One of the most common criticisms of romance is that the genre is too prescribed: If every romance novel ends happily ever after, don’t the stories lack complexity? Don’t the readers get bored? Critics seem to forget that every love story is different — that there is uniqueness in even the most commonplace of matches. The question to ask is not whether the book ends happily, but how that happiness comes to pass. This month, three authors explore paths to love.
Nina Sheridan, the heroine of Kristen Ashley’s “The Gamble” (Forever; paperback, $7), takes a break from her perfect fiance and perfect life and heads for the Colorado hills to do some soul searching on the eve of her wedding. Unfortunately, the cabin she has rented is already occupied by Holden Maxwell, a rugged mountain man who is everything her future husband is not. Nina and Max are wounded in different ways, and they must find happiness before they can find love — which might be the most complicated journey there is. “Stop being nice,” Nina tells Max when she feels trapped between her unsatisfying old life and the new one she’s terrified to embrace. But Max won’t let her hide. “I know you haven’t had a lot of experience with it but you should know I intend to be nice to you on a regular basis.” It’s a simple promise that wields tremendous power, in part because it strikes at the core of love’s journey: believing oneself worthy of it.
Sabrina Darby’s latest is a clever Regency-era couplet of novellas (Avon Impulse; paperback, $3.99 each) based on “The Taming of the Shrew.” “Woo’d in Haste” is the story of Bianca Mansfield, the younger sister who cannot wed until her older sister does. “You could be a duke and I couldn’t love you more,” she tells Lucian Dorlingsley, her brother’s tutor, in a moment of romantic idyll. He’s not a duke, but he is a future earl masquerading as a servant so he can gain access to the untouchable lady. The discovery of Luc’s false identity will cast the relationship into doubt, and they both will have to come to terms with the truth to find happiness. The story of Bianca’s elder sister, Kate, unfolds in “Wed At Leisure.” Kate is home from a season in London, only to be courted by the duke next door, Peter Colburn, who has agreed to woo Kate to help his friend land Bianca. Peter is a war hero with a tortured past, and he does not expect to fall in love. Of course, once Kate discovers that the courtship was never intended to be authentic, she turns her back on him. “Peter knows me,” she tells Bianca, “and to know me, as you well know, is not to love me.” Darby is known for beautifully textured stories, and these novellas are no exception. Kate and Bianca’s journey is not simply one of romantic love, but of sisterly love as well.
The meet-cute of Dakota Cassidy’s “Something to Talk About” (Harlequin MIRA; paperback, $7.99) is enormously charming. Although Emmeline Amos is the general manager of a phone sex company, she’s viewed as prim and proper. Recently ditched by her boyfriend, she decides to live a little and answer one of her company’s calls. On the line is the 6-year-old daughter of new-to-town hunk Jax Hawthorn, calling to find her father a girlfriend. Both Jax and Em must come to terms with their pasts in order to make room for each other, for love and for the risk it brings. Cassidy makes her characters earn every bit of their happily ever after — but therein lies the pleasure of the romance novel. When we know the destination, the journey is much sweeter.
MacLean is the author of historical romances. Her most recent book is “No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.”