So I’ve discovered the way to write villain romantic interests in such a way that they fit (sometimes uncomfortably, but still fit) into the realm of erotic romance while still remaining undeniable villains.
I present to you: the Gentleman Villain. (I’m going with the male villain here because they’re more popular. What would be the female equivalent, though? Lady Villainess just seems…deprecating. I think, in general, you have much fewer seductive Destructive Villainesses in fiction.)
The GV isn’t new. It just took me a while to figure out how to make him work within romance tropes, since HFN and HEA tend to be more difficult when your villain is also your love interest. Also, your villains do pretty awful stuff, so there needs to be some kind of justification for a romance that doesn’t go dark in the direction of dub con or noncon – because then it isn’t erotic romance. It becomes dark erotica. Which is fine, unless you work for an erotic romance publishing company and still want to write your horror. :)
The answer is the Gentleman Villain, which effectively takes noncon off the table. There may be some dub con – since there’s sometimes magical seduction involved – but not enough to trip out of the erotic romance genre.
In short, the GV considers the consent of his love interest important. He can be narcissistic or sociopathic to a certain degree, but he has to feed that pathology with the fact that the object of his love and lust has chosen him and stays with him voluntarily. That’s important to him because it feeds his ego more than his target’s submission out of fear or violence. So what you end up with is a villain who intends to get what he wants but who respects his target’s personal boundaries.
It’s a delicate balance, because we’re so used to male villains without any morals who naturally will dehumanize his victim through rape. I’ve written that kind of villain. I’ve said before that I’m a proponent of rape fantasy (and like most rape fantasists, a vocal proponent against rape of any kind, to be clear). However, in erotic romance there can be no eroticism of rape. It’s simply not allowed.
I’ve found that I’m incredibly turned on by the villains that still have a code, the villains that do immoral things but might be best described as amoral. In a lot of ways, they’re a lot more dangerous than your usual Destructive Villain. DVs tear their victims down. GVs transform their targets. DVs break their victims. GVs evangelize their darkness, painting in black instead of red to make everyone and everything around them darker, murkier shades of gray. To make their love interests love them, by necessity the love interests have to tap into the darkness inside of themselves.
Over and over again, it’s something that my protagonists have had to adjust to in order to love their villains: Renee with Grant and Kelly with Abraham in Winter Howl and Cry Wolf, although Grant and Abraham aren’t the only relationship that Renee and Kelly contend with; Julia in Bloodbound, becoming a predatory vampire and finding intense sensuality in blood, pain, and death; Maya in Fortune (Arcanium Book 1), who finds herself helplessly drawn to the dark, amoral jinni – a jinni who curses and blesses at his whim, whose fulfillment of wishes can go pretty damn dark and gory when he wants them to. Other protagonists in the Arcanium demonic circus series as well as the spiritual gothic urban fantasy Meridian series will have to deal with this kind of tension as well.
Eventually, you have to ask yourself what kind of protagonist would be attracted to these dark characters and what they would have to do to really love them…which is inevitably to accept the amorality and immorality. They don’t necessarily have to participate, but silence is a form of consent, sometimes to bad things.
In erotic horror romance, it’s not always a HEA or HFN where the hero defeats the villain.
Sometimes it’s a HEA or HFN because the villain gets the girl.
Because – and this is what’s important – that’s who the girl chooses.
Which means these aren’t exactly nice girls to begin with, but then I’m not often a fan of the nice girl. We all have a little darkness in us. And these Gentlemen Villains are so damn intense. Not to mention their respect for the will of the object of their affection is fucking hot to me. The GVs get their egos fed and possess the one they want more than anything, and though the girls get a villain, they also get a gentleman who does care what they think, want, need, desire, sometimes more than the non-villains in the stories.
It’s a tightrope sometimes to ensure that the villains are still villains while they do all these things for the object of their desire. Most of the time, they do end up having a code of ethics, although rarely couched in terms of good and evil so much as order and chaos.
This actually makes sense when you realize a lot of my Gentleman Villains aren’t human, so they don’t hold themselves to a human moral code. Why should they? They’re predators or demons. They have a different set of rules, laws, and ethics that don’t always overlap with ours as human beings. In that sense, calling these gentlemen ‘villains’ is pushing human standards on non-humans, which is so many kinds of pointless. Like trying to enforce human mores and laws on the animal kingdom. Just because these villains are intelligent and sometimes indistinguishable in appearance from humans doesn’t mean that we should confuse them for human.
For my protagonists, sometimes it’s just about accepting the fact that the man they’ve fallen for isn’t human and coming to grips with that. But it’s still moral ambiguity, which is an awesome place to be while writing erotic horror and/or erotic horror romance.
And from my perspective, I think there should be more Gentleman Villains in erotic fantasy fiction (because they don’t actually exist in real life, just saying). I think we lapse too easily into sexual violence as a marker of evil – like smoking cigarettes. I think the Gentleman Villains take that trope, throw it out, and make evil a lot more complicated. It’s easy to look at yourself and not see a rapist. But the Gentleman Villains make you look inside yourself and find their darkness there.
So who are your favorite Gentleman Villains and their female counterparts? I know an easy one for me is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He’s a doctor, he’s intelligent, and he eats the rude, but he’s very philosophical about it.