Known as “Magnificent Max,” diplomat Max Ransleigh was famed for his lethal charm until a political betrayal left him exiled from government and his reputation in tatters. He seems a very unlikely savior for a well-bred young lady.
Except that Miss Caroline Denby doesn’t want to be saved she wants to be ruined! To Caroline, getting married is tantamount to a death sentence, and meeting the rakish Max at a house party seems the answer to her prayers . Surely this rogue won’t hesitate to put his bad reputation to good use?
On the surface, The Rake to Ruin Her is a fairly run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience story, and as such, it’s well-written. I found the two principals to be engaging and fairly well-rounded given the smallish page-count allowed by the average Harlequin Historical.
Caro Denby is a rather unconventional young lady in that she has no desire to marry or make a name for herself in society. From a very young age, she has worked with her late father on his stud farm and desires nothing more than to be left alone to run it and breed horses. At a house-party held at Barton Abbey, the country home of Mrs Grace Ransleigh, Caro hits upon the idea of getting herself ruined so that she will no longer find herself being pestered by unwanted suitors and will be able to retire to her stud farm in peace.
With this end in mind, she approaches Max Ransleigh, nephew of her hostess, and proposes to him that he compromise her and then refuse to marry her so that her ruin will be complete and unalterable. But despite having a bit of a reputation with the ladies (and I have to say that I’m getting a little tired of seeing the term “rake” used repeatedly in historical romances to describe a man who is most definitely not one), he also has a strong sense of honour and understands the workings of society far more than Caro does. He refuses her request, despite being intrigued by her and the way such an intelligent and straightforward woman has managed to disguise herself so efficiently behind a succession of horrible dresses and unpolished manners.
Unfortunately however, matters do not rest there, and when Max intervenes to help Caro to repel the attentions of a suitor who tries to force himself upon her, she is compromised anyway. When he does the decent thing and offers for her hand, she refuses and goes home to her stud farm, until she is threatened with its loss and has to turn to Max for help.
What I particularly liked about this part of the book is that we’re shown how the consequences of Caro’s refusal to marry him affect Max and his social standing. He’s the younger son of an earl and was enjoying his work as a diplomat when a political scandal saw him removed from his post and his reputation sullied. Since he’s unable to reveal the truth behind his association with Caro, his reputation is further disparaged when it is learned that he has (supposedly) despoiled an innocent and is not to be married to her. Normally, it is the woman’s reputation that sustains the damage in this type of plot, but here, the tables are turned, which I thought was a refreshing change.
Max and Caro are attracted to each other from the outset (although I did get rather tired of reading about her tingling nipples and swollen breasts!) but when she insists on a marriage in name only and tells him she will not interfere with his taking his pleasures elsewhere, he accedes and they are married.
What Caro hasn’t told Max is that it isn’t the marital bed she’s worried about (I don’t think I’ve ever read a Harlequin heroine who was at such risk of spontaneous combustion if she didn’t get laid!) – but rather something she has named “The Curse” because of the fact that the majority of her female relatives, including her mother, have died in childbirth.
For a relatively short novel, I thought the author did a good job in fleshing out the principal characters and charting the progress of their relationship. Caro is refreshingly frank, despite the fact that she does not immediately tell Max about her fear of childbirth, and in fact, their relationship as a whole is very open and honest. I liked the way they were supportive of each other and understood each other, and the way their romantic relationship grew from that.
If I have a complaint, it’s that Caro went from virgin to sexpot with nothing in between. Not that it’s wrong for a woman to know what she wants from her man, but she seemed to me to be surprisingly forward for a woman of her time. I imagine the author’s continual references to the way Max’s touch had an incendiary effect on her (and her nipples!) were intended to show that Caro had the potential to be a siren in the bedroom, but I felt it was a bit too far a bit too fast.
The Rake to Ruin Her was an enjoyable read that had much more depth to it than I was originally expecting. Max and Caro are well-matched; there is a real sense of affection between them, and I can quite easily imagine them living happily in the country breeding horses and children!