Holy Harlequin!

With sales of Christian fiction skyrocketing, it was only a matter of time before commercial publishers found religion. But romance publishers? It's hard to believe, but Harlequin Enterprises has renounced sex and embraced God in its new Love Inspired line of "inspirational romances."

"People have found an oxymoron in the combination of Harlequin and Christian fiction," admits Anne Canadeo, editor of the new line. Asked why there are no sex scenes in the Love Inspired books—not even between married characters—Canadeo explains, "The emphasis is on emotional exchange. You have a relationship between a traditional male and female character, and God is a part of that relationship."

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The company has enlisted prominent religious authors for the series, including Carole Gift Page, who has written for the Christian market for 27 years. "I saw this as a chance to communicate what I really believe to a much wider audience," she says. Page weighed the drawbacks of having her books tucked among steamier romances, but says, "In the Scriptures, when Jesus wanted to reach the people, he didn't stay with the scribes and Pharisees, he went to where the people were."

Harlequin has also signed up its veteran romance novelists, such as Arlene James and Penny Richards. But while the prose in the Love Inspired books is similar to that found in Harlequin's Silhouette romance novels, the plot climaxes are distinctly different:

From Penny Richards'
Unanswered Prayers
(Love Inspired):

As Howard stared into [Evie's] limpid blue gaze, he felt like a drowning man… . He drew her into his arms and covered her mouth with his. Her lips were softer than an angel's whisper… . Suddenly she wrenched free and pushed him away… . "You broke your promise… . You said there would be no sex until I was ready."

"You're right," he said with a heavy sigh.

From Richards'
The Ranger and the Schoolmarm
(Silhouette):

Georgia wore nothing but a wisp of gown made of white lace and satin… . [Zach's] eyes feasted on her… . Finally, when he thought she was ready, when he couldn't wait any longer, his hips began to move in the ancient, arcane dance of love.

From Arlene James'
The Perfect Wedding
(Love Inspired):

Yet just as his embrace grew more demanding he realized he had gone too far. She stiffened and broke apart the kiss… . "I haven't ever felt this way before," she said softly. "But I think I should tell you I won't sleep with you unless we get married. My faith won't allow me to settle for anything less."

From James'
The Knight, the Waitress, and the Toddler
(Silhouette):

Pushing him down onto his back, she rose… and, affording him a delightful view of her luscious breasts, employed both hands… . His hands were at work, as well, stroking and pressing and shaping… . She gasped, exquisitely responsive… . He knew it was coming and rejoiced.

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