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That's enough caveats, I think. I'm sure I'll read other posts and kick myself for forgetting a special pairing. Please note that THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW. In no particular order:
Hector and Elisa from the Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson. These two were the first ones I thought of when I read the topic. Oh my lands, these two are PERFECT together. Don't get me wrong, they're hardly perfect people. But they both start in a place of mutual respect and deep, deep trust. Hector is Elisa's captain of the guard. She literally trusts him with her life. And Elisa is Hector's queen. He supports her as ruler of the country even when no one else does. And their romance! Talk about a slow buuuuuurn. For instance, the quote below is about as "hot and heavy" as it gets, but in context it curled my toes.
I woke to a hand on my head, fingers tangling in my unraveling braid. A man's fingers, rough and thick. They trail down my cheek, stroke my jawline, brush my lips.
I raise my head and blink to clear my eyes. Hector is awake, staring at me with a strange expression. He does not move his hand from my face but lets it linger, his thumb gently tracing my chin.
Alina and Mal from Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. It's the old story of boy and girl are childhood friends, girl secretly loves boy, boy doesn't know she exists, girl leaves boy to learn about her mystical power, boy realizes he loves girl, girl and boy go on the run from an evil megalomaniac. Seriously, I love the best-friends-fall-in-love trope. It's so sweet, because (once again) it's built on long-lasting mutual affection that goes far beyond googly eyes and sighing.
"I missed you every hour. And you know what the worst part was? It caught me completely by surprise. I'd catch myself walking around to find you, not for any reason, just out of habit, because I'd seen something that I wanted to tell you or because I wanted to hear your voice. And then I'd realize you weren't there anymore, and every time, every single time, it was like having the wind knocked out of me."
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (and spin-offs). Yeah right, like they weren't going to make it on this list! Yes, Darcy is a complete jerk in the beginning, but it's established that it's because he's painfully shy and socially awkward. Once his ways are pointed out to him, he does a complete 180 degrees. Both Elizabeth and Darcy realize their mistakes and work so hard to fix themselves, and that's how they become so right for each other. Also, if you want a completely swoon-worthy interpretation of Darcy, check out the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series by Pamela Aidan (from which I pulled the quote below). Oh my gosh, the swoons.
"Elizabeth." He whispered her name lest the spell he knew himself to be under shatter and fall to the earth around him. "Elizabeth," he repeated, gently enfolding her hand in his as he reveled in her sweet smile and shining eyes. Bringing her hands to his lips, he kissed one gently, then the other, then held them close against his heart as he told her, at last, all that resided there in terms of his deepest love, gratitude, and hope for the future.
Celaena and Sam from the Throne of Glass novellas by Sarah J. Maas. Yes, another hate-turns-to-love scenario, and oh is it sweet. Celaena and Sam are two young assassins raised by the iron-fisted Arobynn. Celaena has long suspected Sam of being jealous of her, but when it turns out that he, in fact, loves her... Wowza. And that ending. My heart, it can't take it.
"I love you," he repeated, shaking her again. "I have for years. And he hurt you and made me watch because he's always known how I felt, too. But if I asked you to pick, you'd chose Arobynn, and I. Can't. Take. It."
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery. Sigh. The Anne-girl and Mister Blythe, a happy mix of the childhood acquaintances and disdain turned to love. If you really want to appreciate their romance, read the entire series. Yes, the heady young romance of the earlier books is grand, but for true depth, you can't beat the sturdy love that grows through their years together. The Blythes weather it all, and they're beautiful for it.
For a moment, Anne's heart fluttered queerly and for the first time her eyes faltered under Gilbert's gaze... Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare... perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways... perhaps... perhaps love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
Katsa and Po from the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore. Again, issues. Between the two of them, they have a whole heap of issues to work through, but that's okay. They work through them together. When they first meet, Katsa is a feared assassin and Po is in her way. But they become friends. They learn to trust. They protect one another, even to the detriment of themselves. Perhaps their ending isn't the flowers and weddings bells type of ending that people might expect, but it's an honest ending. And like Anne and Gilbert, they stick with each other through the toughest of times.
Katsa's arms came around him. He pulled Katsa against him, practically smothered her with his grip, an cried into her neck. She held him, simply held him, and touced him, and kissed his cold face.
"Oh, Katsa," he cried. "Katsa."
They knelt like that for a very long time.
Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. If you love Pride and Prejudice, or alternatively if you believe it could have used more depth, PLEASE check out Elizabeth Gaskell. Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton have all the class issues and misunderstandings of Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as the delicious love-hate entanglement, but the DEPTH, you guys. The depth. Wow.
He bore her into the dining-room, and laid her on the sofa there; laid her down softly, and looking on her pure white face, the sense of what she was to him came upon him so keenly that he spoke it out in his pain:
"Oh, my Margaret - my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me!
Beauty and Beast from Beauty by Robin McKinley. Really, any version of the Beauty and the Beast tale is lovely, but McKinley's retelling is my favorite. I love watching these two learn to trust each other, especially Beast who has been so long without a friend. And, of course, that mad dash to save his life at the end... Sigh.
He was sitting in the wing chair, his closed right hand on his knee, as if he hadn't moved since I had left him over a week ago. "Beast!" I cried, and he didn't move. I looked around wildly. The bowl of roses still sat by his elbow. The flowers were brown, and petals lay scattered on the floor. I pulled the white handkerchief from his breast pocket and dipped it into the water, then laid it across the Beast's forehead. "My love, wake up," I said.
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. You all hush. This is my list. I'll choose whomever I please. I'll admit that Peeta had a vast head start in the first book by virtue of being honorable, steadfast, and adorable. But it's the slowly healing Peeta and Katniss from the epilogue in the third book that I adore. They have weathered the storm by leaning on each other, like two trees that have so completely intertwined over time that they can no longer stand without the other. Together, they give each other hope.
What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of desctruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.
So after, when he whispers, "You love me. Real or not real?"
I tell him, "Real."
Gen and Irene from The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Oh my gosh. These two. THESE TWO. Just their names together makes me melt. They're not a typical couple. They're not gooey or gushy. There are no wild displays of affection. They've hurt each other. They've scarred each other. But to watch their relationship grow over the four books (yes, four) is just... I don't have the words.
"Do you believe me?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Do you love me?"
"I love you."
And she believed him.
Verity and Maddie from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. There is a hint of romance in CNV, but even that flash of glory doesn't compare to the loving friendship between the two main characters. Even on a list about romantic love, I couldn't leave out this different type of love. If you've read the book, you know why. If you haven't read the book, well, you have no excuse.
Suddenly she laughed wildly and gave a shaking yell, her voice high and desperate.
"KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!"
So there you have it. My top 10 favorite romances. I'm going to go over here and just bask in the emotions for a few more hours. If you have any comments on my list or any couples you would like to add, just leave them below.