I read the first Hard Ink novel, Hard As It Gets ( A | BN | K | ARe ), and realllllyyy enjoyed the story, the supporting characters, and the romance. So much so that when I finished the book and realized that the main plot line would continue, I immediately pre-ordered the second book and had to calm myself, thinking “It’s only a month, you can wait a month….you can do it”.
So when I got that lovely message in my email inbox from Amazon saying GO TO YOUR KINDLE – Hard As You Can AWAITS!! Of course, I immediately began devouring the story.
Finishing the book in one night, I enjoyed the plot and was interested enough in the characters to see how it panned out, but overall I was disappointed. My feelings may be coming partially from how much I enjoyed the first book and so my expectations were high, but there were also few issues I had with the romance itself that I couldn't get past.
***MILD SPOILERS AHOY***
The heroine (Sara aka Crystal) is trapped by pretty dire circumstance involving some unknown thing her gang-member father did to end up being killed and leave an unknown debt Sara is forced to pay by being a waitress at a strip club owned by said gang that also deals in drugs, arms, and human trafficking. Whew. Sara is also trapped in a relationship with a gang member because he provides financial support to her sick sister and saved her from being sold by the same gang he belongs to. Sara meets the hero – Shane – in the first book when she betrays the boyfriend and the gang and assists in the hero's team's rescue of a prisoner in the basement of the club. DRAAMMAAAAA
With these circumstances though, the romance progresses slowly (or, as slowly as possible when the story only takes place over a few days) because they have to meet in secret. Sara is a love interest for Shane and an informant on the human trafficking side of the gang's operations. Why? Because it may provide some insight into the main plot line that began the series…a whole other story involving army personnel, hospital employees, and cops on the take, a dead army team leader/father potentially involved in Afghanistan drug deals, his team, including Shane, who was dishonourably discharged but brought back together by the team leader's son and daughter, and a three legged German Sheppard. Rescuing Sarah and her sister also represents a chance at redemption for Shane since his kid sister was abducted and never seen again. MORE DRAAMAAAA
So, Shane begins his rescue operation by meeting in secret or in public but through disguises (including hair gel and cowboy hats) to gain Sara's trust. I have no problem with this, and I usually enjoy a slow buildup of tension and suspense. What I do have a problem with is that they don't get together until 3/4 of the book is over, and they only spend the night together because Sara's sister has been kidnapped by the gang with the intention of being sold. Now, I can't say for sure, but since Sara was in her sister's exact position years ago (her experience involved being beaten, raped, and put up for sale before being rescued) would she really feel like sleeping with Shane for the first time that night as a time filler until they can perform the rescue operation and knowing that at the very least her sister has had a severe epileptic seizure and is unconscious?? Just saying….I don't think so. The whole thing felt out of place.
I was also disappointed because both the heroine and hero have emotionally charged stories, but they weren't told to each other. The reader came to know them through separate discussions with supporting characters and when it came time for Sara and Shane to tell each other, there was only a paragraph basically saying…and they told each other. In romances with a thread of darkness in the story line, I look forward to the emotional reveal of the backstories between the hero and heroine and how they come out stronger and closer as a result of “the reveal”. I felt cheated that I didn't get to see Sara and Shane have their moment.
And finally, the story ends directly after the rescue. They haven't even left the rescue vehicle and the sister is still unconscious, but Sara is like – sure, I'll move in with you. Done. It hasn't even been a week. Since the romance was almost secondary and didn't really happen until the story was nearly over, I was expecting a more intimate ending or at the very least an epilogue.
There were a couple of other small things that bothered me about this story.
First, I don't know about you, but when a hero installs listening devices unknowingly into the heroine's house, whenever the heroine speaks I'm always wondering…is he listening?? Is the team listening?? When they meet again, will the hero act differently because he's gained some intimate knowledge of the heroine and her feelings?? I DON'T KNOW. So I'm always wondering. In this story, devices were planted early on, but they only seemed to be listened to a couple of times. I didn't like this because there were some awesome heart-to-hearts and some intense creepy moments I would have LOVED Shane to react to. Mostly Shane's reactions to any discovery involved going back to the home base, brooding, being disappointed because he “pushed her too hard”, and then going out to push her some more the next day.
Second, what I feel was the main story line – the army one that started the series – was hardly addressed. There was some headway – an illegal surgery, a stuffed bear with a microchip eye – but really nothing major happened. The human trafficking story felt almost like a detour along the way, where Shane got to play the hero (and Sara accepted all kinds of help including financial assistance without batting an eye….) but that's about it.
Overall I gave this book a B because I enjoyed the writing, the plot, the secondary characters, and the fact that I didn't want to put it down, but the lack of sufficient development between Sara and Shane left me with a feeling of – oh, is that it?