Series: Hard Play #3
Author: Nalini Singh
Format: Paperback/eBook, 320 pages
Publication: Mar. 10, 2020 by TKA Distribution
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Rating: 🍷🍷🍷.5 out of 5 Wine Glasses
Jacob Esera, star rugby player and young single father, has worked hard to create a joyous life for his six-year-old daughter. After the death of his childhood sweetheart soon after their daughter’s birth, all Jake wants is safety and stability. No risks. No wild chances. And especially no Juliet Nelisi, former classmate, scandal magnet, and a woman who is a thorn in his side.As a lonely teenager, Juliet embraced her bad-girl reputation as a shield against loneliness and rejection. Years later, having kicked a cheating sports-star ex to the curb, she has a prestigious job and loyal friends—and wants nothing to do with sportsmen. The last thing she expects is the fire that ignites between her and the stuffed-shirt golden boy who once loved her best friend.Straitlaced Jacob Esera versus wild-at-heart Juliet Nelisi? Place your bets.
Juliet and Jacob knew each other in high school but only tolerated each other for the sake of Calypso, Juliet's bestfriend and Jacob's girlfriend. When mutual friends bring them back together, Jacob is a now a single father and Juliet has managed to become vice president of a lingerie company. They get thrown even more together when Jacob's celebrity as a star Rugby player has him modeling for Juliet's company. These two still rub each other the wrong way but now the friction is starting to cause sparks.
Love Hard is third in the Hard Play series but also has a strong connection to Rock Hard from the Rock Kiss series. The first 20% of this story deals heavily with the wedding between Gabriel and Charlotte (Rock Hard), Jacob is a groomsman in the wedding because Gabriel is his brother and Juliet is a bridesmaid because of her friendship with Charlotte. I've read Rock Hard and absolutely loved it, so I delighted at revisiting this couple but the focus even started to get a bit long for me, I'm not sure how new readers to both series would feel about all the characters that they would have no prior connection to. This could be read as a standalone but you'd miss emotional connections to characters that could dampen some enjoyment.
Jake “Golden Boy” Esera and Juliet “Bad Influence” Nelisi? Nope. Nope. Triple extra nope.
There is little flashback to Jake and Jules in high school but the author does it right by just having our characters think back and discuss their relationship back then and reminisce sweetly about Calypso. Calypso was the mother of Jake's little girl, they had her in their teens and Calypso ended up getting a bacterial meningitis infection and passing away soon after giving birth. There was absolutely no romantic feelings between Jake and Jules when they were in high school and the way the author had them growing close and developing attraction in the present was done perfect. They already have an emotional connection because of their mutual love of Calypso and I love how that brought them together instead of worried angst to keep them apart.
I also liked how the author developed Jake's character, Jules knew him to be a pretty straight and narrow guy in high school while she pushed the boundaries because she didn't have a caring home environment. Jake comes from an extremely loving and supportive family and Calypso's death makes him want to become even more of a control freak but because of therapy and his support system, he recognizes that about himself and actively checks his impulses. Jules lost her parents young, spent time with an uncaring aunt only to be moved in with grandparents that put their issues with her parents on her for the majority of her young life. These character foundational developments clearly showed why Jake was sweetly more open at times and why Jules kept her walls up more.
That night she dreamed of tracing the coils and shapes of his tattoo with her tongue, fantasized about licking sweat from his skin after a hard game of rugby, and woke at midnight to the impression of his strong body pinning her to the bed while he smiled down at her. “Oh hell.” Juliet was in trouble.
I loved these two together, they had a great ease to how their characters flowed together and delicious heat to their tension. The story did at times though, butt them out too much as the focus went on the great Esera-Bishop family members; their greatness can eclipse. I did enjoy the slight drama that came from Juliet's ex-husband and how that tied in threads of how Juliet didn't want to get involved with another sports athlete and allowed to show Jake's caring and protective side, he was seriously sexy in how he treated and supported Jules through it all.
They might’ve scratched the itch, but in doing so had turned it into a chronic ailment— because now they knew how good it could be between them.
This book had sections that I loved sinking into and others that dragged but Jules and Jake were characters that I enjoyed separately and together. The time that Jules let Jake know how his supportive family made it easier for him to be the more open person and the way Jake supported Jules but ultimately let her make her own decisions, made the romance flourish in the story. I also liked how they couldn't battle their sexual heat anymore, came to an agreement to scratch the itch once to get it out of their system, but didn't drag out the stubbornness on adhering to that when after they slept together, they both admitted to themselves and each other there was deeper feelings involved. Singh always does a great job on making characters feel real, the little additive of Jake not being a morning person and Jules delighting over that because he showed a normally hidden grumpy side was enchanting. If you're looking to immerse yourself in a big loving family, the Esera-Bishop clan, and their friends, is well worth reading about as Singh delivers on the emotions and love.
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