I have been waiting for months for this book to come out (and was soooo thankful its debut occurred on my Thanksgiving vacation). I’ve qvelled about Laura Kaye’s writing ability, particularly her way of transforming damaged military heroes into men with a mission regarding the woman they love, and Hard As It Gets is no exception.
Becca Merritt can’t handle losing one more family member. This brave ER nurse lost her mother as a child, her older brother to a heroine overdose and her Special Forces father on a dangerous mission in Afghanistan, and now her younger brother Charlie is missing. Yes, he’s always been a paranoid computer genius, but when they argued during a secure online chat session, he claimed that he had uncovered evidence that implicated their father in something horrible. Becca had argued with Charlie that he needed to let his animosity toward their dad go, but he signed off with a cryptic message to get help.
A message which landed her about twelve minutes from her house at a Baltimore tattoo parlor emblazoned “Hard Ink.” Asking for Rixey manages to get two brothers, but it’s clearly older brother Nick who was the one who could help Becca. His whole demeanor screams Special Forces, but the chill in his eyes when he turns down any prospect of helping her makes Becca feel she is totally and utterly alone. A little more warmth in those green eyes and Nick Rixey would have been a walking sex god, but she’s gotten through worse and she’ll do it again.
Nick Rixey is a man drifting. A silent partner in his brother’s tattoo parlor, he’s been going through the steps as an apprentice to get a license he began before enlisting after 9/11. For years, the military and later Special Forces were his life, until he and his team were betrayed by their commander, Colonel Merritt. Six good men died and more were wounded, but the greatest ignominy was Nick and his surviving men having fabricated offenses planted in their files so they could be run out of the military with dishonor. Feeling responsible and recovering from having his lower back and pelvis shot up in the ambush, Nick has avoided his former team and anything having to do with the FUBAR situation that got him home. The gorgeous blond who looked at him with such hope in her eyes may be barking up the wrong tree, but even Nick knows that it’s not her fault that her father was a traitor, something she clearly doesn’t realize.
Even though he sent her away, Nick listens to the little voice telling him something isn’t right. Two nights of recon on Becca Merritt’s house indicates that she’s clearly scared of something, and the second night demonstrates her valid feelings when Nick rushes into her home in time to scare away an intruder who was waiting for her at home. The wrench in his gut at the thought of something happening to her, combined with her telling him that her brother may have found something nefarious against her father, tells Nick that not only does he have to help keep this beautiful woman safe and find her brother, but that doing so might hold the key to clearing his name and the names of his fellow survivors.
While attempting to fight the rising heat between them, Nick calls his team members back together and a happy reunion it’s not. Worse is that now the people he’s been trying to hold at arms length, his brother Jeremy and Becca, aren’t having it, forcing Nick to face his inner demons and realize that a new day is dawning, one in which he can finally face what happened and fight to get back his sense of self with the people who care about him at his side. To open himself will mean risking everything, but only by doing this can he win more than he ever imagined.
Nick and Becca are terrific characters and considering this is a the first book in the series, Laura Kaye had a LOT of ground to cover. Not only did she lay the hot foundation between Nick and Becca who have more in common than they initially realize, but she also set each of the characters of the members of the Special Forces team, the employees of Hard Ink and Becca’s brother Charlie. Since several of these individuals will undoubtedly star in their own book down the line, it’s important to get a sense of who they are and their backstory up front, and Kaye succeeds without ever making the reader feel like they are suffering through an info-dump.
The larger story arc of their betrayal at the hands of Becca and Charlie’s father is extremely interesting to me, mostly because I can’t help but doubt tremendously that he really did it. Do I believe everything transpired the way Nick and his crew said it did? Yes, definitely, but for a Special Forces colonel with an upstanding record, no known vices, and a son who died of a heroin overdose to turn to aiding opium traffickers in the mideast? I don’t see the psychological motivation, although I see a big one to work secretly to undermine it, and that whoever in the military is dirty would want to disgrace his team and cover his tracks. Just saying.
The next book in the series, Hard As You Can, will focus on Southern charmer, Shane McCallan, and the red-haired beauty who helped the team at the strip club during Charlie’s extraction. Awesome! I’ve already pre-ordered my copy (and since it’s going at under $5 for either the Kindle or the paperback version, I’d encourage interested readers to do the same) and have got the February 25th release date on my calendar. Easy’s novella, Hard to Hold Onto, is scheduled for the late summer, and computer genius and amputee Marz (who I confess is my favorite) will have his full-length novel, Hard to Come By, come out right around this time next year, making me have another terrific Thanksgiving, I’m sure!
Laura Kaye has begun her new series in a big way, and the only thing “Hard” about them is waiting for the next one. Happy reading!