Posts from April 2011

April 3rd, 2011

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Frilly Shirt, Discarded!

When last we left our hero Paul (now the proprietor of a snazzy new website of his own! Those of you who are casting directors – and you know who you are – click on over and line up to offer him work!), he was beginning to grasp once again that elemental poutiness that launched him to romance-cover stardom, after perhaps losing faith for a time and finding solace, as we’ve all done from time to time, by taking mercenary work in distant galaxies and doing some freelance paranormal gigs in New York City. Those stints offered an anonymity that was no doubt healing, but they required a heavy price in return: they required Paul to be fully clothed. For a male model, a pound of body armor and worsted wool is far worse than a pound of flesh. Paul may have executed these various adventures with the cool hand and consummate professionalism that are his trademarks, but looking at those covers, you can almost hear his luscious pecs yearning to break out and breathe free. We saw the beginnings of that self-realization dawn on Paul last time, and what started as a trickle will soon spurt to a torrent.

Like so many epic adventures, it all begins in Egypt. 1820 Egypt, to be specific, the setting for the opening scene of the delightful Deb Marlowe‘s 2008 Harlequin historical romance An Improper Aristocrat, which begins with a mysterious femme fatale spying on our Paul as he sits alone in his tent in the Valley of Kings. Her motives might be nefarious, but she’s an excellent judge of model-meat:

Narrowing her gaze, she studied him. Ah, yes. The light might be dim, but it illuminated a feast for the discerning female eye: a strong, chiselled profile, impossibly broad shoulders, rugged muscles straining the fine linen of his shirt.

He set down his pen and indulged himself in a lengthy, catlike stretch. Even in so unwary a pose, she could sense his power, feel the pull of unwavering confidence and absolute masculinity. Inwardly, she smiled. This assignment, which she had objected to with vehemence, was going to be no hardship at all.

Ah, yes indeed – she no sooner parts his tent-flap than she’s straddling him like a subway turnstile, and our boy Paul, bless his randy soul, takes it all in stride. Howard Carter and other wimpy Egyptologists would probably have complained about the heat.

Their impromptu coupling is brought to an abrupt halt by the sound of a scream, and Paul – here calling himself the Earl of Treyford – rushes outside to find his excavation partner, Richard Latimer, lying on the ground with a knife sticking out of his chest. Despite the fact that ‘Trey’ (the equivalent of the Earl of Rutland calling himself ‘Rut,’ but Marlowe – like her literary namesake, come to think of it – will have her own way) cries out the requisite “No!” Richard dies in his arms – but not before handing over a mysterious ancient amulet and making Paul swear to return to England and protect Richard’s big sister Chione.

Paul swears (in all his adventures so far, he’s never yet refused a dying request, despite the fact that they always get him into trouble – you’d think by this point he wouldn’t bend over a dying friend until his iPod was safely blasting Lady Gaga into his ears, so his friend could gurgle impossible quests until the cows come home without Paul being the wiser), even though he has no love for England – where polite society views him as an unprincipled rake and adventurer – and no love for the idea of playing squire to some old maid and the two children she chaperones.

Needless to say, Chione in the flesh upends all his expectations (Marlowe is wonderful at crafting set-piece scenes that come off without a hitch; the chapter-section where Paul meets Chione is a pitch-perfect hoot, complete with a zinger at the end), and thanks to that mysterious amulet – and the sinister ancient society that’s after it – the two of them are quickly embroiled in one adventure after another. Readers who expect the usual dinner-and-ball-room Regency romance here will be surprised right out of their petticoats. As noted, Paul himself must wrestle with similarly toppled expectations – and other, more powerful feelings:

Trey muffled a heartfelt curse. His head was still bent in the low-ceilinged corridor, an awkward position made more so by the child resting against his shoulder. Danger lay behind and the unknown ahead, and he must face it saddled with a woman and two children. This was hardly the first scrape he’d found himself in, but it ranked right up there with the worst of the lot. And despite all this, still his body reacted to the nearness of hers. To the scent of her hair. To the sound of her breathing in the darkness. For some reason he did not fully comprehend, all of this infuriated him.

Ah, that last line speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And in the end what’s important isn’t that inexplicable rage – that’s just par for the course when it comes to brooding rakehells, after all – but rather the fact that by this point in our odyssey, we can bloody well guess why Paul is infuriated. Hell, we can see it plain as day! The old Harlequin historicals (four a month, no overlapping time-periods!) all featured a separate black-and-white illustration on the inside cover that was meant to further the action of the full-color front cover, and in the case of An Improper Aristocrat, we can see the way the wind is blowing – it’s blowing Paul’s frilly shirt clean off his smooth-muscled torso!

That wind is the breath of the future, and it’s blowing Paul toward his romance-cover destiny! We shall follow that blowing job in the next instalment!

February 20th, 2011

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Been Down So Long!

When last we left our hero Paul, he was clearly at a crossroads in his tempestuous life and career, and perhaps he was questioning some fundamentals (well, not those fundamentals – he’s still a male model, after all!) …on the barometer of personal indecision, ‘space armor’ is only a notch or two above ‘turtleneck’ when it comes to a shamelessly shirtless exhibitionist like our Paul. So when we left him wearing jumpsuits and fighting bug-eyed monsters, we had reason to fear the worst.

And surely those fears were realized by the cover of Anton Strout’s 2008 novel Dead to Me, which features Paul once again bundled up against the cold, impersonal winds of his own imagined future: he’s wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt under a thick woolen trenchcoat, and he’s staring meaningfully off into the distance, and his grasping hands are dripping with bright viscous goo …

Actually, the goo is ectoplasmic energy (note to you kids out there: it’s doubtful that line will work with your parents … better to stick to the time-tested ‘it’s mayonaisse’ keeper), because in this book Paul is going by the name of Simon Canderous, a new member of New York City’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs, which handles all the supernatural menaces the Big Apple’s police and fire departments either don’t know about or don’t want to know about. Paul brings to this job his own supernatural ability, but in Strout’s book, that ability isn’t ‘heating up a Speedo’ but rather ‘psychometry’ – the ability to gain psychic impressions about the past of an object simply by touching it. All throughout the book, Paul is forever touching things and getting them to spill their contents all over him.

Tellingly, Paul is coming to his life of crime-fighting from a seedier past, as he relates:

I had worked hard to put my unscrupulous use of my powers behind me. Long before finding the D.E.A., I had been an impressionable, confused kid with burgeoning powers, working part time for any antique shop that would have me. Cutthroats swarmed that business like sharks being chummed, and there were plenty of sketchy opportunists more than willing to drag me into the world of big scores, petty cons, and fast money.

Has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? A confessional ring, one might say. Paul uses his powers to confront the Sectarians, who are kind of an even-more-evil version of the Scientologists, and Strout keeps the proceedings popping along at such a snappy pace – and with such snappy dialogue – that readers of light fantasy will have a very entertaining time. He’s picked just the right power for his sexy protagonist to have: it’s both interesting and small-scale (it’s clearly a forerunner – right down to the cover – of a whole sub-genre of hunky-hero light sci-fi/fantasy).

The ending of Dead to Me finds Paul at a costume party dressed as Zorro, with a tight satin blouse cross-stitched across his bulging chest; readers of this series might at that moment sense something, the faintest tingle of a resurgence … after all, Paul could have dressed as Spongebob Squarepants, or Chewbacca. But no, he chose a revealing costume (which, inexplicably, isn’t the book’s cover image) – perhaps as a cry for help, or perhaps as the first distant hint that such help is no longer needed … because when Paul walked away from the Department of Extraordinary Affairs after that first adventure (he’d return for three more, and they’re all great fun and well worth some of your time), he left his identity crisis – and almost all of his clothes – behind him.

Luckily for all of us, however, he didn’t leave extraordinary affairs behind him. He moved on to London, to a loud party in the apartment of prim-and-proper freelancer writer Isobel Jameson, who spots him from across a crowded room hears that essential question that is the start of every romance: “Who is that guy?” Brainy Isobel at first affects indifference, but you and I both know it’s just plain impossible to be indifferent to our smoldering Paul, and as quick as you can say ‘rock-hard deltoids’ veteran romance author Anne Mather has the two of them tangling the sheets in night after night of torrid – and acrobatic – coupling:

As she touched him, Alejandro caught his breath, sucking air into lungs that suddenly seemed deprived of oxygen. “Cara,” he protested thickly. “Cuidado! Have a care! I have only so much control.”

Isobel’s tongue circled her lips. “But you like me to touch you?” she questioned, and he gave a strangled laugh.

Readers of passages like that one (from The Brazilian Millionaire’s Love-Child) might be forgiven for thinking that if our Paul ever really did lose his pouting mojo, he now firmly had it back again – except that shortly after he and Isobel give such repeated venting to their carnal desires, he up and leaves her … with no forwarding address and his spawn growing in her womb! In the three years that follow, she grows into a smart, determined single mother and he goes and gets himself into a car accident that leaves him crippled and – worse, far, far worse – ugly. Sure, this also means, in romance-novel terms, that he’s now worthy of her love, but so what? Who cares about worthy if you’re ugly?

Fortunately, plane tickets to exotic destinations can take the ugly out of just about anybody, and the first thing our resourceful Paul does is hop a flight to faraway Sydney, Australia and assume a guise that’s very familiar to him: the ruthless sexy businessman. In this case he’s merciless tycoon Vinn Venadicci, hero of The Venadicci Marriage Vengeance, a bastard (in every sense of the word) who was born to a maid of the once-prosperous St. Clair family and is now in a position to save that family’s finances – if only the family’s representative, buxom young Gabriella St. Clair, can swallow her, um, pride long enough go to him for aid. Author Melanie Milburne, in page after page of spirited, more-intelligent-than-it-looks prose, has these two stubbornly avoiding the schmaltz waltz in favor of a tighter tango, sparked – of course – by mutual desire:

In the nanosecond before she spoke Gabby quickly drank in his image, her heart giving a little jerk inside her chest in spite of all her efforts to control it. Even when he was seated his height was intimidating, and the black raven’s wing of his hair caught the light coming in from the windows, giving it a glossy sheen that made her fingers itch to reach out and touch it. His nose was crooked from one too many of the brawls he had been involved in during his youth, but – unlike many other high-profile businessmen, who would have sought surgical correction by now – Vinn wore his war wounds like a medal. Just like the scar that interrupted his left eyebrow, giving him a dangerous don’t-mess-with-me look that was disturbingly attractive.

This flight of fantasy (needless to say, this Venadicci bravo’s mincemeat face bears little resemblance to the sculpted perfection of Paul’s puss) is followed by many others, and the book’s conclusion is funny, diverting stuff – Milburne knows how to please (by random chance I’ve read a couple of her other books, and they’re equally good), and more importantly, so does her Harlequin cover artist, who gives us a small taste of the Paul we’ve been missing: mough agape, topless, and ever so slightly exaggerated in the pecs department. He seems natural somehow, munching so amorally on poor rapturized Gabby – he looks like a predator in its natural element, which is hardly the way we’ve seen him lately.

But all that is about to change! Our Paul has indeed been through some kind of refining fire – he’s been down so long, he can only go up! Our chronicle had faltered a bit, as our hero floundered and seemed destined to wander into a lackluster second-tier romance hero career with occasional moonlighting in galaxies far, far away. But sometimes, we need to hit rock bottom to know we can fall no further, and our Paul is done with that now! An unbroken string of triumphs lie ahead, all of them to be achieved by Paul finally believing in being Paul – to the fullest, every single photoshoot.

It’s a heady ride, and it begins in our next thrilling chapter!

February 2nd, 2011

Under the Covers with Paul Marron, Army Drone!

When last we left our chisel-cheeked pert-buttocked hero, he was the semi-willing thrall of a seductive vampire queen, and he was industriously fulfilling the job’s two requirements: driving just the right kind of stake into her, um, heart whenever she demanded it, and acclimating himself to lots and lots of bondage-on-demand. And at the skilled hands of writer Joey Hill, that particular job was becoming steamy hot – including a later volume in the series in which Paul is caressing his vampire queen while several duplicate Paul’s caress her (and perhaps each other?) also.  A person could become understandably flustered.

And if our Pauly did become flustered, he certainly reacted the way we all have at one time or another in our lives: he up and joined the space militia.

His first choice was the 26th century United Authority Marines in Steven Kent’s rip-snortingly good series of Clone Republic novels – The Clone Republic, Rogue Clone, The Clone Alliance, and The Clone Elite. In these books, Paul goes by the nom de guerre of Wayson Harris, who’s a clone with a lemon twist – he’s got a mind of his own, and so he’s got a price on his head.

The books follow Wayson through a nonstop series of adventures facing off both against human extremists and nasty alien invaders, and through it all, Steven Kent gives us lively dialogue and some fantastic action-sequences. The niche of military science fiction is one I’ve yet to explore here, at least not to an extent that would mirror the sheer enjoyment I’ve derived from that niche since David Drake was a hippie and Gordie Dickson would do readings for beer. I’ll get to it one of these days, but in the meantime, those of you who like military sci-fi could do a lot worse than to seek out this author’s books, where tense exchanges like this one are the order of the day:

“If General Glade thinks you’re something special, that’s his problem, asshole!” Moffat continued. “You got that? You may have friends in high places, but I have friends of my own, asshole. Do you hear me? You try to make yourself a hero again, and I will flatten you into a specking statistic. I will turn you into K.I.A. roadkill so fast you won’t have time to wet yourself.” As he said this, he placed a hand on my shoulder.

He should not have put his hand on me. Now I found myself angered to the point that I began to have a Liberator combat reflex. The hormone was beginning to flow through my blood, soothing me and pushing me to attack at the same time. Struggling to keep my temper in check, I brushed Moffat’s hand from my sleeve. “I’ll keep that in mind,” I growled, still hoping to keep my growing need for violence in check.

When the fending off of other men’s advances became too much for Paul – when he could no longer keep his needs in check – he left the U. A. Marines and shipped out with the Macht, a mysterious, mountain-bred race of warriors on the world of Kuf, in Paul Kearney’s gripping, fantastic novel The Ten Thousand (gotta love a classical reference, especially made by somebody smart enough to realize that Xenophon is, in fact, the father of military science fiction). Here we call him Phiron, the commander of a unit of Macht hired by Prince Arkamenes of the Asurian Empire to make war on Arkamenes’ brother the Great King and take his kingdom from him. Arkamenes is that staple of military science fiction – the courtly fop who doesn’t at first understand the sublime coolness of the men he hires. He has all the low opinions of the Macht that you’d expect from such a figure:

“Well, Phiron, what plan is this you’ve hatched for me now?”

Phiron stepped out of the brisk-marching column. He wore his cuirass and carried a spear. Like all the Macht, he stored his shield and helm in the wagons while on the march. He was growing a beard; Arkamenes thought it did not suit him, but then no Kefren noble grew hair on his face. What an ugly race, he thought. So stubborn and steadfast, so small in mind, unprepossessing. They might be brothers to the Juthan, were it not for their colouring. And yet, these hairy, ugly little creatures were the stuff of Asurian legend. Deep down, Arkamenes knew full well that no Kefren army, not even the Great King’s Honai, could have come out of that river and broken the enemy line as these things had. There was an implacability about them that had to be seen to be believed. His money had been well spent.

Readers of this sort of thing will catch echoes of everything from the Sardaukar of Dune to the Dorsai of Gordon Dickson, but then, science fiction done well is a homage-heavy genre. The point is, Kearney’s stuff is done well, so the echoes honor their sources.

Well, that’s one point. Another – and surely more important – point is that when some effete nobleman can call our Paul an “ugly little creature,” it’s clear that our hero has strayed very far from his natural habitats. It’s fairly clear he was seeking out anonymity by joining the ranks of the space cadets, but what anonymity can there be for one so shapely? It bespeaks a fundamental confusion when a lodestar of so many female (and perhaps a few male? Can such things be?) fantasies should attempt to cross the road and find solace in science fiction. And to his credit, Paul eventually realizes this. When next we meet him, he’ll be on far more natural terrain.

November 29th, 2010

Under the Covers with … who?

Several card-holding members of the Silent Majority have written to make sure I know that our intrepid hero, Paul Marron, is not the only good-looking young man to appear on a long series of Romance covers. Of course Fabio has been mentioned, as well as less corpulent but no less magnificent figures such as Steve Sandalis or Frank Sepe and a host of others.

Given the fact that I’ve been selling these things since the reign of James I, this information naturally came as no surprise to me – although I’m always grateful to know that people are reading Stevereads! Yes, Paul Marron isn’t the only guy who’s made a nice little side-career in prettying up the real estate of Romance covers, and while I’m naturally partial to my guy (I realize these things are tricky to quantify, but I’m prepared to assert that I’ve settled on the best-looking young man to show up repeatedly on paperback covers), the point serves to bring up an interesting tangent to our little adventure ongoing adventure story here. Because the Steve Sandalises and the Frank Sepes and the Fabios are of course the rarity even in today’s publicity-hungry days. In the blissful 72 years of the mass market paperback’s existence, thousands of handsome men (and a surprisingly number of those who were most certainly otherwise – hope springs eternal, I guess, although the gambit looks considerably more pathetic when removed from the low lighting and alcoholic haze of the bar…) have graced book covers and gone entirely uncredited.

This has been intentional, naturally: publishers want their models to be anonymous so readers can mentally substitute themselves into the fanciful scenarios of those covers. The opposite effect is achieved if you put somebody with name-recognition into those images – then readers can’t help but just think of that person (Daniel Radcliffe, Jared Padalecki, or whomever), and a significant element of wish-fulfillment is aborted. Plus, anonymous comes a bit cheaper than name-brand.

And yet, an irony attends – because some of those anonymous faces catch on – readers like them and want to see more of them. They’re still anonymous (most of the time – faithful readers of Romantic Times will still be in the know, but most supermarket shoppers will just think “Oh, it’s that guy! I like him!”), but they’re obviously somehow conducive to fantasy. Some young men just have that kind of face – and the body doesn’t hurt either.

So you have the odd situation of many, many young guys becoming well-known while remaining anonymous. Stroll down the aisles of any Annie’s Book Stop and you’ll see handsome face after handsome face – all without even so much as a paltry cover-credit.

Our young man today is one such candidate out of thousands. He’s been on many dozens of covers – fans have obviously called for him – and yet he’s no household name, no Fabio, no Frank Sepe … and certainly no Paul Marron.

He has his preferences, as we can see, his preferences and his types. He’s fairer-haired than our Paul, with a longer and less pouting face and a nose only a handsome young man could carry off at all. He has soulful, accessible eyes – not the dark pits of sultry menace our Paul has. And he smiles – indeed, he looks like the type who has to be told not to smile – and not just the occasional wry “I’m going to bed you without even telling you who I am” cocky half-grin of our Paul but the open, sunny smile of the American Midwest. This young man could not pose with a whip or a broadsword, and one suspects he doesn’t even own a pair of leather pants.

And he’s very likely not as chiseled as our Paul (although to be fair, who is?); I’ve seen him on dozens of covers, but never, to the best of my recollection, topless (or anything-else-less) and seldom even in a clingy T-shirt. In fact, he’s a favorite of ample clothing – the vests and ruffled-shirts of the Regency period, or else a rancher’s big fleecy jacket. All we need to do is recall how utterly miserable our Paul looked when sensibly layered to guess we’re dealing with a completely different personality here.

Well, perhaps not completely different – our anonymous interloper clearly shares something of Paul’s sexual voracity! The somewhat ridiculous cover to Criminally Handsome is the only one I’ve ever seen in which he’s alone, and virtually every time he has female company, he’s got designs on that company. Designs, and a signature move – he’s doing that not-so-subtle hand-slide in almost every setting, a wonderful gesture that’s both assertive and non-threatening. It’s smooth; one can’t help but think our Paul would approve, even though he’d never stoop to being so polite himself.

But who is this young man? Although I’m certain there are people out there in the wilds of the Internet who know him (hell, maybe he’s got a blog of his own … perhaps even, gulp, a book-blog), I certainly don’t. In this instance, I’m in the exact same position as any other random reader: I see these covers, and I say “Oh, that guy! I like him!” He doesn’t seem to be working in the industry anymore, but for a while there, he was almost as ubiquitous as our Paul.

Speaking of whom! When we last left our hero, he was being tied up and shackled with abandon by a voluptuous vampire queen – and learning to like it. But this seemed to trouble him, and there were hints of a backlash on the horizon. Tune in next time to learn all about it!

October 28th, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: The Vampire Queen’s Servant!

When we last joined our hero Paul in his book-cover odyssey, he was in a dystopian future in which he was slowly learning to express his smoldering inner self in two key ways: skimpy clothing and discreet bondage. Both of these key ways might have felt a bit risky for a young man who, despite an exhibitionist streak a mile wide, is essentially a shy person – but jobs beckoned, and nothing in the Undergear catalog calls for its models to be roped to one of the swaying palm trees or gritty fire escapes in the background of their shots (one suspects the magazine’s sales would quintuple if they did). Fulfillment had to be sought elsewhere.

Then in 2007 author Joey W. Hill came along, and Paul got the chance of a lifetime. Not only could the whole skimpy clothing/light bondage motif get a sexy purple spotlight turned upon it, but there could be the added safety-precaution of relative anonymity. On the cover of Hills scorchingly erotic novel The Vampire Queen’s Servant, we see the broad, muscular, naked back of a man; a woman’s nails are raking appreciatively up his trapezius, and his tense, fisted hands are cuffed at the small of his back. The man’s face is turned entirely away from us – only those who are already very familiar with Paul’s appearance (perhaps even in similar poses? Who can say?) would be able to identify him.

But surely his identity is not a surprise to those of us who’ve been Under the Covers with Paul Marron so long? The compact musculature, the stiff, bristly brown hair, the defiant demeanor – only our Paul could smolder so effectively without even looking at us!

He smolders throughout the book, too. In Hill’s addictive story, he’s Jacob, part-time carney and one-time vampire hunter, who voluntarily becomes the sexual thrall of Lady Elyssa, the vampire queen of the book’s title. Lady Elyssa is a thousand years old, and like everybody who hits that magic number, she needs a constant supply of beefy sex slaves – a handsome, defiant young man who’ll obey her every whim, cater to her rather feisty sexual appetite, and submit to any kind of bondage she happens to think up. And in exchange, said slave gets a drastically prolonged lifespan and an eternally-young bedmate. It’s like Renfield, only without the bugs – and with a whole coffin-full of kinks.

Naturally, Paul is willing to make the trade, although at first he can scarcely imagine the full degree of helplessness Lady Elyssa will force him to endure – nor really experience it either, since at first he persists in performing nightly escapes from his chains/cuffs/shackles. These escapes confound Lady Elyssa, and Hill is very skilled at conveying that her confusion comes at least as much from her own reluctance to punish her errant manservant for this cheeky behavior as it does from wondering how the heck he does it.

The bondage Paul accepts here is total – he’s suspended, chained, stretched, immobilized, and toyed with. Actually, since Hill isn’t coy I shouldn’t be either: Paul is rogered by Lady Elyssa, rogered repeatedly, rogered good and proper, and he does plenty of rogering in return. If Hill had written this book in 1907 instead of 2010, she’d have been jailed, tried in a kangaroo court, and burned at the stake on Boston Common. Even in our more depraved-enlightened times, reading The Vampire Queen’s Servant is virtually guaranteed to produce extremely pleasant palpitations in pretty much any part of you that’s inclined to palpitating. Passages like this one are among the tamer ones:

He’d never been forced to submission by a woman, never gotten aroused by it as she’d made him respond. At least to himself, he was forced to admit the thing imprisoning his cock made him hard mainly because she’d wanted to put it on him. It made him think of how she’d described the pleasure of slowly binding a servant, letting him feel his gradual descent into helplessness. The clasp of the cock harness kept the image of her hands there. The fascinated desire in her eyes ran through his mind, over and over.

The oddest thing about the book is that in the midst of all these exotic accessories and gyroscopic body parts, there’s an actual story, and Hill is, I suspect, such a geek that at times the story almost threatens to actually distract the reader from the presence of Paul grimly struggling against ropes and chains only a few paragraphs away – something I, at least, wouldn’t have thought possible. Lady Elyssa is very old and very powerful, ruler of a distant vampire bloodline, and she’s in a constant power-struggle with the Vampire Council, where she’s not an official member but rather a kind of unaligned rival power. Hill has worked out the details of her imaginary world precisely (or else she’s spent time at a certain retail bookstore-chain whose power structure is rather eerily echoed here):

The vampire world was divided into Regions, groupings of territories won through battle or influence during the formation of the current vampire society, before the Council had been appointed. The heads of those Regions were known as Master vampires. A vampire who accumulated enough wealth and influence might be awarded an overlord title and a territory inside the Region by the Council, preferably with the consent of the Region Master. Vampires lacking the power or experience to be an overlord applied to reside in a territory. The overlord then put then in charge of different business interests. In return the vampires gave the overlord a percentage for his protection and backing. The overlords served the Region Master.

Odd but true: if Hill didn’t have a rather depraved set of ants in her pants, she could easily write some very good vampire novels. Even considering the shackles and chains, she’s done just that.

And what of Paul, I hear you all asking? Is this the great awakening that will lead him to find his true book-cover destiny? Is this the beginning of the Age of Paul that must be the culmination of any series such as this?

Oddly, no. Having leaped to embrace the twofold path to fulfilling his destiny, it’s possible that Paul felt he’d gone too far, too fast (or perhaps the unspoken implications of the cover of one of Hill’s sequels – in which not only is Paul now clearly recognizable but he’s sharing space with another man – were too risque). What followed The Vampire Queen’s Servant, as we’ll see, was a spasm of conservatism – and a jump in genres – that must have left many a Paul fan quite confused. We’ll begin sorting it all out, next time.

September 30th, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Scarlet!

Just when we might have been fearing for Paul – just when we might have been wondering (and perhaps he wondered too? Do pouty super-models wonder about the future, or do they live in the perpetual present?) if our hero was fated to helm multi-national corporations and woo unconvincingly unwilling secretaries for the rest of his shelf-life – along came just the change he was waiting for, and all it took was the Apocalypse.

Well, not the Apocalypse exactly – but close to it. In Jordan Summers’ 2008 “Dead World” novels Red and Scarlet (and the later sequel Crimson), the near future setting looks fairly grim: war is brewing between the forces of corrupt government (here embodied in the slimy, ruthless politician Roark Montgomery – think Malcolm McDowell in his hammiest late period and you’ll have it perfectly) and the hidden society of the Others, humans with seemingly supernatural abilities derived from long-forgotten scientific experiments (like the ones that gave rise to male models in our own world? Summers is wisely silent on the issue…).

In the first book, Gina “Red” Santiago is a member of an elite tactical squad – she’s a dab hand at unarmed combat and a crack shot with her laser pistol – sent to a small town to root out possible Others-related trouble. There she encounters Sheriff Morgan Hunter, but one glance at the cover of Red will alert readers that she only maybe also encounters Paul. In that first book, a terrific little adveture story told in Summers’ winningly hard-boiled way, not only does “Red” learn something amazing about herself, she also falls in love with hunky Sheriff Hunter, who’s hiding a fairly big secret of his own.

Which is to say, they’re both werewolves. Morgan’s been doing it a long time, and eventually he starts tutoring “Red,” whose transition from ‘us’ to ‘them’ is predictably bumpy. But it’s only in the series’ second volume, Scarlet, that we start to view a new and exciting reality of our own: it’s only in Scarlet that we begin at last the journey to Planet Paul.

The first step in that journey is right on the cover. Instead of neatly-pressed linen or (gawd help us) turtleneck sweaters, we see a dirty tank-top stretched taut over Paul’s chest, we see his gorgeous face looking straight at us and tilted slightly down for maximum brooding impact, and most importantly, we see the glint of near-future semi-apocalyptic light glinting off the bare, sweaty flesh of his throat and shoulder. This is no memo-dictating business tycoon.

The actual text of Scarlet follows suit. In the narrative, “Red”s former employers – and the insidious Roark – are after both her and Paul, and it seems like they’ve enlisted the entire world to help out. Our heroes are almost alone (there are two heroic supporting characters, but, hilariously, they spent most of the book humping like bunnies rather than helping out) against impossible odds. But that doesn’t stop Summers from doing what so many of our previous writers have hesitated to do: releasing her inner Paul-lust. On the surface, passages like this one might be intended to represent “Red”s point of view – but it’s pretty obviously the author herself – and by extension the rest of us – who’s getting swept away:

The wind picked up. Morgan had his dark head thrown back, letting the desert breeze caress his skin. Wildness surrounded him, oozing out of his pores like the sweet musk that covered his body. The man was magnificent in his rugged beauty. His wolf brushed his flesh in a primitive caress. Despite his civilized reserve, it always lurked just beneath the surface, a barely leashed sexual being that was impossible to ignore. Even now he drew her to him without trying, the aura of dominant power second nature.

But as gratifying as it is for it to finally make its appearance, naked Paul-lust isn’t the only crucial element that’s been missing so far. The full glory of Velvet Haven has many components – one of them is Paul in full ‘rugged beauty’ display (in reality, one couldn’t really call Paul’s fine, miniature features rugged – but in fiction, the translation works), yes, but another is taking that beauty and beating the stuffing out of it. We must not just have Paul’s masculinity unbound – we must have it then promptly bound up again.

So it is in Scarlet, where the forces of the evil Roark capture Paul, rough him up, and chain him to a wall for weeks. This is certainly a good start. When “Red” is captured and thrown in his cell with him, she’s appalled by the shape he’s in and, werewolf to werewolf, asks the natural question:

“Why didn’t you shift? You could at least have healed your wounds so you could escape.”

“He [Roark] has the place under electronic surveillance. He vowed to broadcast the vid-clip if I shifted. It would play right into his plans to expose the Others. I couldn’t do that. The whole world is worth more than a single individual.”

Red swallowed hard as the full import of their situation hit her. “Not to me,” she whispered.

(That “Not to me” is quintessential Summers – there are neat little lines like that one scattered throughout all three of these books)

Summers has often commented that the genesis of the “Dead World” novels was a simple question: what if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf were the same person? She meant the question to get at the heart of the ‘tough girl’ sub-genre of urban fantasy that’s now dominated by the Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris, but it serves equally well to bring us closer to the heart of Planet Paul. Little Red Riding Hood is small, shapely, visually arresting, and readily victimized; the Big Bad Wolf is brawny, brooding, strangely magnetic, and easily drafted as an anti-hero. The two halves of Paul, in other words – but what if they were the same person? Novels that have seized on only one half or the other have failed to achieve maximum Paulification.

Scarlet and Crimson share the distinction of being among the first books to show us the path to that goal, but they won’t be the last! Now that we’ve had a taste of that potential, how can we be satisfied with less?

September 18th, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Playboy Boss, Live-In Mistress!

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!

September 3rd, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Wolf Moon!

We’re still covering Paul’s early adventures, including this one: Wolf Moon, part of the “Harlequin Intrigue” line from 2007, part of the “McKenna Legacy” sub-series, written by Patricia Moore but copyrighted, sotto voce, to Patricia Pinianski.

Paul looks a trifle worried on the cover, and there are two possible reasons for that: first, he’s got all those clothes on, and second, he’s the scion of the reclusive, mysterious Lindgren clan in remote Wolf Creek up in snowbound Wisconsin, where locals have been turning up dead, apparently savaged by a large dog-like creature. The Lindgrens are natural objects of suspicion (it’s just Paul and his creepy-intense father in that opulent cabin with its gazillion books and panoramic views), and as if that weren’t bad enough, into the mix comes one of the aforementioned McKennas – and this one’s a gorgeous woman!

Aileen McKenna has come to study wolves in the wild, and she runs afoul of Paul as quick as you can say ‘handsome, enigmatic stranger.’ Paul is trying to be nice, lord knows, but even this early in our investigations we’ve come to see that he’s easily misunderstood – he’s always pouting and smoldering, after all, when in so many situations a smile and a firm handshake would work wonders instead.

The problem is, Paul’s just as protective of the wolf-pack that lives in the area as Aileen is, but at first he thinks she has ulterior motives, and she thinks he’s hiding something. She doesn’t have ulterior motives – she’s up there solely to study the wolves, certain that they’re innocent of any citizen-maulings. But he does indeed have something to hide – this is a romance novel, after all! – not that you’ll need to qualify for MENSA to guess what that something is. Let’s just say he’ll provide Aileen with the perfect opportunity to mix business with pleasure.

But first they have to get to know each other! This involves many hikes into the deep dark woods, and it offers Paul plenty of opportunities to display handy shop-class skills one suspects many of his fellow male models sorely lack, such as the fashioning of a walking staff:

Rhys [that’s Paul!] quickly stripped the branch of any offshoots. Fascinated, Aileen watched him work.

His hands were sure, as if he’d done this hundreds of times. She could imagine those hands working on her, stripping off her clothes, smoothing her skin …

Rhys glanced up and heat seared her cheeks.

“You certainly took to the outdoors,” she said, trying to cover. “Your father was a good teacher.”

“That he was. He taught me everything I know. He didn’t just teach me to be self-sufficient. Actually, he used to be a college professor. Psychobiology,” he added, “studying the interactions between biology and behavior. Father made sure I was properly educated.”

“You didn’t go off to school?”

“Didn’t need to. Everything I needed to learn is in our library. Literature. History. Sciences. Everything. My knowledge is equivalent to an advanced degree.”

He’s so earnest in his social maladjustment that we almost don’t want to break the news to him about ‘psychobiology’ … and as you can see, the sparks are already flying between these two! Paul’s adventures might have only just begun, but he’s already well adept at super-heating nearby women like some kind of roving microwave oven.

Wolf Moon picks up pace and tension almost from the first page, and unlike the vast majority of romance novels out there, it has a long and raucous action-sequence as its climax (not that kind of action, and not that kind of climax, you filthy little things!). Paul might not really have the equivalent of an “advanced degree” from all those hours spent loitering in his father’s library, but when the chips are down and the book’s delightfully over-the-top villain makes his big appearance, our hero steps up with distinctly less cerebral talents.

But even so – all those clothes! Paul must have wondered if he’d ever get a chance to breathe free! Will things be any better next time? Tune in and find out!

August 6th, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: The Magnate’s Marriage Demand!

Several of you in the Silent Majority have written in, sheepishly, with questions about Under the Covers with Paul Marron. You’ve wondered how he has all these marvelous adventures, and you’ve wondered how I manage to read … er, such books …. while also keeping up with all the latest about Ethelred the Unready. And perhaps more searchingly than anything else, you’ve wondered if Paul was always the book-cover godling he is today.

The answer to that last question is no! No, even book-cover godlings have to start out somewhere, and Paul’s been at this a long time. Well, not long in human years, but certainly long in male-model years (the poor things can go from pupae to withered old 30-somethings in the course of a month’s partying in the Meatpacking District). We’re half-way to the year 2011, after all, and if you search diligently in the well-lit bins of your nearest Annie’s Book Swap, you can find Paul covers from as long ago as 2007, when many of Paul’s younger colleagues at International Male hadn’t even been born yet, or were crawling across the carpet, trying their first pouts.

One such cover belongs to The Magnate’s Marriage Demand, a 2007 Silhouette Desire romance from 2007 by Robyn Grady, on which Paul is somewhat imperiously handing a wedding ring to a distracted-looking young woman (perhaps she’s distracted by the obvious contradiction embedded in the fact that she’s fondling Paul’s fingers with her right hand and fondling, well, her own naughty bits with her left hand – and all while wearing a crucifix!). Paul, we’ll find, is often depicted doing things imperiously – probably because he’s so physically stunning. We don’t expect physically stunning people to be all humble and goofy – although a great number of them are.

Paul probably is, but not in this little book! Some of you may disdain industry machines like Silhouette Romances, reflexively considering them pre-fab pap in which the putative author has little or no say. It’s true that these volumes are much of a type – they’re all the same length (once upon a time they had to be, in order to fit just so many copies in the metal display-racks bookstores used), and they proceed in lock-step as far as their plots are concerned: feisty heroine who’s helpless due to circumstances beyond her control, haughty hero hiding a hidden hurt, improbable life-turn that throws them together just long enough for them to find each other. And those of you inclined to thus dismiss these books will already have your minds made up – it will do me precious little good to point out that the ‘serious’ literary fiction with which you console yourself is almost certainly every bit as programmatic as a Silhouette Desire (if you don’t think Netherland or Let the Great World Spin started out life as cash-grubbing Venn diagrams in the minds of their authors, you are, as one of Paul’s fellow male models would say, denuding yourself). And even less good to point out that this has always been the case, and that the best way to measure a book is by gauging its spirit, not giving it points for more and more desperate ‘originality’ – a silly literary category currently given almost fetishistic emphasis.

Still, it’s only fair to point out that there’s precious little spirit in The Magnate’s Marriage Demand (and even less fetish, alas – there’s nothing wrong with Paul in this book that couldn’t be solved with about fifty feet of clothesline); Robyn Grady keeps things popping along, but in the Silhouette line you have to do that – praising it would be the equivalent of praising German conscripts during WWI who climbed out of their trenches and charged the enemy, only at their officers’ gunpoint.

The plot of The Magnate’s Marriage Demand hinges entirely on a quick phone-call. Tamara Kendle’s been having a rough time – a fire, a failed business – when her dear friend the business tycoon Marc De Luca takes pity on her and invites her in for a nice meal, a good bottle of wine, and a little discreet impregnating. Marc is ecstatic, feeling young again, and he burbles plans to raise the child in splendor (with lots of siblings), to marry Tamara, to live happily ever after.

Alas, there will be no Tamara for Marc (sorry – I had to); he’s almost immediately killed in a motor cycle accident, leaving Tamara pregnant with a De Luca baby nobody knows about. Only somebody does know about it – Armand De Luca, Marc’s handsome, ruthless brother, who shows up at the funeral and smolders his way through the tasteful service until he can get Tamara alone and tell her that his brother phoned him with the happy news mere moments before he became roadkill. Armand is Paul (as you can see from the cover), and he’s not taking her aside to merely to comisserate – he has an audacious proposal: he wants to marry her and raise his brother’s baby as his own!

Even from the first few pages of The Magnate’s Marriage Demand, it’s pretty clear that Tamara’s doctors wouldn’t advise her having anything to do with him:

At the sound of that rich, honey-over-gravel voice, Tamara’s heart jumped to her throat. Hair lashing her cheeks, she wheeled around to face the room’s only exit and the masculine silhouette filling it. Palm pushed to the pounding beneath the bodice of her black dress, she swallowed and recovered her power of speech …

Her heartbeat stuttered, not only at his words, but also his gaze, probing, analyzing, as if he were hunting out her most precious secret …

His announcement winded her like a blow to the stomach. Her knees threatened to buckle as questions pummeled her brain…

Her throat closed around a lump as her head prickled hot and cold…

Just when you’re starting to wonder if Paul is a superhottie or a supervirus, Grady’s plot starts chugging along. Turns out Paul needs to marry and produce an heir on a fairly tight schedule or, according to the terms of his late father’s will, the company he once shared with Marc will go into trusteeship for an indefinite period of time. He coldly points out to Tamara that a huge percentage of supposed love-match marriages end in divorce, whereas only a small fraction of arranged marriages do, but it’s clear Paul spends all of his time on the outside of romance novels – if he spent any time reading them, he’d know that such a line never yet won a maiden’s heart (outside of Jaipur, that is). Fireworks ensue.

And even if Paul and Tamara can somehow find a way to love each other (it sounds like she’ll need EMTs standing by every minute, but this is a romance novel, so we can kind of expect she’ll prevail), there’s the added element of drama that Grady milks for all it’s worth: the baby, after all, is not Armand’s natural issue. If anybody were to find that out, the whole plan would come a cropper – especially if the somebody who found it out had been steeping in bitterness against the De Luca family for decades. Not the hardest villain in the world to spot, but then, that’s not the point.

The point is that even somebody with Paul’s murky eyes and chiseled cheekbones had to start somewhere – in his case, in the business tycoon boardrooms of Australia, causing heart palpitations, in the bygone days of 2007. We’ll check in with another one of his earliest adventures next time.

July 5th, 2010

Under the Covers with Paul Marron: Velvet Haven!

This is Paul Marron, a funny, articulate, down-to-earth guy with a pointy nose, a nasal voice, a limited but effective cooking repertoire, and a fine ear for music:

As you can see, he’s a good-looking young guy, but it’s only when you widen the frame and get him to take his shirt off (the latter being, it must be admitted, not particularly difficult) that an important extra point begins to dawn on you: Paul is rather gorgeous, in a well-sculpted, compact kind of way.

Paul himself must have realized this fairly early on, and it gives rise to a bit of irony: that this somewhat private, old-fashioned, and oddly shy guy (his sporadic attempts at blogging virtually scream ‘I really don’t much want to do this’) would make a very good living taking his clothes off and posing for pictures of his chiseled cheek-bones, his shapely shoulders, and most of all, his astounding abs. Readers of romance fiction can recognize those abs as quickly (and as fondly) as they recognize their own children, because Paul has appeared on innumerable paperback covers over the last few years.

Although the real-life details of his day-to-day are probably endearingly prosaic, Paul leads a vigorous double life as the characters in all these books, so it seems only natural (aesthetically and, um, otherwise) to peek in from time to time on those alternate adventures, just to see how busy the other Paul is keeping himself.

We could start anywhere, really (and not necessarily in romance – he’s popular on sci-fi covers too, as we shall see). At any given time in every bookstore in the United States, there are at least a dozen covers featuring Paul in one pose and costume or another. 2010 will see at least 50 such covers, and 2009 was the same way, with this one set of cheekbones magically morphing onto cover after cover.

So let’s start with Paul the magical being – in this case, code-named Bran, a prince of the otherworldly Sidhe (those of you who’re familiar with Celtic mythology need not get your hopes up, though) in Velvet Haven, the first book of Sophie Renwick’s “Immortals of Annwyn” series, issued as a trade paperback this year by Heat, a not-particularly-scholarly imprint of Penguin. Bran is described several times in the book as a handsome devil, and there’s Paul on the cover, flexing in leather pants and a leather vest-cape that looks like something his employers at Undergear would sell with a straight (well ….) face, plus a gigantic tattoo of a type Paul himself is perhaps a bit too squeamish (or is it sensible?) to inflict on his own body.

Paul is a bit of a jerk in this book, but perhaps with cause. It turns out he’s been cursed by Cailleach, his cool drink of water co-ruler back in the mystical realm of Annwyn, and the curse is just the type romance writers love to think up: he will never find true love, but his mystical powers will be energized by lots and lots of raw, passionate sex. David Copperfield never got that in his contract, but I bet he wishes he had.

So Paul is bitter – at Cailleach, at the evil twist of fate that has imprisoned his brother in stone for centuries, and at mortals in general, whom he despises even though they provide him with his magical Viagra. And when the ritually-murdered bodies of fellow Sidhe keep turning up in the mortal world Bran now calls home, he naturally suspects Cailleach of some further treachery – or perhaps the treachery starts with Suriel, the fallen angel who prowls the perimeter of the novel and steals every scene he’s in. Suriel is clearly playing his own game, and he can be refreshingly diabolical, as in the scene where he saves the badly-wounded Bran and then makes an inventively scientific threat when Bran refuses to do as he says:

“I wouldn’t make a deal with you if my last breath depended on it.”

Suriel laughed and stepped on his arm harder, making him scream inside. “So much pride,” he said. He clicked his tongue as if he were chiding a child. “It’ll be your downfall, you know. You’re not in Annwyn, King. You’re among mortals. And you know what mortals love? They love knowledge, science. They hunger for it. And wouldn’t you make a nice little science project for the doctors at the hospital.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Imagine what they would say once they started examining you, system by system.”

In the distance, Bran could see the big blue square with the large white H. “You blackmailing son of a bitch!”

OK, so Paul isn’t at his most articulate in Velvet Haven (nor his most poetic – at one point, in mid-coitus, he informs his bedmate “you fuck like a nymph”; even when the reference can be checked, it’s not the sort of thing a girl likes to hear right at that moment), but there’s a very good sense of word-rhythm on display in that center paragraph and many other such paragraphs in this smutty, smutty book. Renwick might not be able to show this novel to her mother (and if she can, I’d like to meet the woman), but she can hold her head up in the company of her romance author peers.

The key to the mystery in this book seems to be the mortal woman Mairi MacAuley, a knockout nurse with psychic powers (it’s all a bit much to take in, and it’s to Renwick’s credit that she never slows down and explains it all for more than a sentence or quick paragraph here and there – the story takes off running, and we get filled in on the bare minimum of exposition we need to keep up; science fiction and fantasy authors routinely pooh-pooh the romance genre, but Renwick unfolds her created world with a skill and control that most of those sci-fi authors couldn’t muster for all the gold-pressed latinum in the quadrant) who falls in love with Bran and may hold the key to lifting his curse.

Or at least providing him with lots and lots of acrobatic sex. Velvet Haven isn’t exactly a raunchy piece of straight-up porn – there’s too much plot for that, and the book’s two most interesting characters, Cailleach and Suriel, don’t even come within bodice-ripping distance of each other – but hoo boy, Paul gets several extended (so to speak) erotic workouts in the course of the book, including one climactic (so to speak) episode during which he’s tightly manacled.

And naturally in the course of the book (which very much has a first-chapter feel to it, intimating more “Immortals of Annwyn” books to come) Paul learns to un-harden (er, that is, soften) his heart and care for this mortal woman, despite his previous strictly dietary relationship with he species.

The archangel Gabriel puts in an appearance (he gets the worst of a verbal exchange with Suriel, as does everybody else), and the full extent of Cailleach’s villainy is gradually revealed. Paul doesn’t exactly end up happy at the end of the book, but that’s to be expected: although in real life he has an extremely infectious smile, happy endings don’t really match up well with the force-10 pout he’s got going on this book’s cover.

Will Paul find true happiness in his next adventure? I’ll keep you posted.