Sometimes the trickiest thing in romance isn’t finding a compelling, well-composed main love story, but offering a secondary romance storyline that not only folds in naturally, but stands out on its own as a fully developed, integral part of the book. In a world of serial romance, duologies, and series, these aren’t books with couples whose stories are ongoing, introduced in one book only to receive full-length attention at some point. These are those special ones who manage to grab our attention and capture our hearts in a reduced number of pages in someone else’s story. And often they manage to completely steal the show.
This is the case in the final book of Kate Pearce’s long-running, successful House of Pleasure historical erotic series, where the stakes get higher and higher in each book. Emily is the youngest member of the Delornay-Ross clan, and she’s had her eye on the house manager Ambrose for some time. Not only does he work at the pleasure house, an establishment from which the family has attempted to keep Emily away, but he’s a former slave. This is an attraction we’ve seen lurking in the background, but in Simply Scandalous their story is told in a climactic, satisfying way. Richard and Violet may have been the official primary couple, but it’s Emily and Ambrose who are truly memorable.
“I’ll help you with the society mothers, but only if you will help me with Ambrose.”
“I’m quite happy to assist you with winning Ambrose.” His smile was devilish. “But I think we will have to be a little more direct than dancing too many times together or slipping off to wander around the family grounds. I doubt Ambrose will play by society rules. Are you willing to risk your reputation?”
Emily met his wicked blue gaze. “Yes, for Ambrose, I believe that I am.”
Delilah Devlin’s Viking duo is vastly underrated, a gripping combination of historical and sci-fi, and Ravished by a Viking features fantastic world-building, and not one but two great couples. The secondary story between the princess and the bodyguard, Birget and Baraq, is its own mix of forbidden and innocent, where a heated sexual relationship quickly becomes a genuine, burgeoning attraction. It’s a rare gift when the chemistry is so strong only a few scenes are needed to convey the full depth of a couple’s connection.
“You’re called Baraq,” she whispered, unwilling to fuck him without at least names being exchanged. Sex for revenge’s sake needn’t be a cold act.
“Baraq Ata.” His eyes darkened, and he slid his curved forefinger underneath her chin and tilted her head toward his. “And you?”
Such a small, but tender action. And it caused her sex to flood with moisture. Was that why he did it? Because he wanted her fully aroused, or because he valued the gift she would give him? “I am Birget.”
“Sounds harsh,” he whispered. “And yet your skin is soft, your curves feminine.”
“It means ‘protector.’ Our language always sounded harsh and primitive to your people. You tried to stamp it out. Made us adopt yours. But we kept our names, and some of the old ones preserve the language for the day we return to Midgard.”
“Do you really want to talk history right now?” he said, his lips hovering just above hers.
Whether it’s her Blacktop Cowboys or her Rough Riders, Lorelei James has learned to master the secondary couple. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which is which, they’re both so strong. And fans are already clamoring for Boone and Sierra’s story, a fortuitous second storyline in Gone Country that has exploded, still with many months to wait for their story. Renner and Tierney’s story in Wrangled and Tangled is a lighter counterpart to the angst and history that abounds in Abe and Janie’s rekindling romance. Renner is a well-meaning, good ol’ boy who’s had bad luck with women, and Tierney is a bookish do-gooder whose fuse is easy to spot once it’s lit. The two of them together throw up a lot of sparks that, combined with James’s spitfire snark, cause plenty of fun to ensue. Their story comes full circle in the space of the book, but it feels no less than full-length.
“What is your problem?”
“My problem?” He laughed derisively. “You. I see you every goddamned day in those high-dollar, high-collar professional business suits. Then add those brainy-girl glasses to cement the ‘she’s out of your league’ impression you convey to me at every opportunity.”
Tierney couldn’t believe her ears. Was that a compliment? Or an insult?
“Tell me how I’m supposed to react when the Tierney I see off the clock is not the Tierney I know from work.”
His mouth was so near hers that his every angry breath puffed across her lips. "You don’t know me because you’ve preferred to judge me on the surface.”
“So I should’ve knocked you off our damn high horse to get to this ‘real’ Tierney months ago?”
Tierney rolled her eyes. “Does every phrase you use have to contain a barnyard animal reference?”
“God. You piss me off to no appreciable end.”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“Oh yeah? What about this? Is this mutual too?”
The man was babbling. “Is what mutual?” she demanded.
“This.” Renner crushed his mouth to hers.
But there’s one couple that takes the mantle of most epic secondary relationship: Annika and Creed from Sydney Croft’s ACRO series. Their story is given to us in a way unlike almost no other in romance, over the course of six books—starting in the first book, Riding the Storm—making it truly extraordinary. Annika and Creed’s happily ever after comes three books in, but without ever having a whole book of their own, we really see beyond the happy ending, and the way their story is told is as completely unique as they are.
Paranormal and erotic come together perfectly in this series about government agents with special abilities, and this is love/hate in all its glory between the woman with electric power and the ghost whisperer who both try to deny what’s between them and are dying to give in.
But why the hell did the one guy she could possibly fuck have to be the one guy she really, really couldn’t stand? The one person at ACRO who seemed to go out of his way to annoy her? When everyone else scrambled away at her approach, Creed stepped into her path and made her either walk around him or shove him out of the way.
“You don’t snore.” Bracing one palm on the dining room table, he angled his big body close, invading her personal space in a way others feared to do. He licked his lips, so full and kissable, and his eyes darkened dangerously. “But you do make a lot of noise in the shower. You’re a screamer.”
Her breath exploded from her lungs. Had he taken her up on her sarcastic offer, after all?
She’d always been able to hang with the guys, talk like them, drink like them, kick ass like them. She’d never had an issue with nudity, had spent days lounging on nude European beaches, had posed as strippers and prostitutes on assignments. But suddenly, the idea of Creed listening to—or watching—her masturbate left her off balance.
And sent a forbidden thrill through her body.
“How much of a show did you get?”
She could picture him stroking his dick as he stood outside the door, listening to her moans, her cries that escaped no matter how hard she bit her lip. If he only knew that the man she’d been fantasizing about had been him, that she’d imagined him on his knees in front of her, his pierced tongue working her deep, hard, wet.
“Let’s just say I know you’re a true blonde.”
Oh, God. He’d seen her. He’d seen everything. Lust throbbed through her, so pure and rich that she shook with it.
“Well, I hope you have a great memory, because that’s the most of me you’ll ever see.”
No matter what, nothing could happen between them. .She might not be able to shock him intentionally, but what would happen if, in her excitement, she sent out a supercharged bolt of electricity? What if his own desire lowered his resistance or something?
Dev would be pissed if she killed a guy he’d practically grown up with.
“That’s probably for the best,” Creed said, “but it’s not what either of us wants.”
Who are your favorite secondary couples in romance?
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.