NPR's January Romance RoundupThis month, we're celebrating an old favorite trope: Enemies who fall for each other. Sparks and witty banter fly in these three novels, starring rival TV hosts, youth pastors and fashion executives.
One of the most beloved tropes in Romancelandia is enemies-to-lovers, for the sparring and sparks on the way to surrender. It's also a heightened version of what we love in a romance novel: Love overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles, and rewarding our unshakable faith in the Happy Ever After. Given the state of the world these days, we could all use a few more stories — like these three — that show how enemies can get over what divides them and find the love that unites them.
The starring couple in Lucy Parker's Headliners have been feuding in the background of previous novels in the series — much to my delight — and now it's finally time for their story. As the novel begins, TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport are in big trouble with the network bigwigs. Their only chance at redemption is to cohost a struggling morning show. They agree for the sake of their careers, even though Nick fancies himself a Serious Journalist — and Sabrina fancies mortally wounding Nick for his role in an exposé that nearly destroyed her family.
Nevertheless, they're determined to make the show a success. But things keep going wrong on set — disastrously, dangerously wrong — and it's not our heroes trying to sabotage each other. As Sabrina and Nick work together and team up to discover who is trying to derail their show, their defenses fall and their long simmering attraction becomes impossible to deny. This is an enemies-to-lovers plot at its best — with sparks flying, banter that's fiery but never mean, and a palpable sexual tension. By the time Sabrina and Nick reach their happy ending, you wonder how they were ever at odds.
A Girl's Guide to the Outback, by Jessica Kate, had a setting and premise that enticed me and a voice that hooked me. Aussie Samuel Payton is a youth pastor working in Virginia, and totally at odds with Kimberly Foster, who runs their ministry. Business-minded Kimberly has a plan for expansion to help more kids, but Sam is firmly against it, so he returns home to Australia to help his sister save the family farm. The situation in the outback is dire, and naturally, they need someone like Kimberly who can crunch the numbers and come up with a genius plan. She agrees to come out and help, since it's her chance to woo Sam back to the ministry.
So our office enemies are now ensconced in the outback and in the process of trying to battle one disaster after another (Snakes! Weather!), they open up to each other, revealing past hurts and vulnerabilities — like Sam's fear of losing money invested in the ministry, and Kim's aching loneliness, the legacy of her unconventional childhood. This, of course, is when the love starts to happen. Are all the problems neatly solved in the end? No, but you'll be left with real faith that Sam and Kim will find love and happiness together, no matter what God throws at them.
Sometimes you just need a quick, hot read on a cold night, and A Private Affair by A.C. Arthur delivers. Riley Gold is a rising star in her family's fashion empire. She's extremely good at her job as a marketing executive and especially driven to succeed after an earlier experience mixing the personal and professional went epically awry. Now she's known as the Ice Princess — all work and no play. That is, until a New Year's Eve party in Milan, when she has a chance encounter with Chaz Warren. Sparks have been simmering between them for years, but this social media mogul is dedicated to his family's rival fashion house. Nothing could ever happen between them.
Which of course means that something must happen between them. One kiss leads to one hot night together. But when will romance characters learn that that "one night only" is always the first night of forever? Back in New York, Chaz and Riley keep up their affair even as competition between their businesses — and families — grows fierce. Eventually, scandal will force them to choose what matters more than love. (Spoiler alert: nothing!)
Maya Rodale is a best-selling romance author. Her new book is Some Like It Scandalous.