Write Byte

The Hero as Pursuer

(May 28, 1998)

In most romances, the heroine knows she wants to spend her life with the hero long before he realizes he wants to spend his life with her. That’s a fine premise, but some of my favorite romances have the hero as early pursuer of the heroine. Stephanie Lauren’s Devil’s Bride features such a premise, so I asked Stephanie to talk more about the hero as pursuer. Her comments are intriguing, especially given our recent discussions (in Issue 49 and Issue 52) of the Duke of Slut. Here is what Stephanie had to say:

If there is any unifying concept in the romances I have written, this is it. My critique partner noticed years ago that every one of my heroes want their heroine the instant they set eyes on her. Want her sexually, that is. This fact is simply a reflection of my experience of how the male of the species reacts on seeing a desirable female. It’s not logic that rears its head.I didn’t intend to specifically create books on this theme – it simply happened – but looking back over the 10 romances I’ve had published, plus the 4 works in various stages of production, I have to admit that “the hero as pursuer” is a feature of every last one. And very likely will be in all the ones to come.

Why? Because I write Regency-era historicals, and all my heroes are a certain type of man. They are powerful men in all senses of the word -physically and mentally, socially and sexually. They see -they want- they take. Which means all my heroines must be a certain sort of woman, meaning the sort of woman strong enough to stand up to, and wring concessions from, that type of man.

To my mind, a strong, more-than-alpha hero necessitates an equally strong heroine – if she’s not sufficiently confident in herself, she’ll never be a convincing match for the hero. If she wasn’t willful and headstrong and far too independent, the hero would probably lose interest within a few weeks. It’s the very fact that she doesn’t simply fall in with his masterful plans, but digs in her pretty heels and refuses to tamely play by his rules – because she argues, sticks her nose in the air, haughtily dismisses him, and – worst of all – dares to walk away from him – that forces the hero to focus his attention on her sufficiently to let Cupid slip under his guard and mount a sneak attack.

Unwittingly, the heroine becomes the first and only woman who has, in his adult life, forced the hero to really look at her. Consider her. Think about what she is thinking, what she feels, how she reacts in various situations. Because he’s looking, albeit with a view to conquest, he sees her character, and all the admirable, and sometimes vulnerable, aspects of her – which fascinates him even more. Her hoity behavior powerfully prods his possessive instincts, while her vulnerabilities call forth his innate protectiveness. He is, after all, a warrior whose civilized mask is but wafer-thin. For him, possessiveness and protectiveness are the outward expressions of love. But without the need to focus on the heroine, which need is brought about by the heroine’s character, there is little opportunity for this type of hero to fall victim to love.

He’s far too canny, guards his heart far too well, to be an easy conquest – it needs a very strong woman to distract him enough for love to weave its spell.

I should perhaps emphasize that my heroes never fall in love with my heroines at first sight. They fall in lust at first sight, something quite different. The distinction is important – especially in the heroes’ minds – because lust is something they can immediately and openly admit to, while falling in love is something they will move heaven and earth to avoid admitting, even when they finally wake up to the fact that this is what has occurred.

Because the setting is Regency England, and my heroines are all indisputably ladies, and my heroes, despite their rakish tendencies, equally indisputably gentlemen, then marriage quickly becomes the hero’s object, that being the only way he can legitimately get the heroine into his bed. And keep her there. His and only his. His mind, at the beginning of the story, is pretty much one-track.

All my heroes are over-the-top arrogant, domineering, too-handsome-for-their-own-good rakes, too old and too experienced to be anything but deeply cynical of the notion of love, especially within marriage. They’ve slept with too many married ladies for that. So when they wake up one day and discover that – dear God! – they have fallen victim themselves and fallen in love with their wife/betrothed/intended/neighbor/ward/whatever, this, to them, makes them hideously vulnerable, a situation they instinctively hide.

But accepting the fact that they love the heroine, and admitting it, acknowledging it, at least to the heroine, is a battle all my heroes must wage and win. All strong men, they are required to become – challenged to become – even stronger, strong enough to admit they love.

My heroines, of course, help them overcome their little problem by ensuring they can’t slide around it, or ignore it, or… Regardless of whether they have already been steamrollered into marriage, or have managed to hold the hero off thus far, my heroines demand their due. They are not going to admit that they love the hero, that they would treasure his love and would never betray it, not until the damned man realizes and acknowledges that he loves them.

Of course, the slight difficulty there is that, until he does admit it, she cannot be 100% certain that she’s read him aright and that he does, in fact, love her.

Which leaves me, the author, with all manner of tangled emotional webs to exploit.

I love working with the “hero as pursuer” theme because it plays to two of the most basic, enduring fantasies of women – that of being the object of pursuit by a dominant male, and that of seeing that same dominant male bend the knee to love – for her.

It also incorporates one of the all-time biggest difficulties strong men face – that of accepting love and the accompanying vulnerability.

It’s also my favorite theme because it creates natural opportunities and strong motivation for the heroine to take the initiative, to wrest the direction of the relationship from the otherwise all-powerful hero, who is equally strongly motivated to keep the reins in his hands. I adore refereeing the tug-of-war that usually ensues. And I have to admit that I love to see dominant, arrogant, overbearing males, not just stymied, but close to helpless at the hands of supposedly weak females – females empowered by only one thing – love.

Basically, I’m a sucker for any story that demonstrates the power of love. For me, “the hero as pursuer” in the Regency does it every time.

Although the theme is a constant, it never gets dull, because there’s as many variations on the basic theme as there are characters and personalities in human nature. In An Unwilling Conquest, the hero mounts a desperate fight against his instinctive urge to pursue – and loses. On waking with the heroine in his arms, he naturally uses their compromising position as the reason for making the wedding arrangements. The heroine throws him out – literally – and he’s not even fully dressed. In the most aptly titled Devil’s Bride, Devil immediately casts Honoria as his duchess, having decided she’ll fill the position nicely, and keep him amused in bed as well. But Honoria has no intention of bowing to the dictates of a tyrant – she’s off to seek adventure in Africa – and says so. I’ve even, in Four in Hand, used the scenario of a heroine who thinks she’s the pursuer, while the hero is actually pulling her strings – once she finds out, she demands retribution, in the form of his abject surrender.

I find “the hero as pursuer”, at least within the Regency era, a great deal of fun to write – and I believe that translates to a great deal of fun to read. And that’s my stated aim as an author: to leave my readers with a silly grin on their faces. And a twinkle in their eyes!

I imagine I’ll be writing “the hero as pursuer” for many years yet.

Stephanie Laurens

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