For the Love of the Wicked Rake
Those of us who love our bad boy heroes really love them, don’t we? Now, don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate a soft-spoken beta hero with soulful eyes, but more often than not I find myself flipping through the pages for the alphas—the wicked aristocratic rake, the dominant billionaire, the hard-bodied Navy Seal or the arrogant sports star.
But thanks to my fellow alpha junkies, I know I’m not alone in my madness.
Cue the Breathless Swoon
Plenty of breathless romance readers are ready to wrap their arms around that motorcycle club alpha’s muscled torso and hold on tight for the ride of a lifetime. One of my readers recently told me she swoons over my wicked heroes, and it got me wondering why I keep coming back to the bad boys. Why do any of us? Why are we so fascinated with heroes who are a handful? Both as a reader and a writer, I can’t seem to say no to the rogues or the ruthless billionaire (with or without that pair of handcuffs dangling from his fingertips).
The hero of my latest book in the Sutherland Scandals, A Season of Ruin, isn’t an exception to my bad boy obsession. Robyn Sutherland, with his glittering dark eyes and careless drawl, is as wicked as they come. He’s the historical romance equivalent of the tough motorcycle alpha. Add a riding crop, a tight pair of breeches and those knee-high riding boots, and you’ve got yourself an irresistible bad boy hero, Regency style.
Taming the Alpha
I’ve always had a weakness for those boots, but the allure of the bad boy hero goes beyond the clothes, toys and trappings of the type. We all have our own reasons for falling for the alpha, but before we’ve even fired up our e-readers or cracked the spine of our paperbacks, most of us are already committed to the same end goal—the wicked hero’s redemption. What romance reader with a penchant for bad boys doesn’t want to see the heroine tame the alpha?
I admit it. There’s nothing I like more than seeing a strong heroine teach her tough alpha hero a lesson. She may be a leather-clad motorcycle babe or a tightly-laced, stern governess, but one thing is certain—she knows how to bring her man to his knees.
Oh, our heroes resist her. At first, that is. After all, other women before her have tried and failed to reform this bad boy, only to watch him ride off on his horse (or his Harley) and leave them choking on his dust.
A Hero’s Heart
But he’ll be back. He may be a bad boy—he may be stubborn, willful and downright cranky—but if there’s one universal truth about our alpha hero, it’s that he knows the right woman when he sees her. Not because she’s brilliant and beautiful, or because she says the perfect thing and is wearing the perfect shoes—he’s seen all that before, remember?
No, he comes back for her for one reason only—because she’s his. She’s the only one who realizes the heart of a hero beats beneath that silk waistcoat (or leather jacket—reader’s choice!) She’s the one person in our bad boy’s world who demands he become the best version of himself before he’s worthy of her love, and when it comes to the wicked alphas of the romance world, that’s what it’s all about—redemption. Sure, we want to see him get tortured a little beforehand, but what’s an HEA without a little heartache first?
That story—the story of the bad boy who gets his heroine at last because he has the strength to become a true hero for the woman he loves. Whether you prefer alphas or betas, that’s the story that makes us fall in love with romance, and we can read it over and over again.
Anna Bradley has been an avid reader, writer and book fondler since childhood, when she pilfered her first romance novel and stole away to her bedroom to devour it. This insatiable love of the written word persisted throughout her childhood in Maine, where it led to a master’s degree in English Literature.
Before she became a writer, Anna worked with a rare books library featuring works by British women writers from the 1600s through the Regency period. Here she indulged in her love of stories, fondled smooth, leather-bound volumes to her heart’s content and dreamed of becoming a writer.
Anna writes steamy historical romance (think garters, fops and riding crops) and squeezes in a career as a writing and literature professor on the side. She lives with her husband and two children in Portland, OR, where people are delightfully weird and love to read.
Robyn’s smile returned as he looked down at her, and Lily’s breath froze in her lungs.
Blast him. Why must he be so very handsome, and at the same time such a hopeless rogue? It was the smile—the contrary man had the devil’s own smile. At first just the merest quirk at one corner of his lips, and then, as if it were sneaking up on his mouth, the smile crept, oh, so slowly to the other corner until at last it took possession of his entire face, and his eyes lit up with it.
Robyn’s smile wasn’t really a smile at all. It was an event.
A young lady didn’t have a chance against that smile, and never mind the velvety dark eyes framed with lashes so thick and sooty, they seemed to weigh down his eyelids. A young lady who didn’t know better could be mesmerized by those sleepy eyes, and she’d have to be blind not to see the way his thick dark hair waved across his forehead and curled against the bronze skin at the back of his neck.
Her fingers fairly itched to touch his hair, to stroke his neck. Oh, why were the respectable gentlemen never as devastating as the rogues?
“You’ve gone tense again, Lily,” Robyn murmured. “You’re as stiff as Lord Atherton’s upper lip.”
Lord Atherton’s upper lip? Lily resisted the mad giggle that rose to her lips. “What an awful thing to say.”
Robyn chuckled. “Awful, yes, but true nonetheless.”
He swept her into a turn, and for a moment she thought her feet had left the floor altogether. Robyn danced beautifully, just as he did everything else. Once he made up his mind to do it, that is, which happened seldom enough.
“Forget about the scandal.” His lips were right next to her ear again, but this time she didn’t pull away.
Lily’s rib cage expanded with a deep unsteady breath as he pulled her closer against him and wrapped his arm tighter around her. He rested his forearm at the curve of her waist and opened his hand on her lower back.
“Surely you’ve waltzed before, Lily?” His breath stirred the wavy tendrils at her temple.
“I—that is, yes, of course.”
She’d waltzed before, but never like this. She and Robyn moved together like the springs and wheels and pins inside a grandfather clock, each tiny piece fitted precisely, balanced against its fellows, the tension finely calibrated, all clicking and whirring in perfect harmony.
They didn’t dance so much as they floated across the floor.
She forgot about the scandal. She forgot about the ache in her feet and the tension in her shoulders. She forgot why she’d been in such a frenzy over Robyn’s behavior. She forgot it all, and let the music flow into the open spaces in her mind where all those worries had been, until she could hear only the swell of the strings and could feel only Robyn’s hand, warm and firm against her back.
“There. That’s it. You’re safe.” His lips grazed the top of her head.
But she wasn’t safe. No woman was safe with a man whose touch burned through the silk of her gown as if he held hot coals in his palm. She was more lost now than she’d ever been.
The thought drifted through the dimmest recesses of her mind, but it was there and gone so swiftly she wondered if she’d imagined it, and imagined the gentle press of his lips against the wisps of hair at her forehead.
She and Robyn spun into another turn and indistinct faces blurred in and out of her line of vision. The light shifted as it moved over the silk skirts of the lady next to her, a rich magenta, a flash of blood red, like a jewel. Lily noticed the startling whiteness of Robyn’s shirt, his strong jaw above his cravat, the shadow of a beard just emerging, and felt the movement of his muscular arm under her gloved fingertips. She looked down at his hand, so much larger than hers, and saw the pale blue silk of her skirts brush against his black breeches.
When the last notes of music finally died away, neither she nor Robyn moved for a moment. The seconds ticked past, one after the other as they stood motionless on the floor. Lily felt the most overwhelming urge to rest her head against his chest.