Turns out it wasn't a mistake. A Winning Streak is a real treasure, quick to engage and evocative in its historical setting of Arcadia, amid the rivalry of the Greek Gods. It's sweet and romantic as well as compelling and sexy. Though I have a little insider info on what is expected in erotica, this story still kept me curious about the outcome, and how character's "Winning Streak" would end up.
Let me start off with this: do you remember studying Greek mythology? Personally, that was one of my all-time favorite subjects in my Lit courses. Sometimes it's easy to forget how dark and intensely erotic Greek mythology is often intended to be, or that so many of the stories are informed or driven by sensuality, jealousy, competition, or devotion driving a man to his Gods. A Winning Streak catches all those deep details in a passionate retelling of a wonderful myth. One of its greatest merits, at least in my eyes, is how well it conjures the classical motifs and puts them to use. Tea Cooper is either incredibly intuitive when it comes to this particular genre, or she's really done her homework, because she hits it spot on.
The lead characters are Atalante and Melanion, she a princess returned to civilization after being raised in the wilderness by Artemis, he a hard-working man in service to her estranged father, the King. Upon Atalante's return home, she finds herself entangled in a distasteful situation: her father insists that she marry and bear him a grandson, providing an heir to the throne. Being a chosen daughter of Artemis and sworn to purity in the Goddess' name, Atalante is not thrilled by this demand. Melanion is witness to the arrangement made by the King: Atalante to wed the man who can beat her in a footrace. Atalante's suitors make a daunting gamble, however, because to lose means being sacrificed to Artemis. This is the risk Melanion faces, when he decides he cannot live without Atalanta, and claims the right to race her.
A Winning Streak evokes a gorgeous setting, tapping the luxuries and indulgences of ancient Greece and heightening the passion through the senses. Little moments--Atalante eating a fig offered to her by Melanion, her sojourns to the steaming pools of the bath-house, the evocative dreams and visions bestowed upon the lovers by the gods--keep the story vividly erotic, even in scenes where the clothes stay on. Atalante and Melanion might be reclining together in an olive grove having a simple and innocent conversation, yet you can feel their youthful need and attraction, their fascination and intimacy. The descriptions of fruit and the details of their smooth skin, the warmth of them from being held close to the body, the fog of breath upon their surfaces, really brings out sensuality in the story in a refreshing way, again surrounding the reader with sexy moments everywhere. The footrace makes a very compelling conflict, as you find yourself driven to it wondering how Melanion can hope to win against Atalante, and if he does, what the vengeful gods may do to him for taking away their chosen athlete. The depiction of the race doesn't rush it, either: it's anybody's guess until the end.
Three gods are invoked in the story as well: Artemis, Aphrodite, and Eros. I think that in some retellings of ancient myths, the gods are either too literally present (think Hercules and Xena), or not present at all, left as vague philosophical concepts uninvolved in the world. Classical myth, however, makes the gods both present and yet still supernatural, super-human. In A Winning Streak, this is how they appear. We rarely see one literally, but we feel them in visions and prayers, see their images and wonder along with the characters if what we see is a true message or a trick of the character's desires. The descriptions of them are equally as evocative and sensual as the descriptions of the setting our the pounding desires of the two lovers. One of my favorite details is the perfume of ylang-ylang, denoting the presence and will of Aphrodite. As with the descriptions of the fruit, the baths, the dust of the road, the silk of sheets, I find the descriptions of the gods make this story feel genuinely authentic.
I loved A Winning Streak. I wish there were more! I recommend it, its beautiful and well-written and worth the read.