Hard As You Can
It’s so refreshing to read a romantic suspense novel in which the suspense and romance are balanced well without either seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. Though at times a bit far-fetched, Hard As You Can delivers plenty of action coupled with actual relationship development.
When we meet Crystal Dean she is working at a strip club serving cocktails in an effort to appease her boyfriend Bruno and work off the debt that her deceased father had accumulated to Jimmie Church and his gang. Crystal’s father was up to his eyeballs in organized crime and died in prison owing a large debt to Bruno and the gang. Crystal doesn’t want to be a cocktail waitress in skimpy clothing, but she feels she has no choice as bad things tend to happen to those who cross Bruno’s people. She also feels that she owes Bruno as he has been taking care of the medical bills of Crystal’s epileptic younger sister.
One night at work, she witnesses the gang bringing in a badly injured man and knows that nothing good can come of it. Her general policy has been to mind her own business and not intervene in the dangerous affairs conducted in the club’s basement. But when looker Shane McCallan needs her assistance to rescue the man, she barely hesitates, setting off a chain of events that brings her in close contact with Shane and his rescue mission while putting herself into mortal danger with Bruno and the Church Gang.
Crystal was a strong heroine in a tough position. She’s nurturing with her sister without being sugary sweet. She is also resourceful, planning for the day that she and her sister can break away from Bruno and his ilk. She has real chemistry with Shane and their relationship develops in a way that does not compromise her characterization.
The story moves along at a fast clip with plenty of action. Crystal is in real danger from Bruno if he discovers that she has been assisting Shane. I really liked that while she recognizes that Shane is one of the good guys, he must earn her trust. She does not look at him and think that he is the solution to all of her problems. For his part, after a few missteps, Shane is willing to take it slowly with Crystal, knowing that coming on too strongly will cause her to bolt. This approach to their relationship felt realistic and worked for me.
A few portions of the story did not work as well for me though. Shane bugs Crystal’s apartment, which is a serious invasion of privacy, illegal, and totally uncool, though his motives are, if not pure, understandable. My willing suspension of disbelief was stretched pretty tight when the guys recruited a med school student to perform a risky procedure in the back of an ambulance when the security at area hospitals is compromised. And the storyline with Shane and his Special Ops buddies was difficult for me to understand having not read the previous book.
However, there is a lot to enjoy here. A hot hero and tough heroine, plus plenty of action and danger kept me turning the pages long past my bedtime. This is the second book in the Hard Ink series. While the romance works as a standalone, there is a continuing storyline throughout the series that may be difficult for new readers to follow.