I’ve read most of the hundred plus books Susan Mallery has written. I count her among my autobuy authors and consider her among the best in the romance genre at creating stories with interesting family dynamics and great female friendships. She has also created some wonderful heroes. Clay Stryker, the underwear model/butt double in her most recent book, All Summer Long, is one of my favorite heroes of 2012. But Mallery has also created half a dozen heroes who figure prominently on my list of all-time top jerk heroes.
1. Rafael, Prince of Calandria, The Marcelli Princess, Marcelli #5 (2007)
This is another youngest sister story. Mia knew Rafael as Diego, the thief with whom she fell in love while working undercover as a CIA agent. She saw Diego killed, and for five years she mourns him and focuses on bringing up their son. One morning she awakens to find Diego in her bed, only he’s not really Diego. He’s Rafael, the Crown Prince of Calandria, and although he doesn’t tell Mia, he knows all about his son. In fact, Danny is the reason he has contacted Mia. Rafael is on a mission, charged by the king with bringing Danny to Calandria where he can be properly groomed as heir to the throne. Rafael is willing to use seduction, lies, and betrayal to get his son. Of course he repents and is supposedly redeemed, but I’m never persuaded that jerks change their stripes.
2. Matthew Fenner, Sweet Trouble, Keyes Sisters #3, (2008)
Jesse, the wild child among the Keyes sisters and the youngest, returns home five years after she was found in what appeared to be a sexual encounter with the husband of her sister Nicole. The situation wasn’t what it seemed, but Nicole and Matt Fenner, Jesse’s boyfriend at the time, believe she’s guilty. Matt, a wealthy, socially awkward computer games developer, refused to believe that the child she was carrying was his. Jesse wants to reconcile with her family, and she wants her four-year-old son to know his father. These are the reasons that motivate her return.
Unfortunately, the sweet guy with whom Jesse fell in love has transformed himself into a ruthless operator. Matt still refuses to believe in her innocence, and when she provides the evidence to prove that he is the father of her son, his only thought is revenge. He plans to use every weapon at his command, and his arsenal is considerable, to break Jesse’s heart and gain custody of his son—all the while lusting insatiably for her, of course. Jesse has faults, but she doesn’t deserve Matt’s cruelty. He’s a jerk, and I don’t trust his redemption.
3. Garth Duncan, Hot on Her Heels, Lone Star Sisters #4 (2009)
Garth Duncan, who has been busily plotting the destruction of the Titan sisters in truly villainous fashion in the first three books of the series, becomes one of the family and the hero in the final book. His prime target is the father he shares with the women, but he has no qualms about creating havoc in the lives of his half-sisters in the process. He dopes race horses, calls in a loan to wreck the business of one sister, hacks into the computer system of the charitable foundation of another and makes it appear that she is guilty of fraud. Yes, Jed Titan is an evil man who abandoned his son, and the younger Garth merits sympathy. But I can’t buy into the glossing over of the past to turn a man who actively harms innocents into a sigh-worthy hero. Once a jerk . . .
4. Ethan Hendrix, Almost Perfect, Fool’s Gold #2 (2010)
Ethan Hendrix is the jerkiest. Perhaps I feel so strongly because Liz Sutton is one of my favorite Mallery heroines. The daughter of an abusive mother whose drunkenness and promiscuity were common knowledge, Liz endured a horrific childhood, made even more intolerable by her teen years when she was assumed to be her mother’s daughter in every respect and treated accordingly. Ethan behaves badly first when he tells others that Liz, who believes he loves her, means nothing to him. She overhears and runs away. When she returns three weeks later to tell him that she is pregnant, she finds him in bed with one of the girls who has tormented her. An attempt years later to tell Ethan he has a son leads to a letter from Ethan telling her he wants nothing to do with her or the child.
Now a successful author, Liz returns to Fool’s Gold with her eleven-year-old son only to rescue her two young nieces. Ethan’s anger knows no bounds when he discovers he has a son. He refuses to believe Liz’s story and is deliberately cruel to her. He never accepts responsibility for his own failings, allows others to believe all kinds of untruths about Liz, and even speaks disrespectfully of her to their son. I not only can’t believe in the happy ending of this book, but I also view Ethan, now the perfect husband, very suspiciously when he makes an appearance in later books.
5. Finn Anderssen, Only Mine, Fool’s Gold #4 (2011)
Finn Andersson, a pilot from South Salmon, Alaska, shows up in Fool’s Gold to make sure that his twenty-one-year-old twin brothers give up their idea of being contestants on a reality show and return to complete their final semester of college. Finn’s responsibility for his younger brothers began when their parents died in a plane crash that Finn survived. He wants what he thinks is best for his brothers, and he also sees their college graduation as his own graduation from responsibilities as stand-in parent.
Finn is a quick-tempered champion at jumping to conclusions. Her verbally assaults the heroine at their first meeting, he interferes in the love life of one brother (a secondary romance that is the novel’s salvation), and rushes back to Alaska when he learns that his friends with benefits relationship with Dakota has resulted in a pregnancy. He does have some good qualities, but ultimately Finn seemed less mature to me than his barely legal age brother Stephen. Finn seems a totally reformed character in later books, but I always check carefully for hints of jerk regression.
6. Shane Stryker, Summer Nights, Fool’s Gold #8 (2012)
Shane is a great guy in many ways—a real cowboy who is good-looking, wealthy, and great with kids and animals. But when even an Arabian stallion is a better judge of character than the hero is, there’s a problem. Shane decides Annabelle is a wild woman who respects no boundaries when he first sees her dancing on a bar, and nothing really shakes his conclusion. It doesn’t matter that his mother thinks she’s a nice girl, that all the animals love her, that her friends threaten to do serious damage to him if he hurts her, that every minute he and Annabelle share shows him a woman with integrity, strength, and compassion, that they are great together in bed and out, he never really trusts her. I wanted to brain him. It’s true that he comes through like the best of heroes at the end in an excellent grovel scene. But I couldn’t quite believe those jerkish tendencies were gone forever.
Lest I seem to be ignoring Mallery’s truly heart-stealing heroes to focus on her jerks, I feel it only fair to add that I recently read the next Fool’s Gold book, A Fool’s Gold Christmas, and Dante Jefferson is not a jerk.
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.