I love good guy heroes, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a man who is a little more… complicated. A bad boy with a troubled past; a mob boss whose concept of right/wrong straddles a fine line; a great man hiding behind a cocky grin. There are different levels to these bad boys, but they all hide huge hearts underneath all of their baggage. Their journey to happily ever after might be a little rocky, but it’s definitely worth the trip.
The books on this list have very different vibes, from light and funny to dark and sexy. But they all feature heroes (or antiheroes) whose backstories are anything but boring. I’ve included the blurb, a description of the vibe, and links to Amazon for each to give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into with these reads.
Prince of Hearts by L.A. Cotton
The first half of an angsty new adult duet, this antihero is a mafia prince who falls hard and fast for the last girl he should be going near. It’s loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, complete with those deep, beautiful feelings and all of the family drama you could hope for. Don’t ignore the trigger warning on this one – it may start out light and fluffy, but it ends as anything but.
Arianne Capizola is her father’s daughter.
Humble. Hardworking. Honest.
She’d rather spend her days helping at the local shelter than brushing shoulders with her vain and entitled classmates.
Niccolò Marchetti is his father’s son.
Dark. Dangerous. Deceitful.
He’d rather spend his days getting bloody in the ring than attending class and keeping up pretences.
When their paths cross at Montague University neither of them are willing to drop the walls they’ve spent so long building. But he can’t resist the girl with stars in her eyes, and she can’t forget the guy who saved her that night.
There’s only one catch.
Nicco isn’t Arianne’s knight-in-shining-armor, he’s the son of her father’s greatest enemy.
He is the enemy.
And their families are at war.
*Prince of Hearts in the first book in Nicco and Ari’s duet. Due to mature content that some readers may find distressing, this book is recommended for readers 18+
Disavow by Karina Halle
This antihero is the definition of complicated. We’re introduced to him in the first two books in this series, and he’s something of a villain. It takes time – and the right woman – for this man to make a change in his life, but I loved the level of redemption Halle was able to achieve. While he’ll never be a warm and fuzzy kind of guy, this antihero isn’t all bad either.
From New York Times bestselling author Karina Halle comes a seductive novel of riches, romance, and redemption.
In the Dumont fashion empire, no heir has a reputation as decadent, arrogant, and ruthless as that of Pascal Dumont. Every transgression, an indecent pleasure. Every woman, a conquest. And none is more challenging than his new personal assistant, Gabrielle Caron. She’s defiant, alluring, and a mystery Pascal can’t wait to solve.
A former family servant and daughter of the head maid, Gabrielle’s returned as suddenly as she left eight years ago. No longer an awkward teen, the ethereal young beauty has amassed a wealth of resolve. She’ll need it. In hire to the devilishly charming scion, she’s come back for one reason only. And she dare not whisper why.
But as the nights grow more intimate at the Dumont maison, Gabrielle realizes that the last man she believed in is the one man she can trust with her secrets. For Pascal, falling in love means more than his own redemption. It could mean saving Gabrielle’s very life as they confront a dark and scandalous past…together.
Fake It ‘Til You Break It by Meagan BrandyFormer friends turned enemies enter into a fake relationship in this sexy and engrossing read. Our hero is a good guy deep down, but he’s holding a bit of a grudge and acts out in ways that aren’t always mature. It’s a high school romance that’s not overly dark but not what I would call light either, and remains one of the best books I’ve read in 2020.
USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Meagan Brandy delivers a new standalone, fake relationship romance about finding light when your world is dark, and fighting for love when all seems lost.
That’s what we are.
That’s what we agreed to be.
So why does it feel so real?
I thought it would have been harder, convincing everyone our school’s star receiver was mine and mine alone, but I was wrong.
We played our parts so well that the lines between us began to blur until they disappeared completely.
The thing about pretending, though, someone’s always better at it, and by the time I realized my mistake, there was no going back.
I fell for our lie.
And then everything fell apart.
It turned out he and I were never playing the same game.
He didn’t have to break me to win.
But he did it anyway.
Dark Russian Angel by Odette StoneIf you’re looking for a dark and sexy mafia romance… you’ve found it. This antihero is absolutely one of the darker ones on the list, but he’s got a loyal heart and a protective nature that makes him easy to love. This one’s got plenty of suspense to keep the pages turning and an antihero who will grow on you as the story goes on.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,
And I witnessed a crime.
The police are failing to protect me.
And my chance of survival isn’t looking good.
Andrusha, is the cold and dangerous leader of the Vancouver Russian mafia,
He’s also my best chance to make it to trial alive.
The only thing we have in common,
Is our shared enemy.
This man is everything your mom warned you about.
And he likes to be in control.
I should be afraid of him.
I should keep my distance.
So why is he the only one who makes me feel safe?
Who will protect me from my protector?
The Rival Roomies by Piper RayneThis hero is a great guy with a troubled past who doesn’t believe he’s worthy of the good girl who has been pining after him. They’ve been friends for awhile but he has no intention of making a move… until another man enters the picture. Fueled by jealousy, this hero has to decide if he’s willing to put the past behind him and go after the girl.
I’ve loved him from afar.
Though most times he’s only a foot away.
I’m smart enough to know he’ll never be anyone’s forever.
He checks all the bad boy boxes. Tattoos. Check. Motorcycle. Check. Chip on his shoulder. Check check.
If he wasn’t my neighbor and friend I may have thrown myself at him. Okay, yeah. I wouldn’t. Because guys like Dylan don’t want a woman who writes kid’s math textbooks under him in bed. Instead, I pathetically savor morsels of moments where I have his sole attention.
That was until his archenemy moved in with me. Now suddenly, Dylan’s moving in too and warning off the first guy in a long time who’s showing me interest. Could he finally see me as more than a friend, or am I just a prize to win and show off to his enemy?
Beautifully Cruel by J.T. GeissingerI’ll be the first to admit that the storyline in this mafia romance is outlandish – but it’s also outstandingly engrossing. It’s darkly funny with an antihero who will frustrate you and make you swoon in the same paragraph. The chemistry is off the charts and the storyline unpredictable, making it a romance that’s easy to binge in one sitting.
1) Having the highest rank in a dominance hierarchy
2) The most powerful man in a group
3) Liam Black
He was a stranger to me, a dark and dangerous presence who materialized from the shadows one rainy night to save me from a vicious attack. I didn’t know his name or where he was from. All I knew was that the only place I’d ever felt safe was in his arms.
But safety is an illusion.
And not every savior is a hero.
And—as I’d soon find out—having an alpha save your life comes with a price.
Liam Black wanted something from me in return.
How to Date a Douchebag: The Failing Hours by Sara NeyThis hero might take a little while to grow on you, but he is definitely worth your time. Ney excels at writing dialogue, so there’s plenty to keep you hooked on this college romance. It leans towards being light and sexy but also has shots of angst. If you love a classic bad boy/good girl storyline, then check this one out.
Zeke Daniels isn’t just a douchebag; he’s an asshole.
A total and complete jerk, Zeke keeps people at a distance. He has no interest in relationships—most assholes don’t.
Dating? Being part of a couple? Nope. Not for him.
He’s never given any thought to what he wants in a girlfriend, because he’s never had any intention of having one.
Shit, he barely has a relationship with his family, and they’re related; his own friends don’t even like him.
So why does he keep thinking about Violet DeLuca?
Sweet, quiet Violet—his opposite in every sense of the word.
The light to his dark, even her damn name sounds like rays of sunshine and happiness and shit.
And that pisses him off, too.
Trouble by Adriana LockeThis hero is all sorts of trouble and his intentions are anything but good. He’s frustratingly charming with a playboy persona that lands him on this list. If you want something on the lighter side with a cocky player hiding his broken heart, look no further than this rom com.
She wants something real. He wants something now. Together they’re trouble in USA Today bestselling author Adriana Locke’s sexy and funny twice-in-a-lifetime love story.
With his shameless grin and let’s-play swagger, carpenter Penn Etling leaves women wanting in Dogwood Lane. What do they get? Avery Perry knows: a one-night stand. She’s been there. She remembers every hot pulse as if it were yesterday. But Penn? He doesn’t remember a thing. Now he’s making new moves, and Avery’s not falling for trouble…again. Is she?
How could the beautiful stranger resist him? Avery is going to be a challenge for the bad boy. She’s the kind of woman who digs deep—deep enough to see there’s more to Penn than meets the eye. But first she has to give him a chance. She has to say yes. Could she also be the woman to make him change his playboy ways?
When these two come together, it’s hard to pull them apart. But with love and trust on the line, can Avery and Penn get what they both want? This time for keeps?
Nothing But Wild by P. DangelicoThis wild and wealthy hero has been acting out, but it just takes one good girl to make him whole. It’s a college romance that’s light one minute and angsty the next, with compelling characters and a relationship that slowly builds into a great romance. Before you know it, this hero will steal your heart.
Dallas Van Zant…
Water polo god.
Beautiful disaster in the most literal sense of that label.
Trust me, it’s not hyperbole. He’s in big trouble with the law.
What does this have to do with me, you ask? Unfortunately, a lot. For some reason, which I still can’t quite wrap my brain around, I’ve been talked into driving him around as part of his plea deal.
Problem is, he makes me nervous. I’m not good with people, men in particular, popular athletes especially. I’ve worked really hard to get my disability under control and one minute in his company and all my hard work flies out the window.
To top it all off, I promised myself that I was going to make some serious changes this year. I’m tired of feeling awkward around boys. I’m tired of never having had a boyfriend. I’m tired of being lonely.
But I’m also not the type to turn away a person in need. So I’ll do what I must to help him out.
I’ll just pretend that I’m not enjoying his company. And I’ll ignore the fact that he’s sweet and funny. And I’ll tell myself every day that he’s out of my league.
Because I’m as inexperienced as they come…and Dallas Van Zant is nothing but wild.
The Guarded Heart by Blair LeBlancWhen a cold and jaded bodyguard is tasked with protecting a bright and bubbly woman, conflict ensues. These two total opposites clash until the tension combusts, making this a sexy and emotional read. You may not be familiar with this debut author’s work, but she does a great job peeling back the layers of this antihero until his warm, gooey center is revealed.
He’s my bodyguard. I’m the senator’s daughter.
We can’t be together, but I’ll risk it all to be with him.
Cassian is my silent shadow. A cold, unfeeling giant. A man of few words who undresses me with his bedroom eyes. He’s beautifully flawed with a past as mysterious as his scars. It wasn’t what I planned, but Cassian seized me— heart, body, and soul.
He’s my first. He’s my everything.
I fell for him.
Then I found out his secret.
He’s not my protector.
He’s my worst mistake.
I’m in love with my enemy’s daughter.
She was young. She was beautiful. The purple-haired girl looked wild. I’d tame her with a firm hand before taking her to bed. I expected a high-maintenance brat, but what I got was Rain.
A kind, selfless woman. A girl whose joy cracked through my armor.
I couldn’t hurt her.
When I met her, my plan shattered.
She was mine.
She brought light to my endless night.
And I was destined to destroy everything that made her shine.
Author’s Note: A moody, overprotective bodyguard bends his rules for the girl he’s supposed to hate. The Guarded Heart is a full-length, steamy, enemies-to-lovers romance with a heartwarming HEA from debut author, Blair LeBlanc.
Barely Breathing by Erica MarselasWhat once was a beautiful love disintegrated into bitterness and resentment as this former couple comes face-to-face for the first time. In the past, our hero was a good guy from the wrong side of the tracks. In the present, he’s a scorned lover looking for payback. This tense second chance romance has plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked, and a hero whose complex motivations are slowly unveiled as the story goes on.
Buried deep under a mountain of lies, I’m struggling for air.
My life, my choices are being dictated by my father.
I was forced to give up the man I love in order to protect him and now I must marry a man who I hate.
I thought I had found a way out. I thought my time in this gilded cage was almost over.
Then one day Jaxson Holden walks back into my life, flipping it upside down.
He’s angry, I get it.
But he has no idea how much I have to lose—how much he has to lose with him coming back.
Now I need to find a way to hold on while I’m gasping for breath as my past and present collide.
Just keep breathing, River.
Just keep breathing.
Finding Him by Rachel Van DykenThis is a story of redemption, featuring a hero who was painted as the villain in the first book in this excellent series. Van Dyken is a master at writing those gray areas – this is one of VERY few books where I’ve loved a hero even though he’s a former cheater (in a past relationship). I hated him for most of the first book in the series, but he won me over in this one. It’s engrossing and sexy with some great forced proximity and plenty of heart.
A novel about a shattered family, broken hearts, and healing love by Rachel Van Dyken, the number one New York Times bestselling author of Stealing Her.
Coming out of a coma was one hell of a wake-up call. While I was in the dark, my estranged twin brother, Bridge, had replaced me in the company I owned and swept up my fiancée in the takeover. With my ruthless reputation, can I blame them for falling in love? I have to look long and hard at where I’ve been and where I’m headed. Alone time? The universe has other plans.
Our family’s secluded Vermont cabin comes with a gorgeous—if at first, unwelcoming—surprise. She’s renter Keaton Westbrook, a social media superstar struggling with her own private grief. As a winter storm bears down, we’ve found something to keep us warm—an intimacy neither of us expected and both of us need.
After we say goodbye, what happens then? Keaton and I are longing to reconcile with our painful pasts. I can’t bear to do it without her. Is it too much to ask of fate to give us a second chance at life and love?
Taming Hollywood’s Baddest Boy by Max MonroePure romantic comedy, this features a reformed bad boy who has acknowledged his problematic past. He may be grumpy and a bit of a jerk, but he’s fully aware of his past misdeeds. This one’s light and funny with forced proximity, plenty of chemistry, and a storyline that will have you hooked.
Do people say they hate someone’s guts so that they can still fall stupidly, head-over-heels in love with the other parts?
Asking for a friend.
Okay, fine. I’m not asking for a friend.
I’m asking for me—and I’m begging you to tell me that the practice of falling in love with your should-be-enemy is common.
Please tell me that I’m not the only person to track down a guy—who used to be Hollywood’s baddest bad boy before he left LA for good—at his off-the-grid cabin in Alaska, show up unannounced, and find him gloriously naked.
This probably happens all the time…right?
Tell me I’m not alone in my stupidity—that I’m not the only woman who would fall for gorgeous blue eyes and a sexy devilish smirk, even if they belong to a broody, mysterious jerk.
Please. Please. Please. Tell me I’m not alone in this.
For the love of everything, I need all the supportive girl power I can get if I’m going to convince Luca Weaver to come back to Hollywood—otherwise known as the place he hates so much that he ghosted Oscar-level success and escaped to no-man’s-land for the last eight years just to avoid it.
Yeah, don’t worry—that smoke you’re smelling isn’t your house catching fire as you read this…it’s just my career and what was previously known as my heart going up in flames.
Gah. Is it just me, or am I totally, completely, and utterly screwed?
Diary of a Bad Boy by Meghan QuinnI can’t seem to stop recommending this book, because it’s some of the best work Quinn has ever produced. Mixing humor with so much heart, we see a great transformation in this bad boy as he tries to make himself worthy of the woman who has him all tied up in knots. It’s got the comedy we know and expect from Quinn, but also more angst than anticipated, making it a complex and interesting read.
From USA Today bestselling author Meghan Quinn comes a sassy and sweet romance about an Irish rebel who falls in love with the wrong girl. Full of witty banter and swoony moments, it’s the perfect romantic comedy to binge on.
I might have gotten myself into a wee bit of trouble—and I’m not talking about the “court mandated community service,” or “therapy sessions from bashing a bloke in the head” kind of trouble.
I wish it were that simple.
Nope. I’m talking about the “falling in love with one of my client’s daughters,” kind of trouble . . .
The kind of problem I can’t talk my way out of when the truth gets out.
How I ended up with her phone is a long story—and when she called to get it back, I took things a bit too far. One innocent exchange wound up leading to so much more.
Fun, new, and totally immune to my charm, Sutton is different. And I had no idea she was the daughter of Foster Green.
Blame it on the dark colored stout running through my veins, pushing me toward one bad decision after another. Pushing me toward her even though I know right from wrong; even though she’s my client’s daughter.
Dating her might be the best or worst decision I’ve ever made. Only time, whiskey, and one more roll around the mattress with her will tell.
Angel of Death by S. MasseryAre the other bad boys on this list not quite bad enough for you? Here’s your guy. This antihero is cold, calculating, and aloof to everyone in his life except for the woman who stole his heart years ago. It’s a dark romance with plenty of violence, suspense, and a storyline that’s pretty intense. I loved the contrasts the author was able to create, mixing tender moments with the harsh reality both the hero and heroine have been living in for years.
I’ve always had a guardian angel.
As kids, Griffin scared away my bullies and nightmares.
He protected me. Cherished me.
And when he left, he broke my heart.
A lot can change in five years.
Him. Me. Our secrets.
When he returns, it’s like a dream.
But it quickly dissolves into a nightmare.
People are after him—and by proxy, me.
Turns out, hurting me is the easiest way to get to Griffin.
But now we’re in too deep, and I can’t warn him—
The one who will end up hurting him the most…
This steamy, dark friends-to-lovers romance is a standalone in the Broken Mercenaries series.
Want more complicated heroes? Check out my list of The Guys Your Mom Warned You About: 15 Bad Boys & Playboys here.
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