But according to bestselling romance author Sarah MacLean, those who criticize them are missing the point entirely. “These covers are designed to basically say, ‘Men, keep out!’ Because romance novels aren’t for them. They’re not for a patriarchal society, it’s for the other. It’s having that conversation about the patriarchy in front of patriarchy—without them noticing,” she says. Just make something designed for women actually by women, and rest-assured men won’t go anywhere near it.
And on the set, as the wolf howls gave way to top 40 jams, I was introduced to the cover’s hero figure, male model Will Reis (who yes, did have an 8-pack.) The clean-cut, chiseled 25-year-old was undergoing a transformation. While Reis was already wearing a platinum blond wig, the shoot’s stylist was still futzing around, braiding a few strands together for optimum effect. Once completed, Reis was thrilled with his new look. “I’ve always idolized Fabio,” he told me. “I love the long hair. It’s a breakaway look. People look at you as kind of like a God amongst them when you have super long hair.”
Up next was Reis’ makeup session, which primarily consisted of the stylist rubbing a mix of powders over his abs to look like mud. And as he got tastefully dirtied, I learned that Reis, too, was a romance shoot virgin. When I asked if he had any hesitation accepting the gig, pointing to the idea of “mommy porn,” Reis assured me that he was, “pumped.” He also added, “I always like hanging with older women more than I like younger women. They just get it, you know?”
With hair and makeup complete, the vision for the day started to come together. The inspiration was simple, and I soon learned, very common in the romance genre: Jason Momoa in furs. “[Jason] has so much drama in his look. He’s that guy who is intimidating and strong but you’d still want to fall in love with him. There’s definitely a fantasy appeal to him and that kind of romance,” said Rita Frangie Batour, senior art director for Berkeley Publishing (the company behind A Touch of Stone and Snow).