After 35 years of writing, even more years of reading, and having completed 60 novels, I’ve come to the conclusion that most female readers’ ideal hero (and yes, male readers, too) is the alpha male who is tough and able on the outside, but vulnerable and tender on the inside. I absolutely love the “tough guy” persona, a man who’s strong and brave and can handle weapons and fists … but a man who would never dream of laying a hand on the woman he loves.
For me that boils down to a man who cherishes the woman in his life. He doesn’t just love her – he holds her up as precious for loving him when he feels unlovable. He respects the fact that she sees in him what others don’t see, that she understands his deepest dreams and convictions … and his demons. One of my favorite lines is from my up-coming novel, DO NOT FORSAKE ME (a sequel to OUTLAW HEARTS coming next July). The hero is former outlaw/now lawman Jake Harkner. After a reporter witnesses an intense and violent altercation between Jake and a young man who dared to challenge him, it’s obvious Jake is in a very dark mood. Jake walks off with his wife, and when the reporter asks Jake’s son-in-law (Dr. Brian Stewart) if Jake’s wife will be all right, Brian frowns and asks him what he means. The reporter mentions Jake is in a very bad mood. Will he take it out on his wife? The son-in-law grins and tells the reporter that Jake Harkner would rather slit his own throat than to raise a hand or even his voice to his wife, whom he literally worships and who is Jake’s rock and his strength.
That’s my kind of hero. The worst of the worst hesitate when it comes to going up against the likes of Jake Harkner, but his family absolutely worships the ground he walks on, and visa-versa. Jake’s family, wife – daughter – son – and yes, in Book #2 even grandsons, are his whole life. Because of a horrible childhood of his own, Jake refuses to ever physically discipline a child and would never harm his wife. In one instance Jake’s youngest (and very stubborn and sometimes naughty) grandsons goes running up the street to his grandpa right in the middle of a showdown with outlaws! It creates real havoc and a wild shootout that leaves Jake wounded. But is Jake angry with his grandson? No. He later says that what the boy did was out of love. He just wanted to run to his grandpa for a hug. He’s little, and he had no idea what was going on or that it could cause so much chaos.
We all know that the ideal hero rarely exists in real life, but some men come pretty darn close. We don’t live in those wild times, but some of us know men who truly would stand in harm’s way for their family, and of course our true heroes today are soldiers and policemen and firemen and those who do risk their lives for others. I think most women want a man who is strong – not necessarily physically, but strong in his convictions and willing to back up those convictions against all odds. We all want a man who considers us his equal and his true partner, a man who respects us as the woman who loves him in spite of all his faults and who understands what makes him tick. The man in turn should respect our needs and wants, respect our bodies and love us for having his children and helping support the whole family and for loving him unconditionally.
In DO NOT FORSAKE ME, Jake's wife, Miranda, fully understands this very complicated man and loves him in spite of all his faults because she knows that on the inside he’s a desperate little boy wanting to be loved and accepted – something he never got as a horribly abused child. Jake lives with a past he regrets and wishes he could change – and he blames himself for things that were never really his fault. An abusive father led him to feel worthless, and he blames himself for every bad thing that ever happens in his life or to his family. In DO NOT FORSAKE ME, a traumatic and climactic moment involving Jake’s grown daughter forces him to face his demons and learn about forgiveness and redemption.
I just love DO NOT FORSAKE ME, and for me Jake Harkner is the ultimate alpha man with a tragic past that makes all women love him and want to hold him and tell him everything will be all right … even though this same man can be absolutely ruthless toward any man who would dare to hurt or even threaten anyone in his family – or any other innocent person, for that matter. When it comes to dealing out justice, Jake Harkner rules with an iron fist and a flaming Colt .45 … but he’s a patsy at home, where his kids and grandsons and sometimes even his wife can walk all over him and never fear retribution.
As the reporter in this story mentions in one conversation … Jake is an enigma. Jake replies that yes, he is … and that he doesn’t even understand himself. In the words of Jake’s son – “There is a war going on in my father’s heart.” That is so true – and the devoted love Jake shares with his son and daughter is so touching. But most touching is the relationship between Jake and Miranda. By the time the story in DO NOT FORSAKE ME takes place, they have been together for 26 years, but their love has only grown over those years.
I always try to write the ideal hero, and most of the time that really comes through in my books. There is Colt Travis in THUNDER ON THE PLAINS, Zeke Monroe in my 7-book SAVAGE DESTINY series, Clint Brady in WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS, Cole Parker in UNTIL TOMORROW, Luke Fontaine in WILDEST DREAMS, Will Lassater in THE FOREVER TREE, Caleb Sax in my BLUE HAWK trilogy, Mitch Brady in my newest book DESPERATE HEARTS, and so many others. All of them are very rough around the edges and need the love and taming of a good woman … and all of them find that in my heroines. But they never lose their tough edge or brave countenance, and that’s what the heroines love the most about them.
And that’s what I love about them, too!
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Publishers Weekly Review
"This Western historical is chock-full of danger, with families set on a vendetta, the threat of Emma’s stepfather, and the daily demands of Mitch’s job, but Emma is no wilting lily, proving she is a match for Mitch in every way."
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