Jaci Burton, Carly Phillips, Erin McCarthy, and Jessica Clare
Hot Summer Nights
Berkley / July 2, 2013 / $7.99 print & digital
Passions ignite in these all-new stories from four bestselling masters of contemporary romance…
In Jaci Burton’s “Hope Smolders,” struggling divorcee Jane has put her personal life on hold to raise her kids—until she runs into Luke, her ex’s former best friend, who convinces her it’s time to start having fun again.
Carly Phillips takes you back to the town of Serendipity, where overworked Alexa has an instant connection with a sinfully sexy football star on the dance floor. A one-night stand evolves into multiple nights when Luke decides to teach the good doctor about his own brand of fun. But when it’s time for him to leave town, will these “Perfect Strangers” be able to say goodbye for good?
In Jessica Clare’s “Legend of Jane,” an intrepid Bloggess catches the eye of local law enforcement when she gets caught trespassing. Luckily, Luanne wouldn’t mind getting handcuffed by Officer Hotness…
Single girl Chelsea is tired of feeling like the fifth wheel on her weekend jaunt to Lake Placid, until she gets stuck out in the cold and finds a muscular knight in shining armor to warm her up—in Erin McCarthy’s “Ice Princess.”
Hot Summer Nights is this summer's breath of fresh air, a glimpse into small-town America with the introduction of a new series, continuations of old favorites, and enough stand-alone power to include everyone. These stories turn the heat up whether it's rural romance or a cozy ski village, two old friends who finally come together or a fling that becomes something more. And each story stands out in its own right and style, the mark of a truly successful anthology.
With “Hope Smolders,” Jaci Burton offers a look at a new series set in Hope, Oklahoma, putting her stamp on small-town contemporary romance. Jane Kline does it all: a single mother struggling to make ends meet working two jobs, she barely has enough hours in the day, much less any kind of time for herself. And she's convinced she can handle everything, by herself. But when Will Griffin, her ex's former best friend and someone she thought she'd left behind in her old life, suddenly begins appearing everywhere, she realizes that's not so easy.
Never again would she let a hot body and bedroom eyes seduce her. She was a lot smarter now.
Though her rapidly beating pulse and all her feminine parts hadn't gotten the message. They were screaming at her that she hadn't been with a man since she'd been abandoned by her husband two years ago. She hadn't even gone out on a date.
Too bad. There were things high on her priority list, like making sure to keep a roof over her children's heads, and keeping everyone fed.
Not dating. Or having sex. Those weren't essentials. And right now, all she could afford to think about were essentials, so her thrumming body could just go to hell.
Jane is strong but never shrewish, as she faces the reality of so many women who carry their burdens alone. Will is a stand-up guy who first brings her joy, then hope of a brighter future, a complete family. The kids are adorably appropriate to the story, and this is one that just feels good.
Carly Phillips, meanwhile, returns to her beloved Serendipity series with a speedy, but satisfying, story of a busy doctor worked to the bone, who on a whim reaches out to a stranger in a sexy way and finds most of the best things in life are unplanned and unpredictable. It's rare to achieve the kind of chemistry found between Alexa and Luke when they lock eyes on the dance floor.
He watched as she danced, his heavy-lidded scrutiny focused on her as he sipped at his beer. His demeanor seemed casual but his stare was anything but. Thinking of how down she'd been lately and how great this music made her feel now, she was unable to resist the impulse to crook her finger his way.
A glance told her that her best friend wasn't watching, which was a good thing considering Cara wouldn't know what had gotten into Alexa. And she would be hard-pressed to explain. All she knew, all she felt, was a bone-deep loneliness that reached into her soul, and this man's intense and interested stare provided her heart with a jump she hadn't felt in too long.
A chance encounter instantly feels like more to both of them, so even though he's a pro-football player from Texas and she's ensconced in her career in upstate New York, they tumble into something that never feels like a fling. The story achieves an impactful amount of depth in very little time, proving that a novella can pack in every nuance of romance and that length sometimes enhances a story rather than takes away from it.
With Jessica Clare's return to Bluebonnet, Texas, in “The Legend of Jane,” there's a shift in tone to quirky and humorous in the form of outrageous Luanne, a mythbuster blogger who blows into this sleepy town and quickly turns it on its heels. But she's quick to catch the attention of Hank, a by-the-book cop who's not interested in any funny business.
“There a problem, Officer? Is buying rope and duct tape illegal now?”
His lips thinned as he regarded her upturned face. “I don't like what you're doing. This is a quiet town. You don't need to get everyone riled up about chupacabra or crop circles or cow tippings. You're just causing trouble to cause trouble, and I can't have that.”
“Are you giving me a lecture on being naughty?”
Luanne is loud and over the top but wholly individual, and her confidence is inspiring. It takes a special man to complement her, and their opposites attract approach clicks. The most fascinating element is how unique the entire story is, from the premise to the unpredictability, and there's a spark to Luanne and Hank that's infectious.
Finally, Erin McCarthy rounds it out on a high note with “Ice Princess,” a refreshing story of thirty-something Chelsea, a bright, bubbly woman longing for a hero she doesn't have to settle for, whose weekend as the fifth wheel on a romantic skiing trip brings unexpected surprises when she lands in the arms of her very own Prince Charming. Brody is a disillusioned ski instructor, once a professional skier on an Olympic track until a serious injury forced him to give it all up. Having Chelsea and her super-size personality fall into his lap is exactly what he needs.
“I'm reminding myself that I am fully in my fairy tale rights to take you up to my room. I mean, come on. Snow White lived with seven little men. Cinderella didn't know the Prince's name and yet she totally made out with him. Sleeping Beauty was diddling the guy in the woods. And Ariel gave up her voice after like a thirty-second glimpse of Eric on the boat. So, really, what I'm doing isn't the least bit objectionable.”
“I have no objections, that's for sure. We're adults. We're having fun.” He shifted away from her touch, but he did lean over and kiss her again. “I have no idea who Ariel and Eric are but they're not coming to bed with us.”
Chelsea's fairy tale thread carries through nicely, and her pithy comebacks and witty rapport with Brody all enhance the story greatly. McCarthy manages to infuse the story with an intense level of heat very quickly despite the chilly setting of the Lake Placid ski town, while also skillfully establishing a lasting relationship between Chelsea and Brody by story's end.
The litmus test of a great anthology lies in the sum of its parts, and when measured by this standard, there aren't many that can hold up. Hot Summer Nights brings new beginnings and familiar favorites together, with stories unique enough to set them apart but with overarching themes that pose the notion that love, whether slowly simmering or instantly igniting, whether approached with lightheartedness or as a balm to heal, is fulfilling in countless ways.
Learn more about or order a copy of the Hot Summer Nights anthology, out today:
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.