Age-gap romances are a whole category of their own inside the romance genre. I can either eat them up like candy or sneak a peek and run the other way. It depends on the specific constellation in the book in question, but maybe some of it depends on my own biases, too. It’s a complicated relationship.
Next month, my 20th anniversary with my husband is coming up. As my kids like to remind us (frequently, with the judgement only teenagers muster over their parent’s life choices), we have a little age gap. All things considered, a seven-year difference isn’t the world and hardly even counts as a contender in the age-gap romance category. But given my barely legal age of 18 when we married, I get why my kids find it gross. I would blow a gasket if one of them started seeing an older person at their current age. Do as I say and not as I do and all that.
But isn’t that rather judgmental and hypocritical?
Bringing up kids is hard. The internet is full of predators now (unlike twenty years ago, lol). The problems of adults going after much younger people and grooming tactics kids are likely to encounter are themes we had to tackle. Part of raising self-aware and confident kids is teaching them to use that block button. Use it liberally.
But predators going after their victims on the internet is not the same as an age difference in a relationship. Outsiders often assume a skewed power dynamic, considering that both partners can be at very different stages in their life financially or career-wise, for example. One partner making significantly more money doesn’t automatically mean the other one relinquishes their independence at the door.
Jess Amy Dixon writes about the scrutiny age gap relationships face in this article, which had me examine my own prejudices. The common tenor seems to throw shade at the woman in a heterosexual relationship no matter which side of the equation she’s on. If she’s older, she’s a cougar; if she’s younger, she’s after his money. However, I’m always more suspicious of the man in question.
That’s my personal bias hard at work there.
After confronting my biases, I’m not any closer to figuring out why I like the trope in romance novels. What is it about May December romances that lures me in? Maybe it’s not the age difference, but the power dynamic in those fictional relationships after all. A real-life relationship doesn’t have to have a skewed power dynamic, but a fictional power imbalance is like catnip to me. I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers, and sometimes I dip my toes into the dark side of romance.
Looking at the books on the list below, I see a lot of angst. I guess that’s just my brand: Angsty AF, with a capital A. But maybe that’s another reason I’m drawn to age difference stories, too: they have the potential for delicious, emotionally deep conflict. No one is as aware of the age gap as the couple in question, after all.
The following list contains some of the best age difference romance books I’ve read and enjoyed. There’s even one I wrote and published last month! It contains all my weaknesses: older hero, feisty heroine, a little friendly blackmail among rivals, and enemies turned lovers with a Happy End.
Maybe you find something that tickles your fancy on this list as well!
1. Kinky Age-Gap Romances
Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfield
All Kate 'Middleton' McGrath wants is a man to call 'Daddy' in bed. But kinks aren't for everyone. She gets it. They're definitely not going to be for her grumpaholic boss, Mr Henderson. But a girl can dream can't she? Especially when he's always being so goddamn stern with her. Tyler Henderson is a golden boy who's lost his shine. He's old, his dream career is over, his fiancée left him. Now all the former firefighter can do is bury his troubles in paperwork and hard liquor... and try to keep Middleton out of his head. He's not going anywhere near that girl. He's done with sweet and innocent. And things don't come much sweeter than a cupcake-baking engineer who knits her own hats.
Why I loved this book: Wonderful writing and lovely, deliciously twisted kink. Plus, roller derby. The characters are layered and real; Ty a grumpy curmudgeon who tries to do the right thing, and Kate the quirky ray of sunshine with ADHD (hello, sister) who wants to befriend his penis. And the rest of him, of course. This books delivers the whole bandwidth of emotions, and Eve Dangerfield is an auto-buy author for me.
Content Warnings: grooming (not by the hero), attempted date rape/drugging (not by the hero).
For Her Own Good by Tamsen Parker
From USA Today Bestselling author Tamsen Parker comes a taboo romance of risk-taking, redemption, and how to give voice to our greatest fears and our greatest desires. "Don't be greedy," he murmurs into my hair, and it makes me all the more desperate."Daddy, I am greedy." When Dr. Lowry Campbell saved my life as a suicidal teen, I thought he was the most perfect man I'd ever known. And then he disappeared for fifteen years. Now, three months after I became the wealthiest woman on the Eastern Seaboard, he's back. And he wants me. Finally. But I'm not that girl anymore, and my anger is nearly as intense as my vulnerability. I've waited a long time to ask for what I want, and it's time Lowry know that if he wants to be in my life, he'll need to earn back my trust and come to terms with my desire to call him daddy...
Why I loved this book: Tamsen Parker’s writing is just beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Angsty and intense and kinky. I love to really get in the head of the characters when reading a kinky story, and Parker gives me that and more. Daddy kink is always tricky for me, but this books works so well. Plus, she goes the extra mile to take a highly problematic premise and make it good – that’s real skill.
Content warnings: mental illness, depression, suicide
Let The Wrong Light In by Avon Gale
Avery Hextall, a junior architect at a prestigious firm, is thrilled when his design is chosen for a new performing-arts center--even if it means working closely with his insufferably uptight project manager, Malin Lacroix. When a chance encounter in the boss's office proves that Lacroix is anything but cold, Avery is determined to learn more about the real man beneath the aloof veneer. Despite their growing attraction and their increasingly kinky encounters, the enigmatic Malin remains as emotionally distant as ever. Worse, Avery's friends are convinced Malin thinks of Avery as a dirty secret and nothing more--a secret that might destroy both of their careers. But the real secret is a single moment in time that haunts Malin and keeps him from committing to the life he wants with Avery. In order to move on, Avery must help Malin come to terms with the tragedy in his past before they can work on building a future together.
Why I loved this book: God, there’s so much wrong between these two disaster babies. Like. So much. I wanted to smack them, and then smack them some more, but holy shit, the emotional depth. I was choking on ugly tears all the way through. Note the content warnings, however. For a while, what they do isn’t kink. They have no idea WHAT they do. Everyone is concerned. I was concerned. (It’s what makes this book so good, though).
Control Freak by Brianna Hale
Total control. I need it in every aspect of my life. Some would say that makes me an asshole. A freak. But as long as everything's exactly how I want it, I'm completely flexible. I'm kidding.Okay, I'm not kidding. Lacey needs someone in her life who's bigger and scarier than her demons, and she wants that man to be me. Her boss. The Viking in a suit. I hope she understands what she's getting into. This daddy isn't going to pat her on the head and tell her she's a good girl for nothing. Especially not when she's spinning out of control.
Why I loved this book: A grumpy Scandinavian hero? YES, please. The kink is rather mild in this one, but the content warnings are heavy: The heroine deals with an eating disorder and self-destructive thoughts.
His Lady by Jane Henry and Maisy Archer
Elena Slater grew up on the streets of New York City, as the baby sister of Alexander “Slay” Slater. She knows how to hold her own, and she’s anything but submissive. Sure, all her closest friends are members of The Club, Boston’s most well-respected BDSM playground, and she can’t help but see the appeal of power exchange, especially when it comes to the sexy, ultra-dominant, and much-older Blake Coleman. But that could never be more than a fantasy for a girl like her… could it? Blake Coleman, grieving the loss of his wife and long-term submissive, spent the past year retreating from the world. But he’s slowly recognized it’s time to reconnect with his friends, and reassert his place as Master Blake, the founder of The Club. It’s a full-time job, especially when Alexander Slater’s little sister is determined to push his buttons. He’s all too tempted to teach her a lesson, but he refuses to give into the rampant arousal she awakens in him with her sass. She’s far too young and mouthy for the likes of him. But when Blake and Elena find themselves caught up in a nasty smear campaign motivated by revenge, the two adversaries must form an alliance, and they can no longer deny the magnetic attraction between them. What will happen when the sassy spitfire collides with Boston’s most well-known and respected dominant? His Lady, book five in the Boston Doms series, is a standalone novel. It contains elements of BDSM, including bondage and the discipline of adult women.
What I liked about this book: Blake is resisting so hard. The age difference is a much bigger thing for him than it is for Elena, something that seems so real. Plus, I’m a sucker for friendships that start online and turn to more.
Content Warnings: domestic discipline, loss of a spouse
2. Historical May December Romances
Pleasure for Pleasure by Eloisa James
Fueled by the knowledge that notoriety is better than failure, witty, unconventional Josie does what no proper young lady should—she challenges fate. She discards her corset and flirts outrageously. She attends the horse races and allows an arrogant rakehell to whisk her behind the stables for a surreptitious kiss . . . and is caught! She doesn't want to marry the young hellion—but who's to help? Her chaperone keeps disappearing for mysterious appointments; her guardian is on his wedding trip; and his friend the Earl of Mayne is too busy staring into the eyes of his exquisite French fiancÉe. Can a marriage forced by stuffy convention and unwilling desire become the match of the season?
Why I loved this book: Seriously one of the hottest, sexiest, most sensual first kisses. I sometimes reread just this kiss, because it gets me every time. This book has actually two age-gap pairings in both constellations, woman-younger and woman-older. Like often with James’ books, it’s not immediately clear who’s whose love interest. Her books can be hit or miss; she’s written some romances I absolutely loathe, but also two of my absolute all time favorites, and this is one of them. Plus, if you like to listen to your pleasure, Susan Duerden is a stellar narrator. Her heroes are some of the sexiest intonations. Her voice is like sex for the ears.
Content Warnings: attempted assault. Body shaming. Kind of cheating? The synopsis doesn’t make it quite clear, but the rake it speaks of is NOT the hero of this book.
A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James
A duke must choose wisely . . . Leopold Dautry, the notorious Duke of Villiers, must wed quickly and nobly—and his choices, alas, are few. The Duke of Montague's daughter, Eleanor, is exquisitely beautiful and fiercely intelligent. Villiers betroths himself to her without further ado. After all, no other woman really qualifies. Lisette, the outspoken daughter of the Duke of Gilner, cares nothing for clothing or decorum. She's engaged to another man, and doesn't give a fig for status or title. Half the ton believes Lisette mad—and Villiers is inclined to agree. Torn between logic and passion, between intelligence and imagination, Villiers finds himself drawn to the very edge of impropriety. But it is not until he's in a duel to the death, fighting for the reputation of the woman he loves, that Villiers finally realizes that the greatest risk may not be in the dueling field . . . But in the bedroom. And the heart.
Why I love this book: Because this is the other one. Also, Villiers. That’s it. One of my favorite heroes. Plus, Eleanor is a feisty heroine who knows what she wants. And despite the premise putting her in opposition to the mentally ill Lisette, there’s no ill will between the two women and no “catfight.” The love triangle gets drawn out much too long, but the depth of emotion between Villiers and Eleanor makes up for it. Plus, the audio narration by Susan Duerden is outstanding.
Content Warnings: Mental Illness, animal cruelty, child abuse and neglect.
3. Contemporary Age-Gap Romance Novels
A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison
"He looks like he could plow my north field without a horse." Sonja Watts needs to re-enter the workforce after divorcing her husband of thirteen years. Taking the advice of her sister Birdie and her best friend Estelle, she signs up for a six-week course for entrepreneurs; hoping that she will learn everything she needs to know to build a business to support herself and her kids. On the first night of class, Sonja is able to ignore the fact that most of the students are younger than her by ten years or more. It's what she expected. But when the instructor walks in, she debates packing up her new twelve-hundred dollar laptop and walking out. Sonja can't remember the last time she looked at a man with little more interest than she would give a sturdy dining room table. She isn't frigid... just disinterested. But wow, did Atlas James grab her interest. Atlas hasn't been interested in dating since he moved back home from California. Adjusting to newfound success in the town where everyone sees him as that big, geeky guy who cut grass for pocket change when they were in high school has been awkward. Aside from a couple of one night stands, he hasn't really wanted to pursue a relationship with anyone until sweet, shy Sonja signs up for his class. Compact, curvy, and juicy in all the right places, being in the same room Sonja Watts ignites all of those giddy feelings he felt when he had his first crush. He wants to know her and he's pretty sure she wants to know him -- even though she seems fixated on the fact that he's younger than her. With her future riding on the success of her new business, Sonja has no time for distraction. Will she be able to keep her eyes on her own paper or will they remain glued to Atlas's biceps and thick thighs?
Why I loved this book: From the first page, it put a big, goofy smile on my face. Sonja is 40, and it’s a whole thing for her that Atlas is nine years younger. A Taste of her own Medicine also has what makes a feel-good romance really good: friendships and family.
After Ben by Con Riley
A Seattle Stories novel. A year after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Ben, Theo Anderson is still grieving. The last thing he's looking for is a new lover. But as Theo soon discovers, sometimes life has other plans. While Theo experiences a powerful physical attraction to fellow gym member Peter, it's his new online friend, Morgan, who provides the intellectual challenge to make him come alive. Morgan is witty, brave, and irreverent, and Theo is ready to take the plunge until he discovers Morgan might be half his age. Theo's late partner was significantly older enough to strain Theo's relationship with his family and the potential of another relationship being cut short leaves him gunshy. Theo needs to lay Ben's memory to rest, reconcile with his family, and rekindle neglected friendships if he's to start afresh with a new lover. But Theo isn't the only one with a past. His biggest challenge, in living after Ben, might not be his to face.
Why I loved this book: The loss of a spouse is written with so much empathy here, and the influence the experience has on Theo’s decision not to start anything with a younger man is poignant and real. I’ve cried a lot during this book, ergo, I love it.
Content Warnings: Loss of a spouse, domestic abuse.
Force Her Hand by Jo Henny Wolf
She wants to expose him.
Emma Hardwick has one goal in life; okay, maybe two: provide for her family and expose the man who launched his career with her grandmother’s words. But just when she’s about to broadcast the truth about one of America’s most beloved literary giants, she runs into one pesky obstacle: his son. And he’s not about to let her ruin his father’s legacy.
He wants to own her.
Harlan Michaels wants only one thing: a child. And, ideally, a family. When Emma threatens something very dear to him, there’s one easy fix to get rid of the threat and gain a wife to mother his children. Everyone has a weak spot, and Emma’s weakness is almost too easy to find. But once he has her in his grip, the problems only start.
Who could have known that falling for your wife would be so complicated?
This is a steamy age-gap novella (20K words) with a clueless alpha hero blackmailing a stubborn heroine into an inconvenient marriage with a HEA. After all, revenge is tempting, but so is hate banging.
Why I love this book: Well, I wrote it. You can read it for free on Kindle Unlimited here.