The alpha jerk appeals to many women because we instinctively love a challenge—can we be the one that thaws the block of ice that surrounds his heart? Will he let go of his issues and let us heal his ravaged soul? Yet there are some heroes who never seem to change. They are unable to get past their issues and we are forced to read a book that categories all their abuse. And we are supposed to root for them to conquer their fears and realize that the heroine was right for them all along.
This breed of heroes (and I use that term lightly) treats the heroine like dirt. These characters can be rude, obnoxious, cruel, and abusive to the supposed love of their lives. We are faced with pages and pages of behavior that in the real world would get them dumped so quickly, they would question whether the relationship ever existed. The heroine makes excuses for the hero’s behavior as though having a crappy or traumatic event in their lives somehow justifies months and sometimes years of sheer agony. What mystifies me and angers me is this all continues until the last few pages of the story when a lightbulb goes off and they're faced with the possibility that the heroine has had enough. The heroine begins to walk away and suddenly we see sad hero. Sorry hero. I’m-a-jerk hero. He mans up and they live happily ever after.
Well, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. I recently read a book where a nifty little quote was given. The heroine’s mom told her that you should always watch how the hero treats you in the beginning of the relationship because that is a good indication of how they will treat you throughout the entire relationship. And that is very good advice. Sometimes the hero can’t be saved. Sometimes love isn’t enough. A woman can always try to save a hero but should never give up their self esteem in the process.
Below are some romances where I honestly felt the hero didn't deserve a happily ever after (followed by some examples of heroes that do grow and change enough to eventually earn their HEA).
I was a huge fan of Linda Howard's work back in the day. She had some of the most alpha heroes I had ever encounter. Rough stoic, manly men who were often filled with rage and pain. I recently did a reread of one of her more controversial books, Sarah’s Child, and realised that the hero, Rome was certainly no hero to me.
Rome Matthews lost everything when his wife and children died in a car accident. Sarah Harper was best friends with Rome’s wife and has been in love with Rome for years. Circumstances lead them to a sexually based marriage only. From there, Rome basically takes a lovely emotionally dependent woman and proceeds to crush every little thing about her. When Sarah becomes pregnant by accident, Rome's behavior changes from disgusting to appalling when he demands she make a choice—him or the child. Sarah chooses the baby and Rome wallows in his grief, punctuated by random bursts of hostility towards Sarah. Sarah stands around wringing her hands and apologising to the world for being born.
“I’ll be glad when this is over.”
“A few more weeks,” she whispered, watching him with her heart in her eyes. “What then?”
He breathed deeply, his powerful chest stretching the fabric of his shirt. There were grim lines in his face, bracketing his mouth. “Then I’ll have my wife back,” he said bluntly.
“I know it’s been difficult for you—”
“No, you don’t know. You don’t have any idea.” His voice grew sharp. “You made it pretty plain when you gave me your ultimatum: Put up with it, or get out. You want that baby more than you want me. I thought about it, harder than I’ve ever thought about anything before in my life, and I came close to leaving, but in the end I decided to take what I could get. I may come in second with you for now, but that state of affairs won’t last. When that baby is out of the way, when I can touch you again, you’re going to be my wife, first and foremost, before anything else. If you can’t live with that, tell me now.”
She sat very still, a little pale, but meeting his gaze unwaveringly. “Your wife is all I’ve ever wanted to be.”
“I don’t want the baby between us. Take care of it, yes, but when I come home at night, your time becomes mine. I want your attention, all of it, without you jumping and running every time it whimpers.”
“Even if it’s sick, or hurt?” Couldn’t he hear his own words? Did he really expect her to ignore her own child?
He winced, as if he suddenly realized what he was asking. “No, of course not.” Shaken, he looked at her. “I don’t know if I can handle it. I want you, only you, the way it was before. I don’t want anyone else intruding.”
Isn’t he dreamy? But wait, it gets better. The miracle of birth does NOT change Rome’s attitude and Sarah finds herself basically hiding a newborn in their apartment.
Sarah had worked hard before, but she’d never worked as hard or been under as much strain as she was in the following weeks. If Missy hadn’t been a good baby, it would have been impossible. During the day, after Rome left for work, Sarah spent as much time as she could with her daughter, playing with her, doing all of the things that a baby required. Mrs. Melton took care of the mounds of laundry and the cleaning, which freed Sarah for all her other duties. She tried to give Missy bottles as a supplementary feeding, but the formula made her spit up, and the pediatrician advised Sarah to feed the baby solely by breast until she was a little older; then they’d try the formula again. That meant she couldn’t leave Missy alone for any length of time, as she demanded regular feedings.
She always had Missy bathed and in bed for the night before Rome came home from work and kept her fingers crossed that the baby wouldn’t wake before it was time for her usual feeding
Of course, Rome eventually succombs to the magical pull of his child and the story ends with a faint ray of hope that they can eventually become a loving complete family, but I still wanted to bury him in a shallow grave.
Another winner in the male gene pool is Marilyn Pappano’s Reese Bennett from The Sheriff's Surrender. Reese Bennett is a small town sheriff who is dating a criminal defence attorney, Neely Madison. When Neely defends a wife abuser after the sheriff’s department violated his civil rights and beat him up in jail, she gets him off, only to have him kill his wife on the courthouse steps. Bennett and his band of merry men open fire on the man, killing him. Rather than help his lover (who lives with him) Reese walks away as Neely lies bleeding to death. Years pass, and when Reese discovers Neely is on someone’s hit list, he actually wishes the hit man good luck because he still blames Neely for the woman dying. We soon learn that the police force is corrupt (say it ain’t so) and they are the ones trying to kill Neely. And while Reese would love us to agree that he is the awesome wonder he believes he is, he’s actually just as bad as his friends on the force. He’s so firmly situated on his high horse, he doesn’t see he uses his badge and self righteousness to talk away his own moral ambiguity. He does somewhat redeem himself in the end but frankly, it was too little too late in my eyes. I could never get over that he watched her get shot and thought to himself, “She deserved that.”
Then there's the hero of Maya Banks’s Sweet Temptation. Micah is a sadist dom whose life was shattered when he lost his wife and best friend in a car accident. Angelina, his best friend’s sister, has loved Micah forever and decides the time is right to show him she is willing to be everything and anything he needs. Thank goodness Angelina is a masochist, because she gets the crap beat out of her in this book. Micah takes tortured male to a whole new level as he basically tortures Angelina and treats her like a whore in order to avoid having any feelings for her. I have no issues with S&M. I have no issues with people who enjoy S&M relationships. I say to each his own, but I have to be convinced this is an actual relationship. I need to feel the couple's chemistry and be assured that all this is consensual and sane. The everyday beatings and the fact he loaned her to his friends—repeatedly—didn’t convince me Micah cared for her at all. Micah was a selfish, abusive jerk who used Angelina’s body and love to exorcise his own demons without giving anything back to her.
Her head fell forward, her jaw clenched so tight her teeth ached. Micah went still against her, and she felt the heaving of his belly as he leaned into her. He was still buried in her ass, and he remained there a long moment. Then he kissed her back. Just one gentle brush. And he withdrew.
“Are you hungry?” Micah asked Cole in a casual voice.
“I could eat.”
What? They were talking about food at a time like this? Her entire body was in shutdown mode. She’d shed her skin at least twice already.
“I have leftover pizza in the fridge.”
Their voices grew dimmer, and she realized they’d left her. Cum dripped from her chin and seeped down the inside of her thigh. Her pussy throbbed and pulsed from her orgasm. But she was powerless to move.
With a resigned sigh, she closed her eyes and waited for them to return.
I will add that Angelina does finally stand up for herself towards the end but once again gives in when Micah grovels for about three minutes. I would have felt better if she had left town and we had actually gotten to see him change and win her back.
Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich introduces us to a rather superficial narcissistic arsehat of a hero whose entire life revolves around beauty. Logan Montgomery is a celebrity fitness trainer. He meets our overweight heroine, Holly Brennon, on a flight and because she “doesn’t smell like a fat person and seems intelligent” he offers to help her lose the extra pounds. Well, yay Holly. The premise is predictable. With every pound Holly loses, the more attracted Logan becomes to her. Soon, they are mattress dancing on a regular basis. The book has some funny moments and there is a delightful secondary couple whose penchant for kink is entertaining—so what’s the problem then you ask? Why, Logan of course. He never gets over his fat phobia. His shame over his attraction to Holly is a prevalent force throughout the entire book and he treats her like a horrible embarrassing secret. The worse part? He knows he’s a jerk and he refuses to feel bad about his particular brand of bigotry or to even try to change. He enjoys being with her both in and out of bed but we are privy to his thoughts, and with every compliment he thinks about her, there are four complaints that follow. Even the tried and true conflict scene that smacks the hero in the face with his hypocrisy and the subsequent making up that follows never really addresses his issues and whether he can genuinely get over them.
Thank goodness nonredeemable heroes are not the norm in romancelandia. There are plenty of alpha jerks whose authors do redeem and subsequently restore my faith not only in the hero, but the relationship as a whole.
Hardy Cates from Lisa Klepyas's Sugar Daddy is introduced as a brash, selfish man. He disappears early on, only to reappear as a jerk of the first order who has no qualms doing whatever it takes to get what he wants, even betraying those whom he considers friends. In book two, Blue-Eyed Devil, Hardy is determined to destroy the Travis family and some ways he goes about it are not cool. As the story and romance progresses, however, we see Hardy unraveling and being rebuilt into a compassionate man who's comfortable in his own skin and able to relinquish control without regret or anger.
Nalini Singh's Guild Hunters series revolves around a redeemed alpha jerk. Our hero, the Archangel Raphael, is a cold, dark angel of immense power whose immortality has all but killed his humanity. He crosses so many lines with the heroine, it's hard to see how a romance will ever occur, much less become acceptable to the reader. He threatens her constantly. He uses her and demeans her. He makes sure she understands that she is expendable and can end her life in the blink of an eye. Yet, our heroine never falters, never bows to him willingly. It's her humanity that makes her interesting enough to peak the interest of a man thousands of years old. Her strength, tenacity, and sheer ability to withstand his machinations gradually begins to “humanize” our dark angel. Seeing the exact moment of his redemption is heart aching.
One of my favorite authors who writes the best redeemable alpha jerks is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Everyone of her heroes starts out as rude, insensitive, egotistical jerks who are often emotionally cruel to their heroines. What makes these stories so great is the heroine's are usually smart, funny woman who really try to work thing out with the hero but when it gets to be to much, they leave. Buh-bye. The hero has been changing the whole book but often fighting their feeling.The best aspect of her stories is the heroine tells the hero what she thinks of him and shows him what happens when she's had enough. There's no sneaking away in the middle of the night. The heroine walks right out the front door and down the street. Head held high. When the hero finally realizes that he's been a complete arse, it takes a lot of groveling and a little help from their friends to get his love back.
So tell me, what alpha jerks have you read about that you felt didn’t deserve their happily ever after? And who redeemed themselves in your eyes?