OK, a little time has passed, and we’ve been able to gain a little perspective. When last we saw our hero Paul Marron, everything was fine in the lower latitudes: the curving thighs, the narrow waist, the neat little stack of abs, the bulging biceps, the deliciously rounded shoulders, that cut-glass chin and smoldering pout, those protractor cheekbones, and the sultry, piercing eyes – check, check, and check. The problem came just north of all that: in a madcap and heedless decision, our hero got his perfectly-feathered sandy-brown hair dyed blond. No doubt it seemed a good idea at the time, but no amount of Regency epaulettes, cowboy spurs, or spaceman armor could justify it in the unforgiving light of the morning after, and a young man as fashionable as Paulie must have seen that better than anybody. Friendly cousins can be blond; well-meaning village curates can be blond. But rakes and billionaires and werewolves? Let’s face it: peril and peroxide don’t mix. Marronites may have wondered if a shining career could possible recover – or what Paul would do next.

Turns out he did what comes naturally: to lick his wounds (and wait for that color to wash out), he returned to his jet-setting secretary-impregnating old haunt, Harlequin Books, whose always-reliable stable of loose-floozy writers has been titillating and entertaining the American book-buying public for decade after tastefully torrid decade. After being welcomed back into the fold (perhaps with some teary hugs in the office? With everybody trying hard not to look at that color?), Paul threw himself into the realms of international high finance, taking on the name Nicolas Dupre and becoming a powerful theater impresario in Australia in the wonderful Miranda Lee’s novel A Night, A Secret … a Child. Nicholas is on top of the world when he receives a card from his tiny home-town, where he was, we’re told, Mr. Popularity:

Not that the girls weren’t after him; they were. At eighteen, Nicholas had been tall and handsome, with wavy blond hair and Nordic-blue …

Oh no!

Obviously, Paul moved on.

His next port of call was broiling-hot Athens, where he called himself Talos Xenakis (surely a cry for help?) and busied himself impregnating beautiful young American Eve Craig – indeed, impregnating her so thoroughly she promptly lost her memory. This concoction was called Bought: The Greek’s Baby and was served up at breakneck pace by the delightful and hilarious Jennie Lucas, who’s no stranger to having Paul parade around on her covers (did he seek her out? Did he plead with her – in that honking Brooklyn accent – “Jennie, you have to help me!”?), and she falls to her appointed task like a trooper:

How was it possible for a man to be at once so masculine – and so beautiful? His black hair brushed the top of his ears. He had the face of an angel. Of a warrior. His Roman nose had been broken at least once, from the tiny imperfection of the angle. He had a full, sensual mouth, with a twist of his lip that revealed arrogance and perhaps more – cruelty?

Black hair! How Paul fans must have leapt for joy! Could it be? Could their long, national nightmare be over at last? With trembling anticipation they may have turned to The Melendez Forgotten Marriage by our old friend, the winning and elegant Melanie Milburne, in which our boy has switched passports yet again and is now calling himself Javier Melendez. We find him wooing delicate little Emelia – who’s also having trouble remembering things (what is it with these girls? After all, are they ever going to do anything more memorable in their lives than romp in the sack with Paul Marron? Geez):

A tall raven-haired stranger with coal-black deep set eyes stood at the end of the bed. There was nothing that was even vaguely familiar about him. She studied his face for endless seconds, her bruised brain struggling to place him. She didn’t recognise any one of his dark, classically handsome features. Not his tanned, intelligent-looking forehead or his dark thick brows over amazingly bottomless eyes or that not short, not long raven-black hair that looked as if it had last been groomed with his fingers. She didn’t recognise that prominent blade of a nose, and neither did she recognise that heavily shadowed jaw that looked as if it had an uncompromising set to it …

Uncompromising indeed – now that some essential lessons had been learned: coal black, dark, raven-black, raven-haired … surely the world got the hint? This was a new Paul – or rather, the return of the old Paul, and his rise would be higher and longer than ever before! We’ll begin to come to grips with it, in our next episode!

© 2007-2019, Steve Donoghue