Hard As You Can
Avon / February 25, 2014 / $5.99 print, $4.99 digital
Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he's shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister's sake, Crystal can't get too close. Until her job and Shane's mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed.
Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former Special Forces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn't want him to uncover. Too bad. He's exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can—and never let go.
Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series is my new obsession. I was lucky enough to be at an event a few months ago where she did a reading and from that night on I was totally hooked. I bought the first book, Hard As It Gets, that night, and fell head over heels in lust with the hardened men of Hard Ink. Book 2 in the series, Hard As You Can, leaves me with no regrets about the series, and totally hooked to this fast-paced, sexy read.
We jump in to Hard As You Can starting at the scene right before our hero and heroine, Shane and Crystal, meet for the first time in Hard As It Gets, this time seeing the events from Crystal’s point of view. Shane is part of a disgraced unit fighting to earn back their honor and clear their names after they were left to die by their dirty unit officer. The mystery surrounding the unit that started in Hard As It Gets continues to be pieced together, but much is still up in the air by even the end of this book—with that being said, I strongly suggest you read the first book before diving into this one. Kaye is able to give you a good summary of events so that you aren’t confused at all and if you really want to dive in, then dive away, but the story and the tension within the unit is enjoyed more fully if you read this series in order.
But it isn’t the mystery of team that sucks the reader in, nor that is truly the focus of the book, but instead it's the very tough situation in which we find Crystal. Crystal’s sister, Jenna, has epilepsy and their father owed a lot of money to all the wrong people. To work off that debt—and pay for Jenna’s medications—Crystal is forced to work at the very strip club that the Hard Ink crew raids at the end of Hard As It Gets. And the situation gets worse as we find out that Crystal is also stuck with an abusive boyfriend who she is forced to stay with because he pays the bills.
Before he charged into the room and scared Jenna awake, Crystal padded across the carpet, slowly twisted the handle, and opened the closet door to show him that the only things within belonged there. She kept her expression carefully blank, but her thoughts were filled with, Asshole. Control freak. Jerk.
But since he was the assholish, control-freak jerk who paid for their housing and Jenna’s various medications and numerous checkups, she put up with him. At over five thousand dollars every three months, Jenna’s treatments didn’t give her much choice.
Not for much longer, though…
Because once Jenna graduated from college, she could get a job that would provide her health benefits and, for the first time in four years, Crystal wouldn’t feel compelled to do something, be someone, or be with someone she didn’t want to ensure her sister had the care she required.
Through a series of unfortunate, and in some ways, fortunate, events, Crystal is finally able to break away from the abusive boyfriend—if only to land in the arms of Southern-charmer Shane. Their romance has the element of the forbidden as Shane practically uses Crystal as a mark to be turned and used against the very people she works for, and Crystal is still technically in a relationship through a lot of the book (despite the relationship being a physically and sexually abusive one), but Kaye manages to make their relationship progress in a way that is sympathetic, realistic—and hot!
She moaned and held him tighter, like his retreat had made something snap within her. Their kisses deepened, and her body moved against his, sinuously, maddeningly, desperately.
They tasted one another again and again, giving in to the heat that had sparked between them from the moment Crystal had collided with him at Confessions. Little nips and bites of lips and teeth warred with long, sensual strokes of tongue that stole his breath and made him instantly hard. The sting in his lip, the throb of his GSW, the aches from Nick’s asskicking, every bit of it faded away—no, her touch made it allgo away.
The few times they’d spoken, Crystal had most often been guarded, tentative, fearful. Just as she’d been when he first kissed her. But, now, she was revealing a passionate woman who could be fearless, giving and receiving openly and without hesitation. Christ, the thought that this fierceness was the real Crystal slayed him because it meant she was burying and denying her true self, not because she wanted to, but because she had to.
No, because she was forced to.
The thought reminded him of the bruises on her arm. Shane had known this woman for three days, and twice in that time she’d been hurt by another man. And both as consequences for things Shane had done.
A crack of thunder echoed from the heavens, making Crystal jump and gasp into his mouth.
“I’ve got you,” he rasped around a kiss.
Part of him wanted to say more, to tell her he had her and he’d keep her safe. But he couldn't make himself give up her heat, her sweetness, her obvious hunger—for him. So he made her a silent promise instead.
Never again, Crystal. He’ll never hurt you again. Not on my watch.
Kaye crafts a deeply satisfying and erotic story of romantic suspense with compelling characters and love scenes that will both make you melt and swoon. Kaye has become a must-read for me!
Learn more or order a copy of Hard As You Can by Laura Kaye, out February 25, 2014:
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.