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Why I Write Beta Heroes

AJLarrieu_Anchored

My name is A.J., and I love beta heroes.

I know, I know. Paranormal romance is all about alphas. Alphas males and alpha females. And I get it. In a genre where the hero and heroine have to kill vampires and demons to get their HEA, there’s not a lot of room for “soft power.”

Then again, maybe there is.

Paranormal worlds are usually violent and scary places. Sometimes, I want my fictional escape to show me what it’s like when the good guys win by beating the bad guys at their own game. But every now and then, I want to believe in a world where we can win with sacrifice, with gentle persuasion, or even with humor.

When I wrote Anchored, part of what I wanted to do was imagine a woman who’s used to violence falling in love with a man who’s not afraid to show his softer side. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good alpha, and I love a good fictional fight. My heroine does her fair share of beheadings, but I think that’s why she needed a partner who’s never beheaded anything bigger than a flea.

When Susannah meets Jason for the first time, she does what she’s been trained to do: attack. An alpha might have gotten the upper hand right away, but Jason’s real strength is in winning his *ahem* targets over slowly.

Here’s an excerpt of the scene where my guardian angel heroine first encounters her less-than-angelic hero. A hurricane has just passed through her town, and she’s at her diner, making sure it came through unscathed. The last thing she’s expecting is a scruffy supernatural healer to come in and disturb her post-storm peace:

It was still raining outside—I could hear it drumming on the roof and the boarded windows. I opened the back door to watch the wind push the water around in low spots in the street. The flooding wasn’t bad. I was sure the news crews were out making the worst of it, but I’d seen much worse. My connection to the city was muddy and fragile, but I could tell there hadn’t been any deaths. A relief.

I ate my eggs and toast in my dining room and listened to the radio reports. Trees down, a few places flooded farther inland. People would be needing help. That was the rest of my job. A guardian draws strength from her city, and the healthier it is, the more vibrant, the stronger the guardian. Every day, secondaries like Max brought stories of people who needed help. Short-term loans, new coats. Food. Revenge. After this, there would be more petitions than usual. I pondered the balance of my bank account and wondered how many I could satisfy.

I was still thinking about it when I heard the click of my back door closing.

I was on my feet in an instant, flaring my wings and listening. Someone moving around. Human, male from the smell of him. A looter? I wasn’t picking up the telltale tingle of threat in my wingtips, but that could have been due to the storm. I heard his fingers drumming on the stainless-steel prep counter. Had I forgotten to lock the door? I pulled my glamour over me like a coat and moved silently to the doorway between the service counter and the grill.

I saw him. Next to the deep-fry station. One well-muscled, tan arm and a ratty Converse sneaker. He hadn’t seen me. Yet.

I launched myself at him.

He put his arms up in a defensive posture seconds before I tackled him, and we went down in a tangle of limbs and muffled grunts. We ended up on the floor with my forearm pressed into his throat and my thighs pinning him to the tile.

“What are you doing here?” I snarled.

He made a thick, wheezing sound and pointed at his throat. I let up a fraction.

“You must be the guardian,” he said.

I was surprised enough to lean back. “Who the hell are you?”

He levered himself up on his arms. “Jason Delacourt. Hank should’ve told you I’d be coming.”

I narrowed my eyes. That bastard.

“You think you could, ah, let me up?” He shifted his eyes to where my hips were still pinning his legs. He must be a runner—his thighs were like granite. I didn’t move.

“How did you get in?”

“It’s raining pretty hard out there,” he said, as if this answered my question. “Hank didn’t tell me—”

“Not to break into private property?”

“That you’re a woman. Well …” He flicked his eyes to my wings, which were still flared out defensively. “… a female, anyway.”

I snapped them shut. “How can you see them? You shouldn’t be able to see them.”

“That thing you do …” He twirled his finger in the direction of my head. “It doesn’t work on me. Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I stood, releasing him.

“They’re pretty. Like a heron.” He smiled. It was a light-up-your-face, movie-star smile. A smile to make women go weak. I focused on his nose.

“What are you doing here?”

He looked at me like I might be not quite right in the head. “I’m the healer. Hank said you needed me.”

He stood and leaned against the wall. He was wearing khaki cargo shorts and a wrinkled button-up shirt, and his light-brown hair was shaggy and untrimmed. His sneakers were soaked through. By his feet was a faded red backpack covered in patches that said “100 DIVES,” “Dive Belize” and “Let’s Get Wet.” That last one included a cartoon of a large-breasted mermaid. I was going to kill Hank.

“Oh yes, I know Hank sent you, and I know you’re a healer. What I want to know is what you’re doing here now, in the middle of a hurricane, when I specifically told Hank I didn’t want to see you until the storm was over.”

“Listen, lady.” His eyes flicked to my wings again. “Or whatever you are. Three weeks ago I had no idea creatures like you existed. This guy with wings the color of a fucking Falcons jersey tells me I can use my gift to help out my hometown, and would I mind just dropping by to see what I think of the resident guardian angel? So here I am. You don’t want me, no problem. I’ll just catch the next bus out of town.” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me.

This was just like Hank. Send this healer, this overly attractive, immature, fumbling boy, and expect me to just take him in.

“Fine,” I said. “Fine.”

“All right, then.” He picked up his bag. “Where am I staying?”

“I have a motel across the road. I’ll get you a room.”

“Perfect.”

I picked up my keys with my good hand and started for the door. As I passed him, he saw the bandage on my other hand and stopped me.

“Whoa, let me take care of that for you.” He took a step forward and, before I could move away, picked up my hand.

His skin was warm. It shocked me. Guardians have higher body temperatures than humans, so I wasn’t used to feeling warmth from anyone’s touch. I wasn’t used to feeling anyone’s touch, period. I nearly jerked back, but he was handling my hand so lightly, like it was a hollow egg, I found it hard to pull away.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Nothing of importance. I’m fine.”

He quirked his mouth. “Sure you are. But let me take care of it anyway.” He paused. “I can tell it hurts.”

I didn’t have an answer for that. He was right.

He didn’t wait for my permission. His other hand hovered over my knuckles and, in seconds, the angry red flesh faded to pink. My skin felt warm and tingly. I shook out my fingers.

“That wasn’t necessary.”

He laughed. “You mean you weren’t going to bleed to death? Huh.”

I gave him a look that would’ve made any of my wait staff run instantly to the back and find side work to do. It would’ve made my egotistical head chef stop ranting at the line cooks. It would’ve made Max disappear for at least three hours. Jason only laughed again. I did my best to betray no emotion whatsoever.

“You must be tired,” I said. “It’s the only explanation.” I walked out into the rain without waiting to see if he’d follow.

If you want a little more beta in your life, you can pick up a copy of Anchored  on Amazon for only $0.99. And in the meantime, I want to know: Who’s your favorite paranormal beta hero?

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21 thoughts on “Why I Write Beta Heroes

  1. Great article! I, love to write beta heroes too, and also alpha/beta heroes that are tough on the outside but sensitive on the inside. It’s fun to mix up the archetypes a little. And the book looks great!

  2. Oh, I loved the excerpt. I think my favorite beta hero is Nathaniel in the Anita Blake series. He starts off as a victim, but through the series you see the strength he develops and then he becomes the protector of those weaker than himself, especially those who are more emotionally fragile.

  3. A.J. I love that you love betas! They make for such nuance in a story! My favorite is Professor Lyle from Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, who is the literal beta to the Alpha Werewolf Lord McCann. And when Lyle falls for another beta–Biffy. Well, hooray 🙂 Like the best betas, its clear they run the show behind the scenes.

  4. Betas are cool! And hey — they’re a welcome antidote to all those super-dom billionaires who’ve been all the rage lately 🙂 in fact, the thing about betas is that they’re more like *real* guys. Guys you’d actually want to hang out with, have a few laughs, spend time with.

    And I dunno… maybe I’m reading too much into it… but the ultra-alpha hero, ‘all women secretly want to be dominated in bed’ myth gets old pretty quickly for me. I can handle reading one or two books like that in a row, and then I’m looking for something else.

    • Erica, I know what you mean. I admit, I think alphas are pretty sexy, but given the choice, I always go with the beta. I wish there were more of them on the shelves!

  5. Loved the excerpt! *opens page to Amazon* 🙂

    I have a love/hate relationship with some alphas, so I typically have to make my alphas “more alpha” at some point. But my last WIP has more of a purposeful beta hero, and I think he’ll stay that way–at least to some extent. I don’t have a good beta example to share, so I’ll be watching for others’ recommendations. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jami! Sadly, I think betas are an endangered species–I’m looking for recs, too.

      Every time I try to write alphas, they manage to turn into betas, so I’ve given up. Maybe one day an alpha character will come to me, but until then, I’m sticking with what I love.

  6. I also like a beta hero, or a guy who can step it up to act like an alpha when he has to, but it’s not his preferred way of behaving…Oh man…LOVE that excerpt! Delicious tension. Don’t you understand how overloaded my TBR pile is? But adding it now 🙂

  7. Love the excerpt, AJ. I was LOL at the backpack patches. Great image. I like betas, too. In HAVEN, my hero Alexander is a beta. He’s a sexy musician who can totally act alpha when he must, but it’s not his everyday behavior.

  8. So often alpha guys stray into asshole territory that it’s nice to see a hero comfortable enough in his masculinity to be a little more gentle… Loved the excerpt!

    Lisa 🙂

    • Thanks, Lisa! Yeah, I’m a sucker for the strong-but-gentle types. (Does that sound like a toilet paper advertisement? Maybe that’s why betas don’t get enough attention; they need better PR…)

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