The couple at the center of Betina Krahn’s new romance, Hero Wanted, are seemingly the opposite of “meant to be.” While on a boating excursion to get to know each other, Lauren Alcott urges her new fiancé Rafe Townsend to save two women whose vessel has overturned. When he dithers, she frustratedly rips off her dress and jumps in to save them herself. Outraged by his seeming cowardice, she promptly breaks their engagement, only to have both of their fathers urge them to try again, given that a merger between their two companies hinges on Rafe and Lauren’s marriage. We talked to Krahn about the real life (and truly disastrous) date that inspired Hero Wanted and how she ultimately brought this mismatched couple together.
You mention in the afterword that Lauren and Rafe’s disastrous boating excursion is based off of something that actually happened to your niece! Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, well . . . it was a canoe, not a rowboat, and they were certainly not engaged. In fact, it was a first date that the wealthy young man had asked for more than once. She kept expecting him to help the two women floundering, but he just sat, watching them struggle. She finally stripped off her shirt (over a swimsuit) and dove in to help them. He was astonished and declared her “amazing” and a “hero.” She was appalled at his inaction and when she retrieved her car from his driveway, he apologized for not inviting her into his home. He said his lawyer told him never to be alone with a woman in private, for fear she could claim something untoward had happened and try to get money from him. My niece was appalled. Though he tried to ask her out again and again, she refused all approaches. I can’t really blame her. To hear her tell the story is hilarious . . . and also a sad commentary on the effects of sudden wealth on some people.
You’ve written romances set in so many different time periods, from the American Revolution to the late 1800s to the medieval era. What do you enjoy about the Victorian era?
For a long time I avoided the Victorian period because I thought of it as stuffy, restrictive and morally hypocritical. When my sister did a master’s thesis on Lady Audley’s Secret and began researching the era, she showed me personal ads from period newspapers and I was shocked to learn the true nature of English Victorian society. Fascinated by the imbalance of the numbers of men to women (so many men went abroad to seek their fortunes or served in the army or navy at the time that many women had no chance to marry), I began to research it myself. What I learned was astounding and so human and oddly “modern” that I fell in love with the era and began to set stories in it.
"I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing."
I thought Lauren’s Ivanhoe obsession was such an adorable and funny character trait. Who is your favorite hero in fiction? Do you share her love for Ivanhoe?
I do love Ivanhoe, though I confess, I have tried to wade through the book, but find it wordy and tough going. I prefer the movie version made in the heyday of Hollywood and starring a wonderful cast. He is the ultimate heroic figure . . . the quintessential “white knight.”
It’s hard to pick a favorite fictional hero, but Wulfgar in The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has to be in my top five.
Your website prominently features the phrase, "The only thing the world needs as much as love, is laughter." Why do you think laughter and humor is so important to a love story?
Laughter is found in the wonder and unpredictability of our world and ourselves. It is the balancing factor in our hearts and minds and is the leavening that permits joy in our relationships. In laughter, we find hope, commonality and acceptance. Sharing such things is critical to loving relationships and gives us a foundation for genuine love. I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing. And the ability to laugh at ourselves is one of the most revealing and endearing personality traits a person can have.
At one point, Lauren reveals that she’s learned how to pick locks because the iconic Victorian advice book Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management said that it was a useful skill for a lady of the house to have. Did Mrs. Beeton really recommend learning to pick locks? Have you read her household guide?
I’m afraid that’s my invention. I doubt Mrs. Beeton would have included detailed instructions for such a thing, but I also have no doubt it was necessary at times for household staff to access things that were locked up for safekeeping.
What jobs do you think Lauren and Rafe would have if they lived in our modern world?
Lauren would probably be the daughter of a hedge fund guru and Rafe would be the son of a rival. She would have gone to Vassar and become a crusader for social causes and a proponent of literacy. He would have attended Annapolis in spite of his family’s wishes and ended up in the family firm. Not so different from the book, actually. See what I mean about Victorian society being so similar to ours—and still different enough to be interesting?
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in Lauren and Rafe’s relationship?
Both of them have preconceived notions of the other, which makes them act in ways that didn’t allow intimacy to develop. And a big part of the problem is their sensual attraction to each other. There are layers here. Neither wants to reveal his or her true self because that makes them vulnerable. The face they present is a defense and prevents the other from learning their true selves. And isn’t that what often happens in real life?
What was the most difficult part of this book to get right?
Bringing Lauren and Rafe together after such a rocky start was harder than I imagined. It took a tête-à-tête in the drawing room (where humor snuck in) for me to believe these two were meant to be together. I confess, I wasn’t sure if Rafe would be the hero or not, at first. He came through with flying colors in that first meeting after the river incident!
What’s next for you?
Another Reluctant Hero book! This one with a different kind of hero—Rafe’s best friend, Barclay Howard. He’s far from society’s darling. He’s big, muscular and imposing . . . with a wolfish grin and a heart of gold. I can’t wait for readers to meet him!