There’s something deeply rewarding about a romance in which two people are forced together by circumstance rather than desire. The journey to love is that much more entertaining. This month, fate intervenes in three delightful romances.
Miss Clio Whitmore has suffered the embarrassment of having an uninterested, faraway fiance for eight years. Tired of being referred to as Miss Wait-More, she goes searching for her intended’s brother to ask him to dissolve the marriage contract. The brother in question is notorious prizefighter Rafe Brandon, who refuses to entertain the idea, instead vowing to plan the most glorious wedding Regency England has ever seen — one that no bride could resist. The unlikely combination of rough-and-tumble Rafe and headstrong Clio is what makes Tessa Dare’s “Say Yes to the Marquess” so entertaining. Dare has a knack for putting heroes in uncomfortable, uproariously funny situations — the wedding-planning scenes are particularly diverting — and when combined with the quiet, passionate moments between Clio and Rafe, this is a near-perfect romance.
With the Valentine’s Day release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” moviegoers and readers will be clamoring for books similar to the E.L. James juggernaut. Kate Pearce’s “Mastering a Sinner”— the third in her Sinners series — melds edgy, erotic romance with historical fiction for a tremendously sexy read. Alistair Maclean is the secretary of the Sinners Club, a private gentleman’s club designed for heroes and ex-spies for the English crown. His secrets are legion until the female members of the club hire Diana Theale as their secretary. When the two are required to work together, Alistair finds himself in her thrall. The novel flips the dominant-submissive relationship: Diana soon becomes Alistair’s mistress. The slow buildup of trust and passion between these two is not for the faint of heart. Pearce deftly balances eroticism and emotion. Alistair and Diana bear deep, dark scars that drive two compelling subplots and ultimately are healed through love.
On the other end of the romance spectrum, Katie MacAlister’s “The Importance of Being Alice” is a charming romp of a romance, at the heart of which is a misunderstanding resulting in hilarious circumstance. The setup is a classic: When her fiance calls off the wedding with just days to go, Alice decides to take her nonrefundable honeymoon cruise anyway, only to discover that her fiance has offered his ticket to a friend, reclusive writer Elliott Ainslie. Of course, the two are stuck sharing a cabin on the cruise, and soon their frustration with being forced together turns into something else entirely. MacAlister is known for her clever dialogue and charismatic characters, and Elliott and Alice are no different. “I have fallen intensely, intoxicatingly in love with you,” Elliott says at one point. Alice doesn’t go weak in the knees. Instead, she replies, “I like the alliteration of that.” Readers will be sad when this one ends and will wish their friends were as engaging as these two lovers.
MacLean writes historical romance novels. Her most recent is “Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover.”
Say Yes to the Marquess
Avon. 384 pp. Paperback, $7.99
Mastering a Sinner
Aphrodisia. 288 pp. Paperback, $15
The Importance of Being Alice
Signet. 352 pp. Paperback, $7.99