This goes beyond the bad boy who just wants to get laid and oozes sex appeal. A tortured hero is a man who is haunted by something, who has a vulnerability he masks with indifference, and who usually has a broken heart that he's unwilling to risk again.
Speaking from a personal point of view, I like a man who knows what it's like to hurt. I find them to be compassionate confidantes whose strength transcends whatever wounds they've endured. It's refreshing to be with a man who's been deepened by life rather than someone who's only dwelt in the shallows.
Perhaps that's why I enjoy writing about tortured heroes. In Kiss Me Slowly, Jonathan Alexander was a man without connection, who'd lost his mother and who didn't trust anyone around him (for very good reasons). In Riptide, Noah Reynolds has been isolated by success, endured the death of his fiancee, and feels people only want him in their lives because of his money and connections. In Reckless Endangerment, Michael Cedars, a war veteran, has lost many friends, has been partially paralyzed in a war zone, doubts his abilities with his 'new normal', and isn't quite sure how to transition into civilian life. Yeah...they're complicated.
But complications and vulnerabilities are what makes a character interesting. When a hero knows his imperfections and deliberately hides them, we know he's scared no matter what his outward appearance suggests. That's the beauty of a good story--peeking behind the curtain to see who the Wizard really is.
Vulnerability is difficult for most people in real life, but it's essential to show it in fiction. If we're all honest with each other, we know what our vulnerabilities are and we also know when we're masking them. Perhaps that's why fictional characters who are flawed impact us so significantly. We relate. Maybe that's why women read about a tortured hero and fall in love with him a little bit while immersed in the story.
Who's my favorite tortured hero that I've written about so far? I'll never tell. I love them all for various reasons. (see how I wimped out of answering that one?) What about you? What makes you fall for a guy after the initial physical reaction? For me, it's all about him opening his heart, showing me his hurt and trusting me enough to accept him fully.
Here's a scene from Reckless Endangerment where Michael is struggling with his hurt. He wants Hope, but he's afraid that she pities him rather than loves him. As a marine, the last thing he wants is pity. As a civilian, the last thing he wants is to hold her back. As a man, he wants more than anything to let her back into his life...but is terrified of hurting her so pushes her away.
“Screw you.” She wanted to shake him, make him see that he was wasting away like this. She’d been so lonely without him, had ached for him, and had been tortured by his silence. “I’m done giving into your wishes. I left you alone for five months and went through my own personal hell because of it. No more.”
“I hate you.”
“I love you,” she whispered.
“I wish I’d never met you.”
“Me, too, damn it.” She looked at him, no longer strong enough to stop a tear from escaping. “But we did meet. We loved each other. We got married on a cliff in Greece with our friends by our side and we laughed through our vows because we were so goddamn happy. I’m not leaving here until you acknowledge that. You married me. You loved me.”
“The man you loved died a long time ago.”
Frustration clawed inside her skull, aching for the right words that would break his resolve. She rubbed trembling hands over her hips and struggled for clarity. This was one argument she intended on winning...and it had been a long time coming.
“None of us are who we were. Do you think I’m the same person I was before seeing my best friend killed? Before stepping over Marishka’s body and the bodies of her murdered children? Before seeing you face down in the dirt? Do you think I don’t see corpses in my sleep? Do you think that hasn’t changed me?” she asked.
“You look the same.” His gaze flicked over her before sliding toward the window.
“Maybe I’m still walking on both of my feet, but that doesn’t mean other parts of me aren’t paralyzed.” She scrubbed her fists against the tears and hated herself for being weak. “I’m pissed at you for denying me access to you in Frankfurt. You have no idea—none—how much I needed to be with you when you were hurt and you made me out to be a liar. I’m your wife, for God’s sake.”
“Stop saying that word.”
“You’re a selfish bastard.” She shoved her hands through her hair and counted silently to twenty. “Say what you want, I don’t care because I’d rather fight with you than mourn you. I’d rather you hate me than feel nothing.”
“I do hate you.”
Blowing a strand of hair from her face, she grabbed the ouzo bottle, opened it and slammed cabinet doors open looking for a glass.
“I know you’re lying,” she said.
“Get the hell out of here,” he yelled.
“Where are your goddamn glasses?” she asked between clenched teeth.
“How would I know? I’ve been here less than six fucking hours.”
“Who needs a glass, right?” She took a long swig of the liquor. The alcohol burned her throat but felt damn good. She took another swig before meeting his gaze.
“Is that how you’re dealing with your guilt? Drinking it away?” he asked.
She held the bottle out toward him. “Want a taste?”
He looked at her through narrowed eyes, muscle working overtime in his jaw.
“C’mon, soldier boy, look at it this way…maybe a taste will kill you,” she said.
For the first time since entering the room, a flicker of humor shot through his eyes. With a shrug, he grabbed the bottle and drank without breaking eye contact.
“I’m still alive,” he said.
“Sorry to disappoint you…again.” Needing to touch him, she reached for the scar that zigzagged across his forehead.
He flinched away from her touch.
“You need to leave. You don’t owe me anything,” he said without looking at her face.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and studied his bent head before answering. “This isn’t about owing you anything.”
He met her gaze then, annoyance flashing in the brown depths. But there was something else there, too...pain so intense she took a step back.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked. “Just because I’m in this chair doesn’t mean that you can bully me.”
“Am I bullying you?” She grinned at the idea of bullying him. He’d always been the badass marine with more arrogance than necessary. Her independence clashed with his attitude more often than not, but that had been a good thing. Maybe...just maybe...he’d missed it. “I brought you fast food and alcohol. We even had a fight. I think you like that I’m here. I’m livening things up. You looked pretty bored when I walked in.”
He grabbed her hand before she could snag another fry. He squeezed her fingers so hard she thought her bones would snap. “Look at me. I’m not the man you married. I’m not even a marine anymore. Look at me.”
She only saw the man she loved who stared back with desperation in his eyes. She saw his hair thicker and longer than she’d ever seen it before and liked it. She saw his teeth sink into his lower lip and wanted them sinking into her skin. She only saw Michael.
“You’re still the sexiest man on the planet,” she said.
“You’re delusional.” He dropped her hand as if the mere touch of her skin sickened him.
“Maybe I am.”
“What are you getting out of this?”
“I can’t…I’m changed. We’ll never be able to be like we were.” He looked at his legs. “Not like how you remember me anyway. I’m different now.”
“So am I. We’re all different.”
“It’s more than that and you know it. You and me...sex...there will be...expectations.”
“I see, so I should pretend you don’t exist because you feel awkward about sex? You must not think much of me, Colonel.” She bit out his rank between clenched teeth.
“When I see you that’s what I want, are you satisfied now? Right now I would like to throw you up against that counter, rip those jeans from you and fuck you. I remember how we were together. That’s what I want. I can’t do that. Do you hear me? I can’t have what I want and seeing you is torture for me. I can’t have you.”
Silence quaked in the room.
She put both of her hands on his knees, conscious that he couldn’t feel her touch. “You keep talking about what you’ve lost, but you haven’t lost me. Don’t you see that? You may not be a marine anymore and you may not be able to walk anymore, but you have me. I love you. I need you. Can’t that be enough? And you have your son. What about him? He needs you, too. You haven’t lost him.”
“I wish you hadn’t come here.”
“Too bad, I’m here. Deal with it.” She moved onto his lap and moved her hands over his shoulders. “What’s the problem?”
“Stop this,” he whispered.
“You want me to kiss you. You want to kiss me back.” She could see it in his eyes, the need, the desire, the question. “Is that what you want, Michael?”
“What would that prove?”
“Does it have to prove something? Can’t a kiss be a kiss?”
“Typical man.” She leaned within a fraction of his lips. “Don’t you remember high school? Don’t you remember when a kiss meant everything?”
In a sudden move, he grabbed the back of her head and ground his mouth against hers. She knew the intensity was meant to shock her so she matched it with her own. She sat on his lap and plunged her tongue into the recesses of his mouth until he moaned. His free hand squeezed her breast through the thin material of her blouse but, instead of hurting, it ignited her blood.
The Michael she knew still lived inside this man. She felt him in the warmth of his mouth, the strength of his hands on her body, the restrained power of his touch.She couldn’t stop touching him, hands moved through his hair, over his face, along his shoulders. Alive. Here. She fought back a Hallelujah.