Intermix / April 16, 2013 / $3.99 digital
Erin Coffey has been a nurse for years, but nothing’s prepared her for the physical and emotional demands of her new position. Needing to move closer to her dysfunctional family, she takes a dangerous job at Larkhaven Psychiatric Hospital, where she quickly learns that she needs protection—and she meets the strong, over-confident coworker who’s more than willing to provide it.
Kelly Robak is the type of guy that Erin has sworn she’d never get involved with. She’s seen firsthand, via her mess of a sister, what chaos guys like him can bring into a woman’s life. But she finds herself drawn to him anyway, even when he shows up at her door, not eager to take no for an answer.
What Erin finds even more shocking than Kelly’s indecent proposal is how much she enjoys submitting to his every command. But he can’t play the tough guy indefinitely. If they want to have more than just an affair, both will have to open up and reveal what they truly need.
Cara McKenna writes real romance. Rough around the edges and anything but easy, the relationship between the hero and heroine is something they have to work for, and is all the more rewarding for it. Her heroes live on the fringe of society, overwhelming and demanding, big and a little mean, but never falling into stereotype. And there’s always some aspect of the plot, the characters, or the setting that’s deeply fascinating. This is the case in After Hours, a full-length novel set in a psychiatric institution. Erin Coffey is starting her first professional job as a nurse at Larkhaven, where right away she meets Kelly Robak, an orderly whose size and appearance might be mistaken for a patient’s. The control Erin has always prided herself on is completely thrown off by Kelly, even as she's continually drawn to him.
Larkhaven and its cast of unpredictable, potentially dangerous patients lends an eerie quality to Kelly and Erin's romance, a foil that highlights the twists and turns of the story, leaving us unsure and not at all certain that everything will turn out for good, but fixated as we see it unfold. Kelly becomes a stable, familiar presence in a new job that Erin quickly learns she may not be entirely prepared for, but he's a force all his own and exploring something with him may be every bit as risky as life on the ward. He both protects her at work and challenges her outside of it as their gravitating attraction keeps leading them to each other.
“Listen. I like you. And I want you. I’m inviting you to come over so we can explore the thing that’s between us. I know you feel it, same as me. I’m offering you a chance to shut your brain off for a weekend, so we can spoil each other’s bodies rotten. Let me boss you around and I promise you’ll find out I give twice as good as I get. I’m not gonna try to fuck your ass or dress you up like a hooker –”
“Be still my heart, Kelly Robak, you charmer, you.”
“There’s four things a real man has to be able to do for a woman.”
“Exactly how many man-lists do you have?”
He let my wrist go and ticked the items off on his fingers. “Fix her car. Grill her a steak. Kick the ass of any guy who makes her cry. And fuck her so hard she wakes up half-crippled.”
But even as Kelly is bossy and unrelenting, Erin knows guys like him. The deadbeats who she has always sworn to avoid, who have made her mother a vagabond and her sister a weak, dependent shell. She has no interest in controlling men, even as she desperately holds onto the reins of control in every aspect of her own life. So she puts Kelly off until she can't anymore. They're familiar to each other, even as they're perfect for each other in their similarities and contrasts. They each want control in their own way, they're each looking for the other to let go a little, and they each have deep-seated issues with trust.
“I told you a hundred times, I didn't want your help with that.”
He twisted in his seat and laid an arm across the back of mine. “You need my help with that.”
“No, I don't.”
“Yeah, you do. You can't fix your issues with that shitbag, just like you can't fix your car. But I can. So fucking let me, why don't you? Quit thinking you have to to be the strong one all the time.”
“Don't you dare analyze me.”
“Quit telling yourself you don't need anybody.”
“I don't need anybody.” People needed me. My sister, my grandma, the residents on the ward.
“Yeah,” Kelly said. “You fucking do.”
“You really wanna talk about people and their control issues, Kel? Because we can talk about that.”
Heavy issues and threads of abuse wound into the characters' histories add to the very real complexity of the story, as we see that even those in charge at Larkhaven have dark pasts and preconceived notions so firmly rooted that only the promise of something better and trust in something good can pull them out and allow them to really live. Erin's and Kelly's actions are constantly fluid and unexpected. Though masculine and sexy, Kelly openly reveals his softer side.
Kelly shares his feelings and desires, and though controlling, shows himself to be more than willing to give and take. He's there for her in a way no one ever has been. And though Erin appears to be meek and malleable, several times she brings out claws that show her to be more tiger than kitten and proves that she can just as easily go head-to-head with Kelly as let him take care of her. And when this hero and heroine find their way together, it's that much more powerful for the rocky road they had to take to get there.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of After Hours by Cara McKenna before its April 16 release:
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.