This book is a collection of four short stories by some of the most notable paranormal romance writers of the moment.
"Alpha and Omega" by Patricia Briggs
This story is part of the "Moon Called" series (with follow-up Blood Bound),
which I consider to be the best paranormal romance series currently being written. Patricia Briggs' skills in writing an interesting plot, varied characters and a fascinating supernatural element are all included in this short story, although within the significant limitations imposed by a story of just 72 pages.
Anna has been a werewolf for three years. Changed against her will, her life since then has been submission, beatings, and even being passed ‘round various male members of the pack. When she reaches the final straw after a visit from one of the more powerful werewolves she calls the Marrok, or head of the werewolves in America, to tell him about an attack on a young man, Alan Frazier (whom we met in Moon Called). Bran, the Marrok, tells Anna he will send someone to investigate and sends Charles Cornick, his son.
As soon as Charles meets Anna, he realizes that she is something special: an Omega, a kind of werewolf that acts as a calming influence on other werewolves. However, he finds that Anna has no idea about her status or about being a werewolf at all, and he starts to teach her about the werewolf rules. It soon becomes apparent that there has to be a showdown with Anna's Chicago pack, yet someone seems to also be trying to attack Anna.
Although I very much enjoyed this story, I did sometimes find the pacing a little off. There is quite a lot of buildup to the showdown, which itself happens surprisingly quickly, and the aftermath is also quickly dealt with. The earlier parts of the story seem to be told at more length with more detail. Overall, however, it is still a very enjoyable read for those who love Briggs' full-length novels.
"Inhuman" by Eileen Wilks
This is the longest story in the collection and features Kai, a woman with a secret gift for sensing thoughts and desires. Since a big event called 'The Turning' some years before, people's magical skills have become more apparent and out into the open. Kai consequently finds herself, and other magical people, occasionally feared. She knows that there's something unusual about her neighbor Nathan Hunter, but it's not until some people are killed in a strange way that she and Nathan really begin to communicate.
Nathan isn't just unusual; he's actually not human, and as the story continues he slowly reveals what he is and why he is on Earth. The more that Kai finds out about him, the more she discovers about herself; eventually she has to flee her home to avoid arrest. When in hiding with Nathan, she finally discovers who has been committing the killings and has to face her biggest danger from two different hugely powerful beings.
"Inhuman" is a really interesting read, and part of the enjoyment is in the way that Nathan and Kai's true natures are gradually revealed to the reader. The world of magical beings becomes more and more complicated, but fortunately it all seems to work well in the story. Both Nathan and Kai are appealing characters, especially the way in which Nathan explains some of his past actions and doesn't seek to conceal his true nature. It is an enjoyable story that feels quite meaty despite its short story length.
"Buying Trouble" by Karen Chance
This is an excellent story with touches of humor and real variety – it’s never clear where the plot is going but is fantastically enjoyable the whole way through.
Claire works for an auction house which deals with magical items. Her job is to protect the items and the people around them as she is a 'null,' a person who is able to damp down magical ability in others. She knows that 'nulls' are highly prized by the Fey because they can be converted into weapons - with the unfortunate side-effect of the null's death. When she spots a Fey in the auction house, she tries to escape but finds herself handcuffed to the auction platform and discovers she is one of the lots for sale - and that in the audience is her brother, who wishes her dead.
In trying to avoid the Fey and her brother, she finds herself suddenly whisked to a different world with the Fey and being chased by another clan of Fey. She and the Fey, Heidar, have to escape, and Claire finds her null abilities rather more powerful than she had thought - except on Heidar. Eventually they hide themselves in a barn, but it is there, when Claire finds herself up close and personal with Heidar, that she receives her biggest shock of all. She always knew she had a father different from her brother’s, but it becomes clear exactly what the father is.
There's a surprising amount of humor in this story. Heidar is a great character, amazingly phlegmatic as Claire proves to be more than he had initially thought, Claire is also a well-written character who finds herself having to come to terms with her parentage and what it means. The action is based both in America and the land of the Fey, and although it's a short story, it doesn't feel rushed or incomplete in any way. It's an excellent introduction to the work of Karen Chance and a very enjoyable story which works perfectly on its own.
"Mona Lisa Betwining" by Sunny
This is the shortest story in this series, and its enjoyment to an extent depends on the reader having read the other Mona Lisa books. Although we are given the backstory in somewhat big chunks, there is a lot to take on board in such a short tale, and it feels rushed. Equally, the actual story in this story is lacking - rather than having an actual plot with a beginning, middle and end, "Mona Lisa Betwining" reads more like a few linking chapters between books.
Mona Lisa is discovering that some of her actions in previous books have had more long-lasting effects on her, plus she's still trying to impart some of her human morals on those around her. In a short story, we have detailed sex scenes between Mona Lisa and two different men; Mona Lisa meets the brother of one of her ex-lovers, who brings to light a significant problem that Mona Lisa has; and she finds herself exhibiting a scary new bloodlust, but that's about it. The story isn't really wrapped up, it just requires the reader to carry on to the next book and, in that, is different from the other three stories in this anthology, which all work entirely on their own.
In summary, this is an excellent collection, with "Mona Lisa Betwining" as the weakest story but still well-written. It's a great read for fans of paranormal romances and has a higher standard of writing than is often seen in this genre.