Through one of my Twitter pals, audiobook narrator Xe Sands, I discovered the oeuvre of Anne Stuart, who writes suspenseful romance, both contemporary and historical. Xe spearheaded a project called Going Public, where people can upload short audio readings, and one of her posts was a snippet from Anne Stuart's On Thin Ice. I was captivated.
Stuart was a new to me author a couple of months ago, but my library had a handy selection, and her House of Rohan books were immediately available. I read a couple, and listened to Susan Ericksen's well-paced and engaging narration of a couple. The series centers around a family of fairly reprobate-y reprobates who bounce around Europe, mostly in the Regency area. (That's loose, as there are generations of bad boys involved.) For the most part, the men are beyond dissolute, and are very eager participants in a sort of elitist underground orgy called the Heavenly Host. But they're jaded, too, and stumbling into their midst comes a lovely innocent of some ilk. The innocent is blackmailed or desperate enough or resigned to being ravished by the rake. As it turns out, the bad boy is hiding his tender heart and the pure maiden is the key to his new outlook on life. Of course, complications ensue, along with occasionally perverse sex, and I know I'm not giving away too much when I say they eventually fight their way to a HEA. (That's a Happily Ever After, folks who don't read romance sites as often as I do.) It's all totally great. Stuart's characters - especially the seemingly powerless women - are very well fleshed out (hubba hubba!) and sympathetic, and the Rohans have pulled me more than once into reading well past my bedtime.
Stuart's contemporary series is the Ice books. This is where On Thin Ice comes in, and as I was lucky enough to win a copy of the audiobook on another book blog's page, I got to hear all of Xe's interpretation and not just the little bit I linked to above. Of course, being the series completest that I am, I tried my best to read the rest of them before I popped in my earbuds, but after the first three I was too impatient to wait for my holds to come in, and jumped ahead. Soooo yummy; my lack of impulse control was totally worth it. These books are set in the current age, and center around operatives for another shadowy (but less orgy-prone) group called The Committee. The operatives are generally deep-cover agents fighting global terrorism, and on the brink of fulfilling a very major and world-saving mission. From the sidelines, in stumbles the unexpected complication of an innocent lovely young woman. The operative should really just kill her immediately, lest she not only foil his chance at a clean, successful mission, but also lay unexpected claim to that cold spot where his heart should be. (He has no heart due to a difficult early life and the aging-before-his-time experiences with the evildoers. The evildoers are bent on global destruction for their own gain as well as the thrill of rape and torture and debasement along the way. And revenge when things get personal, of course.) Now his super-honed alpha-male operative skills will war with her intuitive but effective but delaying beyond all reason tactics. Their innate attraction to each other will help them eventually to trust each other and sacrifice for each other, if need be. After some life-threatening evil plot stuff, along comes the HEA. Yummy yummy yummy, am I right?
I loved Xe Sands's narration of this book. Finn MacGowan's Irish lilt drew me in to start with, but I was beyond impressed when MacGowan was rapid-fire pretending to be South American and British and the narration stayed firmly in MacGowan's voice. She also has a natural storyteller's knack for dramatic tension and creating a vocal atmosphere that paired perfectly with the text. I'm not just saying all of this because she's probably going to retweet the link to this blog - it's some extremely impressive work. (Thanks for all the RTs, Xe - you're so supportive of bloggers!)
Plus, go listen to her voice on any of those Going Public links. I always find it soothing but with a quality that makes me want to sit up and pay close attention, make sure I'm not missing anything. Rather like bedtime story time, in fact, except I'm not acquainted with the kids who would want to hear quite this much graphic detail about how escaping from a kidnapper's jungle prison camp is fraught with natural and man-made peril every two and a half feet.