I read a lot of comic books when I was a youngster. While I admired Wonder Woman and thought it would be neat to be an Amazon princess and carry a sword, the person I really wanted to be, the one I thought was absolutely the coolest, was Catwoman. I didn’t identify with the 1950s bonked-on-the-head delusional stewardess Catwoman, but the real Catwoman, the Selina Kyle who saw bright, glittery things and said, “Mine!” Catwoman wasn’t like Poison Ivy, who went around killing people. Catwoman was a thief, one who happened to be so good at her profession that there was only one crimefighter capable of reining her in.
As you might imagine, when I grew up enough to realize there was a thing between naughty Catwoman and dark hero Batman…oh yeah, that just added a whole new special awesomesauce to reading about her exploits robbing jewels and antiquities and rappelling down skyscrapers and driving Batman batty! Putting an adult spin on their “catch me if you can” games was quite entertaining.
So I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the bad girl, the one who seems to be the object of desire for good boys everywhere. In historical romance, the heroine’s “badness” is too often linked to her sexual behavior, or perceived sexual behavior. The girls I really like though are the thieves, the scammers, the card sharps, and, of course, the pirates.
In no particular order, here are five picks for best “Bad Girl, Good Boy” romances. Four are Regency era historicals, one is a paranormal that I couldn’t resist including:
1. The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase
Delilah Desmond isn’t bad, she’s just drawn that way! As the daughter of the notorious rake “Devil Desmond,” people have been quick to judge her. It doesn’t help that she has a quick temper, swears like a sailor and has lush curves. Naturally, studious, scholarly, dull Jack Langdon is no match for Delilah’s wiles, but their rocky road to romance is filled with stupendous laugh-out-loud moments. And might I just add, I love Delilah’s parents. Both “Devil” and his patient wife are spectacular and come to life in a way seldom seen with parental figures in historical romance.
I picked up my dogeared Signet Regency copy this weekend to give it a look, and three hours went by before I realized I was re-reading the entire luscious romance. Here’s a tidbit: Jack believes Delilah is a dangerous woman threatening a guest in an inn. He’s correct. “Devil” Desmond is in the room as well:
“I beg your pardon for interrupting,” said Jack, bracing himself for he knew not what, “but I’ve been sent to apprehend this woman.”
“You apprehended me once already,” said she, “This smacks of obstinacy.”
“…My dear young man, you must give up your pursuit of my daughter. She objects to being pursued by gentlemen to whom she has not been introduced. Objects most strongly. She is likely to shoot you.”
I love understanding papas!
2. All Through the Night by Connie Brockway
Anne Wilder truly is a bad girl. She’s “The Wraith,” a masked thief preying on Regency England’s elite, the smug ones who sneer at the downtrodden. She’d fit right in with the Occupy crowd. Colonel Henry “Jack” Seward has sworn to stop the Wraith. He’s obsessed with the idea of capturing the elusive thief—especially after she escapes from his clutches after leaving him tied up and frustrated. The sexual tension between these two is enough to set London aflame, and their story is moving and seductive.
3. The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
Whether or not Annique Villiers is a bad girl, and Robert Grey a good boy, depends on which side of the Channel you’re on, though neither character would see her or himself as good or bad. They’re patriots, doing their jobs spying and murdering for Republic and King respectively. However, since Robert’s with the winning British and Annique is with the Frogs, it’s easier to label them bad girl/good boy (though as an American, may I just remind all that Britain was our enemy during that period and Napoleon was a sort-of ally who sold us the Louisiana Purchase…but I digress…).
Yet another Regency-era “keeper”, this spy-vs-spy tale is a multiple award winner and consistently makes Top 100 lists.
4. Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Another one with plenty of laughs, and a classic Regency romance. Deborah Grantham runs a gambling house in London and in the eyes of Society is clearly no better than she ought to be, and therefore unfit to marry the puppyish Adrian, Lord Mablethorpe. Adrian’s uncle Max Ravenscar (How can you not adore that name for a hero???) offers the hussy ten thousand pounds to leave his nephew alone, but for her own reasons, she declines:
She replied with scarcely a tremor to betray her indignation…“I have a great fancy to become Lady Maplethorpe.”
“I don’t doubt it!” he said harshly. “By God, if I had my way, women of your stamp should be whipped at the cart’s tail!”
5. Demon Angel by Meljean Brook
It doesn’t get much more bad girl/good boy than pitting Lucifer’s demon daughter Lilith against Hugh, medieval knight turned Guardian angel. Their repartee down through the ages is delicious, and their battles are epic. They go through time battling for the souls of humans, ending up in the modern day as the best of frenemies, a situation that cannot end well for either of them.
Demon Angel begins an epic series with angels, vampires, hellhounds, demons and more. It’s a great starting point for wonderful paranormal romance.
Clearly, there are many other books out there using the “good boy/bad girl” theme. Mention could be made of the classic inspirational romance, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, but since the heroine’s “badness” is so closely tied to her sexual behavior, I purposely didn’t include it. But there are plenty of Westerns that use the “good boy” sheriff/Texas Ranger chasing the “bad girl” desperado, and it would be wonderful to see another list.
Which good boy/bad girl novels would you like to see make the cut?
Darlene Marshall writes award-winning historical romance about pirates, privateers, smugglers, and the occasional possum. She’s working on a “bad girl/good boy” romance at this very moment, a follow-up to The Pirate’s Secret Baby. You can read more about her books at http://www.darlenemarshall.com