There’s something pedestrian about love. After all, just about everyone has fallen in love (some more than once), and for lonely hearts, there’s the ubiquitous promise that there’s someone for everyone. But what of the complicated love story? The unexpected one? The one that begins with antagonists — or at least antagonism — and ends with happily ever after? Three romance novels this month tell conflict-laden love stories.
When Lady Clarissa Bevington discovers a flaw in her secret engagement — namely, that her fiance is married — she can’t keep quiet about her other, much more ruinous secret: She’s pregnant. In a fit of frustration, she reveals her truth to a seemingly ordinary gentleman named Dominick Blackmer. Unfortunately, Dominick is an agent of the Crown, and when it becomes clear that Clarissa’s illegitimate child could cause a damaging political scandal, he receives his orders — marry the girl and claim the child as his own. Lily Dalton’s Never Surrender to a Scoundrel (Forever, $8) follows Clarissa and Dominick’s journey to love from this unromantic, conflicted beginning. “I don’t love you,” Dominick says to Clarissa in a particularly emotional moment, “I wouldn’t want you to misunderstand. I’m not there yet.” She replies: “I don’t love you either. That’s alright though, isn’t it?” When he answers, “I don’t know what’s right anymore,” readers know enough for both of them.
Courtney Milan is known for intricate historical romances, and in her new book, Trade Me (Femtopress, $14.99), she brings her careful, compelling storytelling to new adult contemporary romance. The plot is deceptively simple: When billionaire college student Blake Reynolds opines about food stamps in his sociology class, his classmate Tina Chen sets him straight, using her own experience to make her case. During her scathing putdown, she tells him, “Try trading lives with me. You couldn’t manage it, not for two weeks.” Readers immediately see where this is going. Blake picks up the gauntlet and soon finds himself living in Tina’s apartment, which barely deserves the moniker, while Tina goes to work for his family’s tech company. The trade alone would win readers’ hearts, but Milan deftly intertwines Tina and Blake’s romance with an honest look at class, race, culture and family and how those things affect the way young people find themselves — and love.
When readers first meet Isabelle West, the heroine of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With Disaster (HQN, $7.99), she is standing outside her Wyoming cabin, cursing at a melon. Her charming eccentricity makes her the perfect foil for U.S. Marshal Tom Duncan, on assignment in a small town outside Jackson Hole, where he’s protecting a judge hearing a murder case. Tom and Isabelle are immediately drawn to each other, but she is on the run, hiding from a family secret that makes loving a lawman virtually impossible. The two are at odds through much of the book. In one particularly compelling scene, Isabelle tells Tom over and over, “I hate you” even as she can’t resist the way he draws her in. Readers can’t help but hope these endearing characters will embrace their emotional and sexual chemistry, overcome their rivalry and find love in the balance.
MacLean is the author of eight historical romances. Her most recent book is “Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover.”