I love a good thriller, action movie, (fictional) police procedural, or martial arts flick. Cross one of those genres with a romance novel? I’m in. Here are ten of my fave romances so far that have a strong suspense sub-plot. Hope you find something here to enjoy! (This post was updated in November 2020 with even MORE books.)
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My only complaint about this suspenseful road-trip cop-and-criminal historical romance is that there isn’t another book about these two guys (yet). First, we have bookish, honest gay Secret Service agent Emlyn Strickland, a specialist in identifying counterfeit bills. He’s a doll, if slightly inexperienced in actual field work. Second, we have bisexual former counterfeiter Darrow Gardiner, who’s just spent the last six years in prison and figures pretending to trade information for his freedom might get him a chance to steal his best counterfeit plates back from an ex-colleague so he can go back to crime.
Deep in his heart, Darrow really doesn’t believe what he does is wrong. If the government can print money, why can’t he? Given what Emlyn does for a living and his respect for law and order, it’s such a terrible idea for them to fall for each other… so of course they end up in forced proximity traveling to Colorado to investigate, get betrayed so the only people they can rely on are each other (if Emlyn can really rely on Darrow), face great peril, etc. etc. It has all the story beats you want in a romantic suspense, with two distinctive leads and boatloads of sexual tension.
Looking back, I’m honestly not sure how everything that happened in this book was supposed to fit into a week, but at the time I didn’t notice. I was too busy freaking out over people getting shot at and trapped in caves with dynamite and stuff.
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.
[Update November 2018: I’ve read the second book in the “Lovers and Rebels” duology now, A Dance With Danger, and I enjoyed it too.]
Diversity note: Lin is Asian-American.
Perfect balance of romance and suspense, interesting secondary characters, and a cute dog. What more could you want?
Gay former lawyer Elliot McKenzie founded a self-help association called Charmed Life after being shot, disbarred, and narrowly avoiding prison. Divorced bisexual veteran Lennox West came back from Afghanistan with PTSD, but he’s holding a job at a security company and trying to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter. When Elliot starts getting threats, his assistant asks her former brother-in-law Lennox to convince Elliott to at least install a security system at his house. Sparks fly between Elliot and Lennox immediately in some of the most deliciously satisfying flirtation I’ve ever read. The threats against Elliot escalate, so does his involvement with Lennox, and eventually there are gunshots, poison, a car crash, and two men who’ve each been through their own hells falling in love, with a side order of dad-daughter bonding through boxing lessons.
There are a few things that don’t make sense (Elliott not telling hospital staff he doesn’t want morphine, the “brilliant programmer” MIT grad who works at the security company but doesn’t know “enough” about hacking), and Lennox’s “my little girl’s not going to date until she’d 21 or I’m dead, whichever comes first” shtick is tired and annoying.
But overall, this is a tense, sexy, satisfying suspense / romance blend that’s compelling even if you guess who the villain is.
If this Mediterranean-inspired alt-historical romance didn’t have a significant suspense component, the two main characters would have spent the whole book gazing into each others’ eyes with delight at having met… and I would have been here for that too!! I loved them so much. But it was probably better that suspense was there, because (a) structure and (b) it was really tense, realistic, and satisfying.
Both of the MCs are such soft sweethearts in personality – though they kick ass when needed – and I don’t often see such a pairing in romance. I hadn’t planned to read this but a friend talked me into it and I’m so glad. And yay there will be a sequel!
Diversity note: One MC is a cis bi/pan man, the other I think of in the nonbinary / genderqueer / genderfluid space though this setting does not have those terms.
Cole McCade leans heavily toward stories with luxurious diversity of characters, which I adore, and he totally brings it here. Malcolm Khalaji is a bisexual Persian American Mizrahi Jewish silver fox homicide detective. Seong-Jae Yoon is a younger Korean-American, who is gay demigray ace, and a former FBI profiler transitioning to the Baltimore police force.
This is an ongoing series that will become a romance, structured like a police procedural television show (think NCIS etc), so this first episode is mostly their first case together case and the leads getting to know each other during that investigation, with only hints of attraction until very late in the game. I love police procedurals, and this one did not disappoint! I could almost physically feel Malcolm and Seong-Jae’s frustration as the serial killer took another victim, and another, and another. And their frustration as their working styles clashed, haha.
Though the eventual culprit and that person’s actions got a little goofy for me in comparison to the overall tone and characters, I can forgive it because the rest is so gripping and suspenseful. I pre-ordered the next installment as soon as I finished the first one, especially because of the ending, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, McCade understands how to start a story arc that will make you tune in next time.
[Update November 2018: I’ve read the first four books in this series now, and I am still a happy camper.]
Content warnings: McCade provides them in the front of each book, take them seriously. This series is about investigating murders, so there is violence, descriptions of gore, etc.
Diversity note: McCade is Native AmeriBlAsian POC and demibisexual.
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: Webb has a wife, so while I try not to label people unless they do so publicly, I feel safe this is #ownvoices.
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 F/F romantic suspense is structured quite differently than a traditional romantic suspense, but I liked that about it (**with one exception, see end of review). Police officer Sam Lucas is kidnapped and badly injured while responding to a jewelry store robbery in a heavy snowfall. Dr. Kate Myles agrees to be sent into the ensuing hostage situation to provide medical care for one of the hostage-takers and Sam. The two women connect emotionally in the dangerous situation. They eventually find they have to save themselves if they’re going to survive. They are both amazing women, and the time they spend as hostages is extraordinarily well-written, chilling, and had me completely on edge.
What makes this book different is that the hostage arc is just the first part of the story. Once Sam and Kate are free, their tale shifts to the hospital, where Sam requires significant medical care and Kate finds she can’t bear to leave Sam’s side. There’s clearly some trauma bonding going on, but there’s also a real connection… which is somewhat confusing for Kate, a loner who has never really considered she might be attracted to women. (A strong argument could be made that she’s demiromantic and/or demisexual, though I don’t know what the author’s intent was.) Meanwhile, Hunter is dropping increasingly creepy hints that being freed from captivity wasn’t the end of the danger for these two AND Sam’s ex is sniffing around.
I hadn’t previously read a romantic suspense where the first part is so explosive, followed by a quieter period of internal struggle, then more explosions very late in the book. I’m not at all sure how it would fit into a three act structure, but I really liked it.
** What I did NOT like about the structure: the prologue is a later scene in the book, then the first chapter backs up in time to show us how the character got there. Totally fine, we see this in fiction and movies all the time. Except that when storytellers use this structure, readers/audiences expect that “oh no!” prologue scene to show up again about 75-80% of the way into the story. Here, it shows up much, much earlier because of how this story is laid out. That screwed with my expectations, and not in a good way. It should have been omitted! There would have been nothing wrong with starting this book at Chapter 1.
This was Hunter’s first published novel, and my first read by her. I will definitely be reading more.
Diversity note: Hunter has a wife, though I don’t know how she personally identifies.
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!
Enemies to lovers romance between an African-American woman and a Korean-American man in a remote cabin after a total power outage across… well, it’s not clear how widespread it is, due to the lack of communications, and that’s part of why it’s so scary. No one knows what happened. Arden and her roommate John leave on foot from Rochester towards the family property near the Canadian border. Gabriel, his physician older brother, saves them from a scavenger attack, but blames Arden for John being injured.
Now they’re all holed up together, along with John and Gabe’s teenage sister, wondering whether life will ever be the same again, and also why John and Gabe’s parents haven’t returned from a trip to see the neighbors. It’s four people living with increasing stress and uncertainty, Gabe and Arden reluctantly admitting their mutual attraction, and disturbing signs that something bad happened to Gabe and John’s parents, who should have been back from visiting the neighbors by now. Solid near-post-apocalypse suspense with a deep compassion for its characters when they make even dangerous mistakes. Which they do, because no one’s perfect in the post-apocalypse.
Diversity note: Cole is a black woman.
This is a long-ass book because it’s kinda 2 books: a coming-out / falling-in-love story followed by a romantic suspense with some of the most bananapants events worthy of a Hollywood action movie. I had a great time reading it.
Condensed blurb: “Federal Judge Tom Brewer is finally putting the pieces of his life back together. In the closet for twenty-five long years, he’s climbing out slowly, and, with the hope of finding a special relationship with the stunning Mike Lucciano, U.S. Marshal assigned to his DC courthouse. But a devastating terrorist attack in the heart of DC, and the subsequent capture and arrest of the terrorist, leads to a trial that threatens to expose the dark underbelly of America’s national security. With the world’s attention fixed on Tom and this case, he suddenly discovers he may be the only person who can put everything together in time to stop the spark of a new world war.”
Diversity note: Bauer is gay.
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 really does get 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.
Content warning: A character initiates sex with another character as part of their cover, in a situation where it would be possibly dangerous to refuse.
If you like Think of England, there’s a sort-of prequel novel about an F/F couple who are amazing secondary characters in this book, Proper English. It’s a romance combined with a house party murder mystery. If you like Think of England and you’re looking for something that suspenseful and with that bite between the leads, try Slippery Creatures, the first book in the Will Darling series.
Bad boy hacker anarchist brat in protective custody of by-the-book FBI agent? Yes please, although see content warnings below – some of these things bothered me more on a second read than they did way back when I read this the first time. YMMV and I still do enjoy the characters.
I really enjoyed this M/M age-gap romantic suspense, and not just because for once, a hacker is depicted writing a script and having to wait for it to run instead of just banging away at a keyboard in real time. (I’m married to a programmer, I notice these things.) I love a good bickering couple in romance, and these guys fit the bill perfectly. Our computer genius is Hunter, who uncovers a plot to bomb Seattle Pride. FBI agent Cal can’t get backup on the case without more evidence, so he offers Hunter a deal: help dig for clues, and he can avoid jail on hacking charges (power differential problem, but the characters are at least aware of it). Opposites attract, sparks fly, and eventually they even manage to sort things out so they’re not insulting each other all the time haha. Also the case gets solved, though not without some tense moments, destruction of property, and violence. Good times!
Content warnings, updated on second read: During the main characters’ first meeting, Hunter attempts to shoulder past Cal to get out of Hunter’s apartment, and Cal slams him into the door hard enough that he splits Hinter’s lip. Cal slut-shames Hunter for taking PrEP, and Hunter rightfully calls him out, Cal does end up realizing he’s being a jerk. Use of some ableist slurs: idiot, maniac, moron. Assertion that many homophobes are closeted queer people, and Cal manipulates an arrested right-wing terrorist into coming out while he’s in custody. Attempted sexual assault by a third party which is handled very sensitively IMHO.
Diversity note: Nacht is a bisexual genderqueer person. Euclid is a queer trans man.
A polyamorous romance about building a new life after the world falls apart.
Life in rural Colorado fifteen years after the second U.S. Civil War is perilous. Van and his girlfriend Hadas only recovered from the attack that killed Van’s wife because their community helped them heal. The warmth Van and Hadas share isn’t the love he lost, but it’s precious. He’s content.
Clark survived the war, but his family fractured and now his relationships are in ruins… which must be his fault, or everyone wouldn’t say so. Figuring he can’t destroy ties he doesn’t create, he relocates to start over, zero interpersonal complications welcome.
When Van and Clark meet, though, it’s nothing but complicated. Clark can’t stop wanting quiet, loyal Van no matter how the electricity between them misfires, and Van craves more than hookups from the charismatic newcomer. Hadas and others start coaxing Clark out of his emotional isolation, but when violence threatens the town, Van and Hadas must leave him behind to defend it.
To bring them safely home, Clark must decide whether Van’s love, Hadas’s friendship, and the belonging he’s found are enough to overcome his fear of once again letting down those he cares about.
A high heat, hurt-comfort post-collapse M/M romance novel with D/s elements, polyamory, open relationships, and a guaranteed HEA.
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!