After Dashiell’s best friend, Andy, is dumped, Dashiell agrees to a night out at trendy club, even though he has just lost his job and money is tight. Leaving early, unable to afford to pay his own way, Dashiell visits the bathroom and interrupts the attempted rape of a young man. Playing the knight in shining armor, Dashiell wades in with his fists, fighting off the the young man’s attackers. The victim insists that Dashiell does not involve the police, convincing Dashiell to instead tell the story that it was an attempted mugging.
The young man, Billy, leads Dashiell back to a much older man who turns out to be Frankie Haynes, the owner of the club. Impressed by Dashiell’s actions, Frankie offers him a job as a ‘babysitter’ for Billy with a healthy pay packet at the end of the week. Dashiell is reluctant to become involved with a man like Frankie, but unable to turn down the money, he agrees.
At first, Dashiell thinks Billy is a diva with a sugar daddy, but he soon begins to realize that there is something more disturbing about Frankie and his relationship with Billy. Though Dashiell has been specifically ordered not to become friends with Billy, he can’t help himself and as the situation becomes more complicated, Dashiell also discovers that he is not the only one curious about Frankie. With Billy’s safety threatened, will Dashiell be able to save him from the lion’s den?
Captive Hearts is the first book I have read by A.E. Ryecart and I am extremely impressed by her writing and ability to capture the emotions of her characters. In Captive Hearts, Ryecart conveys the angst and range of feelings that Dashiell and Billy experience by using first-person narration. Billy and Dashiell have alternate chapters, which are respectively titled to guide the reader. Ryecart places the reader in the fortunate position of seeing behind the masks both of these characters wear and it is this insight that compels us to hope that these two men may have a future together.
Until Dashiell, Billy played the roles of obedient “toy” around Frankie and spoilt diva when driven around by the “zombies.” In return for unexpected kindness and friendship, Dashiell sees beyond Billy’s facade and so do we. Billy is not only extremely vulnerable, but there is also no doubt in my mind that he is actually one of the most emotionally and mentally strong characters I have ever come across in fiction. It would be easy to presume that Billy stays with Frankie for the nice house and open-ended credit card he has access to, but actually Billy suffers the horrendous physical abuse, pressure to starve himself, and emotional manipulation for the sake of his Gran. For me, this brings a real sense of humanity to Captive Hearts. Billy is captured in an impossible situation because of his love for his Gran who has dementia and requires specialized private care that Frankie can afford.
Whilst Billy’s strength and kindness is hidden from those around him, Dashiell has only sought physical relationships before meeting Billy. Ryecart develops Dashiell’s character so that the reader sees his emotional side, confirming for us that this is a genuine relationship worth investing our time in. With Dashiell, it is not only his emerging softness that we witness, but his anger towards Frankie and the situation Billy is in, that Dashiell is powerless to save him from.
Dashiell and Billy may be the heroes’of Captive Hearts, but Frankie Haynes is definitely the villain. Frankie is cruel, abusive, and manipulative. Though we realize that there is probably a more sinister aspect to Frankie’s business dealings, it is not until the end of the book that Ryecart fully reveals everything. Frankie’s presence in Captive Hearts adds an uncomfortable tension because we are constantly concerned that Frankie will discover Billy and Dashiell’s relationship and what the consequences could be.
It is worth noting that the abuse that Captive Hearts deals with may be triggering for some readers. Frankie is the archetypal narcissist who uses extreme methods of control to keep Billy compliant. However, in my opinion, Ryecart is thoughtful in how she handles this issue. The reader never has to witness the scenes in which Billy is being physically abused, just the aftermath and the injuries Billy suffers. This does not eliminate our emotional response, either, because Ryecart’s descriptions of Billy’s bruises, bite marks, and cigarette burns are enough to horrify, disgust, anger and sadden us.
Captive Hearts is a romance with a satisfying epilogue, though I am left hoping that Lee’s story will be next! This is a gritty novel with some sweet and sexy moments and I think fans of the genre will love Billy and Dashiell as much as I did.