Webster's defines protector as "one who protects." That's helpful, but let's take it a step further and look at protect. "To keep (someone or something) from being harmed, lost, etc." This is better and gives us something to work with.
Since we're dealing with romance heroes it's usually a someone he wants to protect. The heroine, others he cares about, and to a lesser extent himself.
Protect is NOT a synonym for smother. Nor is it a synonym for controlling asshole who won't let the heroine stand on her own or face anything. A protector hero is one willing to put himself between the heroine and harm's way, to take an injury meant for her, to have her back, and to be there to help her if/when she needs it.
I read Transcendence by Shay Savage over the weekend, and it was one of the best examples I've ever seen of a protector hero. The hero, Ehd, is a cave man. With no ability to process speech. It was amazing and one of the best books I've ever read. All he knows is hunting and protecting what's his. He loves his heroine. He learns from her. She also literally saves his life.
Ehd's first thought every morning when he wakes up is to protect his Beh. In the pre-historic world, if you had no one to protect you, you didn't live very long. He protects her from wild animals, from winter, and from another man who tries to rape her. He even tries to protect her while their baby daughter is dying, by holding her and not leaving her to deal with it alone. And he does it all without diminishing her strength.
It's a beautiful novel. Go buy it. Ehd is everything a romance hero should be. It's also a novel told 100% in the hero's perspective, until the epilogue.
In my novel, My Name Is A'yen, A'yen is a protector. His species has been genetically manipulated for centuries to produce certain physical characteristics such as increased strength and height. The males of his species already have strong protective instincts and many of them are conditioned to make those instincts even stronger. Fae, the heroine, buys A'yen for the express purpose of protecting her while she heads up an archaeological dig on an alien planet.
He doesn't protect her by hovering or smothering or forcing her to do things his way. He does it with patience and compassion. By putting himself between her and perceived physical danger. He even does it by sacrificing his own needs to ensure her reputation isn't ruined.
When you combine compassion, a warrior outlook, and the heart of a protector, you have a recipe for romance hero magic. These are the qualities that make us swoon over a hero and give him the honor of book boyfriend.
Rachel Leigh Smith writes romance for the hero lover. She lives in central Louisiana with her family and a half-crazed calico. When not writing, which isn’t often, she’s hanging with her family, doing counted cross-stitch, or yakking about life, the universe, and everything with her besties. Her debut novel, My Name Is A'yen, is available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, and Smashwords.