Ah, the Alpha Male. He's the cornerstone of the bulk of the category romances. He's the ultimate feminine fantasy, the untamable, seemingly complete man who has everything (and every woman) his heart desires, and yet when he meets the heroine, our 'everygirl', he realizes that she's the one thing he doesn't have, and she's the one thing he needs. Oh, he doesn't realize it right away, that takes much conflict and tension and passion, but by about chapter 10 he ought to be on his way.
So what is an Alpha Male? You can put National Geographic away because I'm not talking wolf packs. You can put Twilight away too, because neither am I talking werewolves. This is one of those special romance novel definitions (much like 'mistress').
Like his title implies, the Alpha Male is in charge. He's successful, he's driven, and he's an entity unto himself. He doesn't need anyone, least of all a woman, except for, well, you know, and he certainly doesn't need love!
Above all, Alpha Male does not mean bully. I read that on the eHarlequin site and I thought they nailed it with that. An Alpha Male has to have his own moral code, which he lives by strictly. He's not amoral and he certainly doesn't belittle people to elelvate himself. Now, he may lash out when cornered, or challenged emotionally, but 'alpha' is not synonymous with 'man who spends entire book degrading heroine and calling her awful names'. Granted, I've seen this, especially in older romances, where the hero is just inexplicably mean and by the end of the book the groveling is just too little too late and I want to bean him in his handsome face!
I think it's a cop out to write a hero as alpha that way, especially when there are other ways to do it that don't make him a one dimensional character.
Not to say he and the heroine can't have some pretty blistering fights, or that he won't say things that are hurtful, but there's yards between that and a guy who's just taking advantage of, and picking on, someone physically, and maybe emotionally, weaker than himself.
Above all, beneath his hardened exterior, the Alpha Male is a good man. He's honorable. He's the man we want to see the heroine tame (but not neuter!). And he has to be someone we care about, not just a trite caricature.
What makes a great Alpha for you? What books have some of your favorites?
P.S. The use of Fabio was entirely tongue in cheek. Also, I was going to write about the transformation of my decidedly beta hero to a much more macho alpha hunk, but this got long, so that will be part deux!