May 17 2011 10:30am

Tattooed Romance Heroes: Marked by Love

Vin Diesel + TattoosTattoos can be very sexy, so it's no surprise many romance heroes sport them, and in a variety of intriguing bodily venues. They can also demonstrate something about the hero's personality, whether it's the rebellious mark of a contemporary bad boy, or a symbol of the suffering endured by a historical hero.

When I was compiling some of my recent favorites, however, I realized a tattoo was often a symbol of the couple's relationship status, and/or a springboard to a new level of emotional intimacy. With that in mind, here are some of the best fictional ink:

The Chief by Monica McCartyThe Chief by Monica McCarty—This is the first in the series of “special ops with kilts”, an elite team of Highlanders with specialized fighting skills. Each man wears the same dangerous symbol, a lion rampant tattoo, which identifies them as rebels trying to aid Robert the Bruce in reclaiming the Scottish throne. The hero, Tor, is also a twin, and has a more interesting tattoo, which his wife Christina discovers during what could be considered a “trust building” moment:

“What's that mark?”

Because he didn't usually have anyone studying his backside, he'd forgotten about it. “A tattoo from blue woad. I was given it at birth.”

She nodded. “I've heard of them before, but never seen one. Is it a tradition among your clan?”

An intriguing idea, he thought. “Nay, it was to identify me as the eldest. It cannot be removed.” He grinned. “I guess they figured I wasn't as likely to have my arse cut off as I might an arm or a leg.”

She made a face. “Can I see it?”

He moved closer, his muscles jumping when he felt the soft pad of her finger tracing the design. “Mor,” she said, then translated, “great or big.” A naughty smile played upon her lips. “It certainly fits.”

“Wicked lass,” he chided. She knew full well “Mor” was an epithet commonly used to signify the elder—as “Og” was used for the younger.

Not Another Bad Date by Rachel GibsonAdele, the heroine encounters Zach, her first love, a decade after he took on a responsibility that ended up breaking her heart. He has a newer tattoo, but it's the older one she's having difficulty ignoring, “. . .the double-z tattoo circling his upper arm. The last time she'd seen it, they'd been naked, and she'd been running her hands and mouth all over his hard body.” It's a good reminder of why she should stay away, but it's not just his tattoo that tempts her to get her heart involved once more.

Kiss of Crimson by Lara AdrianKiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian—Dante is a member of a vampire special ops crew known as the Breed, and he is covered front and back with dermaglyphs, tattoos that the heroine, Tess, describes as “mesmerizing, a flourish of geometric symbols and swirling arcs rendered in a range of hues from deep russet to gold and green to peacock blue.” She doesn't know his secret, or that she's moments away from a enjoyable life-changing moment. She asks if the tattoos are tribal-inspired, and he answers, vaguely:

“More of a family tradition. My father was similarly marked; so was his father before him, and all the other males of our line.”

Wow. If the men of Dante's family looked anything like him, they must have wreaked holy havoc on the hearts of women everywhere. Recalling just how far down the tattoos went below the hem of the towel on Dante's hips made Tess's face flush with heat.

He merely smiled, a knowing curve of his lips.

Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthyRookie race car driver Elec Monroe has a tattoo on the inside of his wrist, and it's 56, the number of his car. The heroine Tamara learns more about it when he meets her kids for the first time, a very big step in the progression of their romance:

Her daughter pouted, but got distracted by the tattoo she found on Elec's inner wrist. She traced the numbers of his car over and over with her finger, and he let her, clearly amused. “What if you change cars?” Hunter asked. “Then this is stuck here.”

“Doesn't matter. Fifty-six will always be my first cup car, so it's special.”

And what Tamara was learning was that so was Elec. He was thoughtful, sentimental, loyal. She appreciated all those things about him, even at the same time it scared the hell out of her.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg by Susan DonovanAin't Too Proud to Beg by Susan DonovanThe hero, Rick, has a tattoo that is downright scary, covering his torso from groin to collarbone, and comprised of two winged serpents with dripping fangs. He dreads the moment he takes off his shirt, because he knows the heroine, Josie, will most likely be horrified by it. At the same time it's important for him to reveal it, seeking her acceptance, since it symbolizes his wild, misspent youth and a tragedy he caused, as well as his attempts to atone for his selfish mistakes. He explains:

“The thing is, I wouldn't want to get rid of it now even if I could,” he said. “It's a reminder of lessons learned, I guess. And I've done a lot of research on the symbols over the years, and I realize it's like a road map of my life. I think those tattoo artists knew more about my destiny than I did.”

So there you have it, tattoos that help nannies keep track of twins, serve as a reminder of a lost love, and act as a stepping stone to trust and intimacy. What are some of your favorite tattoos?


Donna Cummings writes lighthearted contemporary and historical romance. She can be found at www.AllAboutTheWriting.com, or talking incessantly about coffee on Twitter @BookEmDonna.

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Natasha Carty
1. WickedLilPixie
The BDB all have tattoos of their mates names, love that idea in a book but I wouldn't IRL
2. torifl
The Dark Hunters all have bow and arrow tattoos which always seemed a bit cheesy to me. lol

Not a hero-but Kate Danials (Ilona Andrews) has a tattoo of a raven w/a warning. I like that concept behind it.
3. Laura Kaye
Great post! I love tattooed heroes! I, too, like the marking ceremony in JR Ward's BDB series, although I agree with WickedLilPixie. I think it's actually considered bad luck among tattoo enthusiasts to put your lover's name on your body! All the heroes I've written so far, I realized after the fact, are marked in some way. In fact, tattoos were a big part of the characterization of the hero I wrote in my first book, Hearts in Darkness, (which has some fab tattoos on the cover, thanks to my great cover artist Tricia Schmitt!!!). Thanks for pointing us in the direction of more marked heroes! :)
Janet Webb
4. JanetW
My friend Donna, if anyone could sell the romance of a tattooed hero, you could. To me it just evokes memories ... and not necessarily good ones ... of recent Hollywood. Starlet meets hunk, tats ensue, they break up, now what ... who gets it inked out sooner? Isn't Eva Longoria an example of same?

For medievals and the PNR genre, there is a lot of believability around it ... I keep thinking of the hero of Jo Beverley's "Lord of My Heart" -- his hart tattoo literally gets him almost killed, since it visually shows his loyalty to the king's enemies. It is eradicated in the last pivotal scene: burned off his hand! And the markings exchanged between Claire and Jamie are heartbreaking. Rosemary Sutcliff too explores tattoos among the "savages" north of Hadrian's Wall.

So fascinating: thanks!
Donna Cummings
5. Donna Cummings
@WickedLilPixie -- I think I'm the last person in the universe who hasn't read the BDB (I will! I promise!). I agree that what I like in books is a bit different than what I like in real life. :)

@torifl -- I like the notion of the raven tattoo with a warning. I'll check that out too.

@Laura Kaye -- I can see where it would be bad luck to tattoo somebody's name. LOL I think getting a tattoo used to be considered a wild, rebellious thing to do, but it's a lot more mainstream nowadays. Which is why I kind of like the different aspects of characterization a tattoo reveals. Now you've intrigued me -- I've got to go check out that cover!

@JanetW -- Aww, you make me feel so powerful now! LOL As for Hollywood types, I am in awe of their continuing belief in marriage, when most of them don't last long enough for the ink to dry (on the tattoo OR the marriage license--LOL) But as with the examples you've pointed out, it provides so many possibilities for plots and characters in a story.
6. Lucky4
Don't forget the butterfly tattoo's that mark Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld. Love me some tattooed bad boys! So sexy!
7. Terri Osburn
I can't think of any examples as I'm too distracted by all your examples. These books sounds great, and not just for the hot heroes. Reminds me how little I've read in the last couple years. I'm going to have to look some of these up, thanks!
Donna Cummings
8. Donna Cummings
@Lucky4 -- A butterfly tattoo on a hunky bad boy--now that's sexy!

@Terri Osburn -- LOL about being distracted by the examples. I know what you mean about not reading enough, and every time I see a new post here, my TBR pile grows. In fact, it needs its own room AND a full-time staff!
9. Maureen O. Betita
I love me the tattooed boys and girls. And if my cardiologist will give the okay, I'll be getting my ink refreshed come next year. There is something about tracing the patterns that I find intimate.
10. Anita Clenney
I do like tattoos on heroes. In Awaken the Highland Warrior, my new Scottish paranormal, the heroine thinks the hero has tattoos, but they're actually "battle marks" and each warrior's marks are unique, based on his strengths and weaknesses. They're not just sexy, but like a written blessing.
Donna Cummings
11. Donna Cummings
@Maureen -- I hadn't thought about ink getting refreshed, but that makes sense. And you're right about the intimacy involved. :)

@Anita -- Oooh, I love the battle marks! Especially the blessing aspect. Very cool. (I'm so looking forward to reading this one.)
12. Bri_in_NJ
In Lauren Dane's Brown siblings series, one of the siblinings is a reknowned tattoo artist, so there is a lot of ink among all the friends and family. The scene at the end of the second book, When Elise gets a tattoo that marks a momentous moment in her life gets to me every time because it symbolizes so much about her nad her relationship with Brody
13. E.C. Smith
I love tattoos in general, so seeing them in books is just plain fun. I like it better though when they mean something. . .not just in a personal way. When the tattoos symbolizes an elite group or that the character is part of a bigger whole, that's when I become intrigued.
Carrie Strickler
14. DyslexicSquirrel
The first one that came to mind is Terrible's Ego vos mergam nec mergam a vobis tattoo that he has around his neck.

"When he handed hers to her, the neckline of his bowling shirt gaped open a bit, and pink neon from the sign across the street highlighted the tiny script tattooed around the base of his neck, just above the top of his black undershirt. She’d never actually read it.

Chess set her beer down and stood in front of him, angling herself between his long sprawled legs so she could open his collar all the way. Daring herself to read it, to stand this close to him.

Ego vos mergam, nec merger a vobis. I sink you, that I will not be sunk by you.

When she looked up he was watching her, his face immobile. The half-healed wound under his eye made a dark slash on his cheekbone, blending in with the scar above his lip, the bent and crooked nose, the simian brow. Funny, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d noticed any of those things, really seen them, whereas once they’d been all she could see. "

I love that part. Terrible is covered in tattooes (I also love the scene where Chess sees his tattooes). I appreciate tattooes in real life, I just don't normally like them in ridiculous excess. A friend of mine has a gorgeous tattoo of a ship at sunset on her shoulder blade.
Carrie Strickler
15. DyslexicSquirrel
Woo double post. XD
Donna Cummings
16. Donna Cummings
@Bri -- I like the tattoo marking a momentous occasion like that, and I can only imagine all the tattoos in the family with a tattoo artist!

@E.C. -- I also enjoy seeing the tattoo symbolizing something bigger, rather than being just a decorative element (altho those can be tasty too!)

@DyslexicSquirrel -- Wow, that's an awesome scene. (And I'm kinda squirming thinking about having a tattoo so close to a jugular vein. LOL) I am not usually a fan of tattoos that cover TOO much of a man's body--I like some of the original skin to show through. :)
Carrie Strickler
17. DyslexicSquirrel
@Donna: I don't like people touching my neck, let alone coming near it with a needle hahaha. I'm a big fan of half sleeves, especially if it's on a man with super nice arms (I'm so an arm woman) and they don't have any other visible tattooes. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the mix between bad ass and respectable? lol
18. Rose In RoseBear
Amanda Quick's Masters Of Vanzagara have flower tattoos --- and, at least according to the dust cover of Wicked Widow, so does the heroine of that book, Madeline Deveridge.

Elizabeth Hoyt's Reynaud St. Aubyn, Earl of Blanchard, has stylized birds tattooed about his right eye. How cool that must have looked when he cleaned up and donned his ever-so-elegant Georgian attire!
Donna Cummings
19. Donna Cummings
@DyslexicSquirrel -- Yeah, that whole needle around the neck thing got me very nervous! And I agree that the mix of bad ass and respectable can be so appealing. :)

@Rose -- I am very intrigued by the tattoos and Georgian attire combo. You're right about how cool that would look. *scribbles* Okay, now that's on my list too!
Donna Watson
20. Sookie65
Love Reading all these post :)
@DyslexicSquirrel..please could you say which book you are referring too regarding Terrible, as I have never read this. Thank you :)
I must say my favourite Tattoo's have to belong to the Lords of the Underworld. I just love those butterfly tattoos. I'd buy the books for the butterfly artwork on the covers alone, never mind the great sories ;))
21. Faye101
Tara Janzen's Christian Hawkins. Love the nurturing bad boy.
22. Broche
Great article! But I'm always on the lookout for more strong female characters that are inked. Do you know of any?

Here are the ones I can think of:

The book 'Inked' had four stories by four different authors - Karen Chance, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, and Eileen Wilks. Patricia Biggs's Mercy Watson character is tattooed. Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series' Phedre is inked. But who else?
23. Toni S
I am a fan of tattoos. I have one myself and plan on a couple more. I like Kenyon's Dark-Hunter symbol. It represents the goddess Artemis. A moon might have been a better symbol, but the double bow and arrow works great. I actually want to get this as a tat. 2 reasons- the series is dear to my heart. There is just something about these men and women who were so wronged in life, wanted revenge so bad that their very soul cried out so a god or goddess could hear. The other reason is because the bow and arrow is the symbol for Sagittarius. My husband and I are both Sags, and at the tip of the arrow I want A squared to represent my 2 daughters whose names begin with A.
24. Lupus87Noni
In the news awhile ago, there was a high school girl that was suspended for "not removing her nose-ring". The school claimed it as a distraction for other students. Her parents said "that the piercings & tattoos are religious". There is a religion that uses tats & piercings, but I can't remember what it's called.
Lissa Matthews wrote books involving tattoos: (Books are related):
"Ink Spots", "Carnel Ecstacy" and "Simple Need".
I found them at Ellora's Cave in the Exotica section.
25. rochelle t
Actually... In the BDB, the Brothers have their mates' and youngs' names carved into their backs... Ouch! But Wrath has tattoos on his forearms marking him as the King, Butch has tattoos on his lower back to remind him of someone he's lost, and Vishous had tattoos on his temple, hand and groin... warnings to those who come in contact with him. Ridiculous that I know all of that, I know. I'm kind of a huge Brother lover. Oh, and Qhuinn and John Matthew are tattooed... part of their story so no spoiler... And Rehvenge is tattooed on his chest to mark his past... If you haven't read these guys... Boy, do you have something yummy in store.

As for the Dark Hunters, yes the bow and arrow is there but I think it's funny that Remi, one of the weres got the tattoo also ...as a joke.

I also read a novel recently about a tattoo artist who gets hooked up with Vamps, it was interesting. Elle Jasper was the author, it's the first in the Dark Ink Chronicles, the next one comes out next month I think. Happy Reading!
Donna Cummings
26. Donna Cummings
Wow, you guys are trying to make sure I have to knock out some walls and renovate my TBR room(s). LOL

@Donna -- I believe Terrible is from Stacia Kane's series, which I saw discussed on another post here recently. And the butterfly artwork on the covers draws me in every time!

@Faye -- A nurturing bad boy? Yum!

@Broche -- I will have to defer to other readers on the topic of heroine tattoos. My "research" was limited to the heroes this go-round. I hope (and fear!) there will be some good suggestions to add to your list. :)

@Toni -- If I'm ever tempted to get a tattoo, it's likely to be my zodiac symbol. :) To serve as a warning to others. LOL

@Lupus87 -- Thanks for the Ellora's Cave recommendations (more distractions for ME now!)

@rochelle -- I envy those of you who have read the BDB books, because it's like a BDB sisterhood, and I'm not a member yet! :) Definitely some happy reading in my future. :)
27. JacquiC
I just remembered one of my favourite books with a tattooed hero -- "The Butterfly Tattoo" by Deirdre Knight. Such an amazing, emotional book!

And coincidentally, just started reading another one yesterday. It's a m/m romance about two closeted gay basketball players who have matching tattoos with each other's names written on them in the cyrillic alphabet so no one can read them but themselves: Amy Lane's "The Locker Room"
28. Hellion
I love tattoos...and I love the Dark Hunter tattoos. *LOL* But I'm a fan of cheesy. And cheese, incidentally.

And the Monica McCarthy books are my favorite books I've read this year! YUM!
29. Katie G.
I just read Rock Me by Cherrie Lynn and loved it. The hero is a tattoo artist and he's also got some piercings in...interesting...places.
Joani Sheaffer
30. Jkrowyn
I love men with tats. I believe Karen Marie Moning's The Dark Highlander has a yummy highlander Dageus MacKelter who has tattoos.
Carrie Strickler
31. DyslexicSquirrel
@Donna Watson: Sorry, sorry! Oversight on my part, I thought I had included the book title lol That's from Stacia's Kane Unholy Magic. It;s the second book in the Downside Ghosts series. The first book is Unholy Ghosts and the third one is City of Ghosts. The fourth book, Sacrificial Magic, comes out next year. Soooo far away.

Oh and they aren't actually tattooes, but in Larissa Ione's Demonica series, the Seminus demon brothers (and lone sister) have markings on their arms/necks (and one of them, briefly, on his face).
Carrie Strickler
32. DyslexicSquirrel
@Jkrowyn: Gah, I can't believe I forgot about KMM. I believe you're right that Deagus did have some, as protective markings, but Cian has more cause he liked to dabble in... things he shouldn't have dabbled in.
Melissa Keith
33. MelK
Seems like everyone has a tattoo these days. I don't mind if characters in novels have them. My favorite tattoos are my own. I have 23! One of my favorites are the eyes of my late Siamese on the back of my neck. I just added a goose on my stomach.
Donna Cummings
34. Donna Cummings
@JacquiC -- Thanks for even more recommendations. I do like the emotional stories, as well as ones with secret coded stuff!

@Hellion -- I'm a fan of Monica McCarthy's books too. In fact, I'm in the middle of one right now. . . :)

@KatieG -- Oooh, piercings. I hope somebody is doing THAT blog post!

@Jkrowyn -- Highlanders and tats--such a powerful combo. It's almost not fair to the non-Highlander men! LOL

@DyslexicSquirrel -- Oh no, now you've got me intrigued about Cian and what he shouldn't have dabbled in!

@MelK -- You're right, tattoos are really mainstream now. But yours sound very intriguing. :)
35. Lizzie R
Megan Hart's collaboration with Lauren Dane - Taking care of Business and then No Reservations has a lovely tattoo story. Brandon and Leah meet and get together in TCOB where there is a very hot and very emotional scene involving a belt. At the end of NR after Brandon longs for something external that will remind him of her when she's away they get tattoos - she gets a small belt tattooed on her hip and he has a belt tattooed on his bicep (buckle on the inside). The tattoo artist actually comments that it's the first time anyone's asked for a tattoo of a belt - but we know exactly why it was chosen. I really loved that story - time for a reread.
Linda Talamo
36. eLTe
Yes, Yes, Oh Yes ... Love the INK! And for those few authors that infuse breath into the tattoo, becoming an entity unto itself ... Well, does it get any better?
Carrie Strickler
37. DyslexicSquirrel
@Donna: The MacKelters, in general, are an intrigue worthy group of men. Daegus is my favorite, but I think if I had read Spell of the Highlander first, Cian may just have bumped him out of first place. He is a very close second as it stands.

There's tattoo goodness in KMM's Fever series as well. Not just on Barrons, as was mentioned before. Mac has a tattoo on the back of her neck. The story behind that is extremely interesting lol
38. rdsangel127117
Oh, yes! Love my romance heroes inked! Especially, when the tat symbolizes something. I don't know if the symbols on Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter books are for each character, but I love those. Each time a new book comes out the symbol is different. Whoever comes up with those has my appreciation. Some of my favorite inked characters are the BDB (J.R. Ward), the Demonica Series (Larissa Ione), the Midnight Breed Series (Lara Adrian), the Dark Hunters (Sherrilyn Kenyon), Immortals after Dark (Kresley Cole) and Lords of the Underworld (Gena Showalter) to name a few.
Donna Cummings
39. Donna Cummings
@Lizzie R -- That sounds like a wonderful story! Thanks for mentioning it.

@LTalamo -- It does make it more intriguing when there's something more to the ink. I agree. :)

@DyslexicSquirrel -- There are some stories behind the stories there! LOL I love it.

@rdsangel -- I love Kresley Cole's books so much, but for some reason I can't even remember any of the tattoos. LOL Guess I got too distracted by the heroes. :)
Carrie Strickler
40. DyslexicSquirrel
@Donna: What's that saying? A riddle, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a mystery... Lol!

And I feel I should mention, since I seemed to have overlooked it before, that in the Downside Ghosts series Chess is also pretty heavily tattoed on her chest and arms. It's a Church thing. Can't really imagine an other time when those two things would go together.
41. suzana
hi i´m looking for two books that i can´t remember the name of maybe someone knows these ????????? 1.) An old historical romance in which the heroine has a tattoo of an exotic cat from her left upper arm - across her back - to her right leg. If my memory is correct, the heroine was forcibly tattooed to mark her as a bridal property of some villain. Although she was rescued before she was handed over to the villain, the tattoo remains a mark of shame for her. The hero's reaction is quite memorable. 2.)The main male character had a tattoo on his face with a veil usually covering it. I think it was a claw tattoo. He was supposed to marry the heroine's sister (betrothed but waited a long time before showing up) but told the heroine's father that he was going to marry her instead. The villain was I believe his brother. The heroine and hero do not consummate the relationship until a few months into the marriage, and he plans on leaving her in England as soon as he knows she is pregnant, but she ends up going with him to America anyway. I don't know the author or the title and any help is appreciated! i would like to read it too please help tia
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