tour.

The tour soon finds its way into the master bedroom, where Laurel shows off the main attraction - the Masterson bed. With the hopelessly sexy handyman, Max Ashton, looking on, Laurel regales her final tour group with stories of the Masterson family, and their famous bed.

First up is Brockway’s medieval tale The Bed Is Made. Sir Nicholas No-Name travels to Trecombe, after his stint fighting in the Crusades, to inspect his holdings. What he finds is a local knight bent of challenging him at every turn, two holy men shocked to see him, and a wife he had married by proxy, and completely forgotten about.

Jocelyn Cabot is not happy to see Nicholas - the man is supposed to be dead! She had been running the lands just dandy on her own, and the last thing the village needs is another dissolute master like her late uncle. Well there’s just no way around it - she’ll have to get rid of him.

Easily my favorite of the bunch, Brockway provides nice atmosphere, and captures the corruptness of the medieval church beautifully.

Next up is Dodd’s Elizabethan offering The Bed Is Unmade. Lady Helwin is a woman no one wants. She’s a nuisance to her uncle, and despised by her cousin - so when she is kidnapped by Rion Masterson, she knows who set them up. Rion is a mercenary who has returned home to find Castle Masterson in near ruin. Having been led by cousin Bertilda into thinking she wants to be spirited away, he sets about securing his future, by kidnapping the wrong woman.

An enjoyable story, that has enough witty banter for me to overlook the fact that Helwin spends the bulk of the story cooking and cleaning.

Brockway tries her hand at a Regency in The Lady Makes Her Bed - a mixed offering due to a big misunderstanding. Philippa Jones is suspicious her younger brother is a smuggler. After she overhears a conversation between her former lover, Ned Masterson, and one of his men, she immediately takes steps to protect John. She does so by handcuffing Ned to the mammoth, seemingly unmovable Masterson bed. Ned was sent to Trecombe to stop the smuggling, keeping his mission and identity a secret from Philippa. Now he finds himself being held captive by the woman who broke his heart.

There is a lot of clever arguing in this story, but it doesn’t overshadow the fact that it all hinges on the big misunderstanding. Sure there’s chemistry and nice dialogue, but darn it - if Ned and Philippa would have communicated like adults, the story would have been much more enjoyable.

Last, but not least, is Dodd’s The Bed Wins All, which wraps up the story of Laurel and handyman Max. Seems Laurel first met Max at an antiques auction and quickly succumbed to a one-night stand. When chivalrous Max finds out that he deflowered Laurel, he quickly, and poorly, proposes marriage. Insulted, Laurel tries to forget the man, only to learn that he has secured the handyman job by the new owners - whose identity is still a mystery.

I like Laurel, and even though Max’s moral code is strictly 19th century, I liked him as well. There’s also some stuff tossed in about modern day smugglers, and the inevitable big secret that Max is hiding.

While the Regency story ranked in three-heart territory, I found the others solid four hearts. Both authors have a knack for interesting characters, witty banter, and steamy love scenes, which makes their inaugural joint writing venture an enjoyable experiment. Coupled with the unique Masterson bed framework, this anthology reads like a complete story, as opposed to a disjointed collection of separates floating aimlessly between the pages. Here’s hoping the authors continue their friendship, and their long-distance telephone conversations.

--Wendy Crutcher


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