Oct 29 2013 3:45pm

Legion of Alpha Jerks: Can Every Hero Be Redeemed?

Sarah's Child by Linda HowardThe alpha jerk appeals to many women because we instinctively love a challenge—can we be the one that thaws the block of ice that surrounds his heart? Will he let go of his issues and let us heal his ravaged soul? Yet there are some heroes who never seem to change. They are unable to get past their issues and we are forced to read a book that categories all their abuse. And we are supposed to root for them to conquer their fears and realize that the heroine was right for them all along.


This breed of heroes (and I use that term lightly) treats the heroine like dirt. These characters can be rude, obnoxious, cruel, and abusive to the supposed love of their lives. We are faced with pages and pages of behavior that in the real world would get them dumped so quickly, they would question whether the relationship ever existed. The heroine makes excuses for the hero’s behavior as though having a crappy or traumatic event in their lives somehow justifies months and sometimes years of sheer agony. What mystifies me and angers me is this all continues until the last few pages of the story when a lightbulb goes off and they're faced with the possibility that the heroine has had enough. The heroine begins to walk away and suddenly we see sad hero. Sorry hero. I’m-a-jerk hero. He mans up and they live happily ever after.


Well, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. I recently read a book where a nifty little quote was given. The heroine’s mom told her that you should always watch how the hero treats you in the beginning of the relationship because that is a good indication of how they will treat you throughout the entire relationship. And that is very good advice. Sometimes the hero can’t be saved. Sometimes love isn’t enough. A woman can always try to save a hero but should never give up their self esteem in the process.

Below are some romances where I honestly felt the hero didn't deserve a happily ever after (followed by some examples of heroes that do grow and change enough to eventually earn their HEA).

I was a huge fan of Linda Howard's work back in the day. She had some of the most alpha heroes I had ever encounter. Rough stoic, manly men who were often filled with rage and pain. I recently did a reread of one of her more controversial books, Sarah’s Child, and realised that the hero, Rome was certainly no hero to me.

Rome Matthews lost everything when his wife and children died in a car accident. Sarah Harper was best friends with Rome’s wife and has been in love with Rome for years. Circumstances lead them to a sexually based marriage only. From there, Rome basically takes a lovely emotionally dependent woman and proceeds to crush every little thing about her. When Sarah becomes pregnant by accident, Rome's behavior changes from disgusting to appalling when he demands she make a choice—him or the child. Sarah chooses the baby and Rome wallows in his grief, punctuated by random bursts of hostility towards Sarah. Sarah stands around wringing her hands and apologising to the world for being born.

“I’ll be glad when this is over.”

“A few more weeks,” she whispered, watching him with her heart in her eyes. “What then?”

He breathed deeply, his powerful chest stretching the fab­ric of his shirt. There were grim lines in his face, bracketing his mouth. “Then I’ll have my wife back,” he said bluntly.

“I know it’s been difficult for you—”

“No, you don’t know. You don’t have any idea.” His voice grew sharp. “You made it pretty plain when you gave me your ultimatum: Put up with it, or get out. You want that baby more than you want me. I thought about it, harder than I’ve ever thought about anything before in my life, and I came close to leaving, but in the end I decided to take what I could get. I may come in second with you for now, but that state of affairs won’t last. When that baby is out of the way, when I can touch you again, you’re going to be my wife, first and foremost, be­fore anything else. If you can’t live with that, tell me now.”

She sat very still, a little pale, but meeting his gaze unwa­veringly. “Your wife is all I’ve ever wanted to be.”

“I don’t want the baby between us. Take care of it, yes, but when I come home at night, your time becomes mine. I want your attention, all of it, without you jumping and running every time it whimpers.”

“Even if it’s sick, or hurt?” Couldn’t he hear his own words? Did he really expect her to ignore her own child?

He winced, as if he suddenly realized what he was asking. “No, of course not.” Shaken, he looked at her. “I don’t know if I can handle it. I want you, only you, the way it was before. I don’t want anyone else intruding.”

Isn’t he dreamy? But wait, it gets better. The miracle of birth does NOT change Rome’s attitude and Sarah finds herself basically hiding a newborn in their apartment.

Sarah had worked hard before, but she’d never worked as hard or been under as much strain as she was in the following weeks. If Missy hadn’t been a good baby, it would have been impossible. During the day, after Rome left for work, Sarah spent as much time as she could with her daughter, playing with her, doing all of the things that a baby required. Mrs. Melton took care of the mounds of laundry and the cleaning, which freed Sarah for all her other duties. She tried to give Missy bot­tles as a supplementary feeding, but the formula made her spit up, and the pediatrician advised Sarah to feed the baby solely by breast until she was a little older; then they’d try the for­mula again. That meant she couldn’t leave Missy alone for any length of time, as she demanded regular feedings.

She always had Missy bathed and in bed for the night be­fore Rome came home from work and kept her fingers crossed that the baby wouldn’t wake before it was time for her usual feeding

Of course, Rome eventually succombs to the magical pull of his child and the story ends with a faint ray of hope that they can eventually become a loving complete family, but I still wanted to bury him in a shallow grave.

The Sheriff's Surrender by Marilyn PappanoAnother winner in the male gene pool is Marilyn Pappano’s Reese Bennett from The Sheriff's Surrender. Reese Bennett is a small town sheriff who is dating a criminal defence attorney, Neely Madison. When Neely defends a wife abuser after the sheriff’s department violated his civil rights and beat him up in jail, she gets him off, only to have him kill his wife on the courthouse steps. Bennett and his band of merry men open fire on the man, killing him. Rather than help his lover (who lives with him) Reese walks away as Neely lies bleeding to death. Years pass, and when Reese discovers Neely is on someone’s hit list, he actually wishes the hit man good luck because he still blames Neely for the woman dying. We soon learn that the police force is corrupt (say it ain’t so) and they are the ones trying to kill Neely. And while Reese would love us to agree that he is the awesome wonder he believes he is, he’s actually just as bad as his friends on the force. He’s so firmly situated on his high horse, he doesn’t see he uses his badge and self righteousness to talk away his own moral ambiguity. He does somewhat redeem himself in the end but frankly, it was too little too late in my eyes. I could never get over that he watched her get shot and thought to himself, “She deserved that.”

Then there's the hero of Maya Banks’s Sweet Temptation. Micah is a sadist dom whose life was shattered when he lost his wife and best friend in a car accident. Angelina, his best friend’s sister, has loved Micah forever and decides the time is right to show him she is willing to be everything and anything he needs. Thank goodness Angelina is a masochist, because she gets the crap beat out of her in this book. Micah takes tortured male to a whole new level as he basically tortures Angelina and treats her like a whore in order to avoid having any feelings for her. I have no issues with S&M. I have no issues with people who enjoy S&M relationships. I say to each his own, but I have to be convinced this is an actual relationship. I need to feel the couple's chemistry and be assured that all this is consensual and sane. The everyday beatings and the fact he loaned her to his friends—repeatedly—didn’t convince me Micah cared for her at all. Micah was a selfish, abusive jerk who used Angelina’s body and love to exorcise his own demons without giving anything back to her.

Her head fell forward, her jaw clenched so tight her teeth ached. Micah went still against her, and she felt the heaving of his belly as he leaned into her. He was still buried in her ass, and he remained there a long moment. Then he kissed her back. Just one gentle brush. And he withdrew.

“Are you hungry?” Micah asked Cole in a casual voice.

“I could eat.”

What? They were talking about food at a time like this? Her entire body was in shutdown mode. She’d shed her skin at least twice already.

“I have leftover pizza in the fridge.”

Their voices grew dimmer, and she realized they’d left her. Cum dripped from her chin and seeped down the inside of her thigh. Her pussy throbbed and pulsed from her orgasm. But she was powerless to move.

With a resigned sigh, she closed her eyes and waited for them to return.

I will add that Angelina does finally stand up for herself towards the end but once again gives in when Micah grovels for about three minutes. I would have felt better if she had left town and we had actually gotten to see him change and win her back.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie EvanovichBig Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich introduces us to a rather superficial narcissistic arsehat of a hero whose entire life revolves around beauty. Logan Montgomery is a celebrity fitness trainer. He meets our overweight heroine, Holly Brennon, on a flight and because she “doesn’t smell like a fat person and seems intelligent” he offers to help her lose the extra pounds. Well, yay Holly. The premise is predictable. With every pound Holly loses, the more attracted Logan becomes to her. Soon, they are mattress dancing on a regular basis. The book has some funny moments and there is a delightful secondary couple whose penchant for kink is entertaining—so what’s the problem then you ask? Why, Logan of course. He never gets over his fat phobia. His shame over his attraction to Holly is a prevalent force throughout the entire book and he treats her like a horrible embarrassing secret. The worse part? He knows he’s a jerk and he refuses to feel bad about his particular brand of bigotry or to even try to change. He enjoys being with her both in and out of bed but we are privy to his thoughts, and with every compliment he thinks about her, there are four complaints that follow. Even the tried and true conflict scene that smacks the hero in the face with his hypocrisy and the subsequent making up that follows never really addresses his issues and whether he can genuinely get over them.

Thank goodness nonredeemable heroes are not the norm in romancelandia. There are plenty of alpha jerks whose authors do redeem and subsequently restore my faith not only in the hero, but the relationship as a whole.

Hardy Cates from Lisa Klepyas's Sugar Daddy is introduced as a brash, selfish man. He disappears early on, only to reappear as a jerk of the first order who has no qualms doing whatever it takes to get what he wants, even betraying those whom he considers friends. In book two, Blue-Eyed Devil, Hardy is determined to destroy the Travis family and some ways he goes about it are not cool. As the story and romance progresses, however, we see Hardy unraveling and being rebuilt into a compassionate man who's comfortable in his own skin and able to relinquish control without regret or anger.

Archangel's Legion by Nalini SinghNalini Singh's Guild Hunters series revolves around a redeemed alpha jerk. Our hero, the Archangel Raphael, is a cold, dark angel of immense power whose immortality has all but killed his humanity. He crosses so many lines with the heroine, it's hard to see how a romance will ever occur, much less become acceptable to the reader. He threatens her constantly. He uses her and demeans her. He makes sure she understands that she is expendable and can end her life in the blink of an eye. Yet, our heroine never falters, never bows to him willingly. It's her humanity that makes her interesting enough to peak the interest of a man thousands of years old. Her strength, tenacity, and sheer ability to withstand his machinations gradually begins to “humanize” our dark angel. Seeing the exact moment of his redemption is heart aching.

One of my favorite authors who writes the best redeemable alpha jerks is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Everyone of her heroes starts out as rude, insensitive, egotistical jerks who are often emotionally cruel to their heroines. What makes these stories so great is the heroine's are usually smart, funny woman who really try to work thing out with the hero but when it gets to be to much, they leave. Buh-bye. The hero has been changing the whole book but often fighting their feeling.The best aspect of her stories is the heroine tells the hero what she thinks of him and shows him what happens when she's had enough. There's no sneaking away in the middle of the night. The heroine walks right out the front door and down the street. Head held high. When the hero finally realizes that he's been a complete arse, it takes a lot of groveling and a little help from their friends to get his love back.

So tell me, what alpha jerks have you read about that you felt didn’t deserve their happily ever after? And who redeemed themselves in your eyes?


Tori Benson can be found at Smexybooks and at Twitter.

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Kinsey Holley
1. KinseyH
I loved this post Tori. Agreed with all of it.

I shy away from books w/alpha assholes b/c I almost never buy the "redemption" - like you, I'm a "bury him in a shallow grave and move the F on" gal. I prefer heroes who are assholes but don't mean to be - they're arrogant, but not mean or hurtful or trying to exercise their demons on the flesh and psyche of the heroine. I like the heroes who think they're perfectly reasonable, wonderful guys and can't understand why the heroine doesn't see it.

The last time I read an asshole hero was in Linda Howard's After the Night. (I won't go near Sarah's Child. I can't handle dead kids.) I saw so many people rave about how great that book was and how
Gray Rouillard was All The Hotness so I thought I'd try it.

I couldn't even make it to the public restroom scene because I knew that no matter what happened, Gray couldn't redeem himself. Years of crawling over ground glass, naked, while someone whipped him and someone else blasted Justin Beiber music 24/7 would not be enough to redeem that worthless sumbitch. The mofo had the sheriff's department destroy the teeange heroine's family's pathetic little shack AND he got a hardon watching her running around in a flimsy nightgown as she frantically tried to save her siblings and her few precious, crappy possessions.

And when she comes back years later, a successful, confidant woman, he's pushing her up against the wall and shoving his tongue down her throat and she's all aquiver.

Pass me a shotgun, stat.

Fortunately I purchased it in print so I could throw it against a wall. Which I did. And I don't think I can ever read Linda Howard.
2. carmenlire
Great Post! I was actually appalled with Sarah's Child. I really like Linda Howard, though I haven't read a book of hers in years. I could not believe that Roman could be such a waste of life, and Sarah put up with it. I believe I would have left as soon as HE issued the ultimatum.
The rest of the irredeemable heroes were unbelievable as well. Hardy Cates really disappointed me at the End of Sugar Daddy, but I'm glad that he got a HEA and that he actually changed. I think that Kleypas does an unbelievable jog redeming heroes.

As for Linda Howard, After the Night was among the first romance books I ever picked up-- the second I believe. I reread that countless times, and it always bothered me that he always seemed to have the upper hand in the relationship. And the scene on the porch? That was all types of wrong. But I still devoured it several times, lol. A couple other books by her that I really enjoyed at the time, HeartBreaker and Angel Creek, also sound like maybe the hero wasn't redeemed in retrospect.
3. JacquiC
To me, Hardy Cates is a great example of a redeemed hero. He is also one of my favourite romance heroes ever. Yes, he does some things that are not cool. But he doesn't treat the heroine like dirt -- in fact, he is very protective of the women in Sugar Daddy and in Blue Eyed Devil. He respects Liberty in the first book, though he uses the information she gives him against the Travises. And he comes on strong in the second book until he finds out what Hayden's issues are. He has huge issues in his past but tries hard not to take them out on the people he cares about or make them responsible for those issues. I find this satisfying because, although he is pretty dreamy in some ways, he is clearly flawed and not the kind of unrealistically perfect hero you find in some romance books. You can really see him trying to grow in order to be worthy of the heroine and making some mistakes along the way.
4. Torifl
KinseyH-OoooO don't get me started on Guy. He had absolutley no redeemable qualities what so ever.

carmenlire-It's funnyhow I adored Guy when I read After The Night in my 20's but when I re read the book recently, I wanted to grind him up, make BBQ out of him, and serve him ala Fried Green Tomatos. lol

JacquiC-I agree. Hardy became a good by the end of Blue Eyed Devil and did so in a way that was believable.
5. pamelia
Redeemed alpha-jerks? Sounds like a Kristen Ashley specialty. Whether it's Tate ("Sweet Dreams") or Tack ("Motorcycle Man")or Joe Callahan ("At Peace")or the mack-daddy alpha-jerk of them all: Dax Lahn ("The Golden Dynasty") she is really good at starting out a book with the hero doing something UNFORGIVABLE and AWFUL and then managing to bring everything around to happy goodness.
Unredeemable? How about Clayton from "Whitney My Love" -- a psychotic, abusive, rapist from start to finish. That book scarred my brain.
6. Torifl
pamelia-Whitney, My Love was f'ed up. lol Have you read Coulter's Devil series? Egads. I was speechless when I finished.

Yes, KA does a great alpha jerk but manages to redeem most of them. Some of her heroes I would have kicked to the curb and run over a few times. Lucien from Until The Sun Falls from The Sky was just terrible. I still hate on him. lol
Carmen Pinzon
7. bungluna
It seems Linda Howard is the go-to for unredeamable alpha jerks. "Loving Evangeline" broke the camel's back for me. And yet, I've liked other books of her, alpha idiots included.

I remember reading a lot of HP in my teens that had wonderfully angsty alpha jerks. Now, looking back, I get a feeling that most, if not all of them were uterly unredeamable. Carole Mortimer comes to mind.
8. nuncamais
omg i want to frame this article and hang it in my room and show it to everyone i know.



*and i really thought i was alone in that stephanie evanovich novel that i wanted to burn in a fire.*

SO glad to see i'm not alone!

another one i can't stand?

"dating a cougar" by donna mcdonald.

the "hero" is an injured former marine. the "heroine" is a 50 something business woman that's about as believable as a rainbow striped unicorn living deep under the sea.

he pretty much belittles her and enjoys making her angry and tears her down at every chance he can get.

i asked myself, "why...why in the name of all that is holy would a 50 something year old, savy business woman that built a business from the ground up and had it thriving, and had the world at her feet, would take this emotionally abusive shit from a crippled man with a god complex and a serious case of asshole-alpha syndrome?"

i had to stop reading. it made my viscerally angry at how bad it got. i wanted her to kick his ass to the curb and tell him to sod off.

again, thank you, Toni. you just gained a loyal follower!
Laura K. Curtis
9. LauraKCurtis
I actually wrote fairly recently about my transcendent hatred for the alphahole "hero", but I wasn't thinking of older examples, mostly newer ones. And I think some of my impatience comes with age. Like many here, I read After The Night years ago and loved it, but I've completely forgotten the story. I remember reading a lot of unredeemable western historical heroes back in the day, though I couldn't name them now. I doubt I'd get halfway through most of those books now, but when I was younger I had a great deal more...patience? Sympathy? Hope? for the hero's redemption. Now, if he's a jackass, I give up on him in 50 pages.
Kinsey Holley
10. KinseyH
Nowadays the only way I'll give an asshole alpha (SBTB call them alpholes - I love that) is if the heroine is immediately all "oh no you DID NOT just speak to me like that you asshole!" and never backs dow. If she's all tender hearted and hurt by him but hurting for him, then I just don't believe he's gonna make the necessary transformation. I've prbably missed out on some good books because of that, but I just can't. Then again, no matter how much asshole alphas bug me, milquetoast/long-suffering heroines bug me more. I guess that's really why I hated After the Night. Faith didn't show up back in Prescott looking to Make Them All Pay. Now that I would've liked to read.
Laura Bracken
11. Night -owl
I love Alphas in books, but it has to be done right. You all mentioned Linda Howards book, After The Night, and when I saw the topic of this post that was the first book I thought of too. I hated the "hero" in that book. I remember looking forward to reading it and then when I did, I wished I hadn't. Now, I love Linda Howards books, some of her books are my favourites like: Cry No More(love this book and the hero, sexy as hell), and the Mackenzie Family series(Wolf, need I say more). I just couldn't believe that so many people loved, After The Night; it was always on the top best romantic books to read. Why?!! The hero to me, was just awful to the heroine! There is another type of Alpha I hate, and that's the controlling type(nothing attractive about that). It worries me when people like these types of Alphas.
12. willaful
Stand outs for me:

The Rake's Rainbow by Alison Lane. Featuring a delightful hero who not only cheats on his wife but hopes she'll die.

The Rebel Bride by Catherine Coulter. First he forces her to marry him, then he pretends to be a bandit and rapes her -- and while doing so realizes she wasn't a virgin, in infuriated, and makes it as brutal and painful as possible. Gag.

I'll confess to being one of those wacky people who loves After the Night! On my first reading, I thought it was utterly horrific, but then I just couldn't get it out of my mind. The intensity is very powerful and addictive. For me, there's enough balance between them to make me okay with the relationship.
13. Mo
I don't mind Sarah's Child so much. I'm a huge fan of angsty and hurting heroes. But the Howard book I want to read to see if my memories of how bad it was really are right is The Cutting Edge. My memory says Brett never actually redeemed himself in that one and she still took him back.
Jennifer Proffitt
14. JenniferProffitt
I've been thinking about reading Sarah's Child recently because it's popped up on so many lists. But the way Rome acts just completely turned me off from the book and I will likely never read it now. I'm actually kind of appalled at that bit that you showed me. He sounded like a recalcitrant, spoiled little boy and I just can't believe that a heroine would ever stay with him because no woman in her right mind would. WOW!

I love an alpha hero but he has to be redeemed in my eyes and not just a pretty speech but either the heroine slowly growing to stand up to him more and more or she has to walk away from him for bit and let him come to his senses.
15. willaful
Mo -- that's another one I love! I guess I'm just a sucker for Linda Howard's worst heroes. (Though not a fan of Sarah's Child or All That Glitters. )
Donna Bailey
16. donnarb60
I so totally agree with all of theses examples! Does anyone remember Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love, etc.? AAARRGGHH! And as much as I love Linda Howard, Sarah's Child & After the Night are the hardest reads ever, because of the abusive "heroes".
17. Mo

For all the Howards I've read, and I've read a lot, this one stands out for me. I liked the book a lot when I read it, but even when I first read it, I had this little feeling in the back of my head. See, Rome has an excuse. The damage done to him emotionally is realistic to me and I get that he never really wants to love again, period. Brett, on the other hand, has no trauma. He isn't this way because he was hurt before or someone in his past made him not trust or anything. He was just downright mean to her and then came back figuring she'd let it go. Even given that the evidence he was seeing was overwhelming, his reaction to learning her innocence was less than stellar.

But, he's actually not the worst I've read for not grovelling when he should have been. That award goes to Jonas Harrington in Christine Feehan's Safe Harbor. He apologizes once before she forgives him after his bs got her physically attacked and scarred ending her career (which admittedly, she hated, but still).
18. Mo

I put Rogers' books in a totally different category. I don't even consider them romance any more, tbh. They are waaaaaaaaaay too rape-y for me.
19. Verlyn
@ Mo

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you. Although Brett doesn't have any trauma, once he realized she was innocent, he tried to make it up to her. Heck, even when he thought she was guilty, he put himself out on the line for her.

As for Jonas, he acted badly he hates other guys leering at her. After the attack, he is completely devoted and caring through her trauma and recovery.
20. Torifl
willaful & Mo-I just found my copy of Howard's Shades of Twilight. I remember Webb being a bit of a jerk. I plan on re reading to see if my feelings hae changed towards it.

I read the Cuttug Edge and pretty much felt Brett deserved to be buried in a deep hole somewhere. I may have enjoyed it more though if Tess had stood up to him.
21. Rose In RoseBear
Oh, I despise the "hero" in All That Glitters. I hate his mamma, too ... she's the one that sparked all his vindictive crap.

However, I love Shades Of Twilight and, to a lesser degree, Cutting Edge. I think what I like about Cutting Edge is Tessa's reaction to being falsely arrested and accused ... powerfully written! And Webb, the hero in Shades of Twilight, is just fine as long as he's not drunk. Again, it's Roanna and her nervous anorexia that intrigues me.

I always defend Catherine Coulter's Devil duology. However, it's been some time since I read the original novels, and I never read the rewrites. I suppose I need to re-read 'em. Problem is, when I read them, then I have to read all the other books, looking for references to Anthony and Cassie and their descendants.

It's another Coulter "hero" I start off hating --- medieval good ol' sociopath Graelam de Moreton. He's the rapist-with-the-mostest in Chandra, then he reprises the role with his wife Kassia in Fire Song. Of course, by the time Rosehaven comes along, he's a properly avuncular hero-emeritus. In one of her Regencies, it's mentioned that the Moreton heir was a wastrel who lost the family's remaining properties, so there's that ...

And, yeah, I pretty much hate Julian in Rebel Bride. I'm not really excited by Kathleen, either. (sigh) Another one to re-read ...

Hey, how about Wulfgar, from Kathleeen Woodiwiss' The Wolf And The Dove?

Why should we hold heroes of the past --- both the settings of the past and the publications of the past --- to the standards of the present day?
22. Torifl
Rose In RoseBear- I think it depends on what we find offensive in the heroes behavior? If it's acceptable standards for that era then their actions are more understandable then if their actions are more a product of their personalities.

In Coulter's Devil's series, compromising to force marriage was an ugly reality but the ways Anthony went about it showed a moral depravity that spoke more of his own issues then an accetable norm for the era he was born in. In my opinion.
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