So many romance novels reveal what we would do for love — but here are three that also explore what entrepreneurial heroines will do for their business ventures, whether that means an ancestral estate, an art gallery, or a food truck in San Francisco. Of course, being romance heroines, they don't do it alone — they tangle with a friend-turned-lover, a mysterious benefactor and a professional rival for their happy ever after.
Fans of friends-to-lovers romance will swoon for Theresa Romain's Scandalous Ever After, the second book in her Romance of the Turf series. Lady Kate Whelan was widowed when her scoundrel of a husband fell in a steeplechase race; two years later, she's doing her best to manage the estate, but debts are mounting and she risks losing her ancestral lands and her son's inheritance.
Enter Evan Rhys, antiquities dealer and friend to the late earl and his countess. Though Evan has long nurtured a deep and abiding love for Kate, he's done the noble thing and stayed away. But now she's ready to cast aside her mourning dresses, wear color, and take a lover. They return to her Irish estate, where romance isn't the only thing to occupy them — there is a mystery in this novel too, involving smugglers, secrets, more than a few villains and a tangled web of relationships for Kate and Evan to unravel together.
Evan is a perfect beta hero, dedicated to the heroine and relentlessly kind and romantic, even when he turns the tables on Kate: "If you want me, you need to court me good and proper, like the fine gentleman I am." Spoiler alert: She does.
Tiffany Reisz's The Red pairs a woman in need of money with a man who has plenty of it — and an intriguing proposal. Mona's mother's dying wish was for her daughter to anything to save her failing art gallery, The Red. Enter Malcolm, a mysterious (sexy) stranger with an unusual (and sexy) proposition: permission to do whatever he wants with her body in exchange for help saving her gallery. Of course she agrees.
This familiar plot gets a smart and intriguing twist: Each sexual encounter is staged like a famous work of art. They start with Manet's Olympia; Mona poses as the French prostitute, Malcolm arrives for a very hot and steamy night of passion. In the morning, he's gone, but he's left Mona a valuable Degas sketch. The subsequent works of art and the sex scenes inspired by them are provocative to say the least — Mona and Malcolm reenact Jean-Léon Gérôme's The Slave Market, Adolphe Bouguereau's Nymphs and Satyr, and James Sharples's A Portrait of A Gentleman among others. Let's just say that these scenes make for some very interesting subway reading (even for someone comfortable reading erotic romance in public).
After each visit, Malcolm leaves another valuable work of art, further assuring her gallery's success. And after each visit, the mystery of his real identity and how he's pulling off these magical and erotic encounters increases. By then, Mona has fallen in love and wants more — her happy ending is satisfying and quite surprising.
For some romance with food porn, try North To You by Tif Marcelo, set in modern day San Francisco. Camille Marino is the chef and owner of a food truck selling paninis based on her Nonna's recipes. Drew Bautista is an army guy on leave, who's helping his family renovate their Filipino restaurant, True North. Both restaurateurs are struggling to succeed.
But Drew and Camille don't know any of this when they unexpectedly reunite. Years earlier they were junior high sweethearts, before Camille moved away. Now they're connecting as grownups, and slowly, sweetly and surely letting each other in and building a relationship. The deadline of Drew's deployment hangs over them both, although they'll soon discover it's the least of their problems.
Drew is helping at the family's restaurant in order to mend his strained relationship with his father. Unfortunately, the restaurant's success is compromised by the food truck parked out front, stealing their customers and ruining their view. The Lucianna is Camille's truck — as well as her livelihood, connection to her deceased grandmother and her entire identity, not to mention that she needs it to succeed so that she can send her younger sister to art school. Losing the prime spot in front of True North is not an option. Even worse is discovering that her rival is the man she's fallen in love with. But since this is a romance novel, readers can rest assured that the heroine's happy ever after will include success in both business and in pleasure.
Maya Rodale is a bestselling romance author.