Quickly now, name your top five heroes from romance novels. I'll wait.
Now think about the heroes you’ve named and tally those who are audacious alphas or tormented loners. I suspect that most of the heroes who made your lists fall into these categories.
But there are some among us, and I am of this company, whose hearts belong to the beta hero. Betas may lack the boldness of the alphas and the angst of the loners, but they have their own charm. And they are certainly not the wimps and bores some readers believe them to be.
I could wax enthusiastically through a dissertation length paean to betas, singing of the wonders of Hartley Wade, the hero in my favorite Mary Balogh book, Lord Carew’s Bride; Colin Bridgerton, the holder of Penelope Featherington’s heart in Julia Quinn’s ever popular Romancing Mr. Bridgerton; Murphy Muldoon, the Irish Renaissance man in Nora Roberts’s Born in Shame; C. L. Sturgis of Jennifer Crusie’s Tell Me Lies, who proves bad boys can grow up to be beta heroes; or any one of the other thirty or so heroes on my list of betas I have loved.
But in the interests of your time and my one-fingered keyboard skills, I’ll limit my praise to my top three, the very best betas.
1. Harry Braxton, beta hero extraordinaire of As You Desire by Connie Brockway:
He’s smart, strong, and adventurous. He has a sense of honor and a sense of humor. And he’s gorgeous. His lips—sigh!
Harry’s lips, thought Desdemona, looked like they could read Braille.
Most important, he loves Desdemona with a tenacity that will not be defeated, and he delights in her intelligence. He tells her of his love in some of the most romantic words I’ve ever read:
And how can one single image describe you? You are a country, a country of unexplored sensation and whim, veiled in dawn, shining, shedding light…And your body… it is the Nile itself…Your are my country, Desdemona…My Egypt. My hot, harrowing desert and my cool, verdant Nile, infinitely lovely and unfathomable and sustaining.
2. Will Parker, the foundling with a troubled past and a longing heart in Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer:
He’s an ex-con who is at the point of starvation when he answers a newspaper ad for a husband and eventually finds the home and family that he never thought would be his. Between his introduction and the HEA, he learns to be a husband, a father, and a friend. He becomes a decorated war hero and a murder suspect. And finally he becomes whole with a place to belong in a community, in a family, and in the arms of his heroine.
Lizzy, Will thought. Lizzy P. 'You n me gonna be buddies, darlin'. He stretched one hand to Elly's hair, and circled Donald Wade's rump with his free arm and touched Thomas's leg, on the far side of Elly. And he smiled at Lizzy P. and thought, Heaven's got nothin' on being the husband of Eleanor Dinsmore.
3. Quinn Hunter, former rock star, dedicated physician, writer of poems, songs, and fiction, and hero of Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel:
Quinn Hunter is really two heroes. He’s the blond Ivy Leaguer, a child of privilege, who meets Danny French at Princeton and with him forms Dodd Hall, a folk rock group that soon soars to the top of the '70s music world. Sixteen years later, Quinn is a dedicated physician for whom music remains a passion. He’s good-looking, intelligent, compelling, and good with kids—and he writes stories for The New Yorker. Small wonder that Krissa French, the cinnamon-haired girl of his songs, falls in love with him in both incarnations, a love that is richly returned.
It was as though he were looking through her, beyond her, into a luminous dream, a shimmering, otherworldly ideal of womanhood, a Platonic vision of all that the feminine ought to be.
Then she smiled. The mist dissolved, and she was something far more precious than any of Plato’s ideals. She was herself . . . and he loved her.
Jayne Ann Krentz was wrong. I say this with trembling and trepidation but with unwavering conviction. After all, Krentz is a goddess, a legendary defender of romance fiction, an author I’ve been reading for decades. Nevertheless, she was wrong when she said, “No one wants to read about a beta hero.” I do. As a matter of fact, one of the beta heroes I keep reading about again and again is Harry Stratton Trevelyan in Absolutely, Positively by none other than Jayne Ann Krentz. Evidently even writers who have sworn allegiance to alphas can be seduced into creating a heart-stealing beta. You think I could persuade Ms. Krentz to wear one of my I <3 Betas! buttons?
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.