“You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time…Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you.”
― John Keats, Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne
It’s that time of the year again, when amid the gloom of winter, we warm ourselves with thoughts of those we love. To mark St. Valentine’s Day, we’ve chosen our favorite fictional couples, the ones who’ve have stayed with us long after their stories have finished. Of course, there are many memorable couples out there in print and it’s a tough choice to make – so please feel free to tell us why YOUR favorite couple is the best!
While I have many favorite romances, there are two couples that will always stand out in my mind. Since I cannot choose between them, I am listing both:
Jessica Trent and Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain from Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Although the prim spinster paired with the dissolute nobleman has been done a gazillion times in romance, no one has ever done it better than Loretta Chase. Jessica and Dain are virtually polar opposites, yet chemistry between this couple is off the chart from their very first meeting.
She looked up. And a swift, fierce heat swept Lord Dain from the crown of his head to the toes in his champagne-buffed boots. The heat was immediately succeeded by a cold sweat.
She was not classic English perfection, but she was some sort of perfection and, being neither blind nor ignorant, Lord Dain generally recognized quality when he saw it.
If she had been a piece of Sevres china or an oil painting or a tapestry, he would have bought her on the spot and not quibbled about the price.
For one deranged instant, while he contemplated licking her from the top of her alabaster brow to the tips of her dainty toes, he wondered what her price was.
But out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed his reflection in the glass.
His dark face was harsh and hard, the face of Beelzebub himself. In Dain’s case, the book could be judged accurately by the cover, for he was dark and hard inside as well. His was a Dartmoor soul, where the wind blew fierce and the rain beat down upon grim, grey rocks, and where the pretty green patches of ground turned out to be mires that could suck down an ox. Anyone with half a brain could see the signs posted: “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE” or, more to the point, “DANGER. QUICKSAND.”
– Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
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My next favorite couple is also a spinster and a rake, but the eponymous Venetia and the scandalous Lord Damerel from Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, bear only slight similarity to Jessica and Dain. Damerel is a world class charmer who desires to seduce his beautiful neighbor. Everything about rakish Damerel warns Ventia to stay clear of him but she does exactly the opposite and befriends him. Though innocent, she is surprisingly worldly and like Jessica and Dain, she spars freely with Damerel (her weapon of choice is Shakespeare) but Damerel proves her match.
“Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!”
“You can’t think how deeply flattered I am!” she assured him. “I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn’t suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory.”
― Georgette Heyer, Venetia
Damerel remains bent on his course of seduction until he realizes he is in love.
“Would that she could make of me a saint, or I of her a sinner”
Venetia sees through his cultivated rakehell reputation to also fall deeply in love with the man hidden inside, but once Damerel realizes her loves her, he tries his best to push Venetia away.
“O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I’m not mad yet–not so mad that I don’t know how disastrous it might be to you–to us both! You don’t realize what an advantage I should be taking of your innocence!”
― Georgette Heyer, Venetia
Venetia is a truly sparkling romance rife with wit and humor.
Available from Amazon
I confess, I’m really hopeless when it comes to picking favourites. There are so many books and characters who have stuck in my memory over the years that it becomes harder and harder to do so. So I ended up asking myself what are the books I’ve re-read most in the last couple of years, and there’s one that immediately stood out – Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. I read it for the first time quite recently (and promptly listened to the audiobook, too) and have revisited it several times since. On the surface, it’s a “rake-meets-wallflower” story, but as with both Lord of Scoundrels and Venetia (which are also among my top five romances) there is a lot more to it than that. Sebastian St. Vincent is one of the most gorgeous, tortured bad-boys ever to appear in print. He’s arrogant, ridiculously sexy and is unabashed about his notoriety, principally for bedding his way through the female population of London (and anywhere else he happens to be!). But underneath his façade of ennui and world-weariness lurks a decent and honourable man who just needs the right incentive to emerge from what Sebastian himself describes as the “cess pool” of his past.
Fortunately for Sebastian, the right incentive literally turns up on his doorstep one night in the form of Evangeline Jenner. Slight, red-haired and burdened with a nervous stammer, Evie has a reputation as a wallflower and a bit of a bluestocking and is thus not the sort of woman to whom Sebastian would normally give a second glance. But when he is forced to do so, he is surprised to find himself intrigued and attracted to her.
What makes this book stand out among all the other “rake-meets-wallflower” stories out there is the wonderful way in which both Sebastian and Evie grow, individually and as a couple, throughout the story.
“Lately I’ve become so damned distracted that I can’t make a decision about anything. I can’t think clearly. I’ve got knots in my stomach, and constant pains in my chest, and whenever I see you talking to any man, or smiling at anyone, I go insane with jealousy. I can’t live this way. I—” He broke off and stared at her incredulously. “Damn it, Evie, what is there for you to smile about?”
“Nothing,” she said, hastily tucking the sudden smile back into the corners of her mouth. “It’s just… it sounds as if you’re trying to say that you love me.”
― Lisa Kleypas, Devil in Winter
The way Sebastian learns to care for someone other than himself is truly beautiful as is the way that Evie begins to assert herself and to grow into an assured and confident woman. And together… well, the chemistry between them is off the charts from the get-go and their romantic encounters burn up the pages.
Oh – and it’s funny, too –
“I-I’m not making advances,” she told him as she flattened herself against his chest. “You’re just an available s-source of heat.”
“So you say,” St. Vincent replied lazily, tucking the quilt more tightly around them both.
“However, during the past quarter hour you’ve been fondling parts of my anatomy that no one’s ever dared to touch before.”
“I v-very much doubt that.” She burrowed even further into the depths of his coat, and added in a muffled voice, “You’ve probably been h-handled more than a hamper at Fortnum and Mason.
― Lisa Kleypas, Devil in Winter
As a bored teenager one Saturday afternoon, I was flipping through the tv channels and came upon an old black and white movie that caught my attention. Ah, it’s about a governess who’s in love with her employer – I like that. So I watched, and became enthralled, and at the end I found out that it was based on a book. I must get this book! And that was the beginning of my decades long love affair with Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.
Edward Rochester is not hero material. He is a liar, an adulterer, a would-be bigamist, and at times very cruel. Jane, on the other hand, is a veritable paragon. Yet, I love them both. They have had some very cruel hands dealt to them by fate. Jane was orphaned, and sent to live with cruel relatives, who then sent her away to a charitable school with an even worse schoolmaster. She had to live there until she was old enough to seek her own way in the world. Edward, while wealthy, was duped by his own family into marrying an heiress who turned out to be a madwoman. When Jane is employed in Edward’s household, and he comes to know her, he determines that she must be his, no matter the cost. And the cost they both pay is very high before this unlikely couple get their happy ever after.
I must have read this book at least twenty five times, and seen every version of it produced for movies and television. (There are some good versions, but none have got it just perfect yet. Some versions have been atrocious.) I hope to read it twenty more times – I never get tired of it. Jane’s impassioned speech to Rochester, telling him that she speaks to him as his equal, though she is poor and plain brings me to tears every time. Jane and Rochester will always be my favorite couple in my very favorite book.
When Lady Alice asks Sir Hugh the Relentless what they have in common which will persuade her to a betrothal to him, Hugh responds with one word, “Passion.” That is one of the top five reasons a woman would want her Valentine to say when approached by that question. Lady Alice and Sir Hugh are the heroine and hero in Amanda Quick’s medieval romance Mystique. They are brought together by fate as Alice knows where Sir Hugh’s green crystal is. In exchange for her sleuth-like skills to locate the gem, she asks him for a dowry which she intends to use as payment to her uncle for her and her brother’s freedom. Hugh adds to the conditions of their bargain by agreeing to pay off her uncle if she agrees to a betrothal to him, providing her with the one quality that binds them together — passion. Alice and Hugh are perennial Valentines reminiscent of the love shared by Tristan and Iseult, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and Romeo and Juliet. If there can only be one quality that Valentines have in common, passion cinches it.
What happens when a powerful, taciturn duke meets a light-hearted, shabbily genteel widow at a country house party and is brought up short by his lust for her? Why, he offers her carte blanche, of course.
It all begins when Christine Derrick catches Wulfric’s eye, and I mean that rather literally. She is leaning over the banister to catch a glimpse of the famously reclusive duke and just as he looks up she spills the lemonade she’s holding in her hand. Directly in his eye. Christine is mortified, and Duke of Bewcastle is not amused. Later that day, at tea, he brings out the omnipresent quizzing glass, his favorite instrument of intimidation, and attempts to stare her down, but Christine is having none of it. She returns stare for stare and laughs at him. He crosses the room to confront her, and we’re off to the races.
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Slightly Dangerous is the sixth and last story in Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga, and Wulfric has appeared in each of the earlier stories featuring his siblings. He is top-lofty, aloof, and ice-cold; he loves his family but shows that sentiment mostly by trying to control their lives. His siblings have all married and moved away and his long-time mistress has died, so the opening of the story finds him somewhat at loose ends (not that he would ever admit that). He finds Christine annoying and beguiling at the same time. She is a school master’s daughter who had been married to a younger son of a viscount, and she lives in near poverty with her mother and sister. Nevertheless, Christine is full of joy and laughter and light. She is utterly lacking in pretension, and even when she gets herself into unladylike scrapes, she is the first to laugh at herself. Both Wulfric and the reader know that she is not Duchess of Bewcastle material.
Yes, you’ve read this story before – the dour aristocrat falling for the slightly improper lady, but until you’ve read Wulfric and Christine’s story, you have not read the flawless version. The version that will keep you up late at night reading “just one more chapter.” The version that elicits both laughter and tears. In what many consider to be her best work, Mary Balogh gives us beautifully drawn characters, fascinating conversations, plenty of humor, and a passion that begins with lust and grows slowly and fitfully into deep, abiding love.
and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
Theirs is not merely a romance but a love story for the ages. And across time.
Diana Gabaldon has written one of the most beautiful and enduring love stories of all time. And created in Jamie one of the most deeply loved heroes ever to grace the pages of romantic fiction.
Fitz and Millie from Sherry Thomas’ exquisitely and beautifully told Ravishing the Heiress are my favorite couple in historical romance. Theirs was an arranged marriage and Fitz had to relinquish his first love in order to fulfill his family obligations when he married sixteen-year-old lovestruck heiress, Millie. But they agreed to wait eight years before consummating their marriage (for many reasons including Millie’s young age, the non-urgency for an heir, and Fitz’s broken heart). But during this time, they became good friends as well as partners in her family’s business so, by the time of the agreed-upon date in which they would try for an heir before they went their separate ways, they were more than ready for each other. They were also not ready to let each other go. It was lovely, poignant, and so very right.
As an avaricious reader of books, and quite long in the tooth age wise, of all the wonderful books read to date, there are four that I treasure. Namely that of War & Peace (Tolstoy), The Magus (Fowles) and The Green Mantle (Delderfield). All the former were penned by men, and I learned much from a man’s perspective of love and how men view women. But the fourth book is Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. It is the one book she laid claim to as a romantic novel.
In a personal sense, I am of mind her writing is romantic in itself, albeit most of her books have a dark side. To give a brief summary of Frenchman’s Creek, let us imagine the glorious spectacle that was the court of Charles II (the Merry Monarch).
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Amidst the glittering array of courtiers, hell-rakes and courtesans abound and unseemly amours cause marital strife, while common whores share the King’s bedchamber. And one young wife has had enough of lies, deceits and court politics. She takes flight with her children and retreats to her husband’s remote Cornish estate. Expecting peace and tranquillity, trouble of a very different kind exists in the waters off the Cornish coast. Subsequently, Dona – Lady St. Columb – has no idea that far more excitement and daring than experienced at court is about to turn her world upside down and inside out. Had a soothsayer told her she would fall in love with a French pirate captain, she would have laughed at such a silly notion. But Captain Jean Benoit Aubrey is not your average pirate. He’s well-educated, well-read, and Dona falls deeply, madly in love with him. She indulges in dangerous and daring escapades with her lover captain. But all good things must come to an end, and the end in this novel is not always as many readers expect. Without doubt, Frenchman’s Creek is a clean novel sex-wise and reader imagination fills in the gaps. Some people love Frenchman’s Creek, while others hate it.
But you see, in the same way, the heroine dared to break with convention, so does the author. Daphne du Maurier gives us a thrill-packed action romance and then steals an HEA right from under the reader. But could she have done otherwise? A sacrificial choice must be made by Dona, Lady St. Columb: true love or that of her children and husband. What one has to remember is that in the 17th century women risked everything for love outside of marriage, where men risked nothing. Perhaps the emotions are so strong in this novel because it reflects in part a decisive moment in the author’s life: though that is a story in itself.