I have mixed feelings about Ride Rough, the second story in Laura Kaye’s motorcycle club series Raven Riders. I’ve read and enjoyed books by this author before, but this one didn’t quite ‘click’ with me – which I’m hoping is just a one off. Ride Rough is a sexy second-chance romance for the club’s vice president Maverick Rylan and his old girlfriend Alexa Harmon. Although the book works as a standalone, readers may want to read Ride Hard first, as there is (from what I can gather, since I haven’t read it) a significant introductory scene to set the stage for the couple here.
Alexa is beginning to realize that she’s made a big mistake. After the death of her brother, Tyler, a member of the Raven Riders motorcycle club – her grief caused her to make some big changes in her life. Unable to bear the idea that her boyfriend Maverick could be next, she broke things off with him and severed her ties to the club. She got a new job with a successful real estate company and started dating her boss, Grant. A wealthy, successful and handsome man, Grant was able to give Alexa the security she needed but has gradually become very controlling. A fight in which she’d been injured in a fall had resulted in her fleeing and seeking assurances from the man who used to be by her side – Maverick. But she’d returned to Grant anyway, with only a few weeks to go until her wedding.
As a survivor of family domestic abuse, Maverick recognizes the signs of what is happening to Alexa and he’s determined to head things off before they get any worse. When another event occurs that has even more serious consequences, Maverick is there to help her pick up the pieces. But Grant isn’t going to let Alexa go so easily, and Maverick knows it. Will Alexa and Maverick’s second chance be cut short by an ex with a plan for revenge?
If you are sensitive to depictions of domestic abuse in romances, then you might want to avoid this book altogether, or at least be prepared for some uncomfortable scenes. While Grant doesn’t hit Alexa, her worry about making sure everything is ‘just so’ in order to avoid any conflicts with him makes it clear that he’s managed to box her into a rather tight corner. With two weeks to go until their wedding, Grant takes her away for the weekend. He forces her to have sex, in what is a very dubious consent scene; she doesn’t say no outright, but only because it will make him angry if she does. The tension for the reader eases when an argument ends with Grant kicking Alexa out of the house, about mid-way through the first half of the story. It’s the proverbial wake-up call, where Alexa realizes just how much things have spiraled out of control. Luckily, Maverick – who has been keeping an eye out for her – comes to her rescue.
Now that Alexa is through with Grant, her conscience sets her free to do what she really wants to do – rekindle her relationship with Maverick. Maverick makes it clear to her that he doesn’t want to take advantage of her emotional state so it’s Alexa who is responsible for initiating their lovemaking. They still have very strong feelings for each other, and in fact, there is no conflict between them from this point on, so they have reached (in my opinion) their HEA – but the book isn’t half over yet. They still have to come out and say the words but it’s a foregone conclusion. The conflict in the story now comes from Grant, who doesn’t take Alexa’s departure to be anything more than a temporary setback in his plan to be duly wedded, and certainly won’t put up with the public humiliation of being jilted by his fiancée. This results in some second-half action and drama to propel the story to its inevitable end.
As a motorcycle club, the Raven Riders are unique, and somewhat too good to be true. MC romances I’ve read before feature lots of violence, alcohol and sex, as well as generally misogynistic attitudes towards women. The Riders engage in some inter-club violence, though in this case it’s done with the tacit cooperation of the authorities. They run a legal racetrack, and Maverick has a custom cycle shop so income for the club comes from legitimate sources. There’s not much discussion of any illegal activities, and if they are engaging in them, it’s to the benefit of any abused women and children in the area, to whom they offer protection. Plus, the clubhouse scenes here are more like a sports club, with a bunch of guys who happen to ride motorcycles. There is no public sex, baked goods are plentiful and Maverick’s mom is usually present too. I’d have no qualms about hanging out with these guys.
On the plus side, Maverick and Alexa are very likable characters and they definitely have a solid connection. Their attraction to each other, and the steamy scenes that result kept me reading, as did the scenes between Maverick and his biker friends. Alexa’s mother has a role in this story as well, a woman who suffers from mental illness and is a hoarder. Maverick’s sensitivity to Alexa’s mother’s illness shows just what kind of man he really is – a hero through and through. Though I think Ride Rough belongs in an MC-light category, I am interested enough in the other characters to consider reading another one of the series. But I would definitely hope for more conflict between the two main characters to make their happy ever after a little more hard won.