Mr Boon has died. Olivia Stewart-Liberty thanks him for her dissolute youth
r Boon is dead. Chairman of the publishing house, Mills & Boon, he gave the world the romantic novel, fed my rapacious appetite for years, and fuelled my certainty that somehwere, somehow, my hero is still out there.

I was an addict from the age of 12 to 17. I sacrificed my O-levels to Mr Boon's books, and even my piano Grade Six. While practising scales, I read Mills & Boons at the music stand. I even made a tape of arpeggios to fool my mother while I walked among men with V-shaped torsos and powerful thighs. I couldn't get enough of these tales of devastating attraction, terrible misunderstandings, heart-wrenching partings and, in the end, sweet reunion:

"Little one, to think I almost lost you ..."

"Oh Rex, when I saw you with her ... She was so beautiful..."

"But Heather, she's my step-sister ... she told me she was ill ... Come here ..."

"Oh Rex ... Forever."

By the time I was 15 I was doing three, sometimes four a day. The far- off countries, the deep blue (or jet black, or emerald green) eyes, the outfits (scanty, period, or ripped in passion) and the heartbreak all blended into one universal story, one love. My heart would race when I heard my mother's step upon the stair. I'd stuff Silent Surrender or Midnight Encounter under the pillow, wipe my eyes and grab Silas Marner or some other stultifyingly dull O-level text.

I was virtually a founder member of the Mills & Boon club - pounds 7 a month and four new titles guaranteed, all hot off the press and promising two hours of heart-pounding bliss. I even got a free Mills & Boon tote bag, and a monthly spoon emblazoned with that immortal crest in a small suede pouch.

Those halcyon days ended pretty sharpish: one morning my mother intercepted an earlier than expected monthly package, and replied to the club by return of post enquiring first whether they knew my age and, second, how they expected a 13-year-old to meet their monthly fiscal demands?

It was not only my academic life that suffered at the hands of Mills & Boon. My moral character began to slide, too.

I had a friend who was similarly afflicted: she joined me in wrapping biology text books and Latin dictionaries around the 180-page romances to ensure uninterrupted, through-school enjoyment. Then we got daring. One day we sprinted up the school drive and out of bounds to the public library. Not only were our library cards full, but worse, we owed money.

As we approached the revolving rack from which the bright spines beckoned, I spoke to the librarian for a few crucial moments concerning the whereabouts of some non-existent book. Meanwhile, my friend relieved the bulging shelves of some of their stock.

We escaped with about ten books that day, five each. Our need was such that I don't believe we felt even the slightest twinge of remorse as we skipped off to catch our bus. We spent the journey drinking in the exotic pictures on the covers before taking it in turns to choose which went home with whom that night. Of course we had our favourite authors, Kate Darcy and the likes, the ones who offered the most plausible plots, the heroines who talked back and those magnificent, brooding Porsche-driving heroes who'd triumphed over the most piteous childhood misfortunes. I do not blame Mills & Boon for my less than superb exam results, nor for the occasional moral lapse dictated by my addiction. On the contrary, I am grateful for the legacy those books have left: I will never settle for second best in a man.

I am content in the knowledge that my Rex will show up, his eyes blazing, that single muscle twitching in his steely jaw and his broad shoulders and powerfully defined chest deliciously discernible beneath his taut shirt. There will be no mistaking his identity, the books have taught me that much. Our meeting will be heralded by the tell-tale bolt of electricity, the tingling at the top of the spine and the steady blush which will seep involuntarily as our eyes meet.

What are a few O-levels compared with the invaluable ability to spot Mr Right?