Here are the best of the Romantica e-books I read in 2006; all were published by Ellora’s Cave. Each goes beyond Burning, but some are more “beyond” than others, even those with large doses of humor. If you consider yourself curiously adventuresome and don’t mind the most explicit of language, you could probably handle the first few listed. I’ve ranked them in order of how “acceptable” they might be to romance readers. By the time you near the end of my list, unless you’re very tolerant and are willing to read stores that do have an HEA but otherwise are more Erotica than Romantica, you’d do best to skip them.

Stranded, Victoria Michaels aka Angela Knight (2004 short story…reissued in the 2005 trade anthology In Other Worlds) – A different e-book by Knight made it onto my list for last year, and like Bound by the Dream, this one has a seriously kinky sensibility (can Knight write without one?). Alexandria Kenyon is mysteriously plucked out of her life and finds herself stranded on an alien island with John Hawke, a Marine who forces her out of her vanilla existence. He’ll keep her safe, but only if she follows his instructions to a T, and wouldn’t you know it? Most of them involve her in a sexually submissive role.

Bridefight, MaryJanice Davidson (2002 short story…reissued in the 2005 trade anthology Really Unusual Bad Boys) – This is the first of three short stories involving feline shape-shifting princes from another planet, and a land known as SandLands. Pill-popping Detective Lois Commoner discovers herself in a strange land with the “magically delicious” – and naked – Crown Prince Damon, who transforms before her eyes and has her ride him back to the palace. It’s true that Lois reminded me more than once of the sarcastic Christina from the author’s The Royal Treatment, but she’s a marvelous heroine whose biting wit helps her fit into this strange new world where flowers blossom into soap, a woman’s battle scars are viewed as beautiful, footlockers wished for drop from the sky, and women are married to men without their knowledge. Oh…and the sex is terrific, too.

Spontaneous Combustion, Nicole Austin (part of the 2006 anthology Dreams of the Oasis I) – Firefighter Jake Cruise plans a night of naughtiness for his best friend Maddie. Both secretly love the other, but after this night, she’ll know how he feels about her. As far as the kink factor, gentle readers beware: Jake invites a couple of his friends to join in on the fun (so it’s triple penetration, not just double), but just this once. FYI, none of the other stories in the anthology really did it for me; of the five remaining novellas, three earned C level grades, and the other two, D’s.

Erotic Stranger, Cheyenne McCray (2006 short story) – When Josh Williams walks into a bar and spies corporate lawyer Teri Carter, he knows without a doubt that she’s a born submissive. This Dominant man offers her the night of her darkest dreams, and the result is a smokin’ hot story that somehow doesn’t seem quite as kinky as it actually is. I liked it. Other McCray recommendations include Erotic Invitation, and for the very, very, ultra-adventuresome, King of Spades and King of Diamonds, where just about anything – and everything – goes.

Hot for Santa, Lacey Alexander (2003 short story) – Amy Finnegan’s been lusting after Cole Bradshaw for weeks, ever since they started volunteering their time as Santa and elf for charity at a local mall. Though she’s worries he doesn’t see her as anything more than a friend, it all changes on Christmas Eve when she drops by his house and finds him waiting for her, wearing nothing but his Santa hat. Both Amy and Cole hope that she’s been a bad enough girl to deserve some punishment from Santa before she earns her way into his present for her. This one’s really quite playful, and good, clean/dirty fun in comparison to the author’s more darkly erotic Brides of Carolon series, which in some ways reminded me of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy.