Note: This review was written in 2011, but I’m participating in an effort to promote Jackie Barbosa’s books while she is unable to do so herself. If you would like to help Jackie in a difficult time, please consider contributing to her son’s memorial fund.
The Reiver is a short story (about 35 pages) that was originally published in The Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance (2011). I purchased the digital standalone for .99 from Circe Press via Amazon.com. Update: It is now FREE. Reivers were raiders on the borderlands between England and Scotland in the middle ages. This story is set in 1595, when Duncan, laird of Lochmorton Castle, captures a boy reiver and discovers he’s a she. He can’t let her go — it would look bad — but won’t kill her, either. He decides to allow her to live in the castle, hoping he can get some information from her. But she refuses to tell him anything, even her name:
“Let’s begin again, shall we? I am Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle, and you are…?” Silence. He tried another tack. “I’m sure your family is very concerned for your safety. Would you not like to get word to them that you’re well and in no danger?” More silence. She had the fortitude of a stone, he had to give her that. But then something happened which betrayed her. A long, low gurgle issued from the region of her belly. “Your first name, then, in exchange for your breakfast.” At that, he could almost see her salivate. She was terribly hungry, almost starved. Duncan wished he didn’t have to use her privation against her, but this was no time for an attack of conscience. Especially when she was the thief, and he was not responsible for her condition. She raised her head and thrust her chin out. “You already have my name, Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle.” His brow furrowed. He most surely did not know her name. “You said it when you first came in,” she clarified. Duncan thought back. What had he said when he’d entered the cell? Well, reiver, what have you to say for yourself? Cheeky, that’s what she was. “Reiver is not your name, and we both know it.” “Aye, well, it’s the only one you’re going to get,” she said with a shrug. The gesture drew attention to the thin, pitiful shoulders beneath the oversized linen shirt she wore. He found his gaze drawn lower, involuntarily seeking the outline of her breasts. She must have bound them, he decided. Either that or she was exceptionally small-bosomed. For some peculiar reason, the image of breasts so tiny he could encompass their entirety in his mouth flashed through his brain, bringing with it an immediate flare of lust.*
*I titled the post “erotic shorts”, but actually, I would describe the sexual content of The Reiver as “moderate”. Duncan attempts to cajole her into providing information. In the process, he falls for her. For her part, the reiver notices how happy everyone in the castle is, how handsome Duncan is, and begins to fall in love with him. Eventually they make love, and Duncan proposes marriage. But the reiver knows that she hails from a clan Duncan has sworn to hate. I liked the premise of this short story. It’s not easy, though, to write a convincing journey from mortal enemy to true love in 35 pages, and the author had to rely on a number of short cuts, such as abrupt lapses of time, and some telling rather than showing (as when the heroine realizes what a good man Duncan is by describing what she has witnessed in the castle over two months), to get through the plot. It’s best to read The Reiver as a fairy tale, hitting the dramatic notes of the journey. Lending to the fairy tale feeling is the refusal of the heroine to tell the hero her name. He asks her every day, she refuses, and he makes one up for her. It has that kind of repetition familiar from the Brothers Grimm. Readers who don’t like “Scottish romance brogue” are advised to stay away, as there are a fair amount of “kens” and “aye, lass’s.” I did enjoy setup and the straightforwardness of the hero’s feelings — no macho games playing with this guy — but ultimately, felt the time allowed was too brief for their love to be convincing.
This is a Spice Brief published just this month. Set in 1795 London, it’s the story of Lady Grace Hannington, a clumsy laughingstock, and perpetual wallflower, burdened by looks no one appreciates (tall, thin, and red haired, she’d probably make a terrific Ford model today), who is targeted as the perfect wife by two men, Atticus Stilwell and Viscount Colin Fitzgerald, who like to share their women. Never having so much as made her aquaintance, Atticus and Colin manuever Grace into a bathroom at a ball and propose to her while giving her oral sex. The reader is told that the men just can tell she’d be amenable to their proposal, but it’s not clear why. For many women of Grace’s social status, being an “old maid” would be preferable to marriage to a man whom society shuns for his unusual sexual proclivities. Excerpt:
Balancing the cup carefully in one hand, she stepped away from the table and toward the ever-growing throng of people lining the walls. Upon seeing her and noting the full glass clutched precariously between her fingers, the sensible folks parted like the Red Sea in the face of Moses. A few, however, watched without stepping aside, among them two gentleman Grace felt certain she had never seen before. If she had seen them, she surely would have remembered, for each was uniquely arresting. They stood side by side, and from a distance, one might have imagined them nearly identical in appearance. Both were tall and fit, dark-haired and strikingly handsome. But where one man had gentle brown eyes, the other had piercing blue ones. And the differences didn’t end there. Grace found her gaze drawn first to the brown-eyed man. The crease in his left cheek made him appear jolly and good-natured, a man who might be prone to easy laughter. And yet, there was an edge of danger to him, evident in the strong set of his square jaw and the slight, hawkish hook at the end of his nose. Her hand trembled as she realized his eyes were caressing her, lingering appreciatively at her lips, the curve of her neck, the swell of her breasts. A peculiar heat washed over her—not the embarrassed sort, with which she was intimately familiar, but an exciting, pleasurable, and utterly foreign sensation that settled, most outrageously, between her thighs.
But this is pure sexual fantasy, so, of course, Grace, rather than being terrified, is pretty keen on the idea. Despite having no sexual experience, she gamely receives oral sex at a ball, all kinds of foreplay (including giving oral sex) in a stranger’s formal sitting room, and double penetration on their wedding night in Gretna Green. As erotic fantasy, it is well-written, hot, and fun. Unfortunately, the word “love” gets thrown around. While, as a reader of erotic romance, I can overlook the improbable reactions a woman of no sexual experience has to very unorthodox sexual practices, it’s very hard to believe that any feelings of deeper significance would have had time to bloom. I thought both of these shorts presented interesting setups. I would like to see what this author does with more time to develop romantic relationships.