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(Two Hunting Love stories, novella length erotic romance stories, released by Samhain on April 15th, 2008 — four down and two to go! *waving at Angela James and the WriteMinded ladies)

The Wallflower, by Dana Marie Bell

This novella is the first in Ms Bell’s Halle Puma trilogy, short and fast paced paranormal romances, and also my introduction to her work. The Wallflower grabbed me from the first page, it’s just so much fun! The dialogue is so brisk and Emma such as smart aleck, I was laughing pretty much all the way through.

From Samhain, the usual warning: this title contains explicit sex, graphic language, loads of giggles and a hot, blond Alpha male. (I just adore their warnings, don’t you?)

Is Emma ready for a bite?

Emma Carter has been in love with Max Cannon since high school, but he barely knew she existed. Now she runs her own unique curio shop, and she’s finally come out her shell and into her own.

When Max returns to his small home town to take up his duties as the Halle Pride’s Alpha, he finds that shy little Emma has grown up. That small spark of something he’d always felt around the teenager has blossomed into something more—his mate!

Taking her “out for a bite” ensures that the luscious Emma will be permanently his.

But Max’s ex has plans of her own. Plans that don’t include Emma being around to interfere. To keep her Alpha, Emma must prove to the Pride that she has what it takes to be Max’s mate.

I love Emma unreservedly—she’s smart mouthed and independent and while perhaps a bit hard on herself on the looks part, she still made me laugh every time she opened her mouth. The dynamic between Emma and her friend Becky vis a vis Livia and Belinda, self appointed queen bees during high school and whose animosity towards the two friends is just as intense these many years later, was perfectly portrayed. There are people who don’t quite grow up, after all.

Max, on the other hand, is slightly less interesting on his own. The Alpha of the Halle Pumas, as well as one of the town’s doctors (and may I say how much I love that he’s an optometrist? originality, it be good), he plays straight man to Emma’s comedienne during most of the story, keeping the reader in stitches. For example…

Max is trying to find out who (and when) hurt Emma, and getting pretty much nowhere. After a particularly angry demand for an answer:

“Wow,” Emma breathed. “I’ve heard of that, but never actually seen it.”
He looked at her quizzically out of the corner of his eye. “Seen what?”
“You actually talked through clenched teeth. I didn’t think anyone really did that, you know?” (p39)

The world building is done with broad strokes; the Pumas coexist with the humans, who remain completely oblivious to the paranormal goings-on, and while they rarely indulge, they can turn humans through their bite. Males mark their mates also through a bite, but it does have a *ahem* different connotation and context. Interestingly, both Max and Simon, his best friend and Beta (aka second in command) were turned by the previous Alpha.

There is, of course, a final confrontation between Emma and the Wicked Witch of the West… erm… Livia 😀 which confirms to the entire Pride that Max’s choice was a wise one—and sets the stage for the next title, Sweet Dreams, Simon and Becky’s story.

The Wallflower gets a 7.5 out of 10

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Treasure Hunting, by J.B. McDonald

If memory serves**, this story is my introduction to Ms McDonald’s writing, and I have to say, what a fun, fun story! Or rather, what an absolutely delightful character! Meg Westfield is one of the most honest characters I’ve come across. Yes, she’s also just a tad insane, but really, considering what she’s just about to take on, insanity is pretty much the minimum requirement. Besides, it’s not lunacy, is… quirkiness. Yeah, that sounds better.

So, without further ado, here’s the always delightful warning from Samhain: this work contains graphic m/f sex, bad language, and terrible humor. (I disagree on the humor, obviously, as I laughed consistently through the story)

Can love tame a jaguar god?

A good tromp through the jungle fending off giant bugs and hunting for long-lost ruins in South America is exactly Meg’s idea of a great vacation. She takes the sudden appearance of a wounded jaguar in stride, thinking it’ll make an interesting story. But when she wakes up to find a man in place of a cat, she wonders who’s going to believe it!

Santiago has learned the hard way that he and human women just don’t mix. When you can change into an animal at will, it tends to upset people. But despite his best intentions, he finds himself falling hard for the little blonde who saved his life.

It’ll take a leap of faith-and of love. Or this treasure will slip through his fingers.

Meg Westfield is a sociology professor who happens to be… well, not quite what most people in her life would want her to be. She’s not staid, sensible or placid. Instead, she spends her teaching time counting the days off until she can go haring off, looking for ruins in the jungles of South America**** So when a wounded jaguar turns out to be a wounded shifter, she takes it pretty much in stride.

Until, on the way to finding help for his injury, some men with guns rob them and threaten to take her, and after a mad dash on the back (or front?) of a half turned man jaguar, she indulges in a fit of hysterics. After that and some sleep, things look up in the morning. *ahem* Indeed.

Anyway, I loved the dialogue, particularly when Meg talks to herself—in her head or otherwise. For example:

She’d just had sex with a man in a tree. And while that was alarming enough, she’d done it without a condom, and without even asking about disease. Now she was going to go home and have an HIV baby. And her parents would never let her hear the end of it. Not, at least, until she died a slow horrible death of tuberculosis and AIDs. Of all the stupid…

A glass completely empty kind of gal, isn’t she? 😀

The world building is sketchy, which works very well because it allows the story to be about the characters and their reactions to each other, instead of long exposition about things that are, at best, peripheral to the story. Of course, it also leaves some huge, gaping questions for me to ponder, but Meg and Santiago’s story is complete in itself, tied prettily with a bow.

Seriously, this is really neat little story, with my main complaint being that’s it’s so short******, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Ms McDonald’s work.

Treasure Hunting gets 8 out of 10

** (big if, obviously, ask Ms Marie Harte *head desk*)

**** (large pet peeve: the Aztecs were in Central Mexico—North America, geographically speaking; the Olmecs and Mayans were in the Gulf/Yucatán Peninsula area and south through Central America)

****** (other than my humongous pet peeve above, of course)

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Both of these stories are available from Samhain