I tend to bristle a bit when the romance genre is described as "escapist." Given enough time, all books (be they fiction or nonfiction) can be described as "escapist." Plus, as any fan of romance will and can tell you - there are many subtle shades of "escapism." If Dark Side Of Dreaming, the latest novella by Ann Bruce were an escapist color, it would probably be fuschia. Or maybe neon green. This is a story you read on the beach, or on the deck of a cruise ship, while nursing a drink that the bartender, required by law, has to garnish with a tiny paper umbrella.
Cleo Moran, former professional cat burglar, has come out of retirement to steal a statue. Not just any statue, but one that she feels is responsible for a host of problems that has plagued the women in her family for generations. Unfortunately her skills were rustier than she thought, and after being knocked unconscious, she wakes up tied to Alexander "Sasha" Michaels' bed. Seriously, we women (and gay men) should all be so lucky.
Sasha needs Cleo's help in tracking down the man who attacked his sister - and the statue is at the heart of the matter. However he did not plan on the sizzling sexual attraction that practically bounces off the walls every time he's near her. He also didn't plan on the man who hurt is sister returning, this time settings his sights on Cleo.
So we have a former cat burglar now out of retirement, and a mysterious hero with rumored shadowy underworld connections. Yeah, this requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Readers unwilling or unable to do that? This story is not going to go over so well, especially coupled with the reason why Cleo wants that statue. Yep, we have woo-woo. Now, as someone who is beyond over anything remotely paranormal-y, let me assure you - this aspect of the story is handled with a very light touch. It's not pervasive. It doesn't overwhelm the story. It's a very minor issue. And interestingly enough, I found that disappointing.
As a romantic suspense story, this one feels a bit thin. Mostly, I suspect, because it's a novella. There's quite a bit that I wanted more of here. More of the bad guy. More of Cleo's past. More of why she needed that statue. And a lot more of Sasha's motives and actions. A few more chapters, a bit more meat on the bone, and this could have been a suspense thread I really could have sunk my teeth into. As is though, I found it lacking.
Now, all that said, if you're looking for an erotic romance (Which, hello? Ellora's Cave ebook here), this is where the story cooks. The chemistry between Sasha and Cleo is immediate, electric, sizzling and hot. There's passion, there's intensity, there are sex scenes that literally peel wallpaper. Also the relationship aspect of this story ends on a believable note (no marriage proposal and no heroine knocked up with triplets in final chapter), which is fitting for a story featuring two characters who are, how shall I say this?, living in a moral gray area.
So there you have it. If you're looking for a smokin' hot erotic romance? This is good stuff. It's a quick, sexy read that screams "Beach Read!" However, if you're hungry for an involved, intense, romantic suspense novel? Yeah, this novella is a bit like Chinese food. It's tasty, but you'll be hungry again an hour later.
Final Grade = B-
This story can be purchased via Ellora's Cave.