Past is prologue, Shakespeare tells us, a concept that is mostcomforting in love stories. No matter how troubled a character’s history, romance novels tell us, love can be built upon it, and happily-ever-after can result. What’s more, the darker the past, the brighter the future — and the better the read.

“For me, love isn’t possible,” Élise Bonnet tells surgeon Sean O’Neil late one night in Sarah Morgan’s Suddenly Last Summer (Harlequin; paperback, $7.99). Élise’s past is filled with tragedy: She escaped an abusive marriage in Paris and ran for Vermont, where she has found a new life as the chef at a ski resort. She has found a surrogate family in the O’Neil clan but has sworn off relationships, vowing to resist anything that threatens to be more than a one-night stand. The brilliant, handsome and charming Sean is difficult to resist as he chips away at Élise’s defenses to reveal her deep emotional scars. When he professes his love in a particularly beautiful scene, Élise panics, leaving Sean devastated and readers wondering if she will ever come to terms with her past and find the promise of her future. Of course, it’s a love story, so we know she will, but we can’t see how Morgan will make it happen, which is the hallmark of a great romance.

Maya Robertson, the heroine of Sara Humphreys’s Vampire Trouble (Sourcebooks Casablanca; paperback, $6.99), was turned vampire five years ago after a brutal attack that left her for dead — an ordeal she relives each night in her dreams. There’s more to Maya’s past than one fateful night, however; she’s descended from generations of werewolf hunters, which makes her a prime target for the werewolf king. She’s soon on the lam and under the protection of Shane Quesada, a 400-year-old vampire who finds he can’t resist her. Although Maya’s past makes her resistant to emotion, Shane helps her battle her demons and find the strength to love. “I don’t need a protector,” she realizes once she has overcome her fears. “I need a partner.” Shane is that partner, of course, but it takes time for him to realize it. What follows is a powerful love story that proves that while our past is inescapable, it is the core of our strength.

“I want to dance,” the widow Samantha McKay announces to Major Ben Harper early in Mary Balogh’s The Escape (Dell; paperback, $7.99). Samantha can’t dance, however, as this is Regency England, and she is in mourning. Not that her marriage was a real one — four months in, she discovered that her husband kept a mistress and a second family. “The Escape” is the tale of Samantha’s self-discovery in the arms of an equally broken man, who has returned from war with crippling injuries. There is a quiet beauty to this book; both Ben and Samantha are prisoners of the past. He is afraid to commit because of his handicap, and she is desperate for new memories to overshadow the old. When the two eventually waltz in a beautiful, deeply romantic scene, readers will celebrate the triumph of present over past and love over heartache.

MacLean is the author of seven historical romances. Her most recent book is “No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.”