Every romance reader has their favorite tropes, and estranged lovers is definitely one of mine. For one thing, in the vast and interconnected web of romance tropes, estranged lovers touches so many of my other favorites: forced proximity, secret baby, crash the wedding, reveeeeenge. For another, estranged lovers is such an emotionally laden trope. Obviously, I love novels about people falling in love for the first time. But there’s something so captivating about two people with heaps of history piled between them having to find their way through so they can be together again. It’s spelt a-n-g-s-t and it’s one of my basic food groups. And estranged lover romances always have it in spades.
Now you’ll find estranged lover plots in every sub-genre of romance, but in my heart of hearts I am a historical romance reader, and that is by far my favorite variation of estranged lovers. In many cases, divorce is either difficult to obtain or not an option. But there’s a historical precedent for married couples leading completely separate lives, in separate countries, even on different continents! But despite the distance they’re still technically connected by their marriage, by the need for heirs, by shared friend and familial connections. You know sooner or later (it is a romance novel after all) they’re going to rotate into each others orbits again.
If you adore estranged lovers and historical romances as much as I do, this list is definitely for you!
The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Liam and Anna’s wedding was supposed to be the frosting on the cake that is Liam’s perfect life. But wedded bliss for both quickly turned to disaster. Now, four years later, Liam is back for revenge against those who betrayed him, and Anna—his abandoned Countess—has a bone of her own to pick with her absentee husband. Did I mention that a lot of estranged lovers romances tend to be revenge dramas?
The Bewildered Bride by Vanessa Riley
Long lost “What do you mean you’re not dead” husbands seem to be the name of the game on this list so far. Ruth was pretty sure her husband was dead, after all, given that she witnessed his murder at the hands of a band of highwaymen. Now all she wants is a new life for she and her child. In his defense, not-actually-dead-Adam thought Ruth died that night on the road, and is equally surprised to find her alive, with a son in tow, and furious that he lied to her about, among other things, his real identity.
Passions of a Wicked Earl by Lorraine Heath
I love Lorraine Heath. Her books are deliciously emotional and just so good. Claire is facing down marriage to Morgan Lyons, the brooding (read: obnoxious bore) older brother of her best friend, whom she has been been betrothed to since she was born and who only wants her for her money. When their wedding night turns into a proper farce, Claire finds herself dumped in the countryside to rusticate, far away from her stranger of a spouse. Fast forward a few years, and Claire has finally had enough. She decides it’s time to storm the veritable fortress of vice that is Morgan’s life in London and take her husband back.
A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp
First just take one second to appreciate how pretty this blue and pink cover is…okay, now we can move on. (It’s just the perfect shade of pink and I just?) I love this book. It’s fun and sweet and Graeme Parr is a ridiculous disaster human that definitely needed more hugs as a child. He was forced to marry American heiress Abigail Price to save his family, and in his rage at being forced to marry his “scheming” yankee wife, he demands a marriage in name only. Shamed, with no idea why her husband hates her, Abigail takes off back to America. But years later she returns, and Graeme finds himself torn between suspicion of her motives and attraction to the woman she has become.
To Resist a Scandalous Rogue by Liana De La Rosa
Sometimes your lost lover isn’t your spouse; sometimes it’s someone who popped up one night, ruined and or permanently changed your life, and vanished without a trace. Until they turn up to do it again. Finlay and Charlotte only had one night together before Charlotte disappeared. Now, just as a dangerous secret has turned Finlay’s life on end leaving him with only once chance at a future, she reappears. And the two find it impossible to stay away from each other, despite the mounting factors that ought to keep them apart: Charlotte’s status, her Jewish faith, Finlay’s secret, and their pasts mutual and separate.
That Scandalous Evening by Christina Dodd
Okay so I’m stretching my own trope a tiiiiny bit to fit this book in. Technically, Jane and Ransom were never lovers in their past. But when you sculpt a very naked stature of a man you’ve been crushing on (as you do), and it gets paraded into a crowded ballroom that he happens to be standing in…that definitely counts as a past. Flash forward ten years, and Jane’s back in London, chaperoning her niece. And here comes Ransom again. Because why not. People, I cannot even think about this book without a big stupid grin on my face. I know “romp” is an overused word in book descriptions, but if ever a book deserved to be described as a romp it’s this one.
Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer (or The Transformation of Philip Jettan)
Jessica, be honest. Did you put this one on the list because you have a strange obsession with pretty, painted 18th century men? What, no, I mean…maybe. I have a love/hate relationship with Heyer’s oeuvre. Some of her novels bore me silly and others flip every single one of my switches. This little novel—more of a novella in length—is definitely one of the latter. And though it may be short on pages, it’s not short on action or hilarity. Philip and Cleone have practically grown up side by side, but while Philip is very steady and earthbound, Cleone wishes he were more like the man she wants to marry, someone refined, witty, and fashionable. Since he’s not, she dismisses him, and at his father’s behest Philip takes off so he can gain some polish. Then he returns to prove to Cleone that he can be every thing she wanted—though what she gets may not be what she expected.
Destiny’s Surrender by Beverly Jenkins
Oops I Had Your Baby (by the way) is a trope that often goes hand in hand with estranged lovers, for obvious reasons. Maybe I’m just a sucker for drama (I am), but I never get tired of a surprise baby plot. And Andrew Yates is most definitely surprised when Billie shows up at his ranch with a toddler she swears is his. Billie just wanted to do what was best for her child, but when “he’s yours” turns into “I do,” she and Drew are going to have to decide if a shared passion is enough to build a marriage on.
Devices & Desires by Pamela Sherwood
Ah, Christmas. Bringing families together with varied results. Plus alcohol. Gotta love the holidays. And the bigger the family, the bigger the trouble. Margaret thought she was free of the chaos of the powerful Lyons family after her intended, one of the family’s sons, died. But now it’s Christmas, and when she finds herself pulled back into the Lyons circle she crosses paths with the icy Gervase Lyons. They’ve known each other all their lives, but Gervase has always managed to keep his true feelings for Margaret a secret. After all, she was his brother’s fiancee. But hey, it’s Christmas. Who knows what will happen when old secrets rise to the surface.
This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James
Estranged lovers is a theme James comes back to time and time again in her novels—three times in the Desperate Duchesses series alone! The last book in the series, This Duchess of Mine, is one of my favorite estranged lovers romance. Jemma and Elijah’s emotional reunion (I know I always cry, but I cried) is actually a through plot in the first four books of the series, so by the time you get to This Duchess of Mine you are invested in this working out. Which is rough, because James hangs potential tragedy over your head like a lead weight for a good chunk of this book. The stress was real. Jemma and Elijah were separated for nine years almost immediately following their wedding. But despite the rumors of Jemma’s behavior in France, a dukedom needs an heir, so Elijah has not choice but to summon his runaway bride back to England.
The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
The most legendary of estranged lovers book, honestly. It not only required MacLean to reunite her two romantic leads despite their ugly past, but to also redeem a hero that a lot of readers would consider beyond redemption. Malcolm, Duke of Haven, was a cruel, unfeeling jerk who ended up on his ass in a fish pond at the beginning of the first book in the series after his wife Seraphina’s sister caught him cheating on Sera at a garden party. But now, after three years apart, Haven still needs an heir, which means he either needs his wife back or he needs a new one. And Sera returns to London wanting nothing more than to get out of her marriage and start a new life. It should be easy, right? If Sera can find Haven a replacement wife he promises to let her out of their marriage, and they can both go their separate ways. It’s civil, it’s uncomplicated, nothing could possibly go wrong. (Ha!)
A Whisper of Roses by Teresa Medeiros
When we moved when I was a teen, my mother gave away most of the mountain of romance novels that I used to “borrow” from when she wasn’t looking. It took years for me to track down the ones that had been my favorites, especially since I hadn’t bothered to write down authors or titles. I eventually found A Whisper of Roses again by googling “glass rose + romance novel,” the only thing I could remember about the cover. But the story itself is unforgettable. Teresa Medeiros is one of my favorite authors and this story of unrequited childhood love turned arranged marriage turned love turned sour (it’s a long book, buckle up) is definitely a must-read. Sabrina Cameron and Morgan MacDonnell had a strange connection when they were young, but the last thing Sabrina expects is to be forced to marry him years later when tragedy throws both their lives into chaos. There’s also a sort of double estrangement because their marriage falls apart later in the novel and it is ugly. A Whisper of Roses is a 1993 novel, so give it a little latitude because it straddles that old school/new romance line.
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
In case you’re seeing a theme here, the wedding night/morning after the wedding is apparently a fraught time for historical romance couples. Gigi and Camden’s wedding went so sour that Camden took off to America for ten years. Which is, granted, a little extra. Now that Gigi wants her freedom, Camden’s back like the proverbial bad penny, demanding something in exchange before he’ll give Gigi her freedom. Now, based on the other titles on this list that “thing” might be a baby, or a new wife—romance heroes, not necessarily creative, but always dramatic as heck.
Marry in Secret by Anne Gracie
You remember that time you tried to marry the most wanted bachelor of the London season so that you could finally get free of fortune hunters and get on with your life? But then that guy you married when you were (really) young turns up even though he was supposed to have died four years ago? No? Because Rose Rutherford does. There she was, about to get married to the Duke of Everingham, and in swans Not-Actually-Dead-Thomas. Then it turns out he wants revenge on the people responsible for his Not-Actual-Death, and he intends to fund his revenge with Rose’s fortune. Crashing your wife’s wedding? Dramatic as heck.
Mogul by Joanna Shupe
When Lillian Davies married Calvin Cabot, she thought it was forever. And then it wasn’t. She doesn’t know exactly why Calvin Cabot abandoned her—maybe he was after her fortune—but she’s managed to get on with her life just fine without him. At least until her brother goes missing, and the only man who can help her find him is Calvin. It’s been a little while since I read this one, but I really enjoyed it and Shupe’s reputation for action packed, meticulously researched Gilded Age novels proceeds her.
Need even more historical romance to stock your shelves against those long winter months? Check out our historical romance archive! If you’re looking for something outside the ordinary, here’s a list of 24 Unusual Historical Romances, or if you’re looking for historical romances by authors of color (which are sadly still few and far between) that link will take you to a list from last year’s Read Harder.
Still not enough? Have 100 Must Read Historical romances. That ought to keep you busy.