Note! Small contest ahoy at the end of this entry!
Harlequin Enterprises is launching a new line today, Noctune: Bites (no, that is not a description of quality). “Bites” are “dark and sexy paranormal short stories,” available in eBook format. I took one for a test drive over lunch (chicken, pasta, and arugula salad with goat cheese, if you’re curious. I have a love of goat cheese that dare not speak its name) and here’s my lighting-fast hot-off-the-Notepad review.
Sunday (that’d be the girl) is an isolated rural mechanic, and a familiar – a shapeshifting cat. Dean (male) is a land agent, and a werewolf. And, in a bit of situational comedy that made me giggle-snort, Sunday and Dean are trapped in her garage after she tows his broken down truck, because it’s raining cats and dogs outside, and a live wire is down on the ground outside the garage bay doors. Dean needs to have sex that evening – the night of the full moon – to appease the wolf side of his nature lest he “wolf out” and hurt her or someone else. Sunday would love to work on his crankshaft for a few hours, except that as a familiar, her orgasms and post-coital bliss have rather negative consequences due to her paranormal abilities, along the lines of “dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria” plus some otherworldly badasses making unscheduled appearances. You get the picture.
I started my review notes by copying down some of the more absurd dialogue used by the hero in this short story. Dean has a really alarming and unnatural habit of talking to himself in complete, and awkward sentences, such as:
“What I really need is to get laid to calm the werewolf.”
Thanks for explaining that one, sir! How about another bit of awkward monologue to kick the story forward three paces? Please?
The greatest flaw that tripped me up as a reader – to the point where some of it was just comedy gold – was the dialogue, especially of the dialogue that Dean carries on with himself when he’s alone. Some of it is trite and not much like anything a human would say, shifter or otherwise. And sometimes the narration addresses the reader directly; other times it exists solidly between Sunday and Dean. Details and explanations are repeated, like the definition of “were” as part of “werewolf,” and there’s a lot of Dean thinking to himself, talking to himself, or otherwise remarking on matters at hand out loud when he’s alone.
The very cool part: when they start comparing notes on the differences in their shifting natures, and how different his experience is from hers. Their honesty is what brings them together in a short amount of time, trapped in a very small amount of space, but unlike contrived erotic situations where sex happens for really lame and flimsy reasons, the attraction between Sunday and Dean is built on both their human attractiveness, their animal senses, such as scent, and the revelations they share with each other regarding both of their hidden and dangerous identities. It is not an easy task to bring two people together under a time and space constraint such as those present in category romances. It’s even harder, I’d think, in a category short story. Hauf does an admirable job both building the tension, and building the connection between them at the same time – better, in fact, than some full-length novels I’ve read where one character Must Have Sex lest Bad Things Happen.
The first sex scene, as a result of Hauf’s deliberate effort to craft tension and attraction between them, is surprisingly risky and I’m impressed with the boundaries pushed in the very electric depiction. However, a subsequent sex scene contains the most unintentionally hilarious description of coitus I’ve read in a long time: (highlight to read)
“Flesh to flesh, the rasp of her nipples grazing his skin alternated with the giddy hug of her around his erection.” Her vagina was all, like, ‘Wheeee! Hugs for you?!’ AWESOME.
Hauf uses innovative means to sustain the sexual tension even after they’ve started spinning his lugnuts, delaying half of the pleasure and lengthening the eroticism for both the reader and the protagonists. There’s climax after climax, literally and narratively, and while the set up was a bit slow, like the oppressive air before a soaking storm, once Dean and Sunday get down to business in the flatbed of his truck (Yeah, baby!) I raced for the finish line of the story as fast as my thumb could hit the space bar. (That’s not a euphemism.)
The conclusion returns to the over-explaining dialogue to sum up how their relationship will work, sexually and emotionally, but still, I have to say, the entire interlude was satisfying. I read the whole story over my lunch hour, which was even more satisfying indeed. I can read a category in an evening, but an entire romance over lunch? Boo yah.
Wanna sample some biting short story romance action? The Nocturne: Bites line launches today, and I have five, count ‘em five coupon codes to give away. Just leave a comment, any comment, and I’ll use a random integer generator this evening to pick five happy users who will go off and enjoy their own bite of romance.