Paranormal romances often feature heroes who are bigger and more dangerous than mere mortals. The lovers can literally be soul-mates, and if they are (or become) immortal, their happy-ever-after may be precisely that. Jane has observed that "The paranormal allows for an amplification of loss and sorrow which makes the emotional conflict more compelling." Paranormals, by their very nature, seem to intensify or magnify many of the characteristic elements of the genre and Michele Hauf's The Highwayman contains many examples of this process.
An excerpt of the novel is available here and here and there are reviews here, here, and here (some of them contain spoilers). Carolyn Crane has made some observations about the way Hauf depicts the catlike aspects of the heroine's nature. There will be spoilers in what follows.
The heroine, Aby, is a "familiar." When "sexually sated" (22) familiars can "bridge a demon" (22) into the world in which the romance is set. For Aby,"Summoning demons was her job. Sex was a job" (23) and "her profession involved having sex - a lot of sex" (109). However, because sex is her job, "Aby wasn't sure what real sex was" (91) and it is Max, the demon-killing hero, who gives her her "first kiss" (96). This makes him feel "as if he'd done something wrong, like steal a neighbor's mail, or a woman's virginity?" (98). Nor has she ever had a "sexual daydream about a man" (117) or "had opportunity to really look at a man before" (218). As he realises, this heroine with the "wicked innocent sensuality" (219) who "come[s] off as very [...] Sensual and attractive and confident about yourself and your body" (108) but who is also so full of "bright-eyed innocence" (97), "so innocent" (110), is the incarnation of both sides of the "Madonna and the whore" (174) dichotomy.
She thus presents a solution to the problem of how to resolve the two directions in which the romance genre is tugged on the question of female sexuality. Candy Tan described them thus:
while I think romance novels are subversive and reinforce the whole notion that women CAN have premarital sex and NOT die horribly by the end of the book, in a lot of ways, the message isn’t subversive at all. In fact, the message is oftentimes quite distressingly sexist.Thanks to the possibilities opened up by the opportunity to construct a paranormal world, Hauf's heroine can have have her sexual cake of innocence, but also have already eaten it very pleasurably.
Look at the obsession with virgins, for example. In no other genre are there so many women over the age of 20 and widows running around with their hymens firmly intact. [...] The heroines who aren’t virgins generally aren’t allowed to have orgasms or fulfilling sex lives before the hero comes along [...] Women are also rarely allowed to be promiscuous the way men are in romance. [...] Erotica and erotic romance have done a better job of blasting through a lot of these walls, in my opinion, and portraying more sexually empowered women.
Hauf also provides the reader with a very clear example of a Glittery HooHa (GHH). This special organ enables a heroine to "snare him [the hero] forever, for yea, no matter how many HooHas he might see, never will there be one as Glittery as hers…" (Lani Diane Rich qtd. by Jennifer Crusie). All romance heroines have a GHH, but the fact is made more explicit in some romances than others.
Max, as he explains, literally gets "distracted by sparkly things like a damned magpie. I think it's part of the demon curse" (164) but his supernatural attraction to sparkly, glittery objects, which he is compelled to steal and make his own, parallels his attraction to Aby and her extremely glittery HH: "she looked better than any sparkly gemstone Max had ever tucked into his pocket" (81). He wants "to possess her. To steal her. To tuck her away like those jewels you take" (113) and just before they have penetrative sex for the first time he imagines how she must look in the shower, "All those water droplets glistening on her skin like liquid diamonds. An easy nab for a thief who couldn't stop himself from stealing" (217). Inevitably, close contact with the heroine and her GHH starts "changing him. Making him tolerant. [...] Max was happy to please his sparkly thing" (200).
The specialness of the sexual relationship between heroes and heroines in romances is not only emphasised by the fact that it is often the heroine's very first sexual relationship. In some ways it is usually suggested that it is a "first" for the hero too. With a hero who has been very promiscuous there is often a moment when he learns sex with the heroine is special. In The Highwayman it is Aby who learns this lesson:
Max put his cheek to her belly and hugged her. "Is it good for you? I mean, better than ..."The paranormal element of the romance presents Hauf with the ability to create an ingenious method whereby sex with Aby is made extra-special for Max, who already believes that "Love is better than sex" (236). When he became immortal, around 250 years ago, "the third blow he'd been served by the demon shadow" was "inability to climax [...] Over the centuries he'd tried to climax with many women. If there was a trick to setting him off, he'd yet to find it" (101). In his shadow form "he could watch lovers and feel the moment of pleasure in the dream. But he could never recall that pleasure or retain the feeling after dropping the shadow [...] he couldn't climax. Hadn't since 1758" (144). However when he enters Aby's dream about the two of them having sex, it results in "a sticky wetness" (144) in his jeans. Clearly Aby's GHH works in the dream world, and there's a long-anticipated waking repetition of it towards the end of the novel, "And with his surrender, came salvation. He came hard" (272).
He was wondering about Jeremy. But that had been business sex. Unfeeling, unemotional. "Twenty times better, Max. I love you." (240)
Interestingly, Aby's ability to make Max "surrender" and acknowledge her specialness with his "wetness" is paralleled by her ability to make him cry:
He'd watched Aby come close to being hurt today. [...] He turned his face and sniffed back the tears. [...] He hadn't cried after Rebecca's death. He hadn't cried after Emiline's death. He never shed a tear for any who had fallen at his whip. (234)Aby recognises the significance of the moment: Max has "opened up to her" (234) and just as it is with Aby that he ends two and a half centuries of sexual frustration, it is with Aby that he is able "to trust and release" (235) all the "pain inside" (235) him.
Another instance of the paranormal setting allowing for the intensification of themes or elements present in other romances can be found in the heroine's response to the hero's body odor. As Jessica has noted,
Apparently, every lover has a bouquet, and our h/hs are always — always – connoisseurs. Like a Master of Wine, they can pick out different aromas and notes, hints of this or that. Over time, I have come to bracket my disbelief, understanding the important role of a unique set of smells to the development of the sexual relationship, and indeed to the full sensory experience romance novels provide.Aby is a familiar, which means that she shapeshifts into cat form from time to time, and even when she looks human, she retains her catlike sense of smell:
Her world was navigated by scent. She never made a move without first assessing the atmosphere. It usually took her but moments to acclimate to new smells, else she'd be dizzy from the melee of odors.Another example of the kind of intensification which can occur in a paranormal romance is provided by the heroine's need for protection. According to the statements collected at Bookbug on the Web, various authors, when asked "what qualities should a hero always have" mentioned protectiveness:
A new smell, beyond the alcohol-laced colognes and grooming products and cigarette smoke, tickled her nose. [...] Running her tongue along her lower lip, she took in the tall man who also scanned the room. [...] He smelled different. But what about him was unique?
Drawing a soft breath through her nose, Aby discerned the faint masculine odor wafting from his direction. That was it. One simple scent. He was clean. No tobacco, alcohol or chemicals that tainted every living being in the world. Not a definitive food odor that usually lingered even on the most fastidious. (16-17)
Lori Foster: [...] They have to be protective toward all things smaller or weaker than themselves.In paranormal romances, as in historicals, there's often a lot of opportunity for a hero to be protective. Even if Hauf's characters weren't under frequent attack from demons, Aby's very nature requires that she be protected:
Barbara Dawson Smith: A romance hero [...] is willing to take risks to protect his property, his loved ones, and his beliefs
Linda Cajio: [...] protective
Geralyn Dawson: [...] protective
Leigh Greenwood: The most essential quality? I can't decide between "the ability to protect his wife and all that belongs to him" or "a willingness to risk all to protect his wife and all that belongs to him." Maybe this is a particularly male point of view; women may think some quality of sensitivity or understanding are most important. I agree that they're essential in a hero, but without the ability to protect, he won't get a chance to use the rest. That's a role men have had for a long time and I guess it's still necessary. I should add that I'm thinking about historical heroes. When you get into contemporary situations, then understanding and sensitivity would have to take first place.
"[...] I have this great dream of being independent, but I'm fooling myself. Familiars do best when they have someone close to protect and care for them. I'm not like those wild cats that roam the plains. I've been domesticated."Finally, there's a dream-state paranormal version of forced seduction/rape. Rather than being an intensification like the previous two examples, it's more of a paranormal variation on a theme. Max enters Aby's dream without her consent and discovers that she's dreaming about having sex with him. Max isn't exactly himself at the time, because he is in the control of his demon shadow and
That realization, always at the back of her mind, now blossomed, and she couldn't deny it. She'd never be truly independent, able to survive without the help of others. Could she accept it?
"Aby, I love you. And if you want it, I will protect and care for you."
She did want his protection. (237-38)
The pull to shadow always manifested as a dark desire he would not resist [...] he hovered in solid form at the end of Aby's bed. Adorned in darkness and raiments of night, the shadow devoured the peaceful quiet. [...]Once within Aby's sexual dream, "He, the shadow as human shape, entered the dreamer, hilting himself inside her" (142). When she wakes up, Aby knows she has had a dream, but doesn't realise the full extent of Max's participation in it. He delays telling her the truth because he "thought you'd feel ... violated" (196). Max thus recognises that the event was a kind of rape/forced seduction, but the paranormal circumstances in which it took place exonerate him and render it far from traumatising for the heroine. All that is left of the forced seduction/romance rape scenario is a mildly illicit frisson.
Before it lay a sleeping being. It did not discern age or sex. The energy was strong. So strong, it drew the shadow forward." (141)
- Hauf, Michele. The Highwayman. New York: Silhouette, 2009.