Note: This was originally a freelance blog post written for Heroes & Heartbreakers. When MacMillan shut down the community in 2018, they also removed all of the content that had been on the website.
According to a recent RWA/Nielsen report, Friends to Lovers is romance readers’ favorite trope. To most people who read and write romance, that was not shocking news.
What makes it such a beloved trope, though? As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to best friends stories. As a writer, they provide such a fantastic way to build that will they/won’t they tension, not to mention the fact that I’ve always felt like the stakes are higher in friends to lovers romances (because there’s always the possibility of things going south and losing a close friend). Friends to lovers romances are nuanced and layered, and for me tend to be incredibly emotionally satisfying. Plus, you already have the groundwork laid in the fact that they already share a closeness with one another–it’s watching them stumble and bumble towards one another and having that “aha!” moment that makes these so much fun.
That “aha!” moment can come in so many different forms—from the drunken confession to sudden jealousy to seeing someone in a new light—and all of them are amazing.
In honor of the friends to lovers romance, these are my top five favorite light bulb moments—in other words, that moment when everything changes.
- Searching for Beautiful by Jennifer Probst
If you read my first look and my later blog post talking about how this book gave me all the feels, this one should come as no surprise to anyone. Gen and Wolfe’s friendship was so incredibly layered, and watching them move from friends to lovers was at times heart breaking and incredibly emotionally satisfying. The light bulb moment in Searching for Beautiful is, well, beautiful, in so many ways. Gen’s just left her groom at the altar, and is drunkenly confessing to Wolfe that sex with David was less than satisfactory. Because David was an abusive jackhole, he made Gen feel like it was her fault and that she was “bad at it.” Wolfe sets out to prove to Gen that there’s nothing wrong with her and kisses her, changing everything for both of them.
She made a sound deep in her throat when he slowly pulled away, the wet slide of his tongue over hers bestowing one final taste.
She blinked. Blistering heat and fury and lust mingled in those blue eyes. She felt eaten alive, scoured raw, and Gen shook as the solid foundation underneath her shifted and broke open.
- With a Twist by Staci Hart
This new adult novel features Lily—a ballerina—and West—a graduate student at Columbia. When they first met West had a girlfriend, so Lily very firmly friend zoned him. In the time they’ve known each other, they’ve become best friends, live next door to each other, and are both single. Slight spoiler alert: for most of the book they’re actually not together and are in fact sleeping with other people. Hart does an amazing job of building their attraction and awareness; the reader (and all of their friends) know that Lily and West love each other as more than friends, but Lily and West have put each other so far into the friend zone that neither of them can quite figure out why they’re so annoyed that the other is seeing someone else. In this light bulb moment, Lily and West are about to go to the opera, which they do every month. However, something has definitely changed and West sees his best friend in a whole new light.
Lily stood in the doorway, tall and lithe, blond hair twisted up, skin like porcelain against the inky black of her dress. The bodice was fitted, covered in sheer lace that stretched across her shoulders, and I followed the line of her ribs down to her tiny waist, then the bell of her skirt to the hem that hit in the middle of her long thigh. But that wasn’t what stopped my heart.
It was her eyes, bright and blue behind thick, black lashes as she looked up at me, some emotion behind them that I couldn’t place. Something in the pink of her cheeks that whispered a secret that I couldn’t quite hear.
I don’t think I could have told you my name in that moment, if you’d asked me.
- Truly Sweet by Candis Terry
Sometimes two people are friends and spend some time apart, and when they see one another again after a long period of time it’s a reaction of, “Whoa. Who are you and where did you come from?” That’s definitely the case with Jake and Annie in Truly Sweet. Jake’s just come home from Afghanistan and is seeing Annie for the first time in years. Annie has always had a bit of a crush on her childhood friend, but never felt like she remotely had a chance with him.
When the hell had little Annie Morgan grown up and gotten so curvy?
“You can stare at the menu all day long,” she said through lips that were pink, plump, and glossy. Lips that looked like they needed to be kissed.
The unexpected and unwanted thought was like a splash of ice water in his face.
- Unbroken by Maisey Yates
Maisey Yates does best friends romances extremely well. Some authors struggle with them—they’re incredibly nuanced and in some ways I think more difficult to write—but Yates shines at them. Unbroken is the story of Cade and Amber who happen to actually be broken people. Jake’s leg is pinned together after a rodeo accident, and Amber is what they both call “emotionally unavailable.” They’ve been best friends since high school, and have a time-honored tradition of getting hammered after tragic events happen. In this case, Amber’s grandfather has just had a stroke (his health wasn’t great to begin with), and she and Cade have gone back to her house to drink the fear away. Jack Daniels goggles can sometimes cause someone to be more attractive than they normally would be, but in this case good ol’ J.D. has only helped to tear away inhibitions.
It was a bad idea because she was hammered. He wasn’t functioning completely normally either. And there were other reasons. Valid ones. And he could think of none of them at the moment.
Because nothing else mattered but how soft her hair was. And the fact that her lips were so close, and he wanted to taste them more than he could ever remember wanting anything before.
- Anything for You by Sarah Mayberry
Back in 2008 I read this great Harlequin Blaze by Sarah Mayberry called Anything for You. I’ve re-read that book a few times over the years, simply because I enjoyed it that much. This one is a best friends romance that begins with one of the friends knowing they’re in love with the other (and of course, the other is completely clueless). Delaney goes on vacation with her happily married-with-kids sister and realizes that if she doesn’t distance herself from her best friend Sam, she’s never going to find a white picket fence for herself. Sam isn’t comfortable with Delaney’s decision—she’s his best friend and business partner, for crying out loud—but it isn’t until she gets a makeover and he suddenly sees her as a sexy woman rather than his childhood friend that things truly begin to shift. It also doesn’t hurt, either, that she’s unintentionally made him jealous by going out on a date with another man.
“What if I told you that last night my need was for you?” he said suddenly.
The words hung between them for what seemed like an eternity. Delaney’s breath got caught somewhere between her chest and her throat. She felt her pulse beating thick and slow in her belly.
What was he saying? That he was jealous of Jake?
What about you? What are some of your favorite light bulb moments between friends?