As romance writers and readers, hero terminology is second nature to us. We talk about alphaholes, betas, bad boys gone good, sexy single dads, and everything in between. But what happens when these hot, complex, and fascinating male leads get to address the label head-on?
Last Thursday Carina Press released my holiday novella, HERO’S HOMECOMING. It forms half of the GIFTS OF HONOR duology (shout-out to fellow Cafe author Stacy Gail and her yummy novella STARTING FROM SCRATCH!) and is the story of a severely wounded Army officer, Chris, reuniting with Beth, the woman he left behind. “Hero” is the last word he would use to describe himself, but as a military veteran lots of people are quick to assign it to him. When he finds out his tiny Kansas hometown is throwing a parade in his honor, he discusses the term with Beth:
“It’s just the principle that bothers you, then?” Beth asked.
“It’s the idea that I’ve somehow earned this recognition, that I’ve done something to deserve it.” He shook his head. “All I did was get out of bed after someone shook me awake.”
Beth’s pause was thoughtful.
“This isn’t what you want to hear,” she said finally, “But I think you have to go. I think you have to suck it up and be in the parade.”
Chris winced. “Why?”
“While I completely sympathize with your ideological objections,” she said kindly, “They’re a little too subtle to justify calling the whole thing off. If you couldn’t be in the parade because you broke your leg, fine—everyone would understand. But to cancel it at the last minute because you don’t feel you deserve it just isn’t going to fly in a little Kansas farm town that’s eagerly looking forward to welcoming home its favorite son.”
“Even though it’s all a lie?” he countered. “Wouldn’t it be wrong to allow myself to be represented in a way I know is false?”
“Heroism is subjective,” Beth replied matter-of-factly. “You may think heroism is risking your life to save a comrade, but for some people, just joining the army knowing you could be sent into combat on your country’s behalf may be enough.” She pried his hand from the handle of his mug and gripped it tightly. “And other people might think that a man who loves a woman enough to push her away in order to protect her from hardship, a man who would make that sacrifice and go that far to save the woman he loved from being in pain, is pretty damn heroic in his own right.”
Sometimes the sexiest romance heroes are those that would never want to be called heroes – the ones that are reclusive, or haunted by the past, or too blinded by trauma or lack of self-worth to see how heroic they really are. Personally I love those aw-shucks-I-ain’t-no-hero types – but what do you think? Do you like your heroes to embrace it from the get-go, or discover it slowly? Do you have a favorite reluctant hero?