Having a military man as the hero in a romance novel seems like a no-brainer; what is surprising is that four of my five top choices were category romances. Perhaps that's because a category’s short length favors intensely emotional stories that focus tightly on two characters, a structure that’s especially good for characters dealing with internal conflicts like recovery from the trauma of war. So here they are, listed in reverse order:
5. Snowbound, Janice Kay Johnson: The heroine, Fiona, is escorting a group of teens on a class trip and ends up stranded at a lodge during a snowstorm. The hero, John, is an Iraq War veteran who owns and operates the lodge; he suffers from PTSD and physical injuries as well, and has been hoping quiet and solitude will cure him. Both characters run out of emotional resources at different times during the story in a very realistic way, and at one point Fiona refuses to go farther in their relationship unless John gets help. John’s suffering is portrayed in an authentic manner, as is Fiona’s reaction to it, and the steps they both take towards helping him. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of PTSD I’ve ever seen in a romance novel.
4. Reckless, Ruth Wind (Barbara Samuel): Reckless is the story of Jake Forrest (what is it about the name Jake for romance heroes?), who's suffering from PTSD-related insomnia and disassociation, and Ramona Hardy, the local doctor, who tells him, when he expresses surprise at her profession, “I love to hear sexist comments from the lips of macho soldier boys.” Though only one character was in the military, they are both damaged by violence and find solace in each other. Jake’s PTSD, though symbolized by one event, is complex. He feels, as a Gulf War veteran, that his suffering is insignificant in comparison to, for example, that of the WWII veteran who is his mentor and feels weak because his war broke him. Wind uses Jake's traumatic experiences to mirror Ramona's experience with being raped in high school and her subsequent PTSD and recovery. Partly because of Jake’s interaction with Ramona, he’s eventually willing to attempt therapy.
3. A Virgin River Christmas, Robyn Carr: Carr's Virgin River series is built around military heroes, mostly Marines, both those who've resigned or retired to live in the mountain community, and those who still serve. Though the novel is positive about military service, it offers a wide view of issues associated with it, contrasting with the sweet romance between the hero and heroine. The main hero, Ian, served in Iraq. Ian left the Marines after his rescue of the heroine’s husband Billy, his best friend, in Iraq. Ian feels immense guilt because, despite the rescue, Billy's injuries were so severe he remained in a vegetative state until his death three years later. The heroine, Marcie, was glad to have time to say goodbye to her husband, and when the book opens is mostly recovered from his death, but she’s sure Ian is not; she goes to find him so she can move on. In the background of the story is Virgin River: one of the young men of the town has recently gone to war, and another was killed in action shortly before Marcie arrives. All of Ian and Marcie's interactions, even while they are isolated in Ian's mountain cabin, occurs within this context, the people left behind.
2. Frisco’s Kid, Suzanne Brockmann: In the contemporary military romances I’ve read, permanent physical disability is portrayed less often than mental. Alan Francisco is a Navy SEAL who is badly injured while fighting terrorists. When the novel begins, he’s convinced he can return to that duty:
“He was going to run and jump and dive. No question.”
Except he won’t; when the novel begins, he’s already endured five years of surgery and physical therapy and is about to be forced into caring for his five-year-old niece. His romance with his neighbor Mia only adds to his problems because he has to learn how not to use her as, pardon the metaphor, a crutch. Mingled with their romance, the plot follows his slow and difficult physical progress and the emotional issues attendant upon his having abruptly lost his career as well as his mobility. He has to reassess his entire lists of needs, wants, and abilities, accept what’s changed, and figure out what to do with himself.
1. A Soldier’s Heart, Kathleen Korbel: The heroine of this novel, Claire, served in Vietnam as a nurse, where she saved the life of the hero, Tony. It’s Claire whose past trauma is the center of the plot; her suffering is intensified because she is trying to hide it from her children, and because a woman’s combat trauma is not as recognized as that of a man’s. The story takes place twenty years after the war, when Tony decides to find Claire and thank her; he swiftly realizes she is suffering from PTSD and is determined to help her. The resulting story is redolent of dark pain and quiet intimacy as, with Tony’s help, Claire slowly comes to acknowledge what she suffered, and what she accomplished.
Which military heroes are your favorite?
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.