I've been trying to come up with my favorite of favorites in the love story department, but all I keep coming up with is the fundamental quality I look for in unbelievably beautiful romance. And I'm going with the movies rather than the novels today! (cuz I've already blogged too many times about my favorite books...HA!)
There's Moulin Rouge, where love, indeed, serves as a character in and of itself. It is an unyielding, deep, wrenching need to touch and be touched. Once the bond is cast and set, the characters ride the tide until real life intervenes..."The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love...and be loved in return..."
There's Charlotte Gray, where love takes root after Charlotte (a British spy) proves her integrity and spirit and her amazing willingness to die in order to make things right with two small boys headed off to an internment camp during WWII. Julien (the French Resistance hero) doesn't even know Charlotte's real name until the last line of the movie--but he knows her on such a fundamental level that her real name is simply superficial.
There's The Notebook (the movie, not the book), in which both characters make their marks on each other at an early age. They vibrate differently when they're with each other, and the years of separation cannot erase the impact and continuity of that marrow-deep love.
I guess in the whole scheme of things, what I look for in my favorites is that unquenchable thirst the main characters have for each other. Despite faults, imperfections, adversity, etc., what captivates me is the bond of an ever-expanding, mutual need. They're in it all together and they would not choose anyone else to experience that love with.
As though they've imprinted, and out of all the people in the world, these two were meant to make the largest impact on each other. The stories that ravish my heart are the ones in which both characters are not only ready to accept love...but they grab and hold on tight. The actors and/or characters in movies and books don't have to be gorgeous, just heroic. They don't have to be perfect, just very, very special. And capable of crazy love.
It's that simple.