Hot Chocolate by Suzanne Forster, Lori Foster, Elda Minger
& Fayrene Preston
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12452-4
****
Sixteen hearts. That's my rating for Hot Chocolate. Really, it's simple math. Four stories, each with a four-heart rating, equal sixteen. This anthology is advertised as "sweet, steamy and very satisfying." Considering that chocolate is the fifth major food group, this anthology has an added health bonus. It will certainly get your heart pumping and exercise your facial muscles, alternating between grins and smiles.

Chocolate is the theme which ties all the stories together. In Suzanne Forster's "Not Abigail!," hot chocolate is used as a love potion. Abigail Hastings is billionaire Max Gallagher's Man Friday . . . um, Person Friday? and as such assures that his life runs smoothly. As competent as she is, even she's flummoxed when he dictates his to-do list for the day. "I'll need a prospectus on Intel, their current price-earnings ration, a couple of aspirins and a wife." Seems that Max has made a bet with his best friend that he'll have the perfect wife in two weeks. Abigail does everything else for him, so he sees his request as perfectly logical.

What Max doesn't know is that Abby is in love with him. With the help of Mavis, a wonderfully charming secondary character, Max and Abby come to realize that the perfect woman is right under his nose. Mavis is going to save the day with her Gramma Swan's luv potion. In this case, the power of suggestion works wonders.

One of the many belly laughs comes from Mavis describing how a man's life is dictated by his 'male member', a wonderful euphemism. "Poor babies have to play the mine-is-bigger-than-yours game all their lives." I've left off the best lines, which follow this. You'll be in for a laugh as Mavis espouses her philosophies.

"Tangled Sheets" by Lori Foster treats us to a woman who resorts to a deception in order to get the courage to seduce her man. Boutique owner Sophie Sheridan lusts over hunk-and-a-half bar owner Cole Winston. She thinks that Cole regards her as just one of the many people who enjoy his company. What she doesn't know is that Cole has been fantasizing about her, too. He's mesmerized by her gentle demeanor and the way she drinks her hot chocolate. What her tongue does to the whipped cream might be illegal in some states.

Deciding that she's tired of being a virgin, Sophie dreams up a way to seduce Cole. She'll pretend to have a twin, a twin who's sophisticated, sexy and seductive. At first Cole falls into her trap, but soon discovers that Sophie and Shelly are one in the same.

What could have turned into a farce in the hands of a less talented author becomes a tender love story with sensuous overtones. Lori Foster has the preeminent ability to write love scenes that are both fun and provocative. Just imagine whipped cream and all its uses.

Elda Minger's "Buried in Her Heart" is the most gentle of the stories. Chicago lawyer Abby Sheridan is in Los Angeles, attending a law conference accompanied by her trusty sidekick, her Chihuahua Yoda. Through mixed-up reservations Abby finds herself staying at a charming ocean front B&B. Abby is approaching burnout. She's twenty-nine, hates her job and if she had her druthers, would love to be a chef. Serendipity plays a big role here. Also staying at the B&B is restaurateur Jack Hayes, who's looking for a chef. Here the chocolate theme takes the form of a chocolate convention. Imagine attending seminars on the history of chocolate, one-of-a-kind chocolate cookies, gourmet hot chocolate drinks, chocolate ice cream and other delicious topics.

Abby is honest with Jack about her job dissatisfaction and isn't surprised when he offers her a job. She is a little surprised at how fast their attraction is developing and becoming important to both of them. Will her need for security prevent her from grabbing her dreams?

Cat and dog lovers will enjoy a secondary plot involving Yoda and a rescued kitty. Seeing Jack's tender care as he saves the kitty made me realize that this man was very special indeed.

The final story is Fayrene Preston's "Ecstasy," named for the fudge sold at Brenna Woods' café. It's so delicious that several big food conglomerates have offered her big bucks to buy her recipe. She's refused all offers, but Hayden Garrett is known for his tenacity. After seeing Brenna, he wants the recipe and her. This sexy tycoon is used to getting what he wants.

The catalyst occurs when Brenna's house and café are maliciously vandalized. When Hayden realizes that someone is willing to play hardball to get Brenna's recipe, he discovers that his feelings for this lovely woman go beyond the business arena.

Of all the stories, "Ecstasy" was the weakest, simply because Hayden seems to be manipulating his encounters with Brenna just to get her recipe. Seducing her is important but is it only in conjunction with getting the recipe. His hero's status is less apparent than with the other three heroes.

Hot Chocolate offers four delectably different stories, sort of a Whitman's Sampler at its finest. I saw a T-shirt in a candy shop with the saying, "I'd give up chocolate, but I'm not a quitter." With Hot Chocolate, there's no need to give up chocolate. Here it's nonfattening, delicious and satisfying. Indulge all you want.

--Linda Mowery


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