Apr 13 2012 1:00pm

Oh No He Didn’t!: The Cheating Hero

A cheating hero—is this really a controversial subject? Or do we all pretty much agree that a cheating hero is a deal breaker when it comes to romance novels? We don’t need Tiger Woods or Jesse James as reminders that cheating is a part of relationships everywhere, and that trying to pinpoint the universal reasons why someone cheats is impossible, since every case is different and should treated individually.

But as different as each case may be, it’s wrong. Cheating is one of those things that make me feel really uncomfortable both in real life and in fiction. But when you read romance, sooner or later you will come across the subject because exploring relationships is a huge part of the genre, and cheating is something that lots of couples go through in the course of their relationship.

So how do I feel when I encounter a cheater in my book? What do I do when the cheater turns out to be the hero? Had you asked me a month ago my answer would have been an emphatic “I stop reading right there, cheating heroes are unacceptable." But since then, I’ve read two books with two different type of cheating heroes, and surprisingly I enjoyed them a lot.

In Stephanie Doyle’s The Way Back, the hero is a chronic cheater. Much like Tiger Woods, he used to be a national hero and that all came crashing down when his infidelities were made public. But it’s been years since then, and he’s no longer that man. The main conflict of the book is the heroine coming to terms with this and her own issues (her father and fiancé were cheaters), and forgiving, forgetting and trusting are the key aspects of her journey.

As readers, we also have a journey that’s similar to the heroine’s, and  this is the most important element of the book: Can a cheater be redeemed? Can we believe that he won’t do it again? Is he truly repentant? This is not a story that revolves around how cheating impacts a couple and how they deal with it; is about cheaters changing and our ability to believe and trust them again, after all, once a cheater always a cheater, right? Maybe not. Ms. Doyle pulls it off by presenting us an older hero who’s had to face the consequences of his actions, as well as the time to learn from it. I think his age and the time that passed between the cheating and meeting the heroine was the main reason why his redemption was believable.

Back in the Soldier’s Arms by Soraya LaneSoraya Lane’s Back in the Soldier’s Arms gives us yet another cheating hero, but in this case he does cheat on the heroine. Danny and Penny have been married for years and have a small daughter. They were both in the military, Danny used to be a Navy pilot and is now retired, but when it was Penny’s turn to retire she was Stop-Loss’d and had to go back, leaving Danny and their daughter behind. Now Danny is basically a single dad dealing with the aftermath of retiring from the Navy and what happened to Penny, and that’s when he cheats.

This book is all about the consequences of cheating and how a particular couple deals with it. The main reason this story works is that you can understand what Danny was going through, but even though he is a sympathetic character, the author doesn’t try to justify his reasons, is about understanding but not about defending him. What he did was wrong and we all know it. The question isn’t about redemption and trust because we know that he won’t cheat again, is about being able to forgive and forget, pick up the pieces and take it from there, which can be just as difficult as regaining trust.

I still feel uncomfortable about cheating and I won’t go looking for books with this particular theme, but now I know that with the right author and the right story I will be able to enjoy it.

How about you? How do you feel about cheating heroes? Is there a book that deals with this subject that changed the way you feel about it?


I love talking about books just as much as reading them. I review Romance Novels on my blog Romance Around the Corner and you can also find me on Twitter.

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Regina Thorne
1. reginathorn
Two of my first and greatest fictional loves (Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff) were both cheaters (emotionally, if not physically in Mr. Rochester's case, and he was willing to go the whole way with his bigamous marriage to Jane) and I totally forgave them (indeed, I celebrated them!) for the cheating. Now that I'm older and wiser, though, I think I'm much more suspicious of the cheaters (even though there are instances where I forgive it in fiction - for example, in the updated "Battlestar Galactica" where Kara Thrace and Lee Adama either actually DO cheat on their spouses or are emotionally willing to do so, I see it as a sign that they married the wrong people more than as a sign that they are themselves bad people. So maybe with the right accoutrements, an author, or actors and a tv director, can still sell me on the idea of love that doesn't recognize boundaries.)
2. MarnieColette
I don't like present day cheating in my romance. The first story I wouldn't necessarily deem a cheater... it was a past action. The second -- I would have thrown the book at the wall.

It's romance and I read for the fantasy not for real life sadness.
Brie Clementine
3. Brie.Clem

That was exactly my point, that maybe even the most hated trope can be interesting and enjoyable when handled right and by a good author.


How about in historicals? I think historical romance heroes get a pass more frequently, also cheating is more common in that genre, so maybe that's why? I like exploring different circumstances in romance and fiction in general, even if they aren’t the happiest. But I get your point.
4. Miss D
The only three books I can think of off the top of my head with cheating were historicals and I wanted the heroine to kick the butt of the respective hero up and down the remaining pages of the book just because of how the hero acted (moreso 2 of them than than third cause at least he realized he messed up) when confronted with the anger of the heroine over it. The books I am talking about:

Sapphire by Rosemary Rogers. He act least recognized he messed up and owned up to it. It still irritated but I wasn't as bothered because he did suffer from his error.

The Promise by Brenda Joyce. The hero really did irritate me because he didn't express a drop of remorse about cheating for 6 years while ignoring the heroine due to his own issues over a situation that caused them to get married in the first place. While they made up in the end, unsatisfactorily in my eyes cause he didn't grovel enough, I kept wanting her to leave his butt for a male friend of hers who seemed like a decent guy because I just disliked him SO VERY MUCH with his remorseless selfishness re: cheating and his hypocrisy over her rumored infidelities. Plus his main reason for cheating & ignoringher for so long made me itch so badly to reach through the book to punch him in the face.

Similar to the book above is Beyond Scandal by Brenda Joyce. Hero isn't quite as remorseless as the "hero" of The Promise but there definitely a lot of double standards in his behavior. I got his whole 'I didn't consider myself married' stance because of how they came to be married but he was still a punk for the most part to me for his behavior. While he realized later what a gem he had in the heroine and that she forgave him, I never got the sense that he felt what he did was wrong or hurtful. That annoyed me to a degree.

There are some erotica books but I always feel like those are a little harder to judge on this topic when there are menages and multiple partners in the first place.
Nicole Neal
5. icecharm
My thought is "I lived through that, why would I want to read about it?"
7. Marie Ealing
This discusion remind me of Owen and Cristina from Grey's Anatomy. Do I justify Owen? Hell no! But they are not working as a couple, they have a lot of problems and they are both to blame for them. So, Owen did a stupid thing in dealing with their problems but he is not the only one to blame.

What I mean to say is that cheating is not so simple; true, some people does it because they have no scrupulous but most of the time cheating is a consequence of a bad relationship. Anyway, as Brie said is not possible to generalize with this.
Carmen Pinzon
8. bungluna
This definitely a situation that has to be taken case by case, but I'm just not interested in dealing with it in my fiction. I have very specific rules about cheating, wich exclude separated couples, historical marriages of convenience and a few other cases. Otherwhise, no dice. I just don't want to read about it.
9. jsmom2
I find 'cheating hero' to be an oxymoronic term. For me, it's an automatic DNF when the couple is already involved in a committed relationship where monogamy is the clear expectation.

If they're still trying to land (ie. Rhage and Mary), if he's (it's almost always the historical or regency he) in the process of breaking off with a previous mistress, or if it's consensually alternative, that I can tolerate.

As I've shared before, I get cheating happens, but that doesn't mean I'm going to invite it into my living room and curl up with it and a nice cup of hot chocolate. I can get real life in my real life, thanks. :)
Marian DeVol
10. ladyengineer
Much depends upon context. I can handle it better in historical romances or erotica than in contemporary romances. If an author can convince me that the cheating circumstances are understandable, reasonable, and/or justifiable given the situation, I may continue and finish the book. If she can't, it becomes DNF.
11. nath
A few years ago, I think a cheating hero would have been a deal-breaker... just because I wouldn't want to read about such an hero. I think one of the reasons is that most cheating characters in romance are so villainous.

Now, much like Marie said, I think it depends on context and what the authors plan as development. Are the characters repentent? Was it a slip? etc. Obviously, these books wouldn't feel happy-go-lucky, but if well done, they could be really good.

And personally, if a rake can be redeemed, then why not a cheater?
Brie Clementine
12. Brie.Clem
Hello everyone! Sorry it took me so long to answer your comments, I wasn’t in town.

@Miss D:
"It still irritated but I wasn't as bothered because he did suffer from his error."
This made me laugh! I love how you say suffer, not learn, not apologize, but suffer.

I haven’t read anything by Brenda Joyce, is cheating a common theme in her books?

When it comes to ménage stories, I think that can’t be seen as cheating since all the parts agree on the act, but you make a great point there.

@icecharm: Touché! :)

@Valerie Bowman: L.O.L!

@Marie: The Owen and Christina storyline is painful to watch and honestly I’ve been thinking that their relationship was doomed even before the abortion/cheating, but as you say, it’s a complicated situation, so cheating not always means that the guy was horny and couldn’t keep his pants zipped.

@bungluna: Fair enough, it’s difficult to get a HEA when there’s cheating involved and that’s a level of angst that’s difficult to read, especially in romance.

@jsmom2: Rhage and Mary are one of the BDB couples, right? I stopped reading at book 5, I think, must catch up, but now I know what’s coming so I won’t be unpleasantly surprised!
"I can get real life in my real life, thanks. :)"
I think that’s pretty much everyone’s opinion, right? I agree, but on the other hand, part of reading fiction is exploring real life situations in different ways.

@ladyengineer: I agree with you 100%, that’s what happened to me when I read Ms. Lane’s book, I was ready to quit the moment I felt the hero was unredeemable, but it never happened, she handled the situation very well. But this is the first time I’ve read a story in which the hero cheats on the heroine that I have been able to finish, the other books, historicals and contemporaries, where all DNF’s.

@nath: Oh, nothing happy-go-lucky about these books! They angsty from prologue to epilogue LOL! Another reason to be weary since angst is not for everyone.

Thanks you so much for stopping by and leaving such thoughtful, interesting and funny comments. I hope to see you all again soon!
13. Miss D

With the Brenda Joyce historicals, those were the only two I consider cheating. There are a few where they've broken up and the hero does the whole "forget her through sex" crap. The two I listed, though, were the clear cut egregious offenders though. I can't relay again how much I hated the behavior of Alexei in "The Promise" mostly cause he was just a jackass the entire time and didn't seem to realize what he did was such douchecanoe behavior. I couldn't root for him and didn't see him as any type of hero. Elysse was WAY too good for him. Judging from the reviews on Amazon,, I am not alone in my frustration.

In BJ's "The Conqueror", the hero cheats on his wife (the heroine's sister) with the heroine but I wasn't bothered because it made sense in the story for how that came to be.

There is another Brenda Joyce book, "The Masquerade" where the hero gets the heroine's sister pregnant before they got together & the heroine ends up raising his child for a time. Hmmm. I don't consider that cheating but I think that would be an interesting topic for you guys to cover if you haven't already: when romance books have either the hero or heroine fall in love with the sibling of a past lover or spouse. I've always been on the fence about that happening. Same as with a friend dating an ex you had a meaningful relationship with. You know what I mean?

I did read a meage book recently that actually had cheating brought up but it was in a different sense. The hero who is actually in love with the heroine even though she's sleeping with hie 3 brothers too only got angry when he caught one of his brothers diddling her without a condom. To him, that was cheating/ crossing the line, not the sex itself. I thought that was interesting considering circumstances.
Brie Clementine
14. Brie.Clem
Miss D,

"Forget her through sex" crap! LOLOL This is why I stopped reading old school historicals, those heroes sure loved the memory-erasing sex!! Fortunatedly, current romance heroes are more into getting drunk....

The hero/heroine falling for the sibling/best friend is a great topic (I need to do some research first, but thank you for the idea!) Have you read Sarah Mayberry’s Her Best Friend? In that book the heroine, her best friend and the hero used to be childhood friends. The heroine was in love with the hero and it seemed like it was mutual, but the best friend, who was a bit jealous not so much because she had feelings but because she craved the attention, decides to get the hero for herself. The heroine was shy and never managed to confess her feelings so the friend and the hero end up getting married. Year later they get a divorce and that’s when the h/h end up together. I liked that book but the ick factor is always high in this trope, especially when the ex is the sibling.

Megan Hart has a ménage book that’s interesting because it’s about a happily married couple fulfilling a fantasy with a mutual friend. The wife and the husband both have feelings for the other guy so that complicates everything, worse, the guy falls for the wife, so the dynamics is quite complex to say the least. What begins as a mutual agreement ends up in misery for everyone involved. I guess there’s also a line between physical and emotional cheating. These guys were OK with sex but not so much when feelings got in the mix.

I think it’s fascinating how each author interprets such a universal topic, and also how the reader feels about it, the different takes on the subject. I do think it takes courage to write a romance about a hero cheating on the heroine, so kudos to Ms. Lane for doing it!

In case you're curious these are the books I mention: Sarah Mayberry's and Megan Hart's

I'm going to check out Brenda Joyce's books!
15. Miss D
Thanks for the suggestions, Brie.

That menage book sounds interesting and I totally see that being a problem when deep emotions start to factor in and it's not just about lust satisfaction anymore. Reminds me of the movies Y Tu Mama Tambien and Threesome and when those type of relationships are destroyed by deep emotions & it's not just about sex.

I've recently started reading more of those as I find the dynamics of those books so interesting, especially if it goes from 'a trois' to 'a quatre' (though I've read 'a cinq' too) because I think some writers are good at showing the emotional dynamics and not making it just about the sex. Plus I've yet to find one where there writer hasn't convinced me that though the heroine loves all her men, there's always one of the men she loves a bit more than the other(s). The only one I've wavered back and forth on with that is the book "Wyoming Triple Heat" by Delilah Hunt. In the beginning there was definitely one the heroine favored more (Connor) but by the end I got the vibe her feelings for another brother (Logan) were actually the strongest. Quien sabe?

I like Brenda Joyce's books, mostly her historicals, overall. I certainly have favorites (The Conqueror, Fires of Paradise, Violet Fire, The Stolen Bride, Dangerous Love, Beyond Scandal) but I will always dislike the The Promise simply because the hero needed to have his butt kicked from here to timbuktu for his behavior and BJ made the mistake of introducing a better guy for the heroine than the hero in the book.
16. SassyT
@Brie: Rhage and Mary's book was book #2 in the BDB series. So, if you are up to book #5 you've already read it (unless you are reading them out of order). Also, I agree that that was a different type of situation. He felt totally crappy about it and wanted Mary to punish him for it. So, I was okay with Rhage because he really didn't want to do it but had no choice (you have to read the book to understand). Other than that, I'm not real into cheaters (in real life or in books).
Brie Clementine
17. Brie.Clem
@Miss D: I loved Y Tu Mama Tambien, the relationship between the three main characters was quite complex. Haven’t seen Threesome but I will!

Personally, I’m not a fan of ménage stories. If being a couple is hard, the more people in the relationship the harder it must get and most of the time it’s just threesome stories, not real ménages.

@SassyT: my memory sucks. I read that book, I know I did, but I can’t remember it! LOL. So obviously I have to start the series again, catching up won’t be enough.
18. Merida
No matter how well-written, I never tolerate a cheater in my books. I don't care if he's handsome, charming and a fantastic lover, if he cheats on the heroine, he's out. Even if the author scripts it well, I can never enjoy the book. Once a cheat, always a cheat.
Marian DeVol
19. ladyengineer
@Miss D - I recently started reading more erotica and erotic romance, and within that context, a number of ménage stories.

Those outside of a one-night stand, accidental event seem to fall into two basic types - 1) a couple with the primary emotional/sexual bond "hook up" sexually with one or more others one or more times; and 2) the bond is a true (to use @Brie's vernacular) ménage where there is a group relationship with all members being "equally" committed to each of the others.

Type 1 is more usual, both in fiction and (as best I can tell) in real life. This appears to work only if the primary emotional bond is a strong one and the couple works hard at keeping it so. But as @Brie observed, it complicates things emotionally. The longer the 3-way (or more) involvement continues, the risk to the primary bond escalates.

Type 2 is apt to be even more complicated as everyone has to work at keeping everyone else from feeling left out - more likely to work in fiction (i.e. fantasy) than in reality. A prime example of type 2 is Maya Banks' Colters' Legacy series, especially Colters' Woman (book 1) and Colters' Lady (book 2). In the first, three brothers are specifically looking for one woman for them all to share (just like their Mom and Dads). In the second, their three sons do not go looking for the 4-way relationship, but end up falling for the same woman. The heroine of the latter, after agreeing to the 4-way bond, decides that the first time she has sex with any of them, it has to be with all of them or someone would feel left out, not boding well for the relationship as a whole. In spite of the odd relationships, the Colters books come across as sweet romances in the midst of romantic suspense.
20. Momstheteacher
I have to agree with whoever said that in the first book the cheating was in the past and was not an issue with the particular present day heroine. Each relationship is different, and while someone may cheat in some relationships, they may be in a different place with others and never cheat. Especially if time has passed and they have matured. Past ladies' men can change themselves if they want with time and in the right relationship. I have seen this in real life many times.

The second story is a whole other scenario. I do not believe that a man who cheats in a relationship can ever be redeemed while in that same relationship. There is nothing romantic or sexy about it. If he could betray the person he supposedly loves once, he will betray her again because obviously he did not love her that much in the first place. (the same goes for women who cheat) The military life is tough, for soldiers and their spouses left behind (My husband was in the military for 10 years during our marriage and we still work within the military community). But that is no excuse for cheating. I have seen the damage cheating does to a couple and any children involved. It is heartbreaking and unacceptable. The fact that there was a child involved is even worse. I would not want my daughter to think that it is ok to stay with someone who cheats or my son to think that cheating is ok, and that is exactly the message you are sending young children when staying in a situation like that. And yes, the kids do notice, no matter how much parents try to hide it. Being a teacher I have seen plenty of that too.

So no, I do not want to read about cheating in my novels which are essentially an escape from all the stress of real life. I like my romance being adult fairy tales, and a cheating prince charming just doesn't work.
Cassie Eustaquio
21. sassy_reader
@ Miss D - if you don't mind, can i have the title and author of this book that you've read...
"I did read a meage book recently that actually had cheating brought up but it was in a different sense. The hero who is actually in love with the heroine even though she's sleeping with hie 3 brothers too only got angry when he caught one of his brothers diddling her without a condom. To him, that was cheating/ crossing the line, not the sex itself. I thought that was interesting considering circumstances."

i also started reading books where cheating is one of the primary plots. hope to hear from you. TIA
Brie Clementine
22. Brie.Clem
@sassy_reader: have you read Mehan Hart's Tempted? It’s about a happily married couple that invites one of their best friends into their bed. At first, it seems as if it’s all about sex and nothing else and the boundaries and rules are clear, but it gets complicated when the wife begins to develop feelings for the other guy, who, in turn, also has feelings for her. Telling you more would be spoiling the plot, but it’s a book that explores a very complex relationship between these three people. The sex is explicit and the story emotional, if you like erotic romance with a heavy dose of plot, not just sex, I would recommend this book and the author in general. She’s one of my favorite authors.
Brie Clementine
23. Brie.Clem
I just realized that I had already recommended Tempted.... Oh well, it's a good book, it deserves the double rec ;-)
Cassie Eustaquio
24. sassy_reader
@Brie - thanks for the recommendation. i actually never read a book with an explicit sex scenes yet but Tempted seems like have a great plot and it was really nice of you for mentioning that this book has a lot to offer aside from the sex itself... and not to mention i've been hearing great reviews about megan hart so am sure am gonna love reading her works. I just hope her book tempted is available in ibooks Bookstore. and by the way i did some backreading and it seems like you are also recommending Her Bestfriend by Sarah Mayberry so am also gonna try getting a copy of that.

By the way, the first book i read where cheating is involved is Perfect Marriage by Laurey Bright. Though some hated that book because of the cheating Hero... I still love that book and glad that it was a HEA in the end.

By the way if you happen to know the menage book that Miss D read where the heroine got involved witht the hero's brothers... hope you could recommend it too. I just like to know whether the H/h will get a happy ending too.

Thanks again Brie.
Brie Clementine
25. Brie.Clem
@sassy_reader: I read, or tried to read, Ms. Bright’s book. But it didn’t work for me. It sounds as if you’re a fan of the trope. It comes to show you that there are all types of readers and tastes out there, so Cheating Heroes are not a universally disliked trope. ;-)

The only book I’ve read in which the heroine has a relationship with a set of brother is a Maya Banks one, but can’t remember the title. Colter something I think…. That’s a whole series so there’s a bunch of books in it. I know she has an emotional relationship with all of them at the same time, but can’t remember if she also has sex with them at the same time. If you haven’t read explicit sex scenes yet, maybe you should start with something milder? Megan Hart’s books are also pretty steamy…

Anything by Sarah Mayberry is great! All the books I recommend have happy endings, although Megan Hart’s books often have bittersweet or happy-for-now endings, but not bad. I wouldn’t recommend a story without a HEA, and if I did I would add a giant warning to make sure that you know what you’re getting into.

If you read the books come back and tell me how you like them, I would love to hear your thoughts!
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