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.