Neanderthals. Forehead-sloping, knuckle-dragging, grunt-expelling Neanderthals. We were taught in school that they died out 25,000 years ago (Women know that Neanderthals are still with us today, but that is a blog for another time).
Let's talk instead about Historical Romance Neanderthals. Their brows may be elegant rather than protruding, their hands holding a quizzing glass rather than scraping the ground, they may be able to form multi-syllabic words, but we are not fooled. Underneath the pristine evening clothes lies the soul of a caveman. They are inherently self-centered, they speak before thinking, and their manners are atrocious, if they have any at all. They just don't care what others think of them.
And yet . . . some of my favorite books have Neanderthal heroes. These Neanderthals are favorites because they do something early on in the romance that just charms the socks off of me. Something that makes me go, “awww… isn't that cute?” Though in real life I would run far, far away from these men, in a romance that small sign of vulnerability keeps me hanging around to see how our heroine will make him fit for civilized company.
Take Stuart Aysgarth, Viscount Villiars in Judith Ivory's Untie My Heart. He has such a strong presence and personality that he bowls over all who stand in his way with just a look. Widow Emma Hotchkiss is not one willing to be ignored by Stuart. There are some major clashes early on and Stuart winds up tying Emma to a chair. One thing leads to another and they have sex. With Emma tied to the chair.
It's an amazing scene and yes, Emma is a willing participant but, afterwards, their reactions to the event are diametrically opposed. Emma is horrified that she was capable of enjoying such a naughty act, while Stuart is insufferably pleased. As the plot moves on, The Act is a topic that Stuart brings up more than once, which always sets off Emma. She is embarrassed, but,
He'd be happy to tell every man there how he did it. He was damned amazed that he'd managed it on a chair. He half wanted to grab strangers by their shirtfronts on the street and tell them, You wouldn't believe what happened to me. And with such a fine woman, too.
Yes, it's a Neanderthal move, but he's so giddy and proud of himself for managing such a feat that I can't help but smile. I don't believe there's a greater Neanderthal in romance than Dain, in Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. He's crude. He's crass. Emotionally, he's stuck at five years old. Everything about him fairly screams, “Danger, Will Robinson!” What keeps me from loathing Dain is his sense of humor. In the first chapter, he tells the heroine's dimwitted brother, “I believe I've remarked before, Trent, that you might experience less aggravation if you did not upset the balance of your delicate constitution by attempting to count . . . I particularly recommend that you resist the temptation to count if you are contemplating a gift for your chere amie. Women deal in a higher mathematical realm than men, especially when it comes to gifts.” A man who can make me laugh can have anything from me. Well, he can at least get me to continue reading his story.
Derek Craven, of Lisa Kleypas's Dreaming of You was literally born in the gutter, but now owns an infamous gaming hell and is one of the richest men in England. He dresses well, he has taught himself to speak without his native Cockney accent, but civilization is merely a thin veneer barely hiding his more primitive self. All around him know it and give him a wide berth, even as they kowtow to him in fear. And yet, his iron control slips around Sarah.
In times of emotional distress—usually brought on by Sarah—Craven's hard won mastery over language falters, and he lapses into Cockney. He pushes Sarah away, knowing that she is far too good for him, even as he steals her spare pair of eyeglasses and keeps them in his waistcoat pocket, next to his heart. I defy even the most hardhearted of us not keep from uttering a sigh.
And this is why these Neanderthals fascinate us, even when we know better. It's the glimpses of vulnerability, the chinks in their hairy armor, the surprising allure and charisma they can show that make us love them. I still don't want to be hit over the head with a club and dragged off to his cave, but, I am willing to be won over with genuine charm. Maybe a little dragging . . .
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.