Exposed: A Romance Anthology
I’m familiar with – correction – I’m a fan of quite a few of the nine authors included in the Exposed: A Romance Anthology, and from the moment I heard about this collaboration on social media, I wanted to review it. Each of the Exposed novellas centers around a principal character – one of the sexiest Top 30 Under 30 men – who’s agreed to pose naked in the ‘Expose Yourself To A Good Book’ charity calendar. There’s something for every contemporary romance fan here – and the variety is one of the anthology’s strengths. The writing is uniformly strong and I enjoyed nearly all the stories, but because reviewing every story in depth is impractical, I’m going to concentrate on the ones I’d rate most highly. My favorites were Natural Enemies by Roan Parrish, and Thrown Off Track by new-to-me author Tamsen Parker. Honestly, the only major misstep is Wishing by Karen Booth, which features a famous rock star and a woman hoping for a fresh start. Neither stays true to themselves (she’s done with musicians; he’s done with flings) and their “romance” is crude, lacks subtlety, and isn’t sexy or steamy.
Many of the novellas are loosely linked to other books by these authors (I’ve added quite a few to my towering TBR list), but all work as standalones.
Thrown Off Track by Tamsen Parker
I love a great friends-to-lovers story. Toss in some unrequited love and a bewildered hero, and well, be still my heart. Thrown Off Track stars Teague and Christian, bassist and drummer for License to Game, a band that appears in an earlier Parker novel. I was a bit lost when the story opened, but fully on board for the HEA.
Teague has a robust sex life. As bassist for a popular rock band, he’s never lacked for partners – male or female – but hasn’t felt a connection with any of them. When Thrown Off Track begins, he’s spent the night with yet another woman and needs a ride home. He calls Christian, his best friend, to pick him up. Christian loves Teague and it’s painful to watch his friend flit from partner to partner. But he’ll do anything for him, so when he calls and asks for a ride, he picks him up.
When the band is asked to participate in a charity calendar to celebrate literacy, Christian – who usually lets other band members take the lead in decision making, convinces the band to participate. He’s the last to arrive for the shoot, and when Teague catches sight of his friend naked, he can’t look away. He wants him. Badly. Christian lights him up in a way he’s never, ever experienced, but he’s confused by his new feelings. His physical hunger for Christian shocks and startles him; and it’s a delight to watch the two of them transition from friends to lovers. Teague has never found the right label for his sexuality and Christian doesn’t know exactly what Teague is – but he’s the right person to help him figure it out. He’s a patient, kind, and sympathetic lover/friend.
I loved Teague – he’s like a big, gentle giant who stumbles and bumbles his way into love – and Christian is his perfect match. He gets Teague – that this is new to him, that this isn’t typical for him, that this relationship is unique – and he doesn’t push him for more than he’s ready to give. There’s a secondary plot and final twist that nearly sabotages Teague and Christian’s fledgling relationship, but it works in the context of the story and this relationship, and absolutely enhances the final HEA.
Different, special, romantic…mI can’t wait to catch up with these two again.
Natural Enemies by Roan Parrish
My favorite of the collection, Natural Enemies, is a bittersweet, sexy and satisfying opposites attract love story that takes all the best things about Ms. Parrish’s writing – terrifically sexy partnerships, smart dialogue, vivid settings – and mixes them up in a charming and unique love story that’s truly special. I’m smiling just thinking about it.
Stefan Albermarle is a botanist. He’s focused, driven, and buttoned up. If that means he’s a bit lonely, well, it’s a necessary sacrifice to achieve his goals. But when a spiteful colleague emails him a link to an article in Time Out New York about ‘30 Under 30: Rising Stars in NYC,’ his life changes. (For the better – but he doesn’t know it yet).
Scrolling through the article, a photo catches his attention, and the accompanying blurb about twenty-eight year old Milo Rios sets his heart racing. Stefan desperately tries to quiet the voice in his head telling him he wasn’t good enough to be picked, and he resolves to pay Milo a visit.
The picture of Milo that caught Stefan’s eye – a candid shot with Milo’s curly hair in a riot with a huge grin on his face – perfectly captures the man. Easygoing, big hearted and warm, Milo is beloved by his loyal staff, friends and strangers alike, but on this day he’s growing increasingly pissed at the stuffy – but hot – man on his tour who seems determined to ruin his day.
After their disastrous first meeting, Stefan returns to apologize for being such a dick, and Milo can’t help falling for him. Their chemistry is off the charts, the sex is explosive, and Stefan’s transformation is a sight to behold. But Stefan likes routine, his work and his goals, and when Milo oversteps – assuming he knows how Stefan should live his life – the relationship founders. It’s heartbreaking for Milo. For Stefan. And for us.
I hope you discover this sweet gem of a story – and I won’t spoil all the little details that make it so special. Suffice it to say, their eventual reconciliation is swoony, romantic and pitch perfect. Ms. Parrish hits only high notes in Natural Enemies. It’s terrific.
Exposed exposed me to great writing by new-to-me authors and old favorites. I loved the diversity in the story telling and the principal characters. With nine stories I would have expected a few duds, but Exposed is that rare anthology that’s strong from start to finish with only one exception. I hope these authors collaborate again – soon!
**Please note that Kate Likes Girls by Amy Jo Cousins was not included in my review copy.