Virgin for Sale by Susan Stephens
(Harl. Pres. #2515, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-12515-1
The Harlequin Presents line is a guilty pleasure for me, with its super-alpha heroes and the heroines who love them. I bought Susan Stephens’ Virgin for Sale in spite of its lurid title because it's the first in a new series, Uncut, which proclaims "even more passion for your reading pleasure." There was more sex in it than in many Presents titles, but I was too frustrated by the hero to enjoy the overall read.

Constantine (Tino) Zagorakis attends a meeting with Lisa Bond for one reason: he wants to buy her company. The fact that he desires Lisa is an unexpected development, but it won’t stop him from his main agenda.

Lisa, meanwhile, wants to sell a portion of her company, enough for a much-needed cash infusion. Otherwise, the entire company is likely to go under. When Tino proves evasive, she follows him to Stellamaris, where he has a villa. Once she arrives, Tino tells her to stay there if she wants to convince him of her business plan.

Tino is an alpha run amuk. I don't expect a Harlequin Presents hero to be a softer, gentler man, but Tino takes manipulation to an extreme. He’s incredibly high-handed regarding business and his personal life. The man simply does not know how to bend.

Even more frustrating are Tino’s thoughts about women in general and Lisa in particular. The story is full of phrases like “He couldn’t afford to go soft” and “The thought of dominating Lisa had real appeal.” It might appeal to him, but this reader didn’t find the idea as engaging, especially in light of Lisa’s background. Does a woman who left a fanatical, controlling commune as a teenager really need to be dominated for her own good? Tino knew about her background from day one.

Lisa’s past brings up another issue. Her backstory was rife with possibility, as was Tino’s troubled past. But these possibilities were like ghosts that hung over the story — while they never went away, they remain insubstantial until the end of the book. This is a pity, since delving into the histories could have added so much richness and character development. Instead, it emphasizes what the story could have been.

In any case, Stephens is clearly a good writer; I just wish Tino had been a bit less bulldozer-ish. Have any suggestions? Stephens is a strong writer, and there are a few touching moments toward the end of Virgin for Sale. However, I simply can’t recommend a book whose hero reminds one of a bulldozer. I hope the next book I read features a soft-spoken, beta hero. I’m ready for a nice change.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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