Sandra Brown is known for her thrillers and suspense but she started her successful career writing contemporary category romance novels. A born storyteller, these love stories offer a look at a woman’s values and concerns in the 1980s.
The heroines in Brown’s books are often women who have placed high standards upon themselves. They work hard at taking care of themselves, their loved ones and the world around them. No matter what obstacles they face, the women handle it with grace and resilience.
But once the heroine meets the hero, her life is knocked off kilter. The hero boldly pursues a heroine in a Sandra Brown romance. (The heroine never chases the man. Maybe it’s considered too unladylike?) Ultimately the heroine can’t resist the hero’s earthy sexuality and he guides her through a sensual awakening.
Sandra Brown’s first romance novel was Love’s Encore. Originally published in 1981 under her Rachel Ryan pen name, this was a category romance for the Candlelight Ecstasy Romance imprint. Camille, the heroine, is hired by an older Southern gentleman to redecorate his mansion. When she arrives to start the project that requires her to live on the premises, she discovers the man’s son is Zack. She and Zack had a vacation fling two years ago.
Love’s Encore has many elements readers would expect from a book written in the 1980s. There’s an emphasis on fashion, interior design, and the Texas landscape. The hero is much older than the heroine. Secondary characters include those trying to get the couple together and another woman vying for the hero. The other woman is sophisticated and manipulative—the perfect foil for the underdog heroine.
This story is also is a snapshot about the expectation placed on women in the 1980s. Camille is ashamed of her one reckless night with Zack. It went against her upbringing and personal code of conduct. She believes she’s “ruined” when she should have “saved” herself for marriage. This is not a conflict commonly seen in romance novels today.
Within a couple of years, Sandra Brown’s work was launching new category imprints. Heaven’s Price was released in May 1983 and started the Bantam Loveswept line.
This sensual contemporary romance is about a professional dancer recovering from a potentially career-ending injury. From the moment Blair meets Sean, her new landlord, he’s a threat to her future and her equilibrium.
Sean makes it clear from the beginning that he wants her, but Blair is afraid of commitment to anything but dance. Yet every moment she spends with Sean, the growing need she has for him could easily destroy her life’s blueprint. Worse, she’s always considered herself independent, but now she actually enjoys relinquishing control to Sean’s masculine protectiveness.
Heaven’s Price has a higher level of sensuality than Brown’s earlier books but the story’s focus is on a woman’s struggle and sacrifice to build a career. Women today can read this book and empathize with the heroine.
The same year Sandra Brown’s book initiated readers to Loveswept, another one of her books launched the Harlequin American line. In Tomorrow’s Promise, Keely Preston Williams had married her high school sweetheart who was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Her husband has been considered missing in action for over a decade and Keely is the spokeswoman for an action group to keep the MIAs from being declared legally dead. She doesn’t know if she’s a wife or a widow, and she’s accepted being lonely until she meets Dax Devereaux.
They share an instant connection but they can’t be together. She is technically married and he’s a congressman who’s on the committee that decides on funding about the MIAs. This off-limits romance is filled with longing and restrained passion.
Tomorrow’s Promise shows what loved ones endured as they searched for answers about soldiers missing in action. The wives also faced judgment whether they had their husbands declared dead or if they held onto hope. Romance novels like these reveal different aspects and situations in a woman’s life.
The next time you feel like reading a vintage romance novel, try a classic story written by Sandra Brown. She’s a New York Times bestseller and the Romance Writers of America presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. This author is considered a trailblazer in the romance fiction genre.
Have you read a Loveswept Classic? Read these novels from groundbreaking writers and see how they influenced the romance genre.