When I was about ten or eleven years old I discovered Harlequin Presents in the racks of book at Woolworth's (remember them?). And then I couldn't stop. I used to devour them the way I still devour Twizzlers (Seriously, if I have a bag I can't eat just one, especially chocolate Twizzlers).
Harlequin Presents were the first romances that I ever read, and I confess, I read them primarily because there was a hint of sex in them. Each month, I would take my allowance, go down to the bookstore, and buy the entire line of books which were about six a month, even back then. I liked Janet Dailey's books because she was the only author at the time that was American. She set each of her Harlequin Presents in a different state, eventually ending up in the Guinness Book of World Records for her feat.
But it was the ones that were set in England that I adored, dark, brooding heroes, and young innocent heroines. I was so sure the minute that I set foot in England I would find my own HP hero (Didn't exactly happen like that although one of my dearest friends, who is English, actually looks like an HP hero come to life.)
The plots usually involved a much older hero, who seduces, blackmails etc. the heroine into marrying him. Generally because her father/brother is embezzling from the hero's company to pay for his wife/mother/girlfriend’s surgery. My favorite was one that I think Sara Craven wrote where the heroine had a brain tumor and didn’t have long to live. So of course she decides to take a cruise around the world before her death. On board, she meets the hero who is (of course) a world-renowned neurosurgeon. When the heroine collapses, he performs surgery to remove tumor; I kid you not, not in a hospital but on board the ship. Can you imagine Doc from The Love Boat doing that? It was THE BEST BOOK EVER! Over the years, I stopped reading Harlequin Presents as much as I became enamored of other category series, Silhouette Desire, Harlequin Temptation, Blaze, and Loveswept.
For some reason lately, I've found myself drawn to those white covers again. Harlequin Presents are really the ultimate comfort read, the equivalent of dipping into a box of particularly good dark chocolates. Like Calgon, the books take me away to a different world. After a long day at work, or after I’ve spent hours working on a particularly thorny chapter, sitting down to read a Harlequin Presents is sheer bliss. They take me back to the days when I was an awkward pre-teen who had crushes on Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton, and spent hours watching night-time soaps like Dynasty, Dallas, and Falcon Crest.
Yes, I know that the titles can be incredibly cheesy, (Her Pregnancy of Revenge, The Sheikh's Impatient Virgin, and His Mistress for a Million just to name a few). And they are so easy to parody (read The Unfeasibly Tall Greek Billionaire's Blackmailed Martyr-Complex Secretary Mistress Bride and you'll see what I mean) but I love them. I get to be whisked away for awhile to glamorous romantic locations like Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, or Australia. The heroes are still powerful, ruthless, Alpha Males the more arrogant the better, usually foreign billionaires, royalty or sheiks. The difference is the heroines are older, more independent, and feisty and give the hero as hard of a time as he does her. What makes the books such a satisfying read is that they practically throb with passion, although they aren’t particularly explicit compared to say the Blaze line. You don’t know where the hero is going to kiss the heroine or throttle her.
Harlequin Presents are one of the most popular lines that Harlequin publishes. The books have jumped from six a month to ten a month (6 regular presents and 4 Presents Extra). I've discovered wonderful authors like Kate Hardy, Heidi Rice, India Grey, Susan Napier, and one of my favorites, Jane Porter. Right now, I'm reading Caitlin Crews's March release Katrakis's Sweet Prize and loving it. It’s like an homage to the Harlequin Presents that I grew up with. The hero is Nikos Katrakis who is looking for a new mistress when, out of the blue, the heroine, heiress Tristanne Barbery offers herself to him. See she needs money to pay for her mother’s medical bills and her awful half-brother won’t give her the money. Here’s a little taste from the back cover. ‘Could satisfaction and revenge really be that easy to obtain? Tristanne knew better than to play games with a man of such devastatingly lethal charisma like Nikos. But, though she had a good idea of the kind of sacrifice she was offering, she had no choice. To Nikos’s surprise, Tristanne was not the weak, biddable good-time girl he’d expected... and soon his plans for vengeance came crumbling down around him!’ Doesn’t that just sound delicious?
Elizabeth Kerri Mahon loves to write about Scandalous Women & the men that loved them. Her first book, Scandalous Women, was published by Perigee Books in March 2011. Visit her at scandalouswoman.blogspot.com.