This seems to be one of the most common plots: Weak doormat of a girl meets strong alpha male who wants to protect her, even though she's totally uninteresting. I realized that I haven't really been naming names if I find fault with characters or plot, but I just named one on Nose in a Book when I said that Marissa and Cormia in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series were "limp dishrags of boringness." The heroes in the series are much more interesting, and the series itself is addictive like crack. But out of six books, two of the heroines have been vacuous. Oddly enough, I don't mind it in m/m romance if one of the guys is kind of dumb, as long as he's cute, good-natured and enthusiastic. I don't mind romance stories -- m/m or m/f -- where the hero (or one of them) is a virgin, as long as it doesn't take long for him to lose his virginity, and he's eager to lose it. But I'm so tired of the shy, sheltered, frightened female virgin in m/f romances. I just start thinking, "Get a personality!" or rooting for the hero to find a more interesting woman.
Here's another plot that doesn't especially ring my bell: Pregnant woman gives birth by the side of the road, helped by a man who comes along, and instantly falls in love with her, and wants to marry her and adopt the baby. I just don't see how the guy can find this sexy -- am I missing something? I can see why it's a common fantasy, given the divorce rate of the last few decades and teenage pregnancy rate of the eighties and nineties -- women wished that a guy would come along and love them and their children by another father. But the man finding a nine-months-pregnant woman that hot? Especially if she's already in labor when she meets him? There was also the very common theme of a woman who has sex with a guy once, he goes away, she has his child or children, and he comes back years later thinking she's a slut, when she's never had sex with another guy. Can he not do the math to figure out that the rugrat is his? Perhaps this also goes back to that teenage pregnancy rate. The hero in these was often the town "bad boy" or scapegoat, usually illegitimate, and/or with a drunken father, and comes back angry and vengeful. And immensely financially successful, despite leaving town as a teenager with a spotty education. Eventually, he realizes that the child is his, and that's the only time the woman ever had sex. Perhaps a bit more updated is the plot where man and woman are both divorced, through no fault of their own -- widowed is a common one, too -- have custody of the children, and make a blended family with either the collusion of the children or over the objections of the children. Perhaps it's that I don't have children, but stories that focus as much on the children as on the romance? Meh.
The Beauty and the Beast plot -- yes, there's a reason this is a classic. I have a soft spot for the war-scarred veteran who comes home and is brought out of some reclusiveness by a determined heroine. I think I like even better the ones where the war-scarred veteran isn't that much of a recluse, but is trying hard to go on with his life. The ones that kind of throw me are the ones where the hero wears a mask to hide his scars, and it turns out that the "scars" are essentially the equivalent of a dueling scar. Why even bother to hide that? One novel that took that theme to new heights was when the reclusive masked man was drawn out of hiding enough to go out in public -- still wearing the mask! I don't know how the other lords didn't laugh at him. And yes, it turned out that his scars were just thin lines on his face. I don't remember the name of that book. But I know it cracked me up. Semi-related are the stories in which the hero is somewhat disabled. I have less and less of a tolerance for the ones where he's full of self-pity and yells at everyone. I really prefer the ones where he's going on to live his life the best he can. It also bothers me when his disability is miraculously cured at the end of the story. If that doesn't happen, he generally turns out to still be an overachiever in the alpha department despite the disability. I like the ones where he still has confidence that he has attractive qualities, and something to offer, and he and the heroine come to realize they agree on that fairly quickly.