One strategy felt more natural than all the rest: Paul must focus on Paul! Not in the narcissistic sense, mind you, but still - unlike most other models who've indulged in romance cover-work, Paul seemed to realize his full potential only when he was the only hard-body on any given cover. Readers so coveted his luscious little body and chiselled face that they wanted both all to themselves - and the strategy worked: books with Paul going solo on their covers sold very briskly. If our hero weren't so well-grounded, it might have gone to his head.
Look at the cover of Jayne Ann Krentz's 2009 volume Fired Up, for instance: Paul's so sure of himself, so sure his magnetism will rule the gaze, that he doesn't even bother to look at us - he merely favors us with a profile, a moonlit shot of his perfectly feathered hair, and his soft, rubbery lats. In Fired Up he's Jack Winters, descendant of the famous 17th century alchemist Nicholas Winters and latest victim of the Winters Curse, which drives the men of the family to become 'psychic monsters' unless they can lay their hands on something called the Burning Lamp (which neither burns nor is a lamp, but hey). Stroking the lamp will make everything better - but only with a little help: the lamp must be tended by a woman who can manipulate its dreamlight energies, so generations of Winters men find themselves searching for such a woman, always with time working against them. Perhaps not an entirely familiar concept, Paul desperately searching for a woman to stop him from going crazy, but there you have it.
Krentz goes at all this with the businesslike passion you'd expect from somebody who's written 200 books under three pseudonyms. She's cooked up a detailed story about rival secret societies and the various psi-operatives they watch, control, and employ, and she doesn't really have time for the precise control somebody might exercise if, for example, they only published two books a year. Maybe that's why on Page 25 our heroine Chloe is told that Paul is 36, and then on Page 47 she's told the same thing - in the same conversation. Or maybe she just doesn't believe it, any more than the rest of us do.
In any case, Chloe turns out to be the very lamp-tender Paul's been looking for - something he first guesses when mad, passionate sex with her manages to calm his inner turmoil for a while (who would have guessed that?) And together they make an excellent team - complementary super-powers and not an ounce of body-fat between them. From Paul, Chloe learns the sound a six-pack makes when you rub it really fast (for the curious, it's oddly similar to the sound of a car driving on a flat tire), and from Chloe, Paul learns how to more precisely control his powers, to the point where he can psychically follow someone else's experiences:
"There's a guard?"
"Outside the door. I remember seeing him the last time I woke up. I try to sit up. That's when I remember the restraints."
"You're tied to the bed?" Chloe asked, horrified.
"I'm shackled to the gurney with leather straps, the kind used in hospitals to control violent patients."
(That's not Paul narrating his own experiences, more's the pity)
That supernatural element is another key to the quintessential new Paul experience - he's often at his best when he's out of this world. And if a tortured psychic victim is good, surely a super-hot vampire strike-team commando is even better? That's what we get in Susan Sizemore's 2010 opus, Primal Instincts, which also features only our second truly epic Paul book-cover. All the elements are there: the deadly-serious look in the eyes, the epic pout, the bare, glistening torso, the ridged shoulders and padded pecs, the brachial vein running down the arm like a drain-spout, the washboard abs, the ready hands, the vaguely counter-culture tattoo (ah, but which counter-culture? So many possibilities...), and best of all: leather pants. Naturally, Paul and leather go together like eggs and bacon under any circumstances, but if there's one leather ensemble that says "I'm peeled all over Paul!" more than any other, it's surely leather pants. The cover of Primal Instincts scarcely needs the rest of the book: it's a work of art all by itself (the artist in question is Gene Mollica, and Paul friends the world over owe him a debt of thanks - he's no stranger to depicting Paul in various states of undress, and he's also responsible for the great covers to the "Iron Druid" series).
There is a book attached - an elaborately-realized (Sizemore may just be the dorkiest romance novelist currently working) story about secret societies of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures roaming around freely in the normal human world, unseen guardian angels warring with unseen menaces to mankind, and everybody all the while operating by their own careful rules and regulations. In Primal Instincts Paul goes by the name Tobias Strahan, and he's the head honcho of an elite vampire special-ops squad, the Prime of his vampire clan and lord of all he surveys - until Flare Reynard shows up, a clan heiress herself and an object of dangerous fascination for Paul. Very dangerous, in Sizemore's fantasy scenario, as Tobias charmingly explains:
"Tribe females belong to the strongest males. They exist to be bred. They are bought and sold and fought over. Mortal slaves are used for sexual pleasure, but every Prime knows never to become involved with a vampire female. Use their bodies, stay out of their minds. Breed them, then pass them on to the next master as quickly as possible. Try not to taste them; never let them taste you. Never even look into their eyes. There are all sorts of superstitions about how females drain Primes' strength, many examples of their evil ways. The whole point is to keep Primes from bonding with females."
To which some Paul-fans (you know who you are) will cheer, "Hear! Hear!"
And surely this is the summit, yes? A sexy, super-macho stud-vampire who spurns bonding with females and sports the tightest leather pants in the crypt - surely once our boy Paulie has reached this kind of pinnacle, he can only move from glory to glory, with no more sloughs of despair?
You'd think that, and you'd be right - except for one horrifying possibility:
What if you get drunk one night and let your girlfriends DYE YOUR HAIR?
If we turn to Jennifer Haymore's 2010 novel A Touch of Scandal (although any of Haymore's novels will equally shock - they all feature the same bizarrely transformed Paul), that's exactly what we see. Gone are the raven, feathered locks that have lured us on through alien landscapes and windswept highland meadows, and in their place stands a shock of brainless beach-bunny blond locks fit for a peroxide party down at Baywatch Central. Gone is the sultry allure of Paul's Italian ancestry, replaced by tow-headed ignominy that couldn't seduce a willing go-go boy. The fingers shudder to post the full horror of it all:
Can our hero possibly recover from such a weird fashion misstep? Tune in next time to find out!