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Length: Anthology of short stories
This anthology contains seven short stories, all connected by the theme of tattoos. I rarely read anthologies, but I really enjoyed this one. All of the stories vary in theme and style, and genres range from fantasy to paranormal to contemporary. The thing that remains consistent, however, is excellent writing across the board. I chose to review four of these stories, but the other three were also quite good. Two were not much more than a heated sexual encounter, but a sweet story about separated friends Dope and Rat would also merit a near perfect score. One of my reservations when choosing to read an anthology is that I will only enjoy some of the stories. In this case, I enjoyed them all, and there were a few that I found to be first-rate. I would highly recommend this anthology to anyone as a good way to read several excellent, diverse stories by truly talented authors.
The Frayed Line by Veronica Sloane
Rating: 5 stars
This was the perfect example of a short story done well. Jonah works for Dan, who owns a struggling convenience store. Dan knows little about him, other than his appearance shows someone who has lived a hard life, and that he has a tattoo — a black line that runs down his spine and breaks apart near the line of his jeans. Dan knows, also, that he is attracted to that tattoo and its owner. One day, Jonah gets a phone call that changes everything. He tries to run, but his past catches up to him. And Dan finds out more about Jonah than he ever thought possible.
It’s difficult to write a review of the story since there is so much that would be easy to spoil. However, taking away any elements of the plot, Veronica Sloane’s writing is impressive. She has a talent for description and paints a picture so vivid that it is easy to accept any unusual elements that she chooses to introduce. She also seamlessly melds fantasy and reality so that nothing seems out of place in the world that she has created. I enjoyed the world immensely and, while I wouldn’t hesitate to read a novel based on these characters if she chose to wrote one, this short story managed to bring an open-ended resolution, which is often so difficult to find in so few words. I loved it. It was touching, exciting and romantic, and that sexy tattoo didn’t hurt a thing.
Secrets by Michael Black
Rating: 3.75 stars
Kris Winters is a detective involved in a long-running investigation into a case of a thief who turns into a dragon in order to escape. Paranormals are not out of the ordinary in this world, so the fact that their criminal is a dragon (with a big dragon tattoo on his back in human form) isn’t making Winters frustrated — it’s that he flies away anytime they’re able to get close to him. In order to blow off some steam, Winters heads to a bar, where he meets David Parker, with whom he makes an instant connection.
This is an extremely short story, and while there is a backstory of the crime, it is mostly about two guys hooking up. There is a prospect for future romance, but it’s built upon knowing each other for just a few hours. It’s a case of love at first sight, but wait! There’s a huge obstacle standing in the way of our happily ever after. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that there wasn’t a lot of depth to the story, the chemistry is good but shallow, and their huge obstacle is not so much overcome as avoided. It’s still there, but their intense attraction to each other (after a couple of hours of sex), makes it impossible to stay apart. It’s well-written and easy to read, but don’t expect much sense or substance to this one.
Simple Instructions by Brendan Adkins and Zoe Trope
Rating: 5 stars
I loved this story. This is one of those stories that, as soon as I finished it, I searched the author’s names to see if they had published a full-length novel. There was just something about it. The rhythm of the dialogue. The battle of dominance between the two main characters. The passion simmering just below the surface until it explodes. I wanted to read more, but I also felt it was a complete as a short story. It was a beautiful little gem.
Finn is working as an intern in a law firm where he’s bossed around by Robert. He’s asked to do such interesting and challenging things as pick up his lunch and dry-cleaning. He’s annoyed by the dominant man, but also attracted to him and especially drawn to his tattoo, of which he can only see the first three words: “You do not–”. When they spend some time working on an actual case, Finn and Robert make a tentative connection, and Finn finds out why Robert acts the way that he does.
If the authors of this story are listening, please write a full-length novel for Finn and Robert. Rarely do you find this kind of combative yet tender relationship between two characters, and I’m dying to find out more about these two. This was my favorite story in the anthology.
Tramp Stamp by Julia Talbot and B.A. Tortuga
Rating: 4.5 stars
Dayne finds his high-school crush, Kirk Ryder, on a tattoo website and is desperate to get back in touch with him. It’s been twenty years, but neither of them has changed much. When Kirk decides to pay a visit to Dayne to get back at him for the hurt he caused him so many years ago, they’re both surprised that the person in front of them is mostly unchanged from the one they left behind. When they were in love so long ago, Kirk as Dayne’s “baby boy,” Dayne had a friend tattoo “Dayne’s Boy” on Kirk’s ass. As a werewolf, Dayne wanted Kirk as his mate, but Kirk was less than pleased and ran away. Dayne thought he’d lost him forever, but really that night turned out to be a life-changer for Kirk — in that he became a member of the undead. When they reunite as, what Kirk calls a “creepy ass pop culture cliche,” their passion is instantly rekindled.
The thing that I enjoyed the most about this story is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. Yes, it’s a story about a vampire and a werewolf, but it’s clever and funny and wicked. And there’s some BDSM thrown in there as well. I love a daddy/boy story when it’s done well, and this one is. This is another one of those stories that I would love to see be made into a full-length novel. The characters of Dayne and Kirk were so likable and fun to read and their interaction together was pure entertainment. It was a great way to wrap up an excellent collection of stories.