We love the inherent escapism of billionaires and wealthy nobles who don’t have to work for a living as much as the next reader. But there’s also something to be said for romances where the leading lady has an extremely cool job. We might not want to be a daring professional gambler or an aspiring supersoldier in real life, but it’s thrilling and fascinating to experience their world for a couple hundred pages or so—with, of course, the requisite happily ever after. (We do, however, fantasize about being a librarian. Because every book-loving soul does.)
AN INFAMOUS WAGER
Regency romances often delight readers by featuring a passionate connection between a dangerous rake and a very proper lady. In My Once and Future Duke, Caroline Linden flips this classic setup when she pairs a female card shark with an uptight duke. Linden is a Harvard-educated mathematician and makes good use of her background to create her gifted heroine. The brilliant Sophie Campbell is an orphan with no prospects. Her goal is to save 10,000 pounds to ensure her independence. But if she is to ever have a chance at marriage, she must also maintain a pristine reputation and keep a low profile. She manages to do that as a member of the Vega Club, deftly fending off potential male advances while counting cards and calculating odds. Her careful balancing act between respectability and notoriety is threatened when Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, arrives at the club and finds her playing cards with his reckless brother. Jack never gambles and is incensed to find his brother incurring further debts even though he promised to stop spending time at the tables.
Since luring the lady gambler away would clearly irritate and remove temptation from his brother, Jack offers Sophie a wager she can’t refuse. Beat him at a game, and he’ll give her 5,000 pounds. Lose, and she has to stay at his country house for a week. The duke is a terrible gambler, so Sophie accepts the tempting wager, certain she cannot lose. But then she does.
In normal circumstances, it’s unlikely Jack and Sophie would ever cross paths. However, when these two wary, thoroughly engaging characters spend a week together, they discover that appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the trappings of their assigned places in society, they have far more in common than they ever expected, which surprises and delights them both. Their conversation is witty, sensitive and sometimes blunt, slicing deeper than the light comments normally deemed proper between a man and a woman in polite society. Unexpected revelations and confidences allow insights that result in an emotional connection even more powerful than the sexual tension that simmers between them.
There’s a great romance in Linda Howard’s latest novel, The Woman Left Behind, as well as a fascinating evolution as the heroine—sassy, gutsy Jina Modell—finds the strength to transform from office tech geek to elite soldier.
Jina loves her work in communications for a secretive D.C. paramilitary organization. So when she’s tapped to become part of a field team and use her skills to operate a drone on-site, she’s reluctant. Everyone, including the battle-weary, physically hardened team members and their leader, Levi, expects her to fail. Jina hates to sweat, she’s OK with having soft muscles, and she loves sitting in front of the TV. What Jina hates even more, however, is quitting. Much to everyone’s surprise, she not only survives the insanely rigorous physical training but also thrives. Six months later, she’s out in the field with the guys and getting shot at by enemies in riveting, realistic action scenes.
Gaining acceptance by the team takes effort but isn’t nearly as hard as hiding her attraction to Levi. It’s forbidden to fraternize within the team, but Levi feels the same irresistible pull. Both characters are stubborn, brave and scrupulously avoiding any acknowledgment of their feelings. With dialogue that’s often bluntly hilarious, each conversation they share is fraught with underlying sexual tension and rich with growing affection.
The heroine in Stefanie London’s Bad Bachelor is the fabulously nonconformist Brooklynite librarian Darcy Greer. She’s obviously passionate about books, but is equally passionate about her tattoos and comfortable Doc Martens. She knows she’s the complete opposite of the glamorous women eligible Manhattan bachelor Reed McMahon dates. Nevertheless, she finds herself equal parts annoyed and drawn to him, even though a notorious dating app has labeled him the worst bachelor in New York City. But each time Darcy starts believing he’s nothing but a coldhearted womanizer, she catches glimpses of a good man beneath his smooth, cynical exterior. Unfortunately for her peace of mind, she can’t avoid Reed because his pro-bono project for the year is her beloved library. She tells herself she has to suck it up and endure his company because the library needs his PR expertise.
Reed finds Darcy’s prickly attitude an unexpected turn-on and thinks her blunt, snarky comments are endlessly amusing. It’s a treat to watch Darcy zap Reed’s man-about-town persona with dry barbs and equally fun to see Reed blast away Darcy’s emotional shields with unabashed flirtation and humor.
Lois Dyer writes from her home in Port Orchard, Washington.