All romances end with a happily ever after. That's a given. A lot of romance authors try to spook readers into fearing that the promised HEA will never arrive, and I've always half-wondered if that's a mistake. I just finished reading Madeline Hunter's Ravishing in Red. I thought it was magnificent, but at no point in time did I ever fear that the hero and heroine weren't going to make it. Of course they would! They were perfect for one another. They treated one another with respect and affection, got along well, grew closer by slow degrees.
The thing is, as romance readers, we're really promised two things whenever we pick up a romance. First, the Happily Ever After. Second? Lots of pain along the way.
Hunter delivers on that second promise. Not by threatening the inevitable conclusion but, rather, by presenting us at the outset with a little emotional grenade. Audrianna's father has been blamed for signing off on bad gunpowder, a mistake -- or, worse, conspiracy -- that left many young men dead. Sebastian's brother is a maimed war hero. Sebastian and Audrianna may be perfect for one another, but Sebastian seeks justice for his crippled brother while Audrianna seeks to clear her dead father's name. They cannot both have what they want; the truth will hurt one of them.
She kept me guessing about the gunpowder all the way up until the end of the novel...which is to say, she kept me guessing about who would be caught holding the emotional grenade when it finally blew.
To me, that's a much more frightening conflict than the threat of a breakup. Ravishing In Red is a romance novel so I know that Sebastian and Audrianna will be fine at the end. I don't know how much Madeline Hunter is willing to bash at my heart along the way. I don't know which of her characters she'll hurt, only that the gunpowder issue will resolve badly for someone.
In writing workshops, I'm generally advised to make readers fear for the relationship. I'm told those are the highest stakes. And perhaps only the masters can get away with taking a different route. But by the time I turned the last page, I was very content as a reader and full of admiration as a writer.