Alpha male, alpha male, alpha male – as aspiring romance authors, we are told time and again the heroes readers love are the alpha males. Who wouldn’t? A touch of dominance to appeal to our innermost feminine, confidence that oozes off the pages, and strength to make our villains cringe. Shoot, other than the occasional arrogance issues, alpha males are take-charge kinda guys, who know what they want, how to get it, and how to make the world bend to their needs, including heroines. Complimenting that set-up, no weak-willed, pansy heroine could satisfy him, and so the heroines are equally strong. A combination almost assuredly guaranteed to make sparks fly – in the romance and in the rest of the plot.
But what about the beta hero?
I have always envisioned the beta hero as the man more likely to be found at the grocery store, taking his dog to a dog park, or simply fixing the leaky faucet. In other words, the beta hero is more common. More what we’d find in our own proverbial backyards.
And I love a good beta hero. One who knows his own faults, nurses his own set of insecurities, and yet, has that one outstanding characteristic that sets him above and apart from his alpha counterparts, who would go to their graves before ever acknowledging personal faults.
Ironically, so does the movie industry. Look at some of the heroes in film.
1. Frodo, from The Lord of the Rings – Frodo has minimal physical strength. He doesn’t want the responsibility initially, he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of it at times, and quite frankly, his sword arm stinks. His redeeming qualities? Courage. Determination. Innocence. Purity. Honesty – both with himself and those surrounding him. We love him, we want him to succeed. Contrasted to a more alpha figure with Aragorn, or even Gandalf, both of whom are confident in their abilities, he is a weak player. But his normalcy makes him strong.
2. Sam, from Transfomers – Sam’s a weak teenager. He can’t make the football tryouts, he’s not particularly socially skilled, and he lacks self confidence. Compared to the Alphas with the military and the Transformers themselves, he’s destined to fail. He openly admits his fears and insecurities. He’s normal.
3. Ahmed, from The 13th Warrior – Ahmed stands out completely. Surrounded by men who are nothing less than completely alpha, he knows he can’t participate at their level, particularly in battle. He is, however, intellectually superior, apt to solve problems with reason, full of quiet strength, religiously faithful to his morals, and he even gets the girl (though that’s a minimal part of the story.)
Beta heroes have been classified as “The Best Friend”, and in today’s contemporary romances several heroes follow that set up. What makes them enjoyable to read and to write is the slow, consistent growth arc these individuals go through, the absolute reality of their normalcy, and often the majority of the conflict is with himself, not with the world surrounding him. (Classic Man vs. Himself).
And in a romance, the end result is a believable love story that, because of the nature of the individual, is guaranteed to stand the test of time.
I took my love for a good beta hero, my love for horses, and A Christmas To Believe In, took life.
Meet Clint King, a man who isn’t afraid of a woman’s tears. A man whose gentleness shows in the touch of his hands and the quiet murmurs of his voice beneath the stable’s rafters.
A man who needs someone to believe in him.
Struggling Thoroughbred breeder, Clint King, hasn’t been home for Christmas in five years. This year, his prize mare's due to foal any day, and in the wake of his father’s death, Clint can’t stand the idea of returning. Except, Alex is getting married on Christmas Eve, and their mother’s put her foot down.
With his mare in tow behind him, Clint prepares to meet a sister he’s never known and Alex’s unexpected triplets. The one salvation he looks forward to is childhood companion, tomboy Jesse Saurs. Yet when he reunites with Jesse, he uncomfortably discovers she’s become all woman.
Jesse has everything she needs – financial security, a home, and a foster child who’s about to become her son. With Ethan’s final hearing scheduled just before Christmas, her dreams will come true. When she learns Clint and his brothers are returning, she anticipates a holiday reunion that’s sure to entertain Ethan. But on the night of Clint’s return, the ‘brother’ she expected leaves her trembling after a hug. Even worse, Ethan makes it clear Clint's not welcome.
Will Christmas destroy hopes and dreams, or will it become the gift they've all been longing for?
Clint approached his mare with a faint smile. He stroked the side of her neck, her shoulder, her expansive belly, and Jesse stared, transfixed. In all the years she’d known Clint, she’d never seen such compassion. Such respect. He moved around the mare, murmuring in a voice so low she couldn’t make out the words. But the expression on his face left no doubt about what he said. Praises. Little whispers of affection.
When he bent forward and pressed a kiss to her velvety nose, Jesse’s heart lurched. She’d listened to him babble about the race horses he’d worked with that long ago summer at The Woodlands. Back then, she’d known he loved his job, but she’d never fully grasped what took him away from Kansas City to Kentucky. Now, watching him, a little bubble of pride burst deep inside her soul. He’d gone after his dream. He was good with this horse. Damn good. And his love for his mare was unmistakable.
He stepped away from the horse, her halter in hand, and joined Jesse at the stall’s rail. Elbows propped over the top, he leaned forward and watched his horse.
“She’s really pretty,” Jesse whispered.
“She’s my future, Jesse. Everything’s riding on that foal.”
“How so?” Jesse tipped her head up to look at him. She took in the firm line of his strong jaw, his high-set cheekbones, the way his hair dusted the top of his ears. The shadows intensified the hint of whiskers on his chin, and she curled her fingers into her gloves, resisting the urge to run her knuckle over the stubble.
“I had some bad luck the last several years. So, I changed my tactics. I’ve still got good runners back home, but this one…” He nodded to the horse in reference. “I dumped all my savings into her and this foal. Pray that baby doesn’t make an appearance before New Year’s.”
Giving him a quizzical look, Jesse asked, “Why?”
“The Jockey Club ages Thoroughbreds on January first of every year. They compete, among other restrictions, by age. It will be a yearling come January first, which means that foal will have to run against horses a full year older. Situations like that don’t lead to wins very often.”
“But there’s a chance, right?”
She turned her gaze back to the mare and fell into silence. She didn’t know much about horses, but the way the mare grunted as she turned around suggested discomfort. As Jesse watched, the horse turned her head and looked at her flank. Her belly moved with the shift of a leg.
“What’s her name?”
When Clint didn’t immediately answer, she inched closer and gave his elbow a jab. “Hey. You in there?”
Clint smiled down at her with a chuckle. He draped his arm over her shoulder and pulled her in against his side. “Sorry.”
At once, the heady aroma of spice and leather seeped into her awareness. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She could stand here all night long, soaking up his warmth, pretending he was someone else. Someone who wouldn’t mind if she rose up on tiptoe and stole a kiss.
Instead, she shifted and nuzzled her cheek into his chest. One palm over the steady drum of his heart, she let out a contented sigh. “It’s good to have you home, Clint.”
His voice reverberated beneath her ear, amplifying his low murmur. “It’s good to be here.”
A Christmas To Believe In is the third book in the Three Kings Series and will be available through The Wild Rose Press in December of 2010.
For more information about my books, and the other King brothers, please visit my website -- www.claireashgrove.com