Last week at the supermarket, while shopping for my weekly supply of three dozen eggs and 12 pounds of mutton, I spotted a rack near the checkout lane containing several romance paperbacks. Normally, such trash wouldn't get a second glance from my coal-black eyes, but the sight of one book practically made my chiseled jaw drop. There, on the cover of Dark Passions was yours truly, Duncan Larksthrush, in the flesh.
At first I thought it must have been a coincidence. There must be thousands of men with huge, glistening pectorals and shoulder-length golden hair whose steadfast gaze betrays immeasurable fathoms of passion.
But there can be no doubt it was me. The cover artist must have followed me during a recent visit to my ancestral estate on the tempest-swept promontories of Northern Scotland. Judging from the picture, the sketch was based on the occasion in which I chanced upon Arden, the crofter's nubile young daughter, kneeling upon a rocky outcropping and picking some wildflowers from the weathered stone. Even though I had only just finished tilling seven acres of firm earth, I knew at once my broad, thewy arms could take her. "You rogue! I shall not allow this offense against my honor!" she cried out, her titian hair uncoiling in the Caledonian wind. As I dipped her low, her pounding heart betrayed her pleas for her chastity, and my turgid manhood would be denied no longer.
That bastard must have been hiding with a sketchbook in the bushes.
You can understand my smoldering rage. I certainly don't recall agreeing to have my well-hewn physique splashed across every newsstand and bookrack in town. Admittedly, my schedule has been full lately—I purchased a new leather arm cuff, reclined on an empty beach in my tattered sheepskin boots and full riding gear, waxed and re-oiled my chest—however, posing for the cover painting of Dark Passions definitely was not on my list. But apparently, a rugged, flat-stomached man's privacy means little to author Stephanie Blackmoore when it comes to the pursuit of profit.
I just hope no one I know sees it. The other blacksmiths would never let me live this down.
Nor can I imagine what would possess someone to depict such a scene. I was certainly far from respectably kempt: Having just finished reaping oats with my scythe, my white, blousy tunic was dirty and tattered. It was practically torn from my shoulders, and the striated muscles of my bronzed torso were exposed for anyone to see. And my errant tresses had slipped out of their leathern knot and clove to my cheek with the dewy sweat of a full day's labor. Blazes! Had I known I would be fronting a bestseller, I would have taken a shower and put on my nice red shirt, and maybe a tie.
I never asked for this. The life I chose to lead is one of solitude, whether I'm building log cabins in the foggy Ozarks, or tending to my vineyards in the Tuscan countryside. But those blissful days of rugged independence seem to be over. Will I ever again be able to collapse wounded into the arms of a busty field nurse during my town's annual Civil War reenactment without becoming the poster boy for the next vulgar potboiler?
Can't a brawny, brooding man ride his stallion slowly through the fresh-smelling air of a misty forest at dawn and think ruefully back to his tender childhood that seems to him now to exist in another world entirely—without having to constantly look over his perfectly sculpted shoulders?
No, this is no way for a free and unfettered man with a small fortune inherited from a distant noble relative to live. Therefore, I have decided to weigh anchor and set sail with my crew of strapping young seamen aboard my sloop, The Moonlight Arrow, toward destinations exotic and unknown. Once at sea, as the suzerain's daughter I have shanghaied from our last port-of-call clings hungrily to my abdomen, her honeyed breath playing about my breast, I will gaze stoically at the horizon from the prow of my ship, where none of those frauds at Harlequin/Silhouette would ever care to find me.