By Michael Wallis
May 01, 1978 12:00 PM

I tried to sit up. He shoved me back down, and I cried out, but he smothered my cry with his lips, kissing me with an urgency that communicated itself to me, became my own, and I held him to me, trembling beneath him as his hands lifted my skirts.

—from Dare to Love by Jennifer Wilde

Rejoice, historical-romance fans, Jennifer Wilde is back. And to no one’s surprise, Jennifer’s latest novel is palpitating its way up the paperback best-seller list. After all, his first scorcher two years ago, Love’s Tender Fury, sold some 2.5 million copies.

His? Uh, well, it seems that Jennifer Wilde is a pseudonym for Tom E. (for Elmer) Huff, a soft-spoken, 40-year-old bachelor and ex-high school teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. Previous to his incarnation as Jennifer, Huff wrote 19 books, mostly gothic novels, under such names as Beatrice Parker, Edwina Marlow and Katherine St. Clair.

Understandably, Huff would much prefer that only his publisher (Warner Books) knew about his gentle deception. “There’s a certain mystique about this stuff, you see,” he says earnestly. “If those women who buy my books ever get the idea that a man has written them, it could put a block in their minds.”

To preserve Jennifer’s secret, Huff makes himself as elusive and reclusive as possible. He shuns reporters and photographers. His phone is unlisted and, for good measure, often unplugged. Living quietly in a plain, two-story brick home with his mother, Beatrice, Huff says, “I’m usually unshaven, in an old T-shirt, in front of my typewriter getting the job done.”

Known as Tommy in the neighborhood where he has lived all his life, Huff was a 1960 graduate of Texas Wesleyan College just a few miles away. After that he got a job teaching English at R.L. Paschal High School. He is remembered there as a popular teacher, a spinner of first-person yarns and a resolutely independent soul. “He got peeved at the principal one day,” recalls history teacher Zelma Rhodes, “and he up and quit.”

Long a dabbler at writing, Huff started on his road to best-selling anonymity 11 years ago. “You just work like hell and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll make it,” Huff says. “I had to turn out three gothics a year to make a living.”

Now he is about to emerge from the literary closet with a novel under his real name, due from St. Martin’s Press next winter. Refusing to discuss his new book, except to admit that it will be a far cry from his sizzling paperbacks, Huff talks like a man shedding an awesome burden. “My goal has been to reach a point where I can write what I want to. The Jennifer Wilde thing will be over with,” he sighs, adding as if in pain, “I don’t relate to her at all.”