Romance heroes are cool. Authors and readers alike describe them in sweeping terms, from arrogant to mysterious, dark to deadly, and wild to unrepentant. They're in that Indy 500 race, taking that dip in the shark cage, going on that trek through tiger territory we all want to experience.... vicariously. They’re archetypes, embodying emotion in well-cut trousers – or jeans or cargo pants. We read about them, we swoon, we inwardly shout at their wicked, wicked ways, and we love them.
We love them in our books, that is. In real life, especially modern-day life, half of them would be in jail for stalking, public intoxication, fighting, kidnapping, murder, theft, piracy, smuggling, and in a few cases, treason. So while they might be perfect fantasy material, would we really want the real thing looking in our direction?
Princes, for example, are a romance writer's stock in trade. We write about princes based on the fairy tale belief that these guys are better than real life because they are rich (Yay!), well-bred and arrogant. Wait. Arrogant? Who wants a guy who's arrogant? Who wants a guy who thinks he knows better than you, a guy who manipulates "for your own good"? In real life, these men are better known as creeps. And that's being polite about it. In A Pirate's Wife for Me, by Christina Dodd, Prince Taran grows up indulged and arrogant. Also degenerate, self-serving and cruel. It takes being usurped, sold to the pirates, tortured, sailing for years under miserable conditions: in general being sent through the fires of hell before Taran becomes the tough, triumphant, noble and arrogant prince of legend. Yes, he's still arrogant. But, you know, if he wasn't, Caitlin MacLean would fall instantly in love with -him. And she's far too stubborn for that.
And what about a man with dark compulsions and sexual obsessions? Untreated OCD in a new husband might not be very much fun for a modern day woman to deal with. But those attributes sound much more intriguing when we're talking about a rich and handsome (and fictional) regency earl. A brand new debutante bride could tame that beast, couldn't she? Would she have any choice? That's exactly what happens in Julia London's The Devil Takes a Bride –Grace Cabot discovers some shocking and heart-pounding secrets about Jeffrey, her new husband. Grace makes it work because she must, and eventually comes to understand and love this mysterious, aloof, and deadly handsome man.
We can’t forget those wild, untamed, kilt-wearing Highlanders, either. Take Lachlan MacTier, Lord Gray, for example. He’s rough and tough, and most definitely does NOT want the girl next door. In my newest Scandalous Highlanders book, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous in Plaid, Lachlan goes from trying to hook up with Rowena MacLawry’s friends just to show how uninterested he is in her, to trying to get a selection of her potential beaux humiliated and possibly killed (okay, injured) – and subsequently pushing everyone in the area to the brink of open clan warfare. Sure, he does it to win his lass, but in real life he probably would have been imprisoned for aggravated mayhem.
Romance heroes are larger than life. They make our – and their heroines’ – hearts pound, and our pulses race. Thankfully most of them stay happily in our romance literature, where only our very capable heroines have to deal with them. Really, they’re all about the heroines, aren’t they? And about we, the readers, knowing that if we had a man like that, we would be enough to tame them.
Can you name a romance hero who is perfect on the page, but would probably be a felon in real life?