They say the best relationships begin as friendships. In the case of this spotlight on two friends-to-lovers romances, it’s easy to see that the old adage was as true in the Regency era as it is today. In a delightful twist on the beloved formula, both of the soon-to-be-couples fall in love while fighting against toxic masculinity.
Learning to open up to your own potential is as important as learning to open up to the person you love, and when you start as friends, it makes the whole process a lot less frightening. That's the lesson learned by the protagonists of Megan Frampton's second book in her Hazards of Dukes series, Tall, Duke, and Dangerous. Despite her noble birth, Lady Ana Maria Dutton was treated as a servant by her stepmother. When her half-brother, Sebastian, becomes her guardian after the deaths of her father and stepmother, he is determined to reinstate Ana Maria to her rightful place in society. A dutiful, respectful woman of the ton should hold such a position in high regard. Right? But nowhere on Ana Maria's list of new, genteel responsibilities is room to discover herself, or to fall in love. And after years of subjugation, Ana Maria is bursting with a colorful lust for life.
Sebastian and Ana Maria’s childhood friend, Nash, grew up with a physically and emotionally abusive father and is now a solemn, quiet man who feels like he’s one heightened emotion away from becoming his sire. His grandmother wants him to marry so that his violent cousin won’t inherit the dukedom, but Nash’s upbringing has left him terrified of emotional intimacy.
Due to their abusive pasts, Ana Maria and Nash came to adulthood with no overarching sense of self. They've never been asked what they want. And sadly, they have never even asked themselves what they want . . . until now. Because of their longstanding friendship, Nash sees Ana Maria, just as she sees him. Nash enjoys how Ana Maria challenges his willpower and pulls him out of his hermitage, and Ana Maria knows that Nash will protect her while giving her free rein. But she wants to marry for love, and he refuses to loosen the leash on his emotions enough to let love become a possibility. Hidden behind the cravat is a man wrestling to escape the chains of toxic masculinity who loves a proudly progressive woman.
Lyssa Kay Adams delivers a contemporary friends-to-lovers tale in the third installment of her Bromance Book Club series, Crazy Stupid Bromance. The leads have gone step further than in Frampton’s period piece, delivering a modern man who’s already ascended, and a modern woman who’s already found herself.
Noah Logan is a man after my own heart, with a rebellious teenage-hacker past and current life as a computer security expert. He’s a likable nerd with a penchant for romance novels, as evidenced by his membership in the Bromance Book Club, and a deep love for his best friend, Alexis Carlisle. When a woman shows up at Alexis’ cat cafe claiming to be her sister, Noah is her go-to guy for guidance (and a discreet background check).
Alexis’ cafe, ToeBeans, has become a safe haven for women who have been victims of sexual harassment. It’s no surprise when customers confide in her, given the publicity afforded to Alexis’ own harrassment suit against a celebrity chef, but the reveal of her supposed-sister is different. Personal. So she puts any romantic inclinations she may feel toward Noah on the back burner until she can figure out what’s up.
This book is packed with likable characters who propel the fun, flirty story at an enjoyable pace. Noah and Alexis have terrific, very plausible chemistry, and with the contemporary setting, they have fewer hurdles to overcome than Ana Maria and Nash. But it’s not all glitter and rainbows, because Alexis is still dealing with the very real fallout of being in the public eye as well as recovering emotionally from her ordeal.
Frampton and Adams have written a favorite trope with the exact joie de vivre that readers expect from the romance genre, regardless of the era. It’s especially cathartic to read uplifting, hopeful stories that validate why the guy or the gal you like is also the person you love.