I received this book for free from Avon Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Hard Ink #2
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Published by Avon Books on February 25th 2014
Source: Avon Books
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Five dishonored soldiers.
Former Special Forces.
One last mission.
These are the men of Hard Ink.
Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he’s shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister’s sake, Crystal can’t get too close. Until her job and Shane’s mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed.
Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former Special Forces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn't want him to uncover. Too bad. He’s exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can—and never let go.
I just closed the last page to Hard As You Can and wowits going to take a little while to get down from the emotional roller coaster Ive just been on. As you know, Hard As You Can picks right up where Hard As It Gets left of, this time with Shane and Crystal as the main protagonists. Action-packed and filled with intensity, Hard As You Can grabs a hold of you and doesnt let go.
Crystals been going through the motions, submitting to her controlling boyfriend, speaking when spoken to and basically staying out of anyones way. The only thing Crystal wants is to keep her sister safe, earn enough money and get the hell away from Confessions, the shady dance club where she works. Easier said than done. And after helping a couple of strangers break out of Confessions with a prisoner, Crystal knows that things are not going to be the same for her. Shane McMallan cant seem to take his mind off the waitress who helped them rescue Charlie, so when given the opportunity, he finds himself right back to her. Strong, resilient and observant, Shane knows Crystals hiding something and he cant help but be intrigued by the beautiful green-eyed, skittish waitress.
Crystal was a character that I grew to admire and care for. Ever since her father was thrown in prison, and then killed, Crystals had the burden of his debts fall on her shoulders. Add a sick younger sister to the mix and Crystal has a lot to deal with. Still, she handles herself with an impressive amount of strength considering all shes been through. Shes smart, headstrong and determined, and its not long before Shane figures that out for himself. One of the strongest character traits Crystal possesses is loyalty and love for her sister. I fiercely admire that. Pushing aside your own hopes and dreams, and putting your own life on the line for someone else is not something many people are able to do. And even when those dark thoughts and the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness threatens to bury her, Crystal perseveres. I am always in awe of authors who are able to express and deliver such strong emotions out of seemingly irrelevant things, and Kaye succeeds all the way.
Shane has his own demons to deal with, and his are one of the strongest anyone would have to deal with. Guilt can be such a powerful emotion and it can be enough to drown someone in despair. Shane still feels guilty for not protecting his little sister and he still blames himself for her abduction. I know this is a work of fiction, but that has to be one of the hardest things to deal with in real life. I dont know whats going to happen next in the Hark Ink series, but one thing I do hope for so bad is for Shane to find his long-lost sister. I might be getting a little ahead of myself, but throughout the whole novel, I was praying and begging that one of the girls rescued be his sister. Shane is one hell of an alpha to read about. Hes fiercely protective, strong as hell, cocky, bossy, a smart-ass, and just an all-around great guy.
While these books typically take place over the course of a few days, Im able to believe in the romance that ensures between the protagonists. Honestly with everything going oncover opt missions, rescue attempts, vigilance, etc.it seems like weeks are passing when its just a few days. Sometimes that can be a little overbearing, but Kaye has a way of getting the pace just right. I honestly loved that Shane and Crystal dont get into bed at the first chance they get. Theres a lot of ground to cover between the two, mostly dealing with trust, so it was nice to see how each individual dealt with each others interactions. That did not take away, however, from the underlying sexual tension. At all. Its there and it was definitely satisfying to read. Shane and Crystal complemented each other in more ways than one and Im glad Kaye explores that. Its more than just sex for these two characters. And even though they would be alright without each otheralbeit more rugged and restlesstheyre even stronger together.
Theres still so much more to these characters and I cant wait to get to know the rest of the Hard Ink family. Fast-paced and exciting, Hard As You Can takes you on a wild ride and doesnt let you go, even after youve turned the last page.
“Do you like to dance, Crystal?” Shane asked in a low voice.
“Uh, what? Why?”
His smile was crooked, playful. “’Cause dancings something people do when they’re getting to know each other.”
“Really?” Maybe where he was from. Then again, she worked in a strip club. Dancing was something people did to make money. So, okay, maybe her view of dancing was a bit jaded.
“Absolutely. Ask anybody.” The song faded away, followed by the announcement of a Southern rock station’s call sign. A new song started, and Shane turned to her with a smile. “Dance with me.”
Crystal peered up at him without the slightest idea how to respond. Because her body was saying hell, yes!, while her brain was screaming bad idea, really, really bad idea.
He stepped closer, arms raised, expression full of all kinds of invitation.
The next thing she knew, her right hand was in his and her left had slipped around his neck. Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod, ran over and over in her mind. What am I doing? But then he tucked her hand against his chest and tugged her against him with the hand that settled at her lower back. And the closeness stole her breath.
He moved them to the beat of the song, a slow, sexy, bluesy number she didn’t know but would never forget. Some songs carried memories like the images were imprinted upon the very lyrics themselves, and she had no doubt this would be one of them.
All of a sudden, the air in the room felt ten degrees warmer. As they swayed to the beat, Shane’s body pressed against hers from thighs to chest. With every step and move and turn, Crystal’s breasts rubbed against the hard plane of his chest. Strong hands held and guided her body, making her want to feel them explore her everywhere. Arousal rose like a waking dragon inside her. Cautious. Curious. Dangerous.
This was wrong and stupid on so many levels. But, scary as it was, it felt so freaking good that she couldn’t force herself to pull away. One song. It’s just a dance. Just a dance just a dance just a dance.
And, holy crap, she wasn’t the only one aroused.
Against her belly, Shane hardened.
Crystal sucked in a breath, and he pressed his lips close to her ear. “We’re just dancing here. That’s all. I promise,” he said. But the adrenaline was already in her blood, setting her to a trembling she couldn’t control. Part curious interest and part instinctive fear. “Sshh,” he almost cooed. “Just dancing.”
The echo of her own thoughts from a moment before allowed her to draw a breath that almost calmed. They turned and swayed to the music, moving closer, pressing tighter, Shane’s lips so close to her face that she could feel his breath shudder across her cheekbone.
He was a fire she had no business playing with. She knew that even as she leaned her face against his and got exactly what she’d hoped for.
He kissed her.
Just a brush of his lips against her cheek, but a kiss all the same.
And as much as it made her head spin, it was the little catch of breath in the back of his throat that sent a jolt of electricity down her spine to settle low in her belly. Light as a feather, he caressed her cheek, her temple, her ear with his lips. With him, always such gentleness, so different from almost every other sexual experience she’d ever had. It made her feel safe to allow this to continue.
Between them, his erection was firm, long, totally unyielding.
She shivered, caught between interest and fear, desire a river moving faster and faster inside her. The whole experience was a revelation—that her body had the capacity to respond this way, that a person existed who could pull these reactions from her.
For a moment, she gave herself over to the dizzying sensations. In her mind’s eye, she saw them undressing, fumbling their way back the hall, falling naked and wanting on the bed. What would it be like, just once, to take something that she wanted without worrying about anyone else, without being afraid? Just one wild, secret night, all for her? What would Shane be like?
Read an Extended Excerpt of Book 1, Hard As It Gets
HARD AS YOU CAN is your second book in the “Hard Ink” series (after USA Today bestseller, HARD AS IT GETS). What can readers look forward to?
Readers can look forward to tons of sexy alpha male goodness, awesome bromance between the Hard Ink men, more antics from the Hard Ink puppy, and another great love story between Shane and Crystal. But readers should also be ready for a book that is darker, more intense, and more emotional. This book pushed me to emotional places that were tough as a writer, and might be tough for readers, too. But I think that just makes the payoff at the end so much sweeter!
Describe Shane and Crystal. What are their best traits? What are their weaknesses?
Shane and Crystal are such an amazing couple to me. They’re each exactly what the other needs. Shane’s best traits are his protectiveness, his fundamental kindness, and his soul-deep loyalty (his southern accent and humor are also right up there!). His biggest weakness for sure is a tragedy from the past for which he blames himself—and it’s something that continues to motivate him in Hard As You Can. Crystal’s best traits are her courage, protectiveness, and selflessness—she’s willing to do anything to keep her younger sister safe. Her biggest weakness is also that selflessness, because the sacrifices she’s required to make are getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
If you could describe your book in a 140 character tweet, what would it be?
When a woman in trouble assists an ex-soldiers covert mission to regain his teams stolen honor, he finds a new mission to save her, too.
What are you most excited about with this second book release?
I’m really excited to take readers deeper into these awesome characters and into the mystery behind the Hard Ink team’s ambush and discharge!
What books are you reading right now?
I’m almost done with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (yes, I’m very late to the party but OMG JAMIE FRASER!!!). And I’ve recently devoured and loved Juliana Stone’s Offsides and Shelly Thacker’s time-travel historical romance, Forever His.
What can fans of your “Hard Ink” series look forward to next?
There will be two more Hard Ink books in 2014!
Hard to Hold on To – August 2014
Hard to Come By – November 2014
Also, join the Facebook party for Hard As You Can from 12-9 PM EST here!