• Sarah MacLean picks the best romance novels of the most romantic month

    It’s February, time for those candy hearts, doilies and advertisements for diamonds. Where Valentine’s Day goes, the rosy-hued promise of happily-ever-after inevitably follows. Of course, it’s rarely as easy as commercials would like us to believe. This month I’ve picked three romance novels that offer a little fantasy and a little reality.

    Tessa Bailey’s new romance (Avon) introduces readers to an Olympic gold-medalist in marksmanship, Katie McCoy. She’s now the new firearms instructor at the New York Police Academy. Katie’s competence in all areas of her life is thrown into chaos when she meets her newest class of cadets — one of whom gave her the smooch of a lifetime the night before. Jack Garrett is an unexpected romance hero — an alcoholic consumed by his past and unmotivated in life. His decision to become a police officer is more a search for purpose than passion. Then he meets Katie. Sexy and deeply emotional, “Indecent Exposure” is the story of Jack’s redemption. Bailey reminds readers again and again that even if love can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth, it isn’t enough to change a person. Bailey excels in telling the stories of foils, and Katie and Jack’s romance is an honest, beautiful example: Though opposites, these two make perfect partners.

    In (Entangled), Vanessa Riley explores the plight of Theodosia Cecil, a widow long-ago prevented from eloping with her first love, Ewan Fitzwilliam, by his aristocratic family. In the wake of their scandal, Ewan was sent to war, not knowing that he’d left Theo pregnant with their child. Having no choice, Theo married another man and, after his death, took over the management of his successful flower farm outside London. But the challenges of an unmarried, black businesswoman in Regency England were legion, and Theo is no fool — she and her son need a new protector. What they do not need is Ewan, returned from war, and eager for another chance to woo the girl he once loved. Riley’s novel is as bittersweet as the title suggests — deftly weaving issues of class and race into a complex second-chance love story.

    Jasmine Guillory’s debut, (Berkley), is literary confection — a romantic comedy complete with a stuck-in-an-elevator-meet-cute that’s as sweet as marzipan. Pediatric surgeon Drew Nichols needs a date to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. When the power goes out, he finds himself in close quarters with the brilliant and beautiful Alexa Monroe. She agrees to attend the wedding as Drew’s fake girlfriend — the pair’s love of cheese not being the only thing they have in common — and the two are soon lost in the magical romantic bubble that comes with being far from home with a delightful partner. But bubbles pop, and when this one does, two perfectly matched, career-minded people have to return to their real lives in the real world and learn to be with each other. Guillory’s debut is as enchanting as her characters — bright, bold, warm and wonderful. Even better, there’s a proposal to rival any commercial that Madison Avenue can deliver. Happy Valentine’s Day.

     is the author of historical romance. Her most recent book is “The Day of the Duchess.”

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