The romance genre has long honored tough-as-nails, cold-as-ice, champion brooders (think Darcy or Rochester). Even in 2014, when romance heroes are as varied as their genre, somewhere in them you can still always find the alpha male. No doubt, much of the joy of a great romance is the moment when these stoic heroes crack open and reveal themselves to their heroines — the only women strong enough to match them. Perhaps creating these heroes in this modern age, when men are allowed — encouraged, even — to embrace their emotions and face their demons, is more challenging than it’s ever been. Gone are the days when heroes are emotionally locked away from the world until the end of the book, and thank goodness for that. Modern romance heroes are more complex than ever.
Juliana Stone explores the modern alpha in her small-town contemporary romance The Day He Kissed Her (Sourcebooks; paperback, $7.99). Mackenzie Draper may be wealthy and successful (he is, after all, a romance hero), but he is also a man with a damaged, dangerous past. Mac has spent much of his life resisting the violence inside him, which surfaces when those he loves are in danger. His solution? Resist love and all its trappings. Easy enough, until Lily St. Clare barrels into his life. Stone’s gift shows in her characters’ straightforward honesty and the way they dominate their emotions. “You’re jealous?” a character asks Mac early in the book. “Damn right, I am,” he replies. “Why?” “Because Lily belongs with me.” The exchange marks a hero who knows his power and himself . . . and how he must change if he’s going to find love.
“Even warriors wear out every now and then,” admits Dash Riske, the hero of Lori Foster’s Dash of Peril (Harlequin; paperback, $7.99). He’s talking about Margo Peterson, a police lieutenant in danger from the leaders of an underground pornography ring. Dash is a compelling example of the modern alpha male. He is Margo’s fierce protector, but he is also keenly aware of her skill and strength. They’re a captivating couple. As a police officer, Margo must present a powerful front, and she could easily become the hero of this novel, but Foster balances her public power with Dash’s private dominance: “I want to sleep with you,” he announces in the first scene of the book, and readers know it won’t be long until he gets his way. But then Margo is wounded, and Dash’s lust takes a back seat to his desire to care for this heroine — in every way. The result is incredibly sexy but in a completely unexpected way, leaving Margo (and the reader) thrilled that Dash is in charge.
In modern romance, there is still room for the hero that Byron described as “that man of loneliness and mystery,” and he is most often found in historical romances. It’s possible that no one writes him better than Meredith Duran, whose books are as dark and dangerous as the heroes they feature. In her latest, Fool Me Twice (Pocket; paperback, $5.99), Duran brings us the handsome and terrifying Duke of Marwick, widely believed to be a lunatic after suffering the betrayal and subsequent loss of his wife. Marwick is a classic Byronic hero, literally locked away until Olivia Holladay arrives, planning to steal from him and instead helping to free him. Here we see the true power of the alpha hero (and perhaps what gets so many good girls into real-life trouble): Olivia cannot help but be drawn to Marwick’s impenetrable darkness. At one point, she describes him as “shadowed . . . complex and inscrutable — like an uncut gemstone that, in odd lights, suddenly revealed itself clear and sparkling. The light was his hidden kindness.” The moment is a lovely reminder of why these heroes are so compelling: When they share their secrets, they risk themselves and reveal their emotions. The reward — in fiction, at least — is love.
MacLean’s most recent historical romance is “No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.”