Mac and Hailey, the two main characters in Him Improvement, have good reason to dislike each other, but as enemies go, they start out pretty close to lovers. Their circumstances position them as adversaries, but they’re quick to find ways to make their mutual attraction work.
That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good tooth-and-nail enemies-to-lovers though, because I do, especially if there’s lots of attitude and witty snark. So here are some of my favorite stories about men who love to hate.
Coach’s Challenge by Avon Gale
Troy and Shane have a bad attitude for each other from the moment they meet. Unlike Mac and Hailey, they have every reason to get along. They both want the same thing, after all, which is for the hockey team Troy coaches and Shane plays on to win. They’re both gay, and they’re both interested. Seems like they should be instant buddies, right?
Not when it turns out that the fun is in the fight. These guys make fighting their feelings into a physical act, and you get the sense they’re never going to learn to play nice together, not even when they’re eighty and tottering around the rink with those walker things they use for kids. But Troy and Shane were obviously made for each other, and no one else would be willing to put up with either of them.
Just a Bit Wrong by Alessandra Hazard
Just a Bit Wrong is probably my favorite of the Straight Guys series and a great example of how there’s someone for everyone, even for hopelessly flawed someones. Tristan, an injured soccer star, is a manipulative, self-centered egoist. Zach, the physiotherapist hired to rehab him, may look better on the outside, but he has a hot temper, an excessive need to control, and an ego as big as Tristan’s.
Angry sparks fly immediately as Tristan’s bratty maneuverings and Zach’s domineering orders butt up against each other. Zach is straight-ish and in an open relationship with his female fiancé while Tristan is gay but not out due to his profession. The sparks that fly are unwelcome to both of them, and much reluctantly angry sex is had before any softening occurs.
Heated Rivalry by Rachel Reid
Reid really commits to the enemies-to-lovers trope in Heated Rivalry. The book details a rivalry that goes back ten years, to before the start of Ilya and Shane’s pro hockey careers, when the two young players are taken first and second in the draft. What no one knows is that their romance goes back just as far.
In public, Ilya and Shane put on a show of strict animosity. In private, they grapple with their growing affection as convenient hate-sex morphs into something they’d both like to hold onto longer than the fleeting moments they’re able to grab. The two have a great opposites-attract vibe too, with Ilya being a reckless playboy and Shane a wholesome example of success through hard work.
Among Heroes by Tanya Chris
Okay, it’s a bit of a self-rec, but I mentioned above that I love snark, and Among Heroes is full of it. Bryce is such a brat, you’re going to want to smack him. He’s tough, sarcastic, full-of-himself, and a staunch defender of the underdog. But anyone who’s not an underdog had better watch out.
Rook is a pilot who’s just crashed his plane onto the uninhabited side of a tropical island. You’d think he’d have a little humility. But does he? No. What he has is a mild concussion and a major case of the hots for the smart-mouthed YouTube star trying to run the show. Somebody has to coordinate their rescue, but the most qualified person isn’t either one of these alpha males. Lots of humor, low angst, and some hot fight-me-for-it sex.
If the Seas Catch Fire by L.A. Witt
When the bad guy’s not so bad and the good guy’s not so good… This has got some of the hottest sex I’ve ever read, in between scenes where they’re literally trying to kill each other. They’ve both got secrets—Domenico from his mob family and Sergei from Domenico—and it feels like there’s no way out without someone dying. In the meantime, oops, feelings.
There’s a heartbreaking scene before they figure out that they’re stuck with each other, and there were moments when I didn’t believe it could ever work out, but of course there’s a happy ending. Lots of good action and deception in this book in addition to the sex.
Back to Him Improvement
On the other hand, if you’d like to see two guys use their words instead of their fists, check out Him Improvement. As documented above, I do love me some snark and a good helping of hate sex, but I also appreciate men who act like grownups. Him Improvement started with me asking myself how I could write an enemies-to-lovers situation in which nobody was the bad guy. What if there are good arguments to be made on both sides of a question? Can two people work through their differences to improve each other and the world around them?
Mac and Hailey do exactly that. Through their disagreements, their differences, and a little bit of subterfuge, they find ways to love each other. And isn’t that what it’s all about?