Mon
Jun 25 2012 9:14am

Doing Dirty Deeds: What’s the Worst Thing a Hero Has Ever Done?

Gentlemen Behaving Badly by Michelle MarcosOne of the things romance readers like the best is the grovel, when the hero has to apologize for something he’s done. A good grovel is one of the most satisfying things to read in romance novels.

But what causes the grovel? Some terrible behavior, that’s for sure: For example, the hero of Christine Monson’s Stormfire raped the heroine, kept her—pregnant—in a dungeon and nearly starved her to death for betraying him, the hero of Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven chained the heroine to the floor with dogs as punishment for lying, and in Jude Deveraux’s The Velvet Promise, the hero carries on with his first love (his undeserving first love, given her behavior with many men) after he marries—and promises never to love—the heroine.

What’s the worst thing a hero has ever done?

Thanks to Tori Benson, Janet Webb, and @Kaetrin67 for assistance on the post!

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23 comments
Wendy Lewis
1. wsl0612
I can't even think, the examples you've given are so appalling to me! I'm just stunned, I've never read these books, do they even work or is the Hero such a jack-off you can't finish?
Brandy Stott
2. brandeeleigh
OMG!!
Christine Monson’s Stormfire = I have never read her books I could not imagine that the hero could ever ever, ever grovel enough to make that forgiveable? I agree with wslo612 I havene't read any of those author's and if those are the type of "hero's" they have I won't be reading them. I require a H.E. with my romances but I don't think I could ever get past those themes to see if a H.E. ever arrived. WOW.
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
Okaaaaay, I can't help but remembering a discussion we had quite some time ago about romance deal breakers and heroes who definitely cross the line between being a rake and being a villain _ and, although I haven't read any of the 3 books mentionned, I would definitely consider rape, starvation and chaining the heroine as deal breakers, the kind not even a good old groveling could overcome.
That being said, hum, I would say that all Anne Stuart's heroes in the House of Rohan series did pretty awful things, either to the heroine or to other characters : cheating, plotting, assaulting, debauching... For instance, in book #3, the hero hires a man to abduct and rape the heroine, so that she'll be ruined in the eye of good society, so that she'll marry him the moment he shows her friendship, so that he'll be able to treat her awfully and make her miserable her whole life in order to exert revenge on her brother. Now, that's thinking ahead, isn't it?
Judith McNaught's Clayton in Whitney my Love was quite a jerk too, rather fond of emotionally abusing, beating and raping is wife.
Brie Clementine
4. Brie.Clem
Those are old school books, though (Roseheaven is relatively new compared to the other two). I know that when I first read them I loved them and couldn’t get enough angst and forced seductions (The Velvet Promise was the first romance I ever read) but all the books I used to read had assholish heroes, so I was more forgiving because I didn’t know any better and the angst was so epic I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to. If I were to read them now that I know there are romance heroes that can actually be heroic and not just villainous, I probably wouldn’t be able to finish he books.

BTW, you forgot to add that the heroine of The Velvet Promise has a miscarriage when she falls down the stairs after seeing the hero kiss the evil ex. Good times!
Annabel
5. Annabel
There is Graelam in Catherine Coulter's Fire Song. He rapes her and beats her and does all kinds of mean stuff to her before they find their happily ever after.

Something's wrong with me though, because that never bothered me in historicals. I guess because it was copacetic with the time period, I mean, men really did that stuff back then. I remember reading Fire Song as a younger woman and not blinking twice about it, actually finding Graelem quite brooding and hot. Now I feel kind of shamey for that, lol.

I also adore Clayton in Whitney, My Love, and Allegreto in Kinsale's ShadowHeart, and Thorne de Wilde in James' My Rebellious Heart. Ooh, and Kenric in The Warlord by Elizabeth Elliott. Okay, so I basically enjoy the bad, rapey heroes a lot, at least as a fantasy.

*pulls paper bag over head*
Annabel
6. Rose In RoseBear
@Annabel: You took the name Graelam right off my fingertips! Especially since he was such an ass in the first book of the series, and then was such a nice person in the subsequent books.

I would also like to add (almost) everyone's least favorite hero, Anthony Welles, Earl of Clare, in Catherine Coulter's Devil's Embrace. (I love the mentions of him and his descendants in her later novels.) Also, Niko Constantinos in All That Glitters, possibly Linda Howard's greatest azzhole EVAH.

Annabel, I'll take a paper bag and sit down next to you. I, too, am mostly unperturbed by this behavior in medieval or SF novels, as long as the grovel is good and the heroine is worthwhile. Anthony pays, and learns through the pain. Niko, on the other hand, never really learns anything. Cassie is a classic Coulter heroine, with lots of spine; Jessica has all the spine of overcooked pasta.
Annabel
7. Rose In RoseBear
Is it bad of me to want to (re)read the books listed here?

(rumaging around for Devil's Embrace ...)
Vanessa Ouadi
8. Lafka
Actually, I'm generally less bothered by how much of an A-hole a hero can be than by how the heroine handles it. I positively HATE doormat heroines, boring little things that will simply take everything the jerk hero puts on without as much as a protesting sound! What will make the difference for me between a hero I can grow fond of (after the groveling scene(s) of course) and a book I will simply not finish will be whether the heroine is a doormat or whether she stands her ground when confronted to the hero's dirty deeds.
Glass Slipper
9. GlassSlipper
Lafka, You forgot to mention the part near the end of the book where he forces her to wear a see-through gown (knowing she is uncomfortable yet still trusting him completely), takes her to an orgy involving his "friends" and lets them chain her up and grope her! Then, he decides he can't allow it to go any further and whisks her away. This whole episode had been part of his evil plan from the beginning, except he had originally intended to allow the orgy members to have their way with her thoroughly.

I guess we, the readers, were supposed to believe he loved her, and that's why he stopped everything. It just showed me how truly effed up he was, to even consider taking her there, at this point in the story, and truly ruined my belief in their happy ending. I wanted the heroine to run far away from him and never come back! She almost did, but then backed down and allowed him to worm his way back in.

I also agree about doormat heroines. By not standing up to these brutes, they're setting a standard for the rest of the relationship. But I guess this is Romancelandia, where the worst rakes are permanently tamed into the best husbands by the end of the book. I wish it worked like that in real life.
Vanessa Ouadi
10. Lafka
@GlassSlipper _ Oh no, I hadn't forgotten that delightful scene, that was quite something indeed ;-) But, speaking about that book, I found quite amusing the efforts the heroine put in resisting and returning blow for blow right back to the hero (she paints his rooms in pink for example, and of course, she did try to kill him!). Obviously, in real life, any reasonable woman would have dumped his ass in the first chapters, but in Romancelandia that was quite refreshing :-)
Annabel
11. Annabel
There is Graelam in Catherine Coulter's Fire Song. He rapes her and beats her and does all kinds of mean stuff to her before they find their happily ever after.

Something's wrong with me though, because that never bothered me in historicals. I guess because it was copacetic with the time period, I mean, men really did that stuff back then. I remember reading Fire Song as a younger woman and not blinking twice about it, actually finding Graelem quite brooding and hot. Now I feel kind of shamey for that, lol.

I also adore Clayton in Whitney, My Love, and Allegreto in Kinsale's ShadowHeart, and Thorne de Wilde in James' My Rebellious Heart. Ooh, and Kenric in The Warlord by Elizabeth Elliott. Okay, so I basically enjoy the bad, rapey heroes a lot, at least as a fantasy.

*pulls paper bag over head*
Annabel
12. Annabel
Oh, how could I forget The Devil's Embrace? And there's Prisoner of my Desire too, by Johanna Lindsey. The rapey WTFery is strong with that one.

I agree with everyone that a heroine with spine somehow makes the bad behavior less squicky. When it's an a*hole beating up on a doormat, well, that's just sad.

I also agree that the whole point is that the a*hole learns to be better. If there's no change in the behavior or realization of wrongdoing, it's very unsatisfying. It's definitely all about the grovel and the redemption.

Since we're on the topic of Stormfire...If you don't mind spoilers and you want a good laugh, check out Verity's review of the book on Goodreads. I can't get through it without howling in laughter. She certainly broke it down. :-)

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/54753674
Annabel
13. willaful
Honestly, for me the worst thing a romance hero can do is not be into the heroine. I'll take a rapist hero over an indifferent one any day.

That said, the hero of The Rebel Bride (by Coulter, natch) is right up there. He rapes his wife incognito and is brutal when he discovers she wasn't a virgin. And there was a truly grisly deflowring in The Heiress Bride. They're probably not as bad as Devil's Embrace -- I've never had enough balls to read it.
Vanessa Ouadi
14. Lafka
@willaful _ How could I forget to mention the Devil's Embrace _ gosh, the hero creeped the hell out of me! He was just some kind of crazy psycho, who developed an tiny obsession over the heroine (after all, she's the daughter of a woman he loved but who died while giving birth to the heroine _ perfectly normal to develop romantic feelings toward the child, isn't it? yuck) and decided to "train" the heroine to become a suitable wife since she's 5 years-old, then abducts her, rapes her, and actually blames her for forcing his hand in the matter, because obviously SHE is the one to blame, not the creepy-stalker hero _ though I would admit she's to blame too, I mean falling for psychoboy (helloooo Stockholm syndrom!) and rejecting her fiancé (childhood sweetheart, war hero and so on) because he doesn't remember she doesn't like tea? Puhlease! The two of them need a good shrink, really. I felt like reading a bad BDSM novel disguised behind creepy-romance plot.
Just have a look at the lines :
- "And to assist you to accept me more quickly as your husband, we will begin tonight in married intimacy." - "No, damn you, no."
- "Yes, we shall."
- "I will not let you. Damn you, you will not touch me."
- "Cassandra, heed me. To allow you to continue in your virgin state would be the height of foolishness, for it would encourage you to nourish unfounded hopes and keep you all the longer away from me."
Now, that's something, isn't it? Yuck.
Elizabeth Halliday
15. Ibbitts
I was very close to being put off by a historical I once read where the hero holds the unwilling bride of an arranged marriage against her will (in luxury for the times) until she accepts him in the end. The only abuses in that book were verbal and went both ways. Anything past that point would not be romance and the hero would not be a hero.
Rape is never love, regardless of the time period, and a person who rapes and/or beats their spouse/partner is never going to be a hero.
Thank you, Megan, for the post and another huge thank you to the members who have posted comments! You have all saved me a great deal of time and money by adding to my list of writers that I don't ever want to read anything they've written or likely anything they'll ever write.
I'm into romance, love, erotica ... not abuse, pain and mental illness.
Annabel
16. Lucy D
@annabel I couldn't even finish the review that you tagged. I couldn't take that in a story if the villian had done those things to the heroine, let alone the man being called the "hero." I think if I had started that book I wouldn't have tossed it away, I would have burned it so no one else could ever read it or know that I looked at it. Awful!!
Wendy Lewis
17. wsl0612
Lots of posts have mentioned the medieval and other settings where the hero rapes the heroine. I can understand accepting that event in the romance, particularly as we know rape was not considered rape throughout so much of history. But the one thing I'd love to read is where the a-hole "hero" really has to suffer for being so brutal towards the heroine. I too want a heroine who's not a doormat but I'd also love to read the book where the heroine gets to enjoy some really hot sex with another fantastic guy after the hero treats her like crap, and the hero knows it and he SUFFERS!!!! I do enjoy historicals, but I can get very tired of the whole, oh you're worthless if you're not a virgin or okay you're not a virgin but at least you never enjoyed sex before the big bad hero came along. If the author is going to make the hero be an a-hole, the author really needs to make sure he also suffers A LOT before I can accept his "redemption".
Darlene Marshall
18. darlenemarshall
I've got an older contemporary to add to the mix--Judith McNaught's Double Standards (1984), or as I refer to it, "The sexual harrassment suit waiting to happen novel."

The hero emotionally abuses the heroine, throws her out into a sleet storm without her outerwear, and that's aside from all of the "WTF?" office shenanigans of the expectations the (male) bosses have of their female employees.

There is a good grovel at the end, but it was still a wall-banger for me.
Annabel
19. Renable
Thanks for adding to my reading list y'all! :)
Miss_D
20. Miss_D
Pretty much everything done by Alexei in "The Promise." What a hypocritical, cruel jackass!!
Glass Slipper
21. GlassSlipper
@Lafka. I knew you didn't. ;) I just couldn't resist spilling more beans about his hideous behavior. Yeah, she did injure him a bit, didn't she? I'm trying to remember if he actually went unconscious or not, and that's why she came back to help him. Well, I gave the book 4 stars, regardless, simply for the emotional ride it gave me. :)
Annabel
22. Elegavie
So many of the books listed here I really have enjoyed. I guess its like so many other people say i understand that in many of these books the actions are the time period norm. Now that doesn't mean I don't love it even more when said hero gets his comeuppance. I definetely prefer strong heroines who get back at these heroes before they finally fall in love.
Annabel
23. marietazgz
I hated Sarah's child by Linda Howard.The hero was all angsty and pitied himself cause he had lost his wife and children.

Up to that point it was okay.But then he married the heroine(her wife's friend) and acted like a d*uchebag and ignored her and treated her as if she had gotten pregnant to spite him and refused to have anything to do with the baby and then got jealous without reason and treated her like a slut .So basically he abused her psychologically ,and acted as the wounded part all through it ...and this is a contemporary.

As said above ,there are some things you can stand in historicals because of the culture and education that you cant stand in contemporaries.
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