Valentine’s Day demands romantic reading, and who better to suggest titles than past winners of the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Librarian of the Year Award? Romance fans read the genre for many reasons, but one of the strongest draws is a hero to cheer for, a guy worthy of the reader’s time and the heroine’s attention. These six heroes stride onto the page, as wastrels, as warriors, as bumbling gentlemen, and steal the heroine’s heart and often her common sense.
In Terri Brisbin’s poignant historical His Enemy’s Daughter (Harlequin. 2011. ISBN 9780373296347. pap. $5.99), Soren Fitzrobert is a hero’s hero, a skilled warrior renowned for his beauty who is disfigured in battle by his enemy, Durward of Alston. His only comfort is his vow of revenge on all who bear the Durward name‚ including Durward’s beautiful daughter, Sybilla. Vengeance arrives when the king grants Soren Durward’s holdings and orders him to marry Sybilla. Soren’s plan to use his enemy’s daughter begins to unravel when he learns she was blinded during his raid on her father’s home. Soren’s thirst for revenge is slowly quenched as he witnesses his wife’s brave battle to overcome her fate.
Romantic comedy requires a clever heroine and a hero who may display all the manly virtues but must also be quick-witted and understand the importance of both intelligence and whimsy. In What Happens in London (Avon. 2009. ISBN 9780061491887. pap. $7.99), Julia Quinn sets the stage with a mysterious new neighbor, a handsome young man rumored to have killed his fiancée. Sir Harry Valentine is in no hurry to disabuse his curious neighbor Olivia Bevelstoke of her misperceptions, and he leads her on a merry courtship before saving her from the clutches of a dangerous Russian prince. As does Olivia, readers will fall in love with this charming beau from the first glimpse, which is naturally followed by their first shared laugh and the inevitable, and amusing, seduction.
Love stories with staying power often start with broken yet strong-willed characters fighting society’s erroneous views along their path to happily-ever-after. Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke (Berkley Sensation. 2010. ISBN 9780425236673. pap. $15) introduces two such protagonists. After rescuing England from the oppressive Horde, Rhys Trahearn becomes the heroic, larger-than-life Iron Duke. Inspector Mina Wentworth, who is half-Horde owing to her mother’s rape, is called to the duke’s home after a body is dropped on his stairs. Thus begins a heart-stopping adventure with zombies, airships, and people with all-seeing metal eyes. Slowly doling out details, Brook leads readers through a richly developed and complex steampunk world balanced by a passionate romance.
Sometimes the hero is the one you never saw coming. Carrie Lofty runs with this idea in Flawless (Pocket: S. & S. 2011. ISBN 9781451616385. pap. $7.99), the first book in her Victorian series about four siblings who get rude surprises at the reading of their robber baron father’s will. Lady Vivienne Bancroft, having returned to America after her husband’s debauched lifestyle became unbearable, inherits a failing South African diamond brokerage house with orders to turn a profit in one year and finds herself thrown back with the Viscount, Miles Durham. Slowly shedding the skin of his old life, Miles is seduced by South Africa, falls in love with his wife, and discovers his purpose and a sense of self-worth.
One of the most popular tropes in romance fiction is the alpha male who pursues his goal, including the wooing of the heroine, with single-minded determination. From the moment he meets Alice, Hugh the Relentless, the knight in Amanda Quick’s Mystique (Bantam. 1996. ISBN 9780553571592. pap. $7.99), desires her, but he values her intellect, courage, and loyalty as much as her beauty. Despite his rather clumsy efforts to woo Alice, Hugh is a hero to cheer for, a gentle giant who protects, cherishes, and admires the woman he loves.
À la the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara‚ style of courtship‚ No! No! No! Okay‚ Loretta Chase puts a hilarious spin on the adversarial romance in Lord of Scoundrels (Avon. 1995. ISBN 9780380776160. pap. $7.99). Womanizer Lord Dain and femme fatale Jessica Trent are instantly attracted to each other when Jessica’s nincompoop brother introduces them. Will the rake reform? Does Jessica really want him to? With great wit and effervescent dialog, both Dain and Jessica score points without hurting each other. Okay, Jessica did shoot him in the arm on purpose, but he said it didn’t hurt.