There’s perhaps nothing more compelling than a reluctant hero forced to face his demons and open his heart. This month, three heroes find that love makes them better men.
In Emily Foster’s How Not to Let Go (Kensington), Annabelle “Annie” Coffey arrives home for the summer between college and medical school, nursing a broken heart. “He just didn’t love me,” she says of Charles Douglas — a particularly gut-wrenching observation that happens to be untrue. Readers of the first book in Foster’s Belhaven Series, “How Not to Fall,” will recall that Annie’s relationship with Charles was the stuff of a near-perfect romance novel, if only it hadn’t ended with Annie giving Charles the space to deal with his demons. “How Not to Let Go” picks up where the last book left off, finally delivering Annie and Charles’s hard-won happily ever after. The book is at once a classic romance, with a rich emotional conflict — Charles is uncertain of his ability to love and be loved, and Annie struggles to be true to herself as she fights for their partnership — and a beautiful look at the complexity of modern love. Charles and Annie are kind and decent and broken and honest, and tremendously believable.
Romantic suspense author HelenKay Dimon begins her Games People Play series with The Fixer (Avon), a love story that spins off a decade-old missing-persons case. Emery Finn has been so obsessed with her cousin’s disappearance for years that she has become a missing-persons specialist. The search for her cousin proves futile, though, until she discovers a note in a file with a single, mysterious name: Wren. The name belongs to an equally mysterious and (thankfully) single man — a man with so much power and skill that he’s known only as The Fixer. Emery begins asking questions about him, sure that he can help her with her cold case. Against Wren’s better judgment, the two are soon working together, closing in on Emery’s cousin’s abductor and falling for each other in the meantime. This is a wonderfully rewarding match: Wren is unflappable and aloof, and it is impossible for Emery to resist him. There’s little better than watching a stoic hero lose his heart as Wren does.
Theodore Swann, the reluctant hero of KJ Charles’s Wanted, a Gentleman (Riptide), is the proprietor of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a lonely-hearts-style penny saver that publishes Georgian-era personal ads of all ilks — from honest and lonely to wicked and deceptive. When Martin St. Vincent, a free black Englishman, arrives at the Advertiser’s offices in search of a young woman and the rake with whom she’s eloped, Theo seizes the opportunity to sell the information about the couple and accompany Martin on his quest to find them. What ensues is a great romance road trip, with Martin and Theo headed for Gretna Green to prevent a marital mistake. Of course, carriages and close quarters bring the two men closer together, and soon Theo is regretting his decisions to manipulate Martin for his financial benefit. This romance has a delicious Gothic feel, with a damsel in distress and a Snidely Whiplashesque villain throwing an upstanding gentleman and a lovable scoundrel together to save the day. The question, of course, is whether desire can overcome the revelation of Theo’s deception, and whether love will triumph.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance novels monthly for The Washington Post. Her most recent book is “A Scot in the Dark.”