The hero and heroine and their happily ever after is the one element you're guaranteed to find in romance. Couples are common, and even books from our favorite authors may not be that memorable solely based on the couple at the heart of the story. It's the truly great couples that elevate solid romance novels to keeper status.
Everyone's heard of the really popular ones: Cat and Bones, Eve and Roarke, Elizabeth and Darcy. But the couples I go back to again and again are those who may not be as well-known but who are no less powerfully impacting, whose relationships stood out beyond the success of the story usually because their authors took care in creating a solid foundation for them over the course of several books.
Cat and Leo – Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas
Lisa Kleypas is prolific and has her own famous couples in Sara and Derek and Evangeline and Sebastian, but for me, Catherine and Leo are her most successful, most unique couple in the vast collection of her work. Leo is the only brother in the quirky, hilarious Hathaway family series. He is offbeat and doesn't take anything too seriously, while Cat is stern and rigid. They parallel each other; they each have dark pasts that lead them to masking and hiding themselves, albeit in different ways. What I love is that we get to see this couple developing throughout two books prior to their story. Their constant bickering and underlying sexual tension has been simmering so intensely that I knew once we finally got their story, it would be pure magic.
“Can you at least admit that you're fond of me?”
Catherine swallowed against the soft caress. “I...it's obvious that I am.”
“Then say it,” he urged, stroking the side of her throat.
“Why must I say something if it's obvious?”
But he persisted, damn him, seeming to understand how difficult it was for her. “It's only a few words.” His thumb brushed the hard, anxious pulse at the base of her neck. “Don't be afraid.”
“Please, I can't –”
Catherine couldn't look at him. She went hot and cold. Taking a deep breath, she managed a shaking whisper. “I'm f-fond of you.”
Theirs is a beautiful, heartwarming story about a couple who begin so far apart, but as the heated arguments turn to intriguing banter, then to serious attraction and finally to sexual spark, a connection is built between Cat and Leo that goes far deeper than most in the romance genre. It's so refreshing to see Leo and Cat argue less and less as they win each other over. Leo really starts to woo her with every ounce of his gorgeous charm, and Cat falls hard. There is more sex in this book than usual for typical Kleypas fare, but with these two it's completely natural and expected, in line with the general love/hate relationship that they have. As the passion grows, so does the emotional development, which is the most rewarding.
Jessie and Diaz – Riding Temptation by Jaci Burton
Jessie and Diaz, from Jaci Burton's wonderful Wild Riders series, have that passionate, forbidden best friend/little sister theme, which builds their story so well. Part of an undercover group of redeemed criminals-turned-agents, they are paired on an assignment to infiltrate an illegal biker club. Jessie has loved and waited for Diaz from afar for years, and Diaz tries to act noble and stoic, denying an attraction between them that's steadily growing.
“I'm no coward.”
His voice had gone low. That meant he was angry, trying to maintain his control. Good. At least she had his attention now.
She turned to face him. “Aren't you? You're too afraid to even attempt to have a relationship with me. If that isn't cowardice, then what is it? And if you tell me one more time that you're trying to protect me, I'm going to kick you straight in the balls.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, then damn if the corners didn't lift into the hint of a smile. “Maybe I should be afraid of you. Christ, woman, you're feisty when you're angry.”
“Yes, maybe you should be afraid of me, Diaz, because I don't like being told how I should and shouldn't feel. And I don't need protecting. I haven't needed protecting since I was fifteen years old. In case you haven't noticed, I'm an adult now. A woman.”
The romantic suspense aspect adds a heightened intensity to the fact that they're finally going to give in to the heat between them. The sex scenes are intense and frequent, but they add something crucial to Jessie and Diaz's complex, evolving relationship. Diaz comes from a dark place, and Jessie really brings a much-needed light and optimism to him. She believes in him, they work together well, and as a couple they just fit. One of those special couples that feel really organic and made for each other. This is the best example of the best friend/little sister theme I've ever read, and it's a favorite trope of mine.
Keely and Jack – All Jacked Up by Lorelei James
One of my most-loved couples in all of romance is Keely and Jack from Lorelei James's magnificent Rough Riders saga. Wild woman Keely, the only female McKay in the long line of siblings, has been stirring up trouble all along, but she finally meets her match with businessman Jack Donahue. The two of them absolutely hate each other, but they need each other. So they strike a deal that Jack will help her get her clinic off the ground if she will help him put on a “family man” front for a conservative new client. That is, if they can keep from killing each other. The set-up sounds a little gimmicky, but seeing Keely and Jack invade each other's lives in every way is so much fun. The snappy, quick-fire banter filled with sparks of chemistry between them is worth reading alone, but as they each begin to feel something more, it turns into a real love story.
“Sweet Jesus, Keely,” he muttered against her lips. “I want you so fucking bad.”
He kissed her chin, “Steamy, raunchy sex is a more productive outlet for our frustrations than flinging insults.”
“I agree,” she moaned when his lips slowly feathered down her throat, hitting every sensitive spot with unerring accuracy.
Jack sucked the tender slope between her shoulder and her collarbone, letting his breath fan the damp spots as his tongue licked to the other side.
The gentle sweep of his thumb in front of her ear as his firm lips and sharp teeth assaulted her neck caused her whole body to quiver with unbridled lust.
“I want to hike up your skirt and fuck you right now against this wall. Raw.” His mouth brushed the shell of her ear. “Hard.” He blew oh so softly. “Fast.”
Her sex moistened and clenched with want.
Then she and Jack were face to face. His wild eyes didn't fit his matter-of-fact tone. “Say you'll let me do every dirty thing to you I've ever fantasized about.”
“You've imagined having sex with me?”
“Always,” he admitted.
Keely lets down her guard, and Jack shows just how amazingly sweet he can be, and we see how perfect they actually are for each other.
Annika and Creed – ACRO series by Sydney Croft
And my favorite romance couple of all time, a well-kept secret, is Annika and Creed from the writing team of Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler writing as Sydney Croft. Annika and Creed have the very unique opportunity of being featured as a secondary love story through the six-book ACRO series. Their story begins in Riding the Storm, as members of the covert government agency ACRO, whose supernatural agents each have a special ability they use to help fight the really bad guys around the globe. He is a ghost whisperer and she has electricity running through her that allows her to shock enemies. She hates him for turning her in after a previous mission, but they're forced together again and the sparks fly, even more so after Annika realizes Creed is the only guy she can have sex with because he's immune to her ability. They don't have a simple love story. Annika has a damaged past that has left her angry and hardened, and trust is completely foreign to her. But they can't keep their hands off each other, and as each sexual encounter draws them closer, it's impossible to deny that this relationship that started all about sex has evolved into something resembling love, and that scares them both. Creed wants more and has a hell of a time getting it from Annika. The first trilogy that makes up the series culminates in a final hour where they have to take a step of faith to commit, and while Creed has been the one fighting for them all along, when he's finally ready to give up, Annika fights hardest of all.
“I choose you, Creed.” She threw out a hand to brace herself on a seat back when a particularly bad gust of turbulence knocked the jet around. “You've been so patient with me. So much more than I deserved. I was blind and stupid. I didn't put you first, and I should have. I'll do anything to make it up to you. Anything. Even if you say no, I won't give up.”
His face fell, as if he wanted to believe her but couldn't allow himself to. “It's too late.”
“It's never too late,” she said fiercely. “I love you. You're all I want, and I'll do whatever it takes to make our relationship work. I'll cut back on my work schedule to spend more time with you. I'll move in with you. I'll –”
-Seduced by the Storm
What's really special about Annika and Creed is getting to see beyond the happily ever after in the second trilogy of the series. Their intricate, intense relationship continues to reach new depths and face challenges, which is a reality in life and which we don't always get to see in romance. They really help carry an imaginative, brilliant series, and the hope and redemption we find in their story is what romance, especially the great couples, is all about.
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.