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What happens in Vegas, anthology by Jodi Lynn Copeland, Anya Bast, Lauren Dane and Kit Tunstall.

The universe seems to be determined to show me how wrong I’ve been in avoiding short stories, by shoving some really good ones in front of me. Mind you, no complaints from this corner. What happens in Vegas is the first erotic stories anthology from Spice Books.

Behind closed doors, the real games begin…
Winning it big. That’s the name of the game at Las Vegas’ Liege Hotel and Casino, where the hottest fantasies hinge on a roll of the dice… and the tantalizing knowledge that anything could happen before sunrise.

Each story is around a hundred pages long—well under my usual comfort zone—and while some missed the mark with me, a couple hit it dead center. Bear in mind, as always, that what bothered me may very well be what other readers like best about each story. So, without further ado, here are the reviews. (I included the short blurbs from the back cover for each story in its review.)

“Hot for you” by Jodi Lynn Copeland

Cocktail waitress Carinna wants a man to tie her up, not tie her down. Little does she know that her most willing partner yet has something else planned for this fiery Latina bombshell.

A quick summary: Carinna and Jake have been best friends since childhood, until one fateful night four months prior to the story, when they fall in bed. Jake panics and leaves, Carinna is more upset about it that she’d like to be, since she a) is commitment phobic, and b) only wants to have her close friendship with him back.

Ms Copeland uses a new-to-me technique for this story: first person voice from both protagonists, alternating the point of views from both hero and heroine while moving the plot along seemed very fresh and interesting to me. Furthermore, the underlying story felt rather sweet to me—he knows he wants forever with her, she only wants friendship (perhaps with some fringe *cough* benefits) and doesn’t want to hurt him.

I had three issues with this story, though. First, the word choices through most of the intimate scenes put me off as being a bit too crude. I don’t consider myself to be prudish and, with one marked exception, it’s not the (sexual) actions described that bothered me, but the words used to describe them. Second, the exception: there is one particular incident, near the end, that yanked me even further out of the story. For me, it crossed the line between consent and violence, and completely colored my take of the story as a whole. Third and last, much is made of Carinna’s issues with relationships and trust, yet it would seem that she overcomes them pretty much from one moment to the next in the ending.

All in all, this one missed me completely—without that one scene, the grade would have been considerable higher. This one is 4 out of 10 for me.

“Stripped” by Lauren Dane

Dahlia is a burlesque dancer with a brain for business and a bod for sin. Her latest admirer may be a sweet-talking Casanova, but despite what he thinks she’s not giving anything away free.

Dahlia is a working class, small town girl with ambition and the determination to go places. In business, she has confidence and a sense of self-worth. In her personal life, though, she is insecure, marked by experiences with men who have thought her nothing more than a trophy.

Nash comes from a wealthy family; both his brother and his mother are quite the snobs, fixated on social class and financial worth. He is the exception, working hard at earning his own money, instead of living off a trust fund. While his attraction to Dahlia seems very natural to him, it’s his feelings for her that surprise him—and his inner dialogue endeared him to me. At one point, he and Dahlia exchange presents:

“Good God, she’d made him a shirt. Made it with her own hands and creativity. Crap, his presents didn’t even compare to her thought and effort. He was a fortunate man.”

I really liked the fact that, despite the short page count (just over a hundred) this story covered several months in the protagonists’ relationship. Since the hero and heroine meet on the first couple of pages, it made it that much easier for me to believe that they would be able to work on their issues enough that, by the end of the story, a future together was not only possible, but very much likely.

Still, there’s a lot of time and events and day to day things happening in six months to pack in such a small space, so there are moments when I felt I was being told what the characters felt, rather than shown. Then there would be a scene, a moment, when the characters felt something so intensely, and Ms Dane expressed it so beautifully, that it touched me very deeply.

This one hit most of the right buttons for me. 7 out of 10.

“Red-Handed” by Kit Tunstall

Meanwhile, Amy has the perfect plan to rob the Liege Casino blind… until the intimidating owner catches her red-handed. Now she knows she’s going to pay… with both pleasure and pain.

Amy is caught by casino security while helping her cousin cheat, and won’t give him up. Roan, son of the owner of the casino, agrees to be repaid in trade—Amy will become not his mistress but his submissive for six weeks, and the debt will be considered cleared.

Without any sort of conversation or previous knowledge, Roan knows everything there is to know about what makes Amy tick—sexually—and he’s never wrong. Pain, bondage, exhibitionism. Whatever he does to her, she craves more.

I have a lot of issues with this setup—there’s only so far I can suspend my disbelief, and this story is set well beyond that line. Nothing from Amy’s reactions—physical or emotional—to Roan’s motivations rang true to me. The entire thing was much too contrived.

This one missed me by a mile; it missed me so badly, it’s a 2 out of 10.

“The Deal” by Anya Bast

Professional shill Cassidy is ready to experience a breathless rendezvous with her “friend with benefits.” But when he proposes five delicious nights of sexy blackjack, the stakes have never been so high.

Before the story begins, Cassidy has been jilted at the altar. It is the best man, James, who offers her the moral support and friendship she needs to pick herself up and keep going. In the year since, they have become the best and most intimates of friends, sharing dreams, worries, and every day things. What Cassidy doesn’t know is that James has always had a thing for her—and even he is surprised at how deep those feelings run.

It may sound strange to say this of an erotic story, but “The Deal” is a sweet romance. I really liked how the deep level of friendship between the two main characters is established within a couple of pages, because that made it much easier to follow and believe the changes in their relationship.

At just under one hundred pages, and with the action encompassing less than a week, this story just wouldn’t have worked as a romance without the prior friendship between Cassidy and James. The way it is written, though, I had absolutely no problem seeing how close they are from page one.

I really liked this one. 7.5 out of 10.

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