Forbidden hasn’t gone out of style—and it won’t.

It’s hard to predict what the next trend in romance will be. But there’s a clear pattern. A mega-author publishes a mega-hit that sits at number one in the Amazon store for weeks on end, and inevitably, similar books begin to follow. This seems particularly true for bad boys since readers—and authors—are always searching for a different type of bad boy, one that’s new and refreshing. When I first started writing back in 2014, I often saw motorcycle club romances covering the charts. It made sense—Sons of Anarchy was in its absolute heyday, Tara was still alive, and the show hadn’t taken its darkest, most mind-boggling turn. Hitmen and mafia romances followed—and nearly two years later, I’d say they’re still going strong, whereas there are fewer and fewer MC romances gracing the charts. Everyone’s favorite recent trend took over in early 2015—stepbrothers.

Brother From Another

We might not see stepbrothers dominating the charts these days, but I’m going out on a limb and saying that stepbrothers are the precursor for our next big trend.

So let’s dig into the stepbrother fascination for a moment…

Penelope Ward was one of the first stepbrother pioneers, and her book, Stepbrother Dearest, soared to the top of the charts. It was just taboo enough—with our heroine and hero going against everyone’s wishes and expectations—that it blew up the charts for weeks, nay months, on end. And boy, did the stepbrothers follow. They were all bad boys, some of them were billionaires, and every one of them had a perhaps unhealthy obsession with his stepsister. Romance writers were careful to make these books genuine romance, with stepbrother heroes who pined for their heroines, battling disapproving parents and rich, powerful families. Sabrina Paige, my romance hero, perfected the art with Prick, Tool, Cannon, and the very pierced, very rich Prince Albert.

Why were they so successful? Because we romance readers love a good fantasy. And what’s more fantastical than a muscular, often shirtless stepbrother pining away for our affections—while the whole world is against our illicit love?

What’s next, though? It can’t be stepbrothers again, can it?

If you look through the top 100 in Amazon’s romance section, stepbrothers are no longer fully on trend. Like motorcycle clubs, they remain a staple of romance though they’re no longer at the top of the charts every week—not without a little additional danger, a few plot elements that make them more unexpected. For example, B. B. Hamel’s recent publication, Step Bride, pairs the forbidden stepbrother character with the mafia bad boy. It’s gotten fantastic praise and is sitting high in the Amazon store—and why? Well, B. B. Hamel’s book cleverly takes the piece of the stepbrother character that never goes out of style—his forbidden, taboo nature—and adds new, unexpected elements that romance readers just love. Mafia. Stepbrother. Bad boy. Crime families. Secret marriage. Undeniable, fated attraction.

A thrilling combination.

What’s more fantastical than a muscular, often shirtless stepbrother pining away for our affections—while the whole world is against our illicit love?

If anything, the occasional stepbrother book rising in the ranks tells us that this is still a successful story—but authors are finding different ways to tell it. We romance authors can be a filthy, though very sweet, bunch. And now it seems we’re working on finding new taboos.

Forbidden hasn’t gone out of style—and it won’t. We live in the heyday of Alexa Riley—and while stepbrothers might not be the most popular hero in the Amazon store, authors are getting very creative about the types of relationships we’re exploring.

Penelope Ward, trendsetter, has the wildly popular Neighbor Dearest on her shelf right now. Tijan recently published the cleverly titled Anti-Stepbrother, focusing not on the stepbrother himself—but on his bad boy fraternity brother. There are a slew of boss books as well, with one of the most popular written by another queen of romance trends—Bossman by Vi Keeland. And if you stalk the Amazon store like I do, you may have noticed the salacious novella, Her Dad’s Friend by Penny Wylder. Yes, it’s about a young heroine and you guessed it—her dad’s friend.

Taboo On Trend

These recent successes clearly demonstrate that forbidden relationships are still incredibly compelling to romance readers. Countless stepbrothers proved the same in 2015, and I would argue that these books are merely extensions of that genre. I’d be surprised if we don’t see more of the same over the coming months. Instead of steps, we’ll see other kinds of rule breakers. Like stepbrothers, our heroes will be in close proximity to the heroine—but they’ll be men she’s not supposed to want.

It’s the proximity that sparks our fantasies as readers, and as women. And it’s the idea of breaking society’s rules that make that proximity extremely sexy.

Each of the books mentioned above has a heroine seeking to break those rules, to laugh in the face of what “propriety” means. She shouldn’t be interested in her older neighbor, or her stepbrother’s bad boy frat brother—and certainly not her boss or her father’s friend. There’s power play, a little sneaking around behind closed doors, and more than a few raised eyebrows from the other characters in the books. And the hero and heroine—ultimately they don’t care. They break those rules to be with each other, to stretch the boundaries of love, and of course, to experience the fantasies that we as readers don’t usually get to act on.

Like all good books, these forbidden romances have wish fulfillment at their core. It just happens to be the naughtiest kind of wish fulfillment.

I for one hope we’ll be seeing more of this type of romance.

It’s delicious and decadent—like cheesecake on a Tuesday night. It’s watching Magic Mike with a bottle of red wine. It’s laughing with your best friend about the crush she has on her much older professor, and telling her in turn that you had a dream about your neighbor… and he wasn’t just walking his dog.

It’s everything steamy romance should be—hot, fun, escapist, and dirty in the very best kind of way.

In life, we don’t usually get to break all the rules. In our fantasies, though, we definitely can. That’s the fun of forbidden romance and I say—keep it coming, ladies and gentlemen of the authoring world. This writer is looking forward to more.

Books Mentioned in This Article

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Lexi Whitlow

Lexi Whitlow is originally from the middle of nowhere in a tiny county in Virginia--though now she's enjoying her days as a suburban romance writer in a neighborhood with a big, shiny pool. She spent her early years growing up between Virginia and her grandfather's farm in North Carolina. She's Southern by heritage and a world-traveler at heart. Writing books allow her to travel to distant, unexplored lands in her mind, but she spends most days chasing her six-year-old and shouting at her dog to stop sneaking onto the sofa while she's writing. She holds a master's degree in English literature, and her mom is so proud she's "using her degree." Lexi harbors a not-so-secret love for bad boys. She loves fighters, dirty princes, crooked cops, and criminals. Her husband is a scientist... but he has the heart of a bad boy. She spends what little free time she has crocheting, painting, and occasionally cooking for her family. On big writing nights, everyone is happy eating cereal.

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