Not sure why it took so long to write this up, except there seemed to always be one more thing to do. Also, even though I ended up only wanted to write about Meljean Brook's "Falling for Anthony," I felt as if I at least needed to finish all the other stories in Hot Spell first. I didn't enjoy them so much, and therefore they took longer to read.
Then, when I started this review, I ended up doing a long post simply on what makes me crazy about the paranormal heroes I've run into so far. I intended it as a "parking lot" exercise, but in writing that I discovered a better way of describing what it is I like about Anthony's story. However, writing all of that took time. Poor, patient Anthony, waiting for his praise.
First of all, like Cindy, I never would have bought this book if it were not for Meljean's blog. I'm just that oblivious to romance buzz that I have not read any of the other authors, although I had heard of Shiloh Walker and Emma Holly. Second, I almost never read anthologies, unless it includes one minor character from another series I've already delved into. (I think Holiday of Love was the last anthology I read (1994?), and that was only for Arnette Lamb's Hark, The Herald! story--I bought it in spite of including a Jude Deveraux. How the mighty have fallen--there's nothing like an autobuy author who becomes completely incompetent to incite the wrath of a fangirl scorned.)
So, now I've read the other stories, none of which I liked, and I'm back to only focusing on Meljean Brook's. I'm glad I spent the extra money to buy the entire anthology, if only for this story, because I probably wouldn't have bothered with a paranormal anthology the first place. But to have missed out on Anthony? That would have been sad.
I find that short romances have the problem of:
"Hello! I hardly know your name, but I have to say, you're fine!"
"Why, thank you!"
"I feel an overwhelming urge to take you against this wall."
"Why, thank you!"
"Let's get married and live happily ever after."
"Oh my! Such a sudden turn of events. Dither. Dither. Dither. Ehhh, OK."
"Why, thank you!"
"Falling for Anthony" includes in its set-up that Anthony has grown up admiring the lovely Emily. Anthony is about to reluctantly head off to the Napoleonic wars, and feels the need to hide for a moment in his friend's study. (He considers curling up with a copy of Paradise Lost, which I though was a "droll" touch.) He is startled to find Emily beating up her father's mantelpiece with a family sword which has been lying around for years. After talking to Anthony for a moment about how disillusioned she is with her family, she takes out her frustration and anger by hopping onto Anthony's lap and forcibly seducing him. (Really good scene--made all the better by the way Brook shows the reader in the previous conversation how much they both admire, or even love, each other.)
Anthony hies off to war, where he encounters a....Well, how many spoilers do you want in this thing, anyway? Let's just say it's a paranormal being. Anthony is near death when he is offered the choice to either die or to become a Guardian. They look like angels (Hey! That can't be a spoiler--it's on the cover of the book!), but are more accurately immortal beings who are charged with protecting humans from demons and such. They cannot return to Earth until after everyone they know has died, since it is such a temptation to revert back to the life you once led.
There's not much time in this world, Caelum, but Brook sets up a complete and intriguing universe here. The secondary characters are wonderful, the descriptions are poetic. I love to read about Anthony flying.
Anthony is charged to come back to Earth before he is ready, specifically to guard Emily. It is simply wonderful to read what follows.
The best romances are about two people who are desperate for each other but who have to struggle to be together. They also need to change somewhat over the course of their relationship in order to convincingly resolve to be together by the end. Well, one of these characters happens to have died, so that's something of an impediment. To have an old family friend who died in the wars suddenly show up in the country manor house would startle the servants, so Anthony and Emily not only have to stay together to keep her safe, but also they have to stay in the same bedroom. Lordy, he's powerful, protective, nurturing, and smart, and she's forced to stay in the same room with him. Tough luck there, huh? The sex is great, forceful and tender, but the conversations Anthony and Emily share are really the best part of their relationship. They reach out to each other, shifting their views just enough to be believable, and convincingly meet at the close of the story.
For me, that's the fantasy I look for when I start a romance. I want to feel that connection grow emotionally. I want to hear the characters admit to each other what we in real life never get around to saying to our partner, whether out of embarrassment or fear of rejection. Transcendental sex is, of course, part of that fantasy, but the parts I remember or repeat in the shower to myself, are the parts of loving conversations where one character reveals his or her flaws, or needs, in the full uncompromising view of the other. Usually in a short story, this deeper level of conversation never happens and the romance feels stilted. Yet "Falling for Anthony" really succeeds in this area.
Then there's the added bonus that both main characters are endangered by not one, but two paranormal beasts. The secondary characters continue to intrigue, and I'm looking forward to the imminent sequel. There's action and danger, along with the very real problem of how to stay together as a couple if one half happens to be immortal, or dead, depending on your perspective.
After reading "Falling for Anthony," I rushed along to read the other stories in Hot Spell, eager to find better stories by more accomplished authors. One was just confusing, and all were a disappointment in comparison. In each of the other stories I never had the satisfaction of listening in on those conversations which built the romance beyond, "Hey! You've got a body! I LIKE that!" (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)