Oh, sweet, spherical salad bowls, how I love this trope. I love it like bikers love methamphetamine in their morning coffee, like a ballerina loves to brisé, like a trucker loves to squirt the dirt after many beverages consumed during a long-haul drive.
That’s how much I love it.
I like my love hard won, extremely hard won. So hard won that someone’s in danger of losing an eye or a limb or a lung.
In real life I enjoy conflict and confrontation about as much as I enjoy a mammogram (well, okay, maybe I enjoy it a little sometimes) but in romance novels I want Colosseum — I lust for blood, bay for gore and if there’s a damn good shagging while everyone’s wounds are still healing then all the better.
Give me feuding families, prisoners and captors, traditional enemies, supernatural enemies (demons and angels, anyone?), business rivals, spies and counter spies, kings and queens at war, prize fighters, and I’m a happy woman. From the Taming of the Shrew to Pride and Prejudice, I love to see lovers hatin’ and then lovin’ and then maybe hatin’ and lovin’ again. Show me hate-sex, fight-sex and regret-sex as well as the tender squishy stuff.
For a more contemporary ETL story, G.A. Aiken specializes in heroes and heroines who try to scratch out each other’s eyes before they start scrabbling for one another’s private parts, and the stories in her Dragon Kin series are all enemies-to-lovers stories. Squee! Likewise her Magnus Pack series involves romances where claws and fangs are an integral part of extended non-sexual foreplay.
Charlotte Stein is another paddler in this trope pool, though her approach to it is slightly different. Instead of hating the hero because he mocked her hair in fifth grade or slept with her best friend’s cat, the heroine is often hostile because she thinks the hero hates her (which makes for all sorts of fun when she finds out otherwise). A classic example is Almost Real.
Nalini Singh also rocks my little enemies-to-lovers fantasy world. Her angel guild series and psi-changeling series are full of supernatural hotties who to try to rip each other’s faces off before they start ripping clothes off.
Kelley Armstrong’s Elena Devereaux is a magnificent ETL heroine who gives her former lover, Clay, a hell of a time for changing her into a werewolf. It makes for delicious reading.
So what is it about this trope that blows my hair back so? I think it’s the way it provides an opportunity for heroines and heroes to get snarky and downright dirty and sneaky as they try to best one another. Perhaps it’s also the perversity (or contrast, if you like) of gladiators dropping their swords mid-fight to engage in a good snog. And the horror and self-loathing that comes with that. Tee-hee.
Plus, I’ve always liked my heroines feisty, and a girl needs a good enemy to get her feist on. Of course, my greatest love is reserved for those heroines who have the martial skills, strength and courage (and blood lust) to make the hero’s nadgers into pendant earrings at any moment, which always makes for great tension.
And you’ve gotta admire a hero who’s brave enough to bed a heroine who might just rip his head off praying-mantis style after (or even during) a hearty bout of sex.