A glance – a lingering, smoldering glance – at the cover of Kelly Hunter’s 2008 “Harlequin Presents” romance Playboy Boss, Live-In Mistress will be enough to tip off expert Paul-watchers that our broodingly sexy hero is still learning the ropes in this volume (not literally, the tease, but we can always hope): he’s still fully clothed.

True, it’s snug clothing in sleek whites and grays, suitable for highlighting his muscular little body. And true, the young business woman (equally sleekly outfitted) on the cover is doing what any sensible person would do in such a situation: she’s holding Paul’s discreetly feathered mullet firmly with one hand while she starts to unbutton him with the other. By contrast, he seems almost shy: his left hand (the one with the expensive watch) is merely touching her thigh, and his right hand (where all the action is, as it were) is MIA. In terms of a Paul Marron cover, it’s virtually chaste. Yes, we’re still in apprenticeship days here.

Some other things haven’t changed either: Paul – this time he’s Alexander Wentworth, ruthless young corporate takeover expert – is still filthy rich as well as being menacingly good-looking, and he’s still characterized, at least in the story’s beginning, as, well, a bit materialistic:

If an eight-knot wind was blowing north-north-east off the Cornwall coast, and he had no place to be but on his yacht and nothing to do but set a course and peel a diamond-encrusted bikini off a beautiful woman, Lex could be very patient indeed. Journeys of seduction were meant to be savoured and savour them he did. Frequently.

The object of his desire in this book is his personal assistant Sienna Raleigh, who’s no slouch in the looks department herself and has known Paul his entire life. She’s only filling in for the PA job, really: Paul lost his last one (something about motherhood), and since nobody knows him better than Sienna, she’s keeping his life in order until a proper search can be conducted. She’s also the voice of the conscience she knows he has, reminding him that instead of stepping in at the last minute to gut failing companies, he could try to save them instead.

But the shift in their relationship – from long-time friends and virtual siblings to boss and biddable underling – acts tectonically, allowing pent-up magma to boil to the surface. Suddenly all that comfort and security between them turns to white-hot desire. Suddenly for Sienna, anyway – in this book as in all books, white-hot desire seems to be Paul’s default setting. He must have the metabolism of a bunny rabbit.

Soon, the passionate love-making starts, and some of it – well, let’s just say Paul’s technique sometimes seems to have wandered in from another kind of romance altogether:

Lex shot out from beneath her, cursing, half laughing, as he rolled her over and pinned her face down against the bed, one hand on the small of her back as he half straddled her to stop her from turning over and reaching for him again. Better, much better, as he slid her silky hair to one side and nipped the back of her neck. Sienna moaned and tried to turn around but he wasn’t having that. There was the small matter of control. Lex had it. He was keeping it.

What ensues is a battle of wills on many levels: will Sienna surrender to passions she didn’t even know she felt? Will Paul allow her to awaken the good-guy buried deep in his corporate shark heart (some ill-timed mentions of the “sub-prime housing market” might make some readers want to rip that heart right out of his pillowy chest and put it in a blender)?

Readers will keep turning pages to find out – Kelly Hunter is a bit of a sleek professional herself: there’s not an ounce of fat anywhere in this novel. She wrote it in 2008 (originally for the apparently burgeoning Australian romance market? Who would have guessed Australian men, of all people, were leaving their women-folk with enough extra energy to read romantic fantasies? What international stereotype will be the next to fall? An Irishman saying, “well, you know me – one drink’s my limit!”? A Frenchman saying, “Without my warm, soapy morning’s shower, I just don’t feel clean!”?), and when it was brought out by Harlequin in 2009 it was festooned with provocative banners – “Kept For His Pleassure” and “She’s his mistress on demand!” – which is a bit of a shame, since whoever tacked on those labels didn’t read the book. We’re not talking Proust here, granted, but still: Sienna is hardly kept for Paul’s pleasure or his mistress on demand – there’s more, yes, subtlety here than that.

More subtlety, but decidedly not more of Paul’s bare torso! Back in 2008 he was still a shy, journeyman cover-model wearing button-down shirts and pants and everything. But will he always remain so? Tune in next time and find out!

© 2007-2018, Steve Donoghue