Brazenly he takes your hand, long hair tossing like windswept sails. Locking his smoldering eyes with yours, the bronzed barbarian unfurls a rapturous smile, unleashing in you a fevered yearning, the irresistible fire of unfulfilled passion!

TRANSLATION: MEETING FABIO CAN BE pretty intense. After all, the 31-year-old Italian model has posed for the cover illustrations of more than 300 racy romance paperbacks, and he's even more heart stopping in the flesh. Just ask Sandra Sexton, 50, who drove nine hours from Pensacola, Fla., to spend 10 seconds getting photographed with Fabio at a convention of over 1,000 romance-novel fans in Savannah, Ga., last month. "Oh, his blue eyes just get to me," she says with a sigh. Or ask Joann Weiler, a Gap, Pa., mother of five: "He's just raw sexuality, that's all." Or ask the giddy Girl Seoul who at the sight of him squeals, "His muscles ripple. They really ripple!"

Those pecs have earned Fabio, who once posed for 16 covers in a single day, as much as $3,000 for 45 minutes of pretending to be a pirate, prince or Viking. But at 6'3" and 220 lbs., with a 48-inch chest and lusher locks than the entire East Coast chapter of Hair Club for Men, he's worth it: Fabio on the cover, romance editors believe, guarantees a book's success. "No one remembers who writes these books," says Fabio. "Hut people remember Fabio."

Soon, Fabio himself will be scripting the books: He has just signed a six-figure deal to pen three romance novels for Avon. "My plots are secret," says Fabio. "But there will be one Viking, one pirate and one time-travel story." For now he offers his romantic musings on a new $1.99-aminute 900 number ("The eyes are the mirror of the soul"). "The best messages get a personal call back from me," says Fabio, who is very comfortable being a romantic role model. "People pinch my butt or ask me for an autograph, but I don't mind, because it costs me nothing and it makes that person's day."

Playing the swashbuckler comes naturally to Fabio, the son of Sauro Lanzoni, a Milanese mechanical engineer, and his wife, Flora, a homemaker. "I always wanted to be out there" says Fabio, who at 21 moved to New York City, marched into the Ford Modeling Agency and, he says, "15 minutes later walked out with a contract." His big break came in 1986 when, to instant notoriety, he posed for the cover of his first romance novel. Says romance writer Heather Graham: "Fabio's got it all—the tall, the broad, the handsome."

In 1991 he moved to West Hollywood, where he shares a high-tech two-story house with four Great Danes and is hoping to push his movie career beyond cameos in Scenes from a Mall and Exorcist III into leading-man roles. In the meantime, Fabio, who's had his great mane since he was a child, keeps his chest baby smooth by shaving it twice a week and keeps his body rock-hard through daily running, biking and weight lifting.

Alas, at the moment there is no woman to sweep into those powerful arms forever. "I date now, but I'm not involved with anyone seriously," he says. "I love independent women, but I am romantic. When I think of a perfect evening, I think of riding bicycles into the desert at sunset or having a picnic in the moonlight." Marriage and children can wait though. "I'm not ready," he says. "I'm still too young." Translation: No spirited vixen has yet to tame this brazen prince!

ALEX TRESNIOWSKI
GAIL WESCOTT in Savannah

  • Contributors:
  • Gail Wescott.