I love a good thriller, action movie, police procedural, or martial arts flick. Cross one of those genres with a romance novel? I’m in. Here are ten of my faves so far, the ones that kept me on edge with suspense as much as I enjoyed the love stories. Hope you find something here to enjoy!
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Extremely slow burn F/F romance with a data heist on a mining planet in the future, and I was quite pleased with it. Liv Braxton, career con woman, infiltrates a corrupt mega-corporation to steal proof that they’re violating the law, so her crew can blackmail the company. Part of the job may be cozying up to powerful exec Zia Talbot in a sexytimes way. While Liv has always thought she was straight, the more time she spends with Zia, the less of a barrier that seems to using seduction as a tactic.
The romance was a wee bit underdeveloped for me, but I loved Liv’s all-in feelings once she realized her heart was at the point of no return. The secondary characters in Liv’s criminal crew, particularly her mother and her ex-husband, are richly developed. I also particularly appreciated how much Liv ends up bonding with her fake job as Zia’s assistant. Her career up to now has been crime, but she surprises herself by how satisfying it is to work hard and kick ass. Both women eventually have to own up to the consequences of their bad choices, and I really liked how neither of them offer the other absolution, but instead support for the process of realizing they did wrong and must change.
The fact that this hasn’t been optioned for a movie is proof that there is no justice in the world. It would be amazing! In Tang Dynasty China, Li Feng is a sword dancer and outlaw. She was orphaned as a child and has no faith in the system. Han is a bounty hunter who believes in the rule of law, no doubts allowed. When they’re forced to make an uneasy alliance, Han’s black and white thinking is shaken.
It’s enemies to lovers, road trip, action, and suspense, with plenty of rooftop chases and swordfights. But it’s also a slow, gentle love story about two people changing for each other, and a story about the importance of family, and how hard it is when you lose that. This isn’t my first Jeannie Lin book, but it’s now my favorite, and I’ll definitely be working through more of her backlist. Especially the ones with swords.
Diversity note: Jeannie Lin is Asian-American.
I usually don’t love jerk main characters, but T.A. Moore is an author who makes me adore them. Bone to Pick is an enemies to lovers M/M romance, which might actually be more accurately described as a collision, between reclusive K-9 officer Closter Witte and antagonistic FBI agent Javi Merlo. They encountered each other on a previous case and it apparently went spectacularly badly, so when Cloister and his (lovely and wonderful and perfect) dog Bourneville are called to a child abduction that Javi is responsible for, both of them are like “oh great, this guy, here we go again.”
So of course they end up sleeping together, duh, and they fall into some kind of ongoing attachment. Javi doesn’t change much over the course of the book – he’s still a condescending asshole, but he’s a condescending asshole who’s had to admit he was a jerk to Cloister for not much of a reason. I honestly found Javi entertaining, and satisfying as a fictional character because he doesn’t reverse his entire personality when he develops feelings for Cloister.
The case itself is fascinating, and drills down quite a bit on the privilege enjoyed by rich white people in the justice system. Some people on Goodreads saw the identity of the killer coming, I didn’t, but then again I rarely see things coming so I’m not the best judge! The way the end plays out was scary as hell for Cloister and Javi, and my hat is off to Moore for the feeling of dread as one of them (avoiding spoilers here!) slowly realizes the danger he’s in.
If you’re looking for typical romance feelings and an HEA with passionate speeches, this isn’t for you. If you’re willing to flex a little for something sexy with sparks between two strong personalities, try this out.
This book: “There are people spontaneously combusting who might be bio-engineered weapons, and also this gal doctor and this gal police officer like each other. They’re Canadian.”
Me: “I’m in!”
I had no cause to regret my decision! This is a sci-fi-ish medical mystery with a strong sub-plot of slow burn romance between two extremely competent and awesome women, Dr. Kate Morrison and Sergeant Andy Wyles. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because spoilers, but watching these two smart women’s dedication to their jobs was such competence porn, and I was delighted at how their growing mutual professional admiration and friendship fed into their growing romantic feelings for each other.
(If I could have held one had over my heart, while still reading this paperback, when Kate combs out Andy’s post-shower wet hair and it’s their first physical closeness, I totally would have done it. Such a perfect moment for their personalities, quiet and yet intimate.)
Recommended because of the high-quality suspense, mystery, action, romance, and human bombs. I’m so excited that there are two more books in the series so I can continue watching this couple solve crimes.
Diversity note: Jessica L. Webb is married to a woman.
Maybe not quite a romance, but very romance-adjacent. The setup seems a bit silly, and Monopoli even subtitles it “a tall tale,” but like the other Monopoli books I’ve read, there’s serious emotional punch here.
Boots McHenry and his BF Ryan are professional paintball players in a world where it’s the most celebrated international sport. To keep stakes high, any player shot with a paintball is exiled for five years to a secret island. When Ryan is hit and exiled, his last words to Boots lost in the roar of chopper blades, Boots’s friend and teammate Clemente Santiago urges him on a mission to find the island so he can have the convo Boots and Ryan should have had about their future before tragedy struck.
This is NOT a book for anyone who needs their main characters to only have sex with each other! Boots is a mess, reeling from the sudden loss of Ryan, completely unprepared to feel such heartbreak, but also freaked out by the idea of putting his life on hold for five years. Some of his resulting messy choices lead to complications, some of them lead to solutions. There’s a tangled web of love and attraction between Boots, Ryan, Clem, and Boots’s ex and teammate Piper, and part of Boots’s journey to the island is also his journey figuring out how to untangle that web – which is a lot harder to do when most of the people involved are keeping secrets.
Do we get an HFN/HEA for Boots? Yes. Do we also get a dramatic pirate attack and an open-water rescue? Yes! Do we get a gorgeous secondary love story about a ship captain and an MMA fighter? Yes!
If you’re willing to read something a little different from the usual romance plot formula, but which hits the emotional beats beautifully, give this a whirl.
Diversity note: (1) Monopoli is a gay man. (2) Clem is Latino, though I’m not sure a more specific background is described for him in the book, which honestly could be because it’s all from Boots’s POV and he doesn’t actually know. Like I said, he’s a mess.
This book demolished me and I adore it. Cheerful former soldier Brogan Smith takes a bodyguard position for a Bad Corporate Man, finds out that Bad Corporate Man’s icy assistant Embry Ford is more than he appears, they banter aggressively and exquisitely, and then Sidney Bell switches to Embry’s POV and starts beating the reader about the head with a crowbar yelling “YOU WILL FEEL THINGS” until the reader not only feels things, but despairs that anything this fucked up will allow a happy ending to emerge, because how could it even, holy shit.
It’s gorgeously written, terribly painful, often hilarious, made me hate the villain more than I thought it was possible to hate a villain, and I had to stop reading it for a while in the middle because I didn’t want it to be over. Which was painful, because Bell does that sick feeling of the rushing inevitability of disaster quite well. She also writes the kind of deeply loyal, heartwrenching love that can make a man… well, I won’t spoil that for you.
Oof. That’s the only other thing I can say. No idea how this isn’t better known.
Trigger warning for much violence and an on-page sexual assault, though!
High-tension, sexy-as-hell uptown-downtown romance between two guys in their early 40s: Ruben Oso (grumpy as hell Colombian-American, recovering alcoholic, divorced) and Andy Bauer (super-smart often-drunk rich white financial trader, arrogant, kind of a muppet). When Ruben is hired as Andy’s bodyguard, he basically falls into a rabbit hole of money, paranoia, secrets, decadence, and a totally unexpected sexual attraction to his boss. Nothing about either the job or the sex is a good idea, but something about Andy makes Ruben feel things he’s never felt for a guy before. Mostly in his pants, but then in, like, his… feelings?
I’ve read it twice and I still don’t understand the financial crime / conspiracy / whatever is going on, and Ruben speechifies about alcoholism more times than I think the story could sustain, but the complete shock that both these thought-they-were-straight guys feel as they fall for each other is gold. When no one’s trying to kidnap Andy or kill one of them, they’re both basically looking at each other like “Do strongyou know what’s going on with this thing between us? No?” The sexual tension before they get it on is KILLER. The suspenseful parts are also genuinely scary, especially because Ruben’s out of his depth, knows it, tells Andy, and Andy won’t listen. Or, you know, explain anything.
If you like your heroes cranky and hot, your suits expensive, and your rich guys mysterious, check this one out.
Diversity Note: Suede is a gay man writing gay romance, which is more rare than one might think.
I can’t vouch for the quality of any of the police work in this book, especially sleeping with a witness/cooperating expert in a case, BUT I found this straight M/F romance very satisfying in the way a solid police procedural / action movie with charismatic leads can be. Reed Novak is the grumpy older detective chasing a serial killer. Laney Knox is the pink-streaks-in-her-hair white-hat hacker, employed by a security company, who gives Reed a lead: the women are being targeted through a dating app created by a local startup. Laney and Reed have an immediate click, which somewhat baffles Reed, but they fumble through the chemistry towards something that makes them both feel hopeful. While tracking down the killer, obviously, with plenty of satisfying twists and turns along the way.
This is the tenth book in a series I hadn’t read any of before, and it worked just fine as a standalone. I liked the more reality-based hacking that happened here – not just Laney sitting at a keyboard at a dramatic moment pounding away at the keyboard. I also managed to really enjoy how Laney wasn’t willing to just do whatever Reed said, even while I was like “Laney, omg, not smart, stop!” He needs someone like her around, IMHO.
(If you’re an Austinite like me, though, the geography might break your brain a few times. An apartment complex on Town Lake and an IHOP are both described as “near campus” and the Cedar Door is at some nonexistent intersection and described as a place where people get beer after tubing on “the river.” Huh?)
A gripping murder mystery set in 1904 England that revolves around war profiteering and blackmail. Archie Curtis, secretly gay because 1904, lost several fingers to a wartime weapons “accident” that he believes was anything but. At the house where he plans to search for secret files proving his theory, he meets Jewish and obviously queer poet Daniel da Silva. They do not get along, mostly because Archie’s a bigot about Daniel’s flamboyance and Daniel loves to needle him. Unfortunately for Archie, though, Daniel turns out to be more than he appears, leaving Archie no choice but to work with him.
Which may be the most important thing that ever happened in Archie’s life, because Daniel is the first time Archie seems to even understand the concept of connecting emotionally with a male lover instead just seeking physical release. Because 1904, the poor dear. It’s lovely to watch, especially when he has to plead his case to Daniel that he gets it now, and won’t Daniel please care for him back?
The suspense works as well as the romance. Charles does an amazing job building that feeling of walking around undercover in creepy enemy territory, nerves taut, cut off from outside help, waiting for something to go wrong. Which it does, and there’s plenty of satisfying shooting and threats and people going missing before Good Conquers Evil.
Having written all this, now I think I need to go read it again…
Sometimes unintentionally hilarious in both plot and writing style, often trope-tastic, but I will never stop loving this military romance because of how much respect it has for its badass heroine. Except on the cover, unfortunately, where you can barely even see her.
Captain Emily Beale loves flying, and she excels at it. She’s the first woman to serve in the elite SOAR helicopter unit that transports Special Forces operatives in and out of dangerous areas. Her commanding officer, Major Mark Henderson, fell for her months ago in a heady mix of lust and professional admiration, but can’t ever disclose his feelings, because fraternization rules mean they can’t be together.
The plot makes Hollywood movie levels of sense, and Mark’s character is a ridiculous muppet, and I mean that in a sympathetic way. Emily is reassigned as personal security masquerading as personal chef for the First Lady after threats on her life. Mark is so distraught at losing Emily from his unit that he kisses her, whereupon Emily just about breaks his wrist because DUDE. Mark then spends a significant chunk of the book moping manfully before deciding his best next step is to show up at the White House pretending to be Emily’s boyfriend. Meanwhile Emily is confronting the uncomfortable realization that she still has feelings for her childhood best friend and first love, Peter… who grew up to be President. Oh yes, we have a love triangle.
Except that it’s a love quadrangle (or something) because the other “party” involved is Emily’s career. This is where the book really shines. Emily may be a little too perfect as a character, but her internal conflict here is feminist as all getout. Her work is a source of great personal pride. Being derailed from her career for this White House security/mystery-solving mission is deeply painful for her, much more painful than the idea of never being with either Peter or Mark. Is there emotional fallout from Emily eventually making her best choice? Yes, and I thought that was very honest, though I was confident she’d make it through that eventually. But love then found a way to fix stuff. ;)
However, I still don’t believe that with sufficient Special Forces training, a man can hide in a hospital room just by sitting strategically to one side of a window and partially behind a potted plant.
Sadly, I have tried reading a number of Buchman’s other romances, in the series that follows this book and in some of his other series, and I have strongly disliked every single one. But this one would make a great cheesy action movie and I would totally buy it on DVD.
Content warnings / diversity kinda notes: There are a comments I could have lived without, such as Mark’s assertion that their unit would have Emily’s back “even if she looked like a heifer,” and one about political correctness. Mark may be an example of the romance trope “not too ethnic,” with his mother established in passing as being Native American (no tribe given) without any further discussion or impact to his character.
And that’s the list of my favorite suspenseful romance novels! Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!