Taken by Surprise
by Susan Johnson, Thea Devine & Katherine O’Neal
(Brava, $15.00, NC-17) ISBN 1-57566-816-5
Sometimes love comes from unexpected people or situations. In Taken By Surprise, an anthology by three stars of erotic romance, this is just what happens. “From Russia with Love,” by Susan Johnson, tells the story of Tatania, a Russian noblewoman given to Prince Igor by Tsar Ivan as a reward for his service. Igor is a brutal, cruel man who is unimpressed with Tatania, but craves the vast estates that come with her. As soon as she’s pregnant, he sends her back to her home, and after she has a daughter rather than the son he wanted, orders her exile to continue. Tatania doesn’t tell his messenger, but she is delighted at the news. She loves her home and her daughter and has no desire to go back to court.

Only days later she meets Stavr Birov, a tall, blond, handsome mercenary soldier who’s been awarded the land adjoining hers because of his successes on the battlefield. He knows he should not be attracted to a married woman, but is certain Igor wouldn’t have taken the time and trouble to awaken Tatania’s sensuality, and her innocent openness attracts him immediately. She is just as attracted to him, so full of light and life, and so different from her dark, cold husband. Before the summer is over, they are deeply in love and Stavr is talking of marriage.

Johnson’s writing is lush and sensual as she describes the exotic setting and characters, drawing the reader into the magical world Tatania and Stavr create for themselves. Secondary characters provide different perspectives on the two lovers, and Igor’s brutality and self-conceit stand in stark contrast to their love. This is a short but satisfying read that allows the reader to explore some of the boundaries of sensual pleasure.

Thea Devine’s “Her Lord and Master”, set in London during the 1800s, pits a world-weary, dissolute rake against the most reserved and purest young women of the ton with startling results. It begins with a drunken challenge. The Earl of Wick’s friends will find three untouched beauties who are eager to wed, and he will relieve them of their innocence as his friends watch. One will wed him, giving him the heir he must have, after which he will be free to go back to his debauched ways. But Jenise Trowbridge is in the game not for the chance to wed the Earl, but for revenge. Her sister was taken by and then rejected by the Earl, leaving her practically a recluse. So the sexual games begin, with none of the players as cognizant of the others’ motives as they think they are. Who will end up in control is more in doubt than any of them imagine.

Devine’s characters each have their own agendas, and the three virgins play off each other beautifully. The seduction scenes are intensely, richly sensual, as the lovers try to out do each other. A mesmerizing read that explores who really holds the power in a sexual relationship.

“Erotic Déjà vu” by Katherine O’Neal explores the idea of soul mates reincarnated to play out their story over and over until they are able to create their happy ending. The forces trying to keep them apart help create a tension that crackles with sexual excitement as they draw together and apart in a dance of attraction with a dark edge of danger.

Lady Celia Wybourne, a widow since she was twenty, is a world traveler and the author of many scandalous romance novels, each featuring a dark, dangerous, sexy hero who ravishes the innocent heroine and turns her into a vibrant, sensual woman. But no one knows Celia’s secret - that she is actually writing out her dreams, and describing the incredibly sexual and sensual man who haunts them. On a trip to Gibraltar, she looks down from her hotel room to find that man come to life, and standing in the garden below her. It is only after they meet and begin to share their secrets that they realize how far they have come to be together, and how much further their journey can take them, if they have the courage to trust each other and their love.

Three novellas sent in the 1800s that explore passion, sensuality, sexuality, and the mystery that is attraction and lust and finally love - Taken by Surprise is well worth a read.

--Joni Richards Bodart

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