The Ultimate Seduction by Dani Collins
Tiffany Davis takes her first delicious step into the exclusive masquerade ball hosted by the secretive Q Virtus gentleman’s club. Here, behind the mask, Tiffany can hide her scars and reveal her true self—a powerful businesswoman with an offer for the president of Bregnovia, Ryzard Vrbancic.
Astounded by her audacity, only the fire in Tiffany’s eyes makes Ryzard look twice. He has no interest in her business deal, but the promise of a woman who can match his ruthless determination makes him eager to seduce from her the one thing she’s not offering….
There is something disappointing in Mills & Boon blurbs of late. With so many publications to choose from I depend on blurbs to lead my reading choices. Had I not blind borrowed a stash of Mills & Boon in haste from my workplace, I would have read the back of this one and rejected it. It had sat on my shelves for a few months when I saw a tweet from Bookthingo’s Kat about Dani Collins which amused me and decided to give the book a go. And I am so glad.
This book has is typical of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy line (Harlequin Presents in the US) in that the locations are exotic from Venezuela to Hungary to (made up country) Bregnovia, Italy and more and more. Jetsetting, mega yachts, paparazzi photos are the norm for our protagonists. But that doesn’t mean that they are inured from heartache and pain. The Ultimate Seduction has every trope that you want in an HP. There is the anonymous sex the day before a prospective business deal, the controlling parents, there is virginity loss, the scarred heroine and the ghosts of loves past. And Dani Collins writes each of those tropes beautifully and then subverts them.
Tiffany Davis is a heroine who is vulnerable due to her extensive burns scars from a car explosion killing her husband on the day of their wedding two years earlier. Her husband has left her an incredibly wealthy woman which gives her passage to an exclusive, private wealthy gentlemen’s club Q Virtus (sounds a bit Skull and Bones or Bullingdon club to me but anyway). At this club members are incognito as they all walk around with intricate masks and conduct super secret corporate deals with one another, as of course the 1%ers are wont to do. Tiffany attends the welcome night function and finds some freedom in being masked. For the first time since her accident she can pretend she was as beautiful as she previously felt. This leads to a rather cringe-worthy but necessary dancing scene in which Ryzard, our hero, spots her and approaches her. They dirty dance a bit until their hotness means they need to take it to a private space where they get the deed on and have hot, sexy, anonymous sex (and anonymous sex the day before you meet with a prospective business deal could never go wrong, right?). Tiffany sees this as her only chance to lose her virginity. She had never slept with her fiance/husband, as they had been betrothed from a young age they had a reap your wild oats agreement which she had chosen to not reap. Tiffany’s virginity loss is sexy but more importantly, made me laugh as she worries that he could tell she was a virgin. So when he says “I’m pleased I could make your first time memorable.” she balks until she realises that he means her first time at a Q Virtus function.
Meanwhile, Ryzard is the president of a yet to be acknowledged war torn new country and he is seeking business deals to help him firstly get enough international votes to have his country recognised and secondly to get assistance for the country he loves. Ryzard is rich in his own right as he invented and sold a “doodad” (Tiffany’s wry reference) to engineering companies. Ryzard is emotionally cut off as the love of his life, Luiza suicided when she was held captive during war time. He has dalliances but he doesn’t do relationships. He also needs the influence of Tiffany’s politician father to garner votes and Tiffany struggles to decipher whether Ryzard is honestly interested in her or if he is using her.
Tiffany is full of insecurities and rightfully so. She has to rebuild herself and she realises that she is forging a new self. She will never return to who she previously was. Her scars are never going to go away. People avert their eyes from her, her face has been reconstructed but she is still badly disfigured. The pain and adjustment that she must go through in accompanying Ryzard to public meetings is poignant. From hiding for 2 years, she is thrown into a public life that she grew up in but did not want to continue being part of and becomes more and more introverted. She says “I used to be [pretty] and it gave me confidence. Don’t deny that being physically attractive is powerful”. This point is so important. In a world where we want to be social responsible and sensitive to others, Tiffany’s observation frames how the world feels to her. It is a place where your good looks are an open door to success and she now lurks on the edges slowly building up here courage. When it comes, Tiffany turns her se seemingly quickly but the lead up to the novel, those story edges that we create ourselves, is the time that she spent preparing for an eventual change. This novel is all about her change.
This change results in Tiffany’s clashing with her parents which at first seemed to me to be the usual one-dimensional “ma family is so mean” trope but what you discover is a family that deeply loves their daughter but they too felt awkwardness and despair in not knowing how to help her with her injuries. They also struggle with their daughter who toed the family line for so long that they are unsure of how to cope with her newfound independence. I love that Tiffany calls out her family with their attitudes to her previous compliance, their double standards as to what was acceptable behaviour for her brother and what is acceptable for her as a female and she acknowledges how they hurt her deeply yet she still continues to talk to them.
And then we have Ryzard. Ryzard is such a hero. HERO in this book. Dani Collins writes him like an alpha at the beginning and as you progress through the book you find a wonderful, caring, hurt man who is struggling with his own losses. He has a tattoo of his beloved Luiza on his chest and Tiffany despairs that even when they make love Luiza is present, Ryzard thinks the same of Tiffany’s scars as they are the presence of her late husband. Tiffany tells him that he is the only person to compliment her as having substance. This leads to perhaps one of the most beautiful love scenes (yes love – it was not a sex scene at all) I have read in years. There were no descriptions of erections or hardness or any other details – it was all heartfelt emotion. Scenes like these differentiate romance genre from sex and porn fiction. As @Liz_Mc2 recently tweeted “You know, it’s called “romance genre” rather than “sex genre” for a reason. Romance is a requirement. Sex is not.” The sex scenes in this book are good but it was that most romantic love scene that had me sighing.
Tiffany eventually regains trust in herself, giving her power and strength to leave Ryzard and starts running her life the way she wants and not in the eye of the media who are constantly following Ryzard and not the way her family expects her to do. And she does this successfully. Ryzard does not pursue her. In the end it is Tiffany who goes to him at a time where he is in need. It was a beautiful beautiful book. I loved Ryzard – he is an exceptional hero who does not heal the heroine but gives her the space to heal herself. However, Tiffany is the standout out in this story. She goes from a scared and unsure woman who has been disempowered over the years to finding that she was always strong, she was always capable and that she could face all obstacles that came her way and she can do it all on her own (but eventually chooses not to).
I really can’t do justice to this book with my review. I have so much more I want to write about it. I have been hanging onto the book and clocking up overdue fines just so I can absorb it. Tiffany is that rare heroine I seek out in Harlequin Presents – she is wry and funny. She is vulnerable and strong. She is a woman whom I could eimagine being my friend. She is a heroine, who by Miss Bates’s measure, gives good chin.
A copy of this book was borrowed from a New South Wales public library.