Sexy ‘enemies-to-lovers’ romance Love Hard is book three in Nalini Singh’s Hard Play series. This tender love story is thoroughly satisfying from its amusing chapter titles down to the hero’s amply-filled boxer briefs.
When Jacob ‘Jake’ Esera’s high school sweetheart died, he lost his true love and his baby daughter lost her mother. Six years later, Jake is a successful New Zealand rugby player and a doting single parent with one priority – his little girl, Esme. To ensure Esme’s safety and happiness, Jake surrounds himself with supportive family and friends, and maintains a respectable lifestyle that keeps the tabloids at bay. He believes that his stable, closely guarded world is all that he needs. But, Jake’s life changes forever when Juliet ‘Jules’ Nelisi shows up at his brother’s wedding. Jake is none too pleased to discover that Jules, his former high school antagonist, is bridesmaid to his groomsman. When they last saw each other, Jules was a rule-breaking wild child and Jake was a popular play-by-the-rules athlete. Despite the mutual hostility that still exists between them, Jules and Jake are insanely attracted to each other’s gorgeous adult selves, and as the couple learns to let go of their past differences, they form a close friendship. Jake is in awe of the capable, accomplished business professional that Jules has become, and Juliet admires Jack’s transformation into a devoted dad who sometimes trades in his stern resting face for a dazzling smile. With newfound respect comes an unquenchable desire that neither Jules nor Jake are prepared to handle.
The first eight chapters of Love Hard take place during the wedding day festivities of Jake’s older brother, Gabe, a secondary character who was featured in Singh’s Rock Kiss series. While I enjoyed Jules and Jake’s electrifying wedding day reunion, I was exhausted by the lengthy exposition overflowing with ‘character dumps’ and marital euphoria. As soon as Gabe goes on his honeymoon, Jules and Jake’s narrative takes center stage and the pace picks up. The plot complications and conflicts that follow are too quickly and neatly resolved. Either Singh feared exceeding her word count, or she doesn’t like to keep readers in suspended states of anxiety and curiosity for very long.
I have one nitpicky personal complaint to share before moving on to more favorable comments. I am not a fan of Singh’s use of alliteration in selecting her protagonists’ first names – ‘Jacob’ and ‘Juliet.’ Since the lovers are frequently called ‘Jake’ and ‘Jules,’ there are actually four ‘J’ names that refer to the main characters. The resulting ‘brain muddle’ occasionally interrupted my reading flow.
Criticisms aside, Singh is talented at writing sympathetic characters who passionately fall in love with each other. She deftly crafts an affectionate opposites attract relationship between Jules and Jake that tugs at the heartstrings. Jules is fun and sassy, but cynical and wary; Jake is serious and shy, but warm and welcoming. She makes him feel alive; he makes her feel safe. Together, they are a perfect pair. Their shared history adds poignant depth to their intimate connection, and their heady mutual physical attraction leads to steamy, sexual gratification. Speaking of sweet, sweet lovemaking, Singh’s sex scenes are moderately graphic, some are barely on the page, but she is aces at building sexual tension and writing seductive foreplay – mental, as well as physical.
In short, Love Hard is an enjoyable romance that engages and delights. Sure, the first quarter of the novel is slow and the cast of characters is eight-feet deep, but the loving is just right. If you’re seeking a romance novel that will wrap you in a super soft blanket made of ‘forever love,’ then Nalini Singh’s Love Hard is the book for you.
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