Back when I was fairly new to reading a lot of romance and deep in a Victoria Dahl backlist binge, I got on the train, opened my Kindle, and quietly felt my brain turn over. The book was Close Enough to Touch and the reason why I felt like the Earth had tilted on its axis was this: Grace Barrett is angry. Enraged. All the time. And for good reason. Life has been far from easy for her and she’s righteously ticked off. She’s fled her Hollywood life and her horrible ex-boyfriend for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where her great-aunt is letting her stay in an apartment for free.
And thus Grace is healed by kind actions of a relative, right? Wrong. Grace remains prickly, defensive, sometimes self-sabotaging in her quest to stand on her own feet and keep the world at arm’s length. If you read the lower-starring Goodreads reviews of this book, there are a lot of disappointed readers who disliked this book for the very reason I loved it: Grace is a romance heroine who is completely and utterly unaware of that fact. Meeting Cole Rawlins has zero effect on her at first, other than possibly making her even grumpier and pricklier than usual.
Reader, I love this kind of heroine. The kind who really needs to work through a lot of issues. Someone who’s been through the wringer and is not inexplicably sunny. Someone like Bruce Banner who is always angry, stomping through life in combat boots with a snarl on her face. Someone who’s really not looking for love, but ends up finding it anyway. Here are a few recommendations for contemporary romances with “prickly” heroines:
Not The Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher
Here’s one you’re going to want to pre-order. Hannah is stinging from an ex who used the phrase in the book’s title to eviscerate her when they broke up. That, and she’s gunning for a promotion at work that she’s not at all sure she’s going to get, despite her on-page competence. Enter Jack Nolan, sidelined from the political reporting he wants to do by a boss who just wants to monetize his pretty face. This gender-flipped How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days has it all: an angry heroine, a fake relationship, fabulous friends and family, and a puppy.
Block Shot by Kennedy Ryan
Banner Morales and Jared Foster had been good friends up until the event that made her hate his ever-loving guts. Now they’re rival sports agents. Banner is a kickass heroine: take-charge, smart, and wickedly competent at her job. She’s also not going to let go of her rage towards him even after ten years. How they get from friends to hate to love is a wild ride, with all of Ryan’s signature gorgeous prose. Content warning: cheating.
Scoring the Player’s Baby by Naima Simone
Kim Matlock, one year after a divorce from a cheating football player, has time for nobody’s nonsense. Ronin Palamo chats her up at a wedding convention (he’s there to support his sister, not look at centerpieces for his own nuptials) and convinces her to spend one steamy night with him. He’s ready for another go, but when she finds out he’s a wide receiver for a fictional Seattle football franchise, she wants nothing to do with him. No more football players for Kim. Then a month or so later…a missed period, a baby on the way, and Kim is going to have to figure out how to deal with not only an eager co-parent, but also her feelings.
Three Little Words by Jenny Holiday
Gia Gallo isn’t just angry. She’s hangry. Her meet-cute isn’t cute at all. She’s giving a gate agent hell because her flight to Florida for her best friend’s wedding has been cancelled due to a massive snowstorm. She hasn’t eaten in ages, and though best man Bennett Buchanan (please don’t try to say that three times fast) is seriously unimpressed by her tantrum, he does have the means to soothe her savagery: seasoned pecans. As far as relationships go, Gia’s a one-and-done girl and Bennett’s a commitment guy. She’s a fashion model with a declining metabolism and the beginnings of issues with food, he’s a chef. Watching their road trip romance blossom as they unravel each other’s secrets is, in a word, delicious.
Trade Me by Courtney Milan
Tina Chen may be the only heroine on this list that doesn’t have on-page issues with an ex driving her away from relationships and love. Instead, she’s got issues with Blake Reynolds’ overwhelming privilege. After he casually and ignorantly talks about a subject she knows all too well—poverty—she reads him the riot act in a glorious dressing-down that I still use to hand-sell that book to anyone who will sit still long enough.