Common to the literary traditions of many cultures is the notion of the gods and divine heroes who took time off from matters supernatural to look for love (or its more earthly counterpart) among mere mortals. Ancient Greece, for example, had a whole pantheon that occasionally (and indecorously) dallied with virgins. Likewise, some Native American legends give the great thunderbirds the ability to shed their feathers and father children. And as I write this, The Avengers is about to open in theaters across America — and more than a few women in the audience wouldn’t mind slipping their phone number to a superhero in spandex.
The romances in this month’s column spring from an encounter with a hero who, while not divine, seems in at least some respects to have descended from his own personal Olympus — only to fall in love with an ordinary mortal. Of course, these are men who have earned, not inherited, their exalted status, through courage and their adherence to a rigorous code of honor. But therein lies a problem: the men here have always put loyalty to their country before personal wishes, and that characteristic can wreak havoc on a relationship. By definition, a hero is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but these heroes come to realize that they hold their beloveds more dear than any cause or nation.
Jennifer Bernard’s The Fireman Who Loved Me is a fresh and very funny debut novel featuring a fire captain named Harry Brody. This plot is predicated on the fascination we feel with sexy daredevils who save lives: the heroine, Melissa McGuire, encounters her local fire station crew when her grandmother wins her a date at the bachelor auction. When “her” fireman backs out, the fire captain himself shows up at her front door. Melissa is a news producer who likes to date sculptors or authors, men who not only know what ceramic table art is, but also how to make it. A muscled fireman is definitely not on her list. Harry is an alpha who doesn’t disdain domestic work (which leads to a smoking hot scene in the kitchen, after Harry sheds his apron). But when his ex-wife comes back, pregnant and asking for help, Harry can see only one honorable thing to do, even if it means he loses his heart’s desire. This romance seems doomed, but after Harry races into a fire to rescue Melissa, he finally realizes that love trumps honor.
Liam McCabe, the hero of Catherine Mann’s Under Fire, is the commanding officer of a team of pararescuemen, a decorated soldier who has always put his mission first — and has three failed marriages to show for his unfaltering loyalty. He met Rachel Flores on an earthquake relief mission a few months ago and hasn’t been able to forget her since, though he is determined to avoid any kind of serious relationship. However, when Rachel runs to him for safety, terrified after learning about a traitor selling secrets from the satellite defense program, he falls in love. Under Fire is a novel about the men and women who serve our country, but also about the scars they suffer: the PTSD, the failed marriages, and the lives they’re unable to make fit in the puzzle of the civilian world. The thrilling conclusion to this novel involves a general-gone-bad and a wild airplane stunt, during which Liam puts Harry’s dash into a burning building to shame. Like Harry, Liam’s code of honor has always trumped his own instincts and desires, which makes it all the more dear when he tells Rachel that he “would be honored to be her husband.”
The plot of Mary Jo Putney’s No Longer a Gentleman also springs from the cruelties inflicted by war, but Grey Sommers, Lord Wyndham, is a spy, not a soldier. Cassie Fox is another spy, sent on a mission to France to follow up on a rumor that an Englishman is imprisoned in a castle belonging to a high official in Napoleon’s ministry of police, known for brutality and unswerving loyalty. That prisoner is Grey, who has been held in a dank dungeon for over a decade. Cassie pulls off a wildly daring escape, freeing Grey and an ancient priest. Like all soldiers, neither Cassie nor Grey emerges from war unscarred. No Longer a Gentleman is a wildly sexy story of second chances. You’ll find yourself laughing with delight when Grey and Cassie finally shape a life together. His proposal doesn’t follow the usual romantic pattern — “I’ve improved. I haven’t tried to kill anyone without a good reason in almost a month” — but at the same time it’s one of the most desperately heartfelt proposals I can remember reading lately.
The hero of Lisa Renee Jones’s The Danger that is Damion is a warrior too, a soldier whose very job is to enforce a code of honor. Lara Martin is a soldier for the opposite side — and they both believe themselves to be fighting for the good guys, for the honorable cause. The Danger that is Damion doesn’t flinch from the fact that both sides in a chaotic and violent war often think they’re fighting for truth and justice. Still, nothing can keep Lara and Damion apart. “We could be trying to kill each other tomorrow,” Lara reminds Damion, but even the fact that they are enemies doesn’t quell the passion flaring between them. “What they shared,” Damion realizes, “defied his vow.” Still, when the moment comes, Damion unhesitatingly sacrifices his vow, himself, and his future to save Lara. Perhaps that’s the key moment at the heart of these novels: the deep pleasure involved in watching a man who will give up everything for his country do the same for a woman.
Travis Tanner, the hero of Jill Gregory’s Larkspur Road, is an FBI agent who returns to his hometown, Lonesome Way, Montana, towing his ten-year-old adopted stepson, Grady. Travis is traumatized by the death of his partner and exhausted by the conclusion of a difficult mission that busted up a smuggling ring. He’s suffering from the same side effects many of the characters I’ve discussed here have incurred: he’s seen too much, endured too much, and lost too many friends. A man who has spent his life being “tougher than the toughest bad guys,” as Travis describes himself, has grown wary of relationships. Yet once back home, he finds himself falling in love with the girl he dumped after high school, fifth-grade teacher Mia Quinn. Larkspur Road is different from the other novels in this column because the plot doesn’t involve an epic battle, and when it comes to danger, Mia saves herself. But the realization that Mia could easily have died has the same effect on Travis as it has on the other heroes above: he realizes that he will give everything he has to keep Mia happy and safe. Including his freedom.
Eloisa James’ new memoir, Paris in Love, is out now!
Her most recent romance is The Duke Is Mine.
For sneak peeks at all of Eloisa’s romances, please visit her web site at www.eloisajames.com.