My workout playlist runs to guilty pleasures, and Whatever You Like is among the guiltiest. I prefer this more indie, Joan as Policewoman version to the TI original. In case you’re not interested in listening – or unfamiliar with the words – the message in a nutshell is “I find you attractive and want to sleep with you, so I will buy you stuff. Expensive stuff.”

I got to thinking about this during the summer when I read two books with uber-rich heroes back to back. Both of them are household names: Roarke from the long running J.D. Robb series, and Johnny come lately Christian Grey from Fifty Shades. Roarke is of course the classic. He owns half the planet and plenty of stuff off the planet. In the earlier books, he was always working, wheeling, and dealing. Lately he seems to have enough time to own the world and serve as expert consultant, civilian on Eve’s cases. It’s a nice gig, if you can get it.

Christian is also loaded. He buys Ana a car because he thinks her VW bug isn’t “safe”. He buys her a computer, and another car. And then he buys the company she works for. When she protests his largess, he offhandedly tells her that he makes, like $100,000 an hour. I’m not sure whether the savvy, twenty-seven year old makes 100,000 an hour for an eight hour work day (208,000,000 a year) or $100,000 an hour twenty four hours a day, waking or sleeping ($873,000,000 a year). Either way, it’s a ridiculous amount of money.

Both Eve and Ana have somewhat uneasy feelings about the money. To Eve, it often comes across as irrelevant, though she gets her back up when she feels Roarke has crossed a line. This seems to happen less frequently in the more recent books, as she comes to terms with the baggage (good and bad) that great wealth entails.For Ana, Christian’s money is tied up with issues of control. When he upgrades her to first class and then follows her out to Georgia, it’s both flattering and stalkerish.

These two are hardly alone. Wealthy Regency Dukes are a dime a dozen, and the Harlequin Presents line is based on wealthy, exotic magnate heroes. All of it got me thinking, is this what we want in a book? Is it our real fantasy? Is it not enough to be in love and comfortably middle class? Does our drop dead handsome, ripped hero also need to be able to whisk us off for a luxury cruise, buy us dresses from the best London modistes, or buy the company we work for if our boss is a sexist jerk? Obviously, it’s a popular fantasy, often with Cinderella roots. But is it too popular…or anti-feminist? A quick Google search indicates that about 40% of wives out-earn their husbands, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this in a romance novel – or at least, I’m not sure I’ve seen it addressed directly. Is a hero man enough if he earns less than the heroine? It makes me wonder whether there are any romances out there with, say, an investment banker heroine who falls in love with a high school biology teacher. I read one years ago with a hero who was the heroine’s handyman, but I’m pretty sure he was actually an FBI agent in disguise.

I also can’t help wondering whether our personal financial circumstances have anything to do with our reading preferences. If perhaps we are more likely to fantasize about a husband buying a diamond as big as a cat’s eye when we’re getting by on ramen and discount tuna. But money and class are touchy subjects, and I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I do find it easier to accept an over-the-top wealthy hero when the rest of the book is grounded in fantasy. The In Death universe is getting closer, but it’s still nearly fifty years in our future. Similarly, wealthy dukes seem a world away. Twenty-seven year old tycoons and the like? Sometimes they’re a little too much for me.

How about you? Is incredible wealth a necessary part of the romance fantasy? Or can two people just fall in love, raise some kids and put them through college (or not), and go out to a nice restaurant once in a while? Can you think of any book where the heroine out-earns the hero?