All good things must come to an end, and Lavinia Kent’s latest novel, Ravishing Ruby, probably spells the end of her wonderful erotic Bound and Determined series by giving the charming Madame Rouge her own happy ending. Months have passed since the passionate encounter between Ruby and the man who caused her to break her rule about sleeping with clients, Captain Derek Price, but she can’t help remembering the night they shared. When circumstances bring the seafaring American back to London he can’t stay away from Ruby’s high class brothel despite a new fiancee tied to a desperately needed alliance. Can Derek and Ruby find their way to a more lasting bond with one another without breaking the ties to others most important to them?
Ruby has been one of my favourite characters in the Bound and Determined novels from her first appearance in Mastering the Marquess, so seeing a full novel featuring her definitely appealed to me. After reading Kent’s first novella in the Bound and Determined series, Revealing Ruby, I wanted more of Ruby and Derek’s story, needed to see the forthright, strong madame get her own happily ever after. At the same time I didn’t think Kent would actually attempt it because historicals involving non-virginal, unmarried women are extremely uncommon. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever read one where that type of character was portrayed sympathetically or allowed to be a protagonist. When I saw the latest ARC for Kent’s work featured Ruby again my heart soared. The writing doesn’t try to dichotimize Ruby at all; she is neither Madonna nor whore. She is simply a women with limited choices based on the time period and her social status. Instead of allowing herself to become a victim Ruby took agency over her choices and made a path for herself in the sex trade and uses her position as madame to allow other young women to do the same.
One of the strengths of featuring Ruby as a protagonist, in my opinion, is because while she is a product of her time her attitudes and pragmatism translate easily to modern readers. Rather than allowing herself to be married off to a man her grandparents find suitable after she is ruined Ruby decides to never let a man have control over her destiny again. In the Regency era this limits her choices, and her bold choice to purchase the best and most discreet brothel in London to manage would cow a less determined woman. She recognizes how her choice is a lonely one, but not having to bow to a husband’s whims or force herself to hide her true self means more to Ruby than companionship. At the same time her weekly visits to her grandparents’ home in her less flamboyant guise and under her true identity, Emma , show a desire for connections to family despite the need to avoid mentioning her situation, something that can still resonate with 21st century readers.
I also enjoy Derek as a hero because his flaws center less on sexual proclivities and more on familial expectations and other relatable baggage. He wants a wife to forge an alliance for his family’s mills in America, and his young fiancee, Anne, brings necessary connections and the ability to purchase several weaving machines. At the same time he doesn’t want a young, biddable sweet young thing; he wants a woman who will challenge him both in and out of the bedroom and can actually help him with business. Emotionally he longs for Ruby, but he can’t think of how to bring both sides of his life together to make her the bride the Price family needs.
Now the part everyone actually cares about in an erotica novel: how is the sex? While the various roleplay and other sex scenes between Ruby and Derek are quite explicit they fell a little flat for me simply because there’s not very much BDSM. However, instead of a male dominant all of the time Ruby takes control of their sexual encounters on several occasions, which was a nice twist. I personally like a lot of kink in my bondage erotica, so just verbal control and RP doesn’t entirely work for me, but I’m sure the varying power dynamic between Derek and Ruby will appeal to readers who prefer a more emotional bondage type of situation in their erotica.
There are a few reveals at the end of the novel that felt a little heavy handed to me, but they did allow the story to tie up well. Overall, I greatly enjoyed Ravishing Ruby, and rather than immediately whipping off a review after finishing the book I let myself take several weeks to work it over in my brain. The ending leads me to believe this will be Kent’s last novel in this world, but maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. If it is the final installment it was an good one to end on with a pair of complex characters who face real life issues to tackle before they can be together.
5 Pirate Swords out of 5