The first one I read was at home. It was Ma's. It was called Kona Winds, it was set in Hawaii. Its weird because Still life with Woodpecker, the book that I tend to quote most about love, is also set in Hawaii.
The second Mills and Boon I read was the one I liked more. I don't remember the name, though I remember the story really well. She was called Alicia, and he was called Jean-Luc or Jean-Marie or Jean-something.
She was very pretty, and British. After been jilted by her ex at the altar, she duly lost faith in love, pulled her hair back in a tight chignon and made it big as a high profile fashion designer in Europe. Now this tall-rich French guy, with his hyphenated name, squarish jaw and piercing eyes, is hosting a wedding for his goddaughter, and our belle dame sans merci, Alicia, has been hired to design everything for the wedding of the century.
She walks in. She can feel his eyes following her. Animal magnetism. A passionate kiss in a moment of weakness. Confusion. The other woman. The other man. Further confusion. Then in the last ten pages, they make-up, and kiss. In that order.
There were some hints about the happy ever after.
Classic M&B. I devoured it. I read it like it was literature. From cover to cover. And then I read it again. And again. A few times over. Ah, to taste the forbidden fruit... and the cheap thrills of youth... At that age, I was curious as hell, and ready to read anything in print, and romance novels were out-of-bounds.
Ma and I never spoke about romance. I am not sure she liked the story I just narrated, but it would be wrong to judge her ideas about romance. She would buy them for long boring train journeys, and upon returning home, symbolically trash them by hiding them in the top-most shelf, hoping I couldn't reach them. My cousin sisters would come, and take these away. They were a lot older, heavily into this stuff, and unwilling to buy it for themselves.
College came with its own share of romance and romance novels. With the curiosity dead, and having figured out the pattern in them, it wasn't so exiting to read them anymore. But during those uncertain years, there was definitely something reassuring about their predictability.
There was this little lending library next to the hostel which stocked up very few good books and tons of trash. During cram-time before exams, Dep and I would borrow Archie comics and M&B from there, and read them for a break. Each of us had developed our individual style of reading them. I used to read the back cover and the last twenty pages. She used to read the first five, and one page every ten pages thereafter. Neither of us admitted to the other that we occasionally skipped to the two-pages-where-they-kiss and read them too.
I don't think the books really affected my ideas about romance, or love in general. The characters in there were rather unbelievable, hence. But those days, these books did strike a note somewhere...
I haven't read even one since.