Millions of readers have fallen in love with the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. They’ve been charmed by Christian and Ana’s e-mails, explored the Red Room of Pain, and experienced the lure of the alpha billionaire. But there’s so much more. Here are five recent romance treasures for those ready to take the next step into the world of wild romance.
At the start of Jennifer Probst’s “The Marriage Bargain” (2012), bookstore owner Alexa McKenzie needs money to save her business. Her best friend’s older brother, Nick Ryan, is more than happy to give her a hand in exchange for one simple thing: marriage. To inherit his father’s corporation, Nick has to prove that he’s settled down. What ensues is a delicious marriage of convenience that will sate readers’ desires for a wealthy billionaire who never intends to love but can’t help himself when the right woman comes along.
Bella Andre’s “I Love How You Love Me” (2014) pairs another exceedingly wealthy, successful hero — this one a shipbuilder — with a down-on-her-luck heroine. Single mom and freelance journalist Grace Adrian thought she was in love once, but when her wealthy boyfriend left her pregnant and alone, she vowed never to risk her heart again. When Grace is assigned to write a piece on notorious recluse Dylan Sullivan, all things point to business as usual — until sparks fly. Andre’s books are always tremendously sexy, and this one fires on all cylinders.
For those who wished Christian and Ana’s e-mails would go on and on, Lisa Kleypas’s “Love in the Afternoon” (2010) offers a charming, beautiful epistolary love story with a delightful hint of Cyrano. Capt. Christopher Phelan leaves for war with plans to return and marry the most beautiful girl in town. Once on the front lines, he begins trading letters with his fiancée, discovering that she is as brilliant and kind as she is beautiful. But it’s not actually his fiancée he’s corresponding with. It’s Beatrix Hathaway, the animal-loving oddity he barely remembers. When Christopher returns, struggling with PTSD, he’s desperate for the girl from the letters. What ensues is a devastating, achingly lovely journey to a well-deserved happily ever after.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is widely believed to have launched an entire subgenre of romance — New Adult — featuring college-age heroines and heroes who expose them to a new world. Sophie Jordan’s “Wild” (2014) offers a unique spin on this theme. When her boyfriend cheats on her, prim and proper Georgia decides to do away with her uptight reputation and goes hunting for a secret underground kink club on her college campus. She finds it, along with Logan Mulvaney, her best friend’s brother, who is more than willing to show her all the dark corners of the club. As Georgia discovers her own desires, she becomes stronger, more self-confident and more herself, all while realizing that love, at its best, makes us a better version of ourselves.
Contemporary romance doesn’t have a lock on kink, however. Historical romance queen Liz Carlyle’s latest, “The Earl’s Mistress” (2014), explores the illicit corners of BDSM in Victorian England. Isabella Aldridge is beautiful, brilliant and desperate for a job. When she meets with the Earl of Hepplewood, however, he does not offer her the governess position she desires. Instead, he wants her to be his mistress. She declines, but fate intervenes, throwing the two together. Isabella soon discovers the earl’s secrets — Hepplewood has toys to rival Christian’s red room — and her own unexplored desires. Hepplewood is an alpha hero in the extreme, virtually unreadable for much of the novel. But when he cracks and finally shows himself to Isabella, the reward is as delicious as any moment of “Fifty Shades.”
Sarah MacLean writes historical romance novels and regularly reviews romance for The Washington Post. Her most recent novel is “Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover.”