I had an epiphany the other day when I saw this Kristen Callihan tweet:
I should mention, one of my current projects was inspired by a tweet from a while back. MAKE IT SWEET features an embittered hockey player, forced to retire due to concussion syndrome, who finds himself wooing his new neighbor with the sweets he bakes in his spare time. 🧁🍰🥧— Kristen Callihan (@Kris10Callihan) August 6, 2019
I love reading about giant men doing soft things. A big, strong sports star who has a secret marshmallow center? Dead. A gentle giant who’s good with kids? So dead. A hulking firefighter cuddling a puppy? Find me at my current residence: the morgue.
There’s just something about all that power—power that fiction all too often uses to cause havoc, damage, and pain—and have it be laid low by romantic love, tenderness, or just the thrall of a fuzzy, tiny kitten. Just as pretty women are sometimes assumed to be shallow, stupid, or vain, a large man (especially if he has huge muscles and/or tattoos) is frequently assumed to not have a heart. When a writer gives me someone who proves this thesis wrong, I am similarly smitten.
It turns out there are a fair few who also love what I’m calling this “micro trope” of giant men doing soft things. Here are a few of my personal favorites.
Bountiful by Sarina Bowen
This may have been the first book that opened my eyes to the giant men doing soft things phenomenon. I am usually virulently anti the secret baby trope, but as I’ve learned with other books, there are just some writers who can take a trope I usually loathe and make me drool for it. How did Bowen do it in this case? First, she gave me a prickly heroine in Zara Rossi (a topic for another time – I do love a prickly heroine). Then she gave me Dave Beringer, a giant ginger hockey player, ever so slowly going from “I’m freaked out but I’m going to do the right thing” to falling head over heels in love with his toddler daughter.
Rafe by Rebekah Witherspoon
You may be about to sense a theme here. Weatherspoon also gives us a ginger giant (with tattoos and a motorcycle if that’s your catnip). Rafe Whitcomb is also a seriously experienced nanny who is just the person to help out stressed out single mom Dr. Sloan Copeland who has a hugely demanding job and equally (if not more) demanding twin girls. Rafe steps in, handles the girls with relative ease, and he and Sloan slide from “you’re hot but you’re off limits” to “you’re mine” all the while communicating like adults and dealing with the inevitable power differential that comes with this kind of relationship.
Hot Target by Suzanne Brockman
In 2017 and 2018 I methodically plowed through Suz Brockmann’s entire “Troubleshooter” series, starring (mostly) Navy SEALs and FBI agents. In this, the eighth book in the series, we finally get Cosmo Richter to take center stage. In previous books he’s described, essentially, as a humorless, feelings-free brick wall in mirrored sunglasses. Over the course of reading them, I started to wonder if the description hid a very soft man underneath. When the heroine, Jane Mercedes Chadwick, treats him like a piece of meat, he’s hurt. And he shows it. After finishing it, I tweeted at Suz with a triumphant, “I KNEW IT!”
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins
Drake LeVeq: descendant of pirates, architect and builder, and giant softy (I mean, look at that cover. Just look at it). Raised and otherwise surrounded by strong women, he has no issues with showing tenderness and affection—and he is absolutely gone over Valinda Lacey from just about the moment they meet, but she’s already engaged to someone else. While we wait for these two to figure things out and properly fall in love, we get to see Drake being absolutely adorable with kids due to Ms. Bev’s trademark strong, loving family.
The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan
NFL star Ethan Dexter (Dex) is huge, tattooed, bearded, pierced, and he’s got more than one secret. First, he’s a virgin (again, if this trope is your catnip). Second, he’s an artist. Third, he’s the softest, sweetest soul you’ll meet in fiction. And he’s had a crush on Fiona Mackenzie forever. Incorporating celebrity and fame (and the horrors they can wreak on both the famous and the average person), Callihan is one of the masters of why we read romance: we know they’re going to get together. We just don’t know how.
Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai
Gabriel hunter is a giant tattoo artist. Faced with beautiful heiress Evangeline Chandler, his best friend’s little sister (in case that’s another catnip trope for you), he’s a puddle of goo. The third in a series that contains long-simmering family secrets between the Chandlers and another family, the Kanes, this is probably best read in order. And they’re all so worth it.