Beyond Innocence

Beyond Seduction

Catching Midnight

Personal Assets by Emma Holly
(Berkley, $12.00, NC-17) ISBN 0-425-19371-3
Originally only offered to Venus Book Club subscribers, Emma Holly dusts off Personal Assets for the romance market.

Beatrix Clouet is an heiress and struggling painter. Her barracuda mother is dead and her stepfather, who is actually closer in age to Bea, is now running the family business. Meilleurs Amis (French for best friends) is a very exclusive chain of boutiques catering to the rich and snooty. However, what prays on Bea’s mind is the smoldering attraction she has for her stepfather, Philip Carmichael. Turns out the attraction isn’t all that one-sided, and the two are soon exploring it as early as page 12.

Lela Turner is Bea’s best friend. She’s contented herself flitting from one career to the next while playing the role of good time girl. However, she is wearying of this lifestyle and convinces Philip to give her a job at the floundering New York store. It is while she is there, that she meets Simon Graves, the CEO of a mid-scale department store chain. The two quickly begin a torrid affair, but what will happen when Lela learns that Simon is interested in acquiring Meilleurs Amis? And will Bea and Philip be able to hook up without causing a scandal among the Parisian elite?

Personal Assets is comparable to Holly’s erotic Black Lace titles. While the sex scenes are a bit more staggered, there’s still plenty of kink to be had. Both Bea and Lela have some fun prior to meeting our heroes, and vice versa. Also there are instances where more than two people are partaking in pleasure. Nothing is ever just insert tab A into slot B in an Emma Holly novel.

Believe it or not, there is actually a plot here outside of the wall-to-wall sex. Holly juggles two romances, although admittedly one is more successful than the other. Philip’s vast age difference to Bea’s mother actually helped me get over the initial ick factor to his relationship with Bea. They are very close in age, and that the two of them would be attracted to each other does make sense. However, I’m ultimately unconvinced of their true love because Bea has major Mommy issues. Evangeline could be in the running for the Worst Mean Mama In Romance Novel Land award, which casts a shadow of revenge over Bea’s sexual shenanigans with Philip.

The romance between Lela and Simon really sells the $12.00 sticker price on this book (Well, that and the hot sex. Have I mentioned the sex?). Lela is an orphan and bounced from one foster home to another her whole life. Still, she has managed to make something of herself, but outside of Bea, she has no one. Simon too was an orphan, although he was fortunate enough to be adopted into a loving home. He’s all work and no play when he first meets Lela, but quickly falls head over heels. Watching these two fall in love and work through their baggage was quite satisfying.

As a word of caution, the ending isn’t entirely neat and pretty. Oh sure, the author gives her main couples their required happily-ever-afters – but there is a development involving a secondary character that gives the finale a bittersweet quality.

For Holly fans who dig her Black Lace repertoire, Personal Assets is really a must read. It has a lot of the same earmarks, and is definitely one of the more steamy books you’ll find shelved in the romance section. For the uninitiated, this may be a good place to start to satisfy your curiosity. Just be warned, the sex here is plentiful, steamy, and vastly different from what is typically found in a conventional romance novel.

With future re-releases coming of some of her Black Lace books, Emma Holly and Berkley seem poised to drag erotic fiction into the mainstream. This reviewer can hardly wait to see how it all unfolds; somehow I doubt the romance industry will ever be the same.

--Wendy Crutcher

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