When last we left our hero Paul Marron, he had overcome a disastrous fashion mis-step and gone back to his roots, as it were, to find renewal and new hope. Romance had rekindled in his supermodel heart, and the Romance world had begun to reciprocate, with a vengeance. Traditionally, Romance novel covers displayed the customary imaginative partition: there was a beautiful young woman in the process of being enraptured, and there was a handsome young man doing the enrapturing. During the puritanical 80s and 90s, book cover designers were chary of having their products look like actual snapshots from mid-coitus, so the positions these young couples tended to take were more athletic than functional (one - unintended? - side-effect was that often on those covers it looks like the handsome young man is rapturing the beautiful young woman ... er, Brokeback Mountain-style), but both sides of the Romance equation were accounted for. Women (and, presumably, one out of every ten men) reading these novels could either fantasize about being that ravished heroine, or they could fantasize about being ravished by that handsome young man.
Our boy Paulie changed all that. Cover designers were clearly overwhelmed by the sheer Kelvin-range of his cheeky smolder, the tectonic pout of his lips, the sexy swivel of his svelte shoulders. They discovered that when Paul Marron, sultry and perhaps a bit dishevelled, is glaring out at you from the cover of a Romance novel, he's actively fulfilling both fantasies at once - he balances the equation all by himself. Soon, dozens of Paul Marron covers were appearing every month in bookstores across the country, all sporting variously manipulated images of Paul - and only Paul. For the first time since the era of Fabio, a male model was judged sufficient to sell a Romance novel to women without any women on the cover. Who needs direct imaginative identification when you've got those intense Italian eyes lasering into you?
Kresley Cole realized this early on, and the cover of her 2008 entry in her "Immortals After Dark" series shows it! There's our boy - in this case, masquerading as a full-fledged demon (complete with forehead-horns!) by the name of Cadeon Woede, who manages to become erotically fascinated by the mortal woman Holly Ashwin even as supernatural forces conspire to reveal that she's the chosen Vessel, so called because every 500 years a woman is fated to give birth to a child who'll change the otherworldly balance of power for good or evil (yep, the female lead is called a vessel, and it turns out super-macho para-military demons like Paul can only really tell if a woman is destined to be his by sleeping with her ... this isn't a fantasy novel aimed at Gloria Steinem's night-stand). He abducts poor Holly and, um, auditions her rather strenuously, and in the course of the book she discovers that she herself isn't what she seems ... yet another exponent of the disturbing Twilight-ethos in which a young woman can only achieve self-awareness through getting rogered good and proper by a man. Although at least in this case the man was a sturdy little super-model and not a mush-faced bent-chested little Gothling ...
We go from primal supernatural fantasy to primal supernatural fantasy by turning next to Pamela Palmer's "Feral Warriors" novel Desire Untamed, which features a truly astounding cover-image of our hero in mid-crouch, buck-naked except for a lion-head arm-band. Palmer, wise woman that she is, clearly has a thing for Paul - he's appeared on a number of her book-covers, but never to more mesmerizing effect than here: caught in steamy red, muscles taut, eyes glowing, hair unabashedly Fabio-esque. In this book Paul goes by the name of Lyon, the leader of a band of Feral Warriors, the Therians, who are seeking a woman - a woman they call the Radiant, who's destined to renew their fading race (three guesses how)(sigh). Unbeknownst to her, that woman is ordinary every-day preschool teacher Kara MacAllister, who discovers in the course of the book that she herself isn't what she seems ... so yes, Palmer and Cole have essentially written the same book, with our boy Paul doing double-duty as both a sexy demon and an enormous house-cat. But the point is: look at that cover! In many ways, it's unlike any Romance cover seen before: not only is it explicitly erotic in ways that all that Brokeback Mountaineering couldn't hope to be, but it's explicitly personal - directed squarely at the reader in open invitation. It's instantly one of the very best Paul Marron covers of all time.
Urban fantasy gives way to science fiction in Susan Kearney's Rion, the second instalment in her "Pendragon Legacy" series. Here Paul goes by the name of, you guessed it, Rion, a half-breed space explorer from the planet Honor who kidnaps sexy human telepath Marisa Rourke because she unwittingly holds the key to the salvation of his ... OK, OK. So it's just possible there's a trade-off going on here. It's possible this astounding new level of Paul Marron covers comes at a price - not just to Gloria Steinem but to women everywhere, who are here reading adventure after adventure of female main characters who have no clue about their capabilities or even identities until those things are revealed to them, through sex, by a sultry Paul-avatar. And the Paul-avatar uses the (allegedly) affectionate adjective 'little' in conjunction with her name/title for the whole book. And the sex happens because she's been abducted and sprawled forcibly on the bed/chamber floor/forest sward/starship bridge. OK, OK, so this trend is pretty bad. But again: look at that cover! This one takes the Marron Gamble to new levels: there's nothing promised here except the promises implied by our hero's stunning face. That's a far cry from horny Brazilian millionaires.
We come right back down to Earth for Stephanie Tyler's Hard to Hold, in which Paul appears as Lieutenant Jake Hansen, hard-bitten (and yet gorgeous!) Navy SEAL who's ordered to darkest Africa to spirit feisty, sexy Dr. Isabelle Markham out of harm's way. Since he's ordered to do this with or without her cooperation, we're talking about our fourth abduction in just this one entry, although at least nobody's expecting poor Isabelle to save an entire planet (or are they?). And the cover doesn't disappoint: there's our boy, steamily glancing off to his right, sweaty torso clad in a tight tank top, taut little chest sporting Special Op dog-tags, handsome face drawn to sharp, intense focus. Pre-Marron, such a cover would have been unthinkable - cover-editors would have said it lacked any kind of story-line. And they'd have been right: any other model couldn't manage to convey a story-line simply by pouting there. But this particular model has been forged, as we've seen, in countless adventures - he's known apocalyptic wastelands, English country villas, immortal vampire-queens, and more than a few tightly-bound perils, and he's emerged from them all with a cover-confidence never seen before in the Romance world.
Where will it take him, you wonder? Why, to a series of ever-more-satisfying climaxes, of course! We'll seize on one in our next thrilling chapter!