"The Lure of the Moonflower" by Lauren Willig (NAL)

Those who don’t read romance often have trouble understanding just what a romance novel is, and why readers of the genre are so devoted to it. Although many romantic stories follow two people falling in love, what sets romance apart from the simple love story has nothing to do with the naughty bits and everything to do with the happily ever after. At the end of a romance novel, the guy wins the girl. And she wins him right back. Forever.

The happily ever after is never more delicious than when it comes at the end of a romance series, as it does in Lauren Willig’s The Lure of the Moonflower (NAL; paperback, $16), the 12th and final installment in her Pink Carnation series. Willig’s novels follow a collection of British and French spies during the Napoleonic Wars as they battle for love and the Crown. Here, readers finally hear the story of Jane Wooliston, the Pink Carnation herself (think Scarlet Pimpernel), as she travels through Portugal on a particularly dangerous mission. Her partner is Jack Reid, the titular Moonflower and a double agent who, luckily, speaks Portuguese, and whom the normally aloof Jane finds she cannot resist. There is much to enjoy here — the rollicking adventure is gleefully written, the dialogue is quick and charming — but nothing more so than the depth of emotion between Jane and Jack. Jane’s success as a spy has made her deeply lonely, and here, happily ever after means equal partnership, where Jane “didn’t have to be perfect. She didn’t have to have all the answers, because Jack was there with her.”

Gena Showalter is best known as a queen of paranormal romance, but this month has published her latest foray into the contemporary genre with The Hotter You Burn (HQN; paperback, $7.99). After a childhood as the town bully, Harlow Glass is the most hated woman in Strawberry Valley, Okla. The down-on-her-luck artist has returned home penniless and homeless — readers meet her while she is stealing food from the house in which she grew up, which is inhabited by the exceedingly successful, exceedingly handsome Beck Ockley. What begins as a love-hate relationship quickly becomes emotional and deeply sexy, something Showalter does better than many. Beck’s broken past has made him an expert in one-night-stands, and Harlow is desperate to be worthy of a relationship after years of pushing them away. Showalter gives these two the passionate, hard-won happily ever after they deserve. “We’re both scared,” Beck says, offering Harlow many more than one night, “and looking for ways to protect ourselves. But I’d rather look with you.”

Lisa Kleypas’s latest contemporary romance, Brown-Eyed Girl (St. Martin’s, $25.99), is the charming story of Avery Crosslin, a wedding planner who, left at the altar, has sworn off relationships. Kleypas’s hallmark is the Alpha hero who knows what he wants and will stop at nothing to get it, and Joe Travis wants Avery from the moment she mistakes him for a wedding photographer. Avery allows herself what she thinks will be a fling and nothing more. But flings — however satisfying — are not the stuff of romance novels, and Joe is immediately devoted to Avery, determined to win her heart, and her forever. The relationship that ensues is passionate and immensely rewarding, speaking right to the heart of what romance readers love. “I can’t kiss you enough,” Joe says, on the cusp of happily ever after, “I’m going to kiss you a million times in our life, and it will never be enough.” It won’t be for readers, either. But it comes close.

Sarah MacLean is a romance novelist and reviews romance books for The Washington Post every month.