Or any kind of basis in reality. Its sales figures and publishing output — million annual worldwide sales and more than 70 titles released in the UK every month — confirm the popularity of the genre.
Romance, with its promise of escapism, fantasy and, of course, a happy ending, outsells literary or any other type of fiction, and at 2. She believes the longing for a happy ending is part of the human condition. The Italian's Blackmailed Mistress follows a plot structure typical of romance novels. The hero and heroine meet and are attracted hopelessly, passionately, like nothing she has ever experienced before , but before their love can be satisfied, a number of obstacles must be overcome and misunderstandings resolved he is a rogue and must change his ways; or he has a secret, undeserving wife stashed away; she has made a pledge to something or someone else.
The promise of the final resolution of the love affair, and the emotional satisfaction this offers the reader, is the hook that continues to hold romance fans captive. Despite having a reputation for being stuffy and out of date, certain elements of the books have moved with the times. The blackmailed mistress of the title, Sophie Rutherford, for example, speaks six languages and runs her own global translation business. The conflict at the heart of the modern romance typically involves the heroine's struggle between upholding her independence and submitting to the hero's charms. In the course of one novel, a heroine can expect to be captured and captivated, bought, sold, to become 'beholden', to be left 'dumbstruck' and, ultimately, to be 'overwhelmed'.
If one of the great pleasures of reading is to identify with a fictional character, why do so many women relate to these images of dominance and submission? She admits these fantasies confine women to a passive role. But I think this touches our secret wish that love is something that will 'just happen' to us. If the popularity of these novels is an indicator of women's fantasies, it is unsettling to discover that so many women, in , relate to this idea of being passively taken against their will.
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We are still told that nice girls don't initiate sex. This means the easiest way we can enjoy sex is if it wasn't our idea. Being dominated means we have no control over the experience, and sex is something that happens to us. Pringle agrees that the publisher's heroes are larger-than-life alpha males, but is adamant that the heroines in her books are never subjugated by them.
I make them strong and successful in their own right and I don't follow the dominant-submissive model. Pringle's first novel, Dr Campbell's Secret Son, features a single mother swept off her feet by a handsome doctor. The heroine's dilemma is whether she moves abroad to be with him, putting her own life on hold as he expects. The author allows her characters to reach a modern compromise. Culturally, we associate doctors with images of powerful and heroic figures and, as healers, doctors and surgeons tap into another submissive fantasy, that of being 'saved'.
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Medical romances are one of the publisher's ten sub-genres. Others include historical romance hot Norman conquerors and smouldering Roman emperors ; super-romance if plain old romance no longer satisfies ; and Blaze, the most sexually explicit of the lot, promising "scorching satisfaction" as characters embark on "sexual adventures and fantasy journeys".
The sheer volume of the paperbacks, along with the formulaic plots and writing that is never going to win the Booker Prize, has led to accusations that the novels are pulp, trash and lacking literary merit. Not everyone agrees. Just because a novel is easily accessible doesn't necessarily mean it is simplistic. Romance novels can be intellectually stimulating, challenging and well written.
Has Mills & Boon managed a feminist rebrand?
To dismiss a whole genre as lowbrow or trashy is just snobbery. She is seduced in Sicily, ravaged in Rome, enticed on to private jets and yachts. Max pursues her across pages. Just little memories, leaping out at her from nowhere that would make her catch her breath until she blinked them away, and then things would return to normal. Megan laughed. Although I did notice that Lucy the donkey kept her distance. Amazing what a spot of blackmail can do.
I told him he could watch my next football match. The main hall was a majestic space that was used for all the school's theatrical performances and for full assemblies. A magnificent Christmas tree, donated by one of the parents, stood in the corner, brightly lit with twinkling lights and festooned with decorations—many from the school reserves but a fair few also donated by parents.
Elsewhere, along one side, were tables groaning with the delicacies and also bottles of wine—red and white. The place was buzzing with parents and their offspring, who had changed back into their school gear, and numerous doting relatives. In between the teachers mingled, and enjoyed the thought that term was over and they would be having a three-week break from the little darlings.
Megan was not returning to Scotland for the holidays. Her parents had decided to take themselves off to the sunshine, and her sisters were vanishing to the in-laws'. Playing the abandonment card had been a source of great family mirth, but really she was quite pleased to be staying put in London. There was a lot going on, and Charlotte would be staying down as well. They had already put up their tree in the little house they shared in Shepherd's Bush, and had great plans for a Christmas lunch to which the dispossessed had been cordially invited.
Provided they arrived bearing food or drink. A surprising number of people had seemed happy to be included in the 'dispossessed' category, and so far the numbers were up to fifteen—which would be a logistical nightmare, because the sitting room was small—but a crush of bodies had never fazed Megan. The more the merrier, as far as she was concerned. She heard Dominic before she actually spotted him. As was often the case with him, he was stridently informing one of his classmates what Father Christmas was bringing him.
He seemed utterly convinced that the requested shed-load of presents would all be delivered, and Megan wondered whether he had threatened the poor guy with a prison sentence should his demands not be met. She was smiling when she approached his mother, curious to see what she looked like. Matching parents to kids was an interesting game played by most teachers, and this time the mental picture connected perfectly with the real thing.
Dominic Park's mother looked like a lawyer. She was tall, even wearing smart, black patent leather flats, with a regal bearing. Dark hair was pulled back into an elegant chignon, and her blue eyes were clever and cool. Despite the informality of the occasion, she was wearing an immaculate dove-grey suit, with a pashmina loosely draped around her shoulders. She was introduced via Dominic, who announced, without preamble, that this was Miss Reynolds and she had promised she would take him to watch her play football. This was a woman, Megan thought, who probably distributed her smiles like gold dust—or maybe she had forgotten how to smile at all, because it wasn't called for in a career that saw her putting people into prison, if her son was to be believed.
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Not terribly challenging, is it? She took it from him. Very convincing. I've told him a hundred times that I'm a corporate lawyer! And we shall have to discuss Dominic watching your football match, I'm afraid. We're very busy over the Christmas period, and Nanny won't be around for three days, so I shall be hard-pressed to spare the time to take him anywhere.
Megan was busy feeling sorry for poor Nanny, who had clearly been inconsiderate enough to ask for time off over Christmas, when she was aware that they had been joined by someone. The elegant lawyer had stopped in mid-flow, and there actually was something of a smile on her face now as she looked past Megan to whoever was standing behind her. The name alone was sufficient to send Megan into a tail-spin. Of course there was more than one Alessandro in the world! It was a common Italian name! It was just disconcerting to hear that name when she had been thinking about him only minutes earlier.
She turned around, and the unexpected rushed towards her like a freight train at full speed, taking her breath away. Because there he was. Alessandro Caretti. Her Alessandro. Standing in front of her.
A spectre from the past. Seven years separated memory from reality, but he had remained the same. Still lean, still muscular, still staggeringly good-looking. Yes, a little older now, and his face was harsher, more forbidding, but this was the man who had haunted her dreams for so long and still cropped up in her thoughts like a virus lying dormant in her bloodstream—controlled, but never really going away. She had never seen him in a suit before.
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Seven years ago he had worn jeans and sweatshirts. He was wearing a suit now, a charcoal-grey suit, and, yes, a white shirt—so some things must not have changed. Megan could feel the blood rushing into her face, and it was a job to keep steady, to hold out her hand politely and wonder if he would even recognise her. Her hair was shorter now, but still as uncontrollable as it always had been. Everything else was the same. What was he doing here? Was he Dominic's father? But, no. He was engaged! Wearing a suit and engaged to the perfect woman he had foreseen all those years ago when he had broken up with her.
On the verge of flight, she was stopped by Dominic announcing yet again—this time to Alessandro—that Miss Reynolds would be taking him to a football match. At this, Alessandro focused his fabulous dark eyes on her and said, un-smilingly, 'Isn't that beyond the call of duty, Miss Reynolds? How can you not even recognise me?
Megan wanted to yell. Had she been so forgettable? Didn't he even recognise her name? Maybe he had met so many women over the years that faces and names had all become one great big blur.