Feb 17 2011 9:00am

I Was Told to Like You: Marriage of Convenience Plots

I have a not-so-secret-anymore love of marriage of convenience plots. (Not so much in historical romances because marriage between strangers was an accepted part of social hierarchy.) I love marriage of convenience plots in contemporary romance where the hero and heroine aren’t necessarily legally married, they just have to live together in forced intimacy.

Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal

Nowadays, in most cultures, people have the right to choose their own partners. So when you take away that choice, whether it’s to reach a certain goal (receiving an inheritance) or to perpetrate a deception (agents undercover), the tension that results from two people in close contact with each other and unable to escape sets up such lovely conflict and usually a lot of fireworks.

One of the most endearing things about marriage of convenience stories is that they require the hero and heroine to accept and deal with the little things (like, say . . . leaving underwear on the bathroom floor) that might otherwise put them off in their ordinary world. Because they are locked into a period of time during which they have to be with each other, they have to let it go.

The hero and heroine frequently show their worst to each other because they don’t care about normal social customs. If you were on a first date with someone, you’d never yell or exhibit a bad side, but in a fictional marriage of convenience story, societal restrictions on behavior are stripped away and the characters reveal their true selves.

Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsIn Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Kiss an Angel (February 1996— so long ago, and yet I still reread this book every year!), Daisy, a debt-ridden socialite, is forced to marry a man her father chooses to avoid going to jail. Alex agrees to repay his debt to Daisy’s father by marrying her. Her father requests that Daisy grow up, so Alex takes her away from all that is familiar to travel with a circus in an old beat-up trailer. In the course of their marriage, Alex is much harder on Daisy than the other circus employees, unable to see the vulnerable woman beneath her spoiled exterior. Because of his actions, Daisy develops a core of strength by facing the challenges set before her.

Marriage of convenience plots elevate the intimacy between the two characters immediately from strangers (or sometimes mere acquaintances or even slight adversaries) to very intimate roommates who literally can’t walk away. The plot demands that they stay together. That condition means that they have to work through their differences, which makes their finding common ground all the more sweet.

There is also a vulnerability that living together exposes. It’s difficult to always be on and in control when you are living with someone. The characters are put in a situation where they are under pressure. Their imperfections and insecurities are exposed by the forced intimacy. The situation sets up tension within the hero or heroine as well as within the home. Add in sexual tension and the sensual heat that rises between people who are attracted to each other but don’t want to be, and you've got a very compelling read.

Flashpoint by Suzanne Brockmann In Suzanne Brockmann’s Flashpoint (April 2004), Jimmy Nash is a man with a lot of secrets and a hidden longing for his coworker Tess, whom he considers far too nice and girl-next-door-ish to handle the black marks on his soul. But while undercover as married relief workers and forced to share a room in an earthquake-ravaged country, Tess sees through Jimmy to the dark man beneath the charming exterior and falls in love with him anyway.

All of these elements combine for fun and tension-filled reads. There’s a vicarious thrill in watching a romance develop between people who might never have gotten together otherwise. Marriage of convenience stories also remind us to appreciate our significant others . . . because the truth is, a hero doesn’t need to be perfect—he just needs to be perfect for you.

Lisa Hughey is an avid romance reader and an aspiring author. She has several projects under submission with publishers and spends her time blogging at Pens Fatales and tweeting.

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Liz Maverick
1. Liz Maverick
Didn't Suzanne Brockmann also do a category series book (or maybe more than one) where the hero and heroine had to sleep together in a hotel room that was bugged? (Er, microphonically-speaking.) They were on some sort of case and had to put on a show for the microphones. Wish I could remember the name of it. I love that convention, LOL.
Lisa Hughey
2. LisaHughey
I think that might have been the older hero/younger woman category but I don't remember the name of the book! And me too.

Suzanne Brockmann did a great Loveswept, Stand-In Groom, where the heroine asks a guy (she's only just met him) to be her groom to get her inheritance after her fiance bails on her. They find out after the wedding that they have to live together for a year. He's a veal specialty chef and she's a vegetarian. It's a GREAT book. :)
Liz Maverick
3. Liz Maverick
@Lisa Ack! This is going to make me insane. It was definitely one of the Navy Seals books. A Tall, Dark and Dangerous book. I think I'll have to take it to Twitter or FB.

I didn't realize she'd done Loveswepts! Um, a VEAL SPECIALTY CHEF? LOL
Sophie Littlefield
4. swlittle
I *love* marriage of convenience plots! It just amuses me so much to think of people being stuck with someone they'd do anything to avoid. Such a great set-up! In fact I believe I wrote one, years it sitting around here somewhere...though I can't remember the title for the life of me. I think it would be a blast to incorporate the marriage of convenience into a different genre. Wait, wait, you just gave me a great idea....
Martha Flynn
5. Martha Flynn
Sophie, you gotta give me that marriage-of-convenience-horror novel you're thinking up right now...
Martha Flynn
6. Mysti
It must be challenging to keep them together realistically until they learn what they need to leaen, and how to capture that feeling of not knowing whether to follow your heart or your head. Thanks for great thought provoking post, and good books to read to see how it's done.
Martha Flynn
7. Rachael Herron
Oooh, I *love* MOC plots. Hey! Look at the acronym! How appropriate. (And now I want to read that SEP book -- I'm reading my first of hers right now, and loving it....)
Martha Flynn
8. Kristin Miller
You've just named my favorite movie (what's not to love about Ryan Reynolds anyhow) and some of my favorite novels. Didn't know I was such a marriage-of-convenience lover.

Great post. I'm headed to buy Brockmann's Flashpoint now. :)
Martha Flynn
9. swlittle
Mysti, Rachael, you *must* join the cult of SEP!! There's room for ya. And did you *know*????? Lisa check it out, you're single-handedly getting the economy moving again, at least in book circles!
Martha Flynn
10. lgcsmith
The MOC is probably my favorite plot. One of my Silhouette Special Editions was a marriage-of-convenience based on a housing shortage and child custody situation. I like them in historicals, too. And if there were ever going to be a horror novel I'd willingly read, it would be Sophie's MOC-horror extravaganza.
Olivia Waite
12. O.Waite
Ironically, I like the MOC more when stories in eras when divorce is more difficult/illegal/impossible than in contemporary romances. It feels like the stakes are higher, and the characters have a more plausible incentive to work things out.
Lisa Hughey
13. LisaHughey
I'm out of town and don't have access to my library but when I get home I'll look on my bookshelf. The Admiral's Wife maybe? The hero was featured in several of the SIM Navy Seal books. His first wife actually dies in one of the earlier books. I think the hero's name is Jake. Can't remember the heroine's name but the dead wife is Daisy. :)

Suz Brockmann and Susan Elizabeth Phillips books are both on my keeper shelves. I re-read their books all the time.

O--I totally know what you mean. The stakes really are higher in the historical MOC's but since so many marriages were not 'love matches', it doesn't grab me the same way. (my logical side asserts itself :) )

Mysti--that's the beauty of these, they HAVE to stay together in order to achieve their goal. :) Makes it hell for the main characters.
Martha Flynn
14. Adrienne Miller
I love MOC plots. I'm used to them in historicals, but that SEP book looks great. I'm going to have to find it.
Martha Flynn
15. Virna DePaul
Lisa, I really enjoyed this post! I love having those special books to re-read every year. And I love your closing line about a hero not needing to be perfect!
Lisa Hughey
16. LisaHughey
Virna--One of the reasons I like romance (both reading and writing) is because it is so easy to get caught up in all the frustrating things that your spouse or significant other does WRONG instead of remembering the things they do right. And let's face it, we're not perfect either :)

SEP is truly an amazing writer and you will love Kiss An Angel :)
Lisa Hughey
17. LisaHughey
Sorry got caught up in other stuff when I got home. Here's the book: The Admiral's Bride by Suzanne Brockmann Silhouette Intimate Moments #962 published in 1999 Pretty sure it has been re-released :)
Martha Flynn
19. Val Schanya
I've been reading about the rave people made for Kiss an Angel and I didn't think it will have the same effect on me. But, boy, was I wrong. It is true that once you read the first few sentences, you're enthralled and you find yourself in a situation where it's impossible to put down the novel. I read it in one sitting and I must say that it's a treat to read. This coming from high school senior.
Martha Flynn
20. Bettye Griffin
If I can suggest two books with this theme:

Save The Best For Last by Bettye Griffin
Isn't She Lovely? by Bettye Griffin
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