**Note: This post contains spoilers for Cara McKenna’s Hard Time…you’ve been warned!**
Usually an ex-con would not make it onto anyone’s list of Most-Desirables, but since I read Cara McKenna’s Hard Time, I’ve had it bad for inmate 802267, Eric Collier. Eric has been in prison for five years when he meets prison-outreach librarian, Annie Goodhouse. The connection is immediate, and it’s easy to see why Annie goes running into Eric’s arms, when any other woman would have been running the other way.
1. He’s hard-working:
We see this both before and after Eric’s release. He works with Annie, granted with an ulterior motive, on his learning disability so that he can be a better person after his release. He worked as a landscaper during his prison work-release and he took that opportunity to develop a skill for a job once he’s paroled. His work ethic is admirable, and his dedication to being a better, calmer, more educated person once he’s out of prison is inspiring.
Also, he takes total advantage of the prison yard to work on his physique; a fact Annie and readers alike appreciate.
2. He’s loyal… to a fault:
“He gave up five years of his life for your…for your honor,” I told her. I sounded shrill and petulant, but fuck it. “That not compensation enough for however it is you feel like he disappointed you?”
—An argument between Annie and Eric’s sister
Annie and Eric’s relationship almost fizzled before it could even start because of Eric’s loyalty to his family. Eric was in prison for a violent crime, a fact Annie struggled with throughout the book—and for good cause. As Eric explains to Annie, it’s not his story to tell, but he did it for good reasons, and the guy had it coming to him. However, it’s Eric’s loyalty that always scares Annie. She fears that he’ll put his family loyalty above his own freedom, and their shared happiness. In the end, Annie helps Eric find that balance.
3. He has a way with words:
Despite having what appears to be a severe case of dysgraphia (the cousin to dyslexia as Ms. McKenna has taught me), Eric has a way with words that could make Shakespeare (or at least any modern-day man) weep with envy. His relationship with Annie Goodhouse begins as a rather explicit epistolary romance, but the words he writes to her (sometimes with her own unwitting aid) are both hot and romantic, and totally sigh-enducing. Here’s a sample:
“A few minutes a week with you is almost more cruel than it’s worth”
“I wish we could be together, in ways I haven’t been with a woman in five year. Sometimes when I see you…Sometimes I can’t even listen to what you’re saying. All I can do is watch your mouth. I watch your lips and I think about kissing you…”
It may not always be pretty, but it’s pure poetry.
4. He thinks you’re too good for him, and he’ll do anything to prove that he’s worth it:
“You’re probably one of those girls who needs to respect a guy before you feel something for him. Where I come from people don’t think that way. We all just drink and fuck and call it love for however long it lasts. But I want you to think I’m better than that. To be someone you could maybe respect. Crazy as that sounds…”
—A letter to Annie Goodhouse from Eric Collier
This has a lot to do with his time behind bars. As an inmate, his identity was stripped away into a string of numbers and a last name, if he was lucky. Because of this dehumanization, when he’s finally released, and is around the perfect, in his eyes, Annie, he feels unworthy. After all, the town librarian, and the daughter of a state trooper, is so much higher than he thinks he can ever aspire to be. While this might turn into a flaw, the one place you are super happy to have his attention to your every need is in the bedroom. To say Eric is attentive would be a massive understatement. He’s take-charge in the bedroom, but he wants to know where, when, and how much Annie wants it, every step of the way. Not a bad characteristic to have in a boyfriend!
5. He’s bossy, but not too bossy:
Bossiness has become a characteristic in almost all of Cara McKenna’s heroes, and I don’t think anyone is complaining! However, Collier once again exhibits that he is a product of his time in prison. While he loves to tell Annie what to wear and when (first exhibited as a signal that she wants to continue their courtship), he relies heavily on Annie to direct the bigger picture of their relationship, which just goes to show how honorable and considerate Eric is.
Bonus: He honestly likes and respects women. This is where McKenna’s subtlety and perfection comes into play as a writer. It’s never explicitly said that Collier respects women, outside of his exclamations that he had never and would never hit a woman, however it is evident in how he cares for Annie while they make love, how he talks to and about her that makes that message clear.
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.