Before I became a romance and children’s book novelist, I had a long and interesting career in the arts, public relations, and as a journalist. For five of them, I was a volunteer Senior Docent at the North Carolina Museum of Art. One of my favorite galleries was the African gallery, steeped in rich history and tradition. But I was also an art patron, and at a fundraiser for the African gallery about ten years ago, I won a Pende mask. It hangs in my dining room, and serves as a reminder to me that when you don a mask, you can be anything—or anyone—you want to be.
Many authors practice the same theory, that of donning another identity—but we call them pseudonyms. Nora Roberts writes slightly futuristic tales under the pseudonym J.D. Robb; Sherrilyn Kenyon writes historic romances as Kinley MacGregor; and one of my favorite contemporary romantic suspense authors, Nina Bruhns, writes erotic romance as Nikita Black. Putting on a new name gives an author the freedom to write something totally different in genre and subject…but the underlying intelligence and sentence structure is there. A great writer and storyteller is still a great writer and storyteller regardless of which mask they don. You know what they say: an author by any other name is…well, still the same person.
Let’s check out two stories by the racy raconteur, Nina Bruhns:
Red Heat by Nina Bruhns (June 2011) is an exciting thriller set on a Russian submarine, deep in the frigid waters of the Bering Strait. Like the cover blurb says, “The Cold War was never this cold.” Turns out, Captain Nikolai Romanoff, once the golden boy of the whole Northern Fleet, is now faced with commanding a B-squad kilo-class diesel-electric sub as punishment for two nuclear submarines nearly colliding, demoted to ferrying a scientific expedition studying climate change. Only, this ain’t your average Jacques Cousteau gig … rumor has it there’s a spy on board. An American spy. A female.
“What would the Americans possibly want with me?” A man so out of favor with his government that his own petty official father hadn’t spoken to him since the unfortunate incident for fear of the stench rubbing off on him. Besides, the Americans had had ample opportunity to recruit him during the year he’d spent there as an exchange student. They hadn’t even tried.
Cherenkov’s eyes revealed nothing. “Whatever it is they want, I trust you will not give it to them.”
Nikolai straightened like a shot. “I love my country, Comrade Cherenkov, even if my country doesn’t return the sentiment. If you have so little faith in me, assign someone else to deal with her.
Oh, how the mighty fall. It should be known that Nikolai’s nuclear submarine antics are not the only mar to his good name. A distant relation to the ruling Romanoffs of Czar Nicholas, Nikolai has been held hostage to his mother’s supposed treasonous political offense for his whole naval career. He’s a bit of a spy himself, on paper, and an idealistic one. When the Soviet Union fell, he “wanted to believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union happening later that same year was somehow meaningful,” and that his life would be “blessedly free of the harsh, restricting fetters of his past.”
But as they say in Russia, nyet. Such was not the case with ol’ Nikolai. So he’s stuck captaining a lackluster submarine, watching over a team of scientists and an American CIA agent who keeps his blood boiling deep below the churning waters of the northern Pacific.
The man she’d almost slept with last night was the commander of the vessel she’d been sent to covertly search for top-secret material. The same commander who, if he caught her at it, would without hesitation have her arrested for espionage. And probably shot.
This could be … interesting.
Julie Severin is a desk analyst who’s specialty lies in China—not Russia. Plus she’s “not some undercover Jason Bourne-type spy;” both facts which wreak havoc on her nerves. Her father was a Cold War era spy, killed by the very country she’s now relying on to keep her afloat. Her mission is to recover a microcard hidden somewhere on Nikolai’s submarine by an undercover agent … and to try and convert him as a new asset. An easy task, right? Again, nyet.
Temperatures really begin to rise when the submarine is attacked and Nikolai and Julie have to work together to save the vessel and their own lives. I’ve always loved Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stories, and Red Heat brings to mind all of the really great elements of a Russian-American partnership…but Ms. Bruhns makes her story all the more enticing through the romance of a sexy Russian Kapitan and secretive CIA agent. That, and the fact that “this mission was turning into a battle—of knowledge, of wits, of temptation.”
Cajun Hot by Nikita Black (July 2007) is an erotic contemporary set in the steamy bayous of Louisiana. It’s my favorite kind of erotic story…a great romance with hot sex, rather than hot sex with a little bit of story. Though it’s short, it packs a wallop.
Though Sahara Jensen grew up poor, she recognizes the great photography opportunity she has in the swamps of Louisiana, in search of an elusive orchid. Taking to the bayou on her own, she leaves long, yellow ribbons tied to trees to help mark her path—only, when it counts, the ribbons are nowhere to be seen. Lost in those scary swamps, alone, in a boat, with no clear path, reality hits Sahara square in between the eyes when she encounters two big men in a boat, floating noiselessly.
Two men. Noislessly floating in a shiny boat. Big, by the look of them. Dark. Both wearing jeans and T-shirts, one had a slim black mustache and black hair cascading over his shoulders. The other’s hair was shorter, neater, no mustache, but he was no less dangerous-looking for that.
Oh, shit. What a nightmare; one that should have her girl card revoked. Sahara realizes there’s always the option to stick it out, and hope to snake her way back to civilization before the huge, black swamp snake gets her. But on the one hand, two strong men who look at home in the swamp could be her ticket to safety, back to the city…on the other, they could be her ticket to unexpected, immeasurable pleasure. In this situation, always choose door number three.
“Plen’y of time,” Mr. Mustache said in a soft Cajun accent. “Toss me your gear and climb in.” He held out his hand expectantly.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? In the care of the two Cajun men, brothers, what could go wrong? It quickly becomes obvious that the men pose a different kind of threat to Sahara—a threat to her good, common sense, dreams and ambitions. Jacques Cherchat is charming, sexy, adventurous. But he’s also aimless, lives in a wooden cabin on the bayou with no electricity, and has no discernible ambition. Not the kind of man a woman who grew up poor expects to fall for.
Jacques is the king of hot sauce, so to speak, and a self-made millionaire. He oversees a culinary kingdom that would set all of Sahara’s worries to rest, only he wants her to fall for the simple swamp man she met—not the polished veneer most people expect him to be. What a conundrum: Interlaced with the sexy seduction is the very real dynamic of two people who are scared to risk their hearts for the wrong person.
All in all, I really like Nina/Nikita’s voice. The underlying success of her books, to me, is that she’s just a plain ol’ great storyteller.
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.