A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for an honest review.
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.
This review contains spoilers for Hard As It Gets, the first book in the HARD INK series. You could try to read Hard As You Can as a stand-alone, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
One of the trends I’ve been noticing lately in romantic suspense is when each book in a series has its own self-contained romance with an HEA while simultaneously continuing a overall story arc which won’t be resolved until the last book. I really like this type of hybrid plot, because then I don’t have to suffer a cliffhanger used to keep the hero and heroine apart just so the reader will feel hooked into reading the next book. Yet, I am still most definitely hooked, because each book gives me a little bit more of the puzzle that will ultimately end with the bad guys brought to justice and the heroes/heroines free to live their lives without constant fear.
In Laura Kaye’s new HARD INK series, we have been introduced to five men who once were the closest of comrades as they fought together in the Special Forces. When the man who had earned their trust through his leadership then betrayed that trust in the most terrible way possible, it was these five who had survived the jungle ambush, only to be betrayed yet again by their own government. After they were forced to resign in disgrace without being able tell anyone why, each of the men went his own separate way. But when the family of the man who had betrayed them were threatened by the same unknown forces which had engineered their dismissals, each of the five come back together to protect those who are now in danger, with the goal of uncovering who was behind their betrayal and find the evidence they need to clear their names.
The first book in this series, Hard As It Gets, told the story of the group’s unofficial leader, Nick Rixey, and how he found the love of his life with Becca Merritt, the daughter of the man whose treachery he could never forgive. Now that the group is all together at the heavily fortified location of Hard Ink, the Baltimore tattoo parlor owned by Nick and his brother Jeremy, their new mission is to find out who paid off Colonel Merritt and ordered the kidnapping of Becca’s brother, Charlie. Charlie was successfully rescued at the end of the first book, but only because Crystal, one of the waitresses at the seedy strip club where he was being held, decided to help them by not sounding the alarm.
Shane owes both his life and the success of Charlie’s rescue to Crystal, but that’s not why he can’t get her out of his mind. Ever since the loss of his beloved sister to kidnappers when he was just a child himself, Shane has been fixated on rescuing other women in similar straits, in the hopes that one day he’ll find his sister. In the brief moments they had shared, Crystal pushed all of Shane’s hot buttons, and not just because she looked like she needed rescuing herself. So when Shane needs to return to the strip club to suss out more information on who is threatening the Merritt siblings, it’s Crystal whom he seeks out, hoping to discover what she knows and perhaps more.
Crystal is counting the days until she and her sister can leave Baltimore and the people who control their lives. Their father owed debts to the powerful street gang that needed to be worked off after his death, one way or the other. Crystal has sacrificed her body and freedom in order to keep her sister protected, so when Shane reappears, the danger he presents overpowers any sense of hope that he could help them both escape. But Shane has never taken no for an answer, and it takes all of his persuasive powers to slowly work his way into Crystal’s life, and eventually, her heart.
I loved how Hard As You Can picked up immediately where the previous book left off, and as its complicated series of events unfolded, I was able to thoroughly enjoy Shane and Crystal’s romance without worrying that the book wouldn’t be trying to wrap everything related to the overall story arc just yet. The reasons behind Crystal’s decisions are unveiled at just the right pace, and the way her life story meshes with what motivates Shane to his own behaviors make it all the more obvious why they would both be drawn to each other even as they are justifiably concerned that it’s a mistake for them both. A reasonable reader could certainly point out that the transformation of their insta-lust into declarations of love by the end of the book might be based more on codependency than a true emotional connection. For me, however, the romance worked, as Laura Kaye showed how both Shane and Crystal were able to move beyond the forced proximity based on mutual peril to an unselfish and genuine love that can only get stronger once the people who threaten them are neutralized. I look forward to seeing how their relationship deepens as the series continues.
If you enjoy romantic suspense with hot alpha heroes and heroines who more than hold their own, you can’t go wrong with Laura Kaye’s HARD INK series. Hard As You Can was just as great a read as the first book, and I can’t wait to see which of these heroes is featured in the next story. 4 stars.