Sometimes the most rewarding romance is the kind that throws the most mundane life into beautiful chaos. This month’s column features three romance novels about people forced to take risks and trade the ordinary for love.
Lorraine Heath is a master at setting up a romance that cannot possibly end happily — and yet somehow does. In The Earl Takes All (Avon, $7.99), Heath tells the story of Edward Alcott and Albert, Earl of Greyling, identical twins who travel to Africa together. Albert is mauled by a gorilla and, on the brink of death, insists that his twin return to England and assume Albert’s identity, at least until the pregnant countess, Julia, safely gives birth. Edward agrees, returning home and convincing the world — including Julia — that he is Albert. In the months before the child is born, Edward falls desperately in love with Julia, while she finds the man she thinks is her husband more compelling than ever. Heath deftly navigates Edward’s deception — he is wracked with guilt and vows to resist his new not-quite wife in scenes that are romantic and sexy. The moment when Julia discovers the truth is heartbreakingly honest, full of anger and sadness and irresistible love. And even when Julia is able to look past the truth, the law cannot — it is illegal in the Regency for a man to marry his brother’s widow. Heath’s skill is on display here — readers won’t see the path to Julia and Edward’s happily ever after until it is right in front of them.
Magnate (Zebra, $7.99), the first full-length novel in Joanna Shupe’s Knickerbocker Club series, is set in an era rarely seen in romance novels — Gilded Age New York City. Emmett Cavanaugh is a steel magnate who grew up in a slum and vowed never to return. He is an immensely powerful and terrifying self-made man, a perfect hero in the rising steel city. He’s also the perfect foil for society darling Elizabeth Sloane, who wants more than the life she is expected to live. Lizzie is brilliant and ambitious, and she has plans to open her own investment firm — if only Emmett will back her. What begins as a battle of wills ends with society scandal and a forced marriage that throws Lizzie and Emmett together in a beautiful romance. Emmett is haunted by his past and certain that he’ll never be enough for Lizzie; Lizzie has gotten everything she’s wanted in life and is determined to make sure that Emmett’s heart is not the first thing she is denied. Shupe delivers a tremendously entertaining romance — sexy and clever — set in an era the genre has been waiting for.
Mia Sosa’s One Night With the CEO (Forever, e-book, $3.99) is a fun, contemporary romance that reminds us that any attempt to predict or manage love is destined only to enhance its chaos. Karen Ramirez is about to start medical school and is entirely uninterested in a relationship. She’s not only too busy but also scarred by previous bad relationships. She’s unconcerned by the idea of a lifetime as a single woman. But love waits for no woman, and Karen is soon tempted by billionaire executive Mark Lansing, the best man at her sister’s wedding. The two agree to a weekend fling but what starts out as sexual attraction ends up as something much more, and the pair find it difficult to stick to their original no-commitment plan. Sosa captures the fireworks of Karen and Mark’s love in paradise as well as she does the ordinariness of their relationship when they return home. This is a lovely tale that shows one couple’s struggle to find a balance between what they think they want and what they actually desire.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance monthly for The Washington Post and is the author, most recently, of “The Rogue Not Taken.”