Find romance on and off the pages

COSTA MESA — Although Toni Buner has never been bitten by a vampire, met a pillaging pirate or been rescued by a knight, the bookseller can tell you any of the fictional scenarios that would happen should you encounter one.

Being in the business of books' "happy endings" for 23 years, the owner of New and Recycled Romances has read more steamy novels than most, becoming something of an unofficial expert on the subject.

In her 1,000-square-foot shop at 145 Broadway, Bruner has more than 60,000 new and used titles dating to the 1980s. She's read about 70% of the titles in her inventory.

"We get very few nasty customers," Bruner said. "People are very happy when they come in here because that's the sort of thing they're looking for."

Bruner and a busload of other like-minded romantics are preparing to meet the authors behind their favorite novels April 9 at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention Book Fair in Los Angeles.

However, perhaps more thrilling than meeting the author of titles such as "Hearts Aflame" or "Captive Rose" is the chance to meet the male models that inspire the book covers' racy artwork.

Bruner doesn't expect Fabio to be attendance — the 52-year-old heartthrob has started penning the novels rather than just posing for them — but there's a good chance that other men will be there auditioning to become the face and body for the next wave of published titles.

Over all, there will be about 400 authors in attendance, she said.

While Bruner has already filled 20 seats at $30 per ticket on the bus going to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in downtown Los Angeles, she doesn't anticipate having trouble filling the remaining 10 seats — or an additional bus if need be.

There's just something almost addicting about romance novels that keeps the reader coming back for more, she said.

"Why do you think people go to the movies to see a comedy?" said Debbie Fazzi, who was first hired on by Bruner to alphabetize her collection 22 years ago. "People want that happy, euphoric feeling. It's an escape for their daily lives."

Sure enough, even with the advent of the Kindle and other e-readers, the demand for romance novels keeps Bruner on her feet a little more than she originally anticipated when she first set up shop.

"I thought that I could sit there and read my books all day, maybe occasionally sell one," Bruner said. "It didn't work out that way."

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