Title: Love Hard (Hard Play 3)
Author: Nalini Singh
Published: March 2020
Publisher: TKA Distribution
I received a copy of Love Hard from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh brings you the next sizzling story in her Hard Play contemporary romance series…
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.
I am a huge Nalini Singh fan – I started reading her books via the Guild Hunters series, and then the Psy-Changeling series (which is probably my favourite of her series) and since then I’ve tried to read as many books from her backlist as possible. I was really excited to see Love Hard on Netgalley and immediately requested it because I’d recently been dabbling in some of her contemporary works, so I was grateful to receive a review copy.
Love Hard is the third book in the Hard Play series, which follows a similar group of characters (friends and family) who turn up in the various books. You could read it on its own but it is more fun when you’ve got the histories and backstories (and it helps a bit with knowing the timeline as some of the stories run parallel to each other rather than strictly before or after). I decided to read the stories in order so I had read them all before beginning this book and I enjoyed the experience.
Love Hard follows Jacob Esera who is a young single father looking for privacy and stability for his daughter. He’s a rugby legend and wants to make sure that his daughter is safe, especially after the death of her mother. Everything’s going great until Juliet Nelisi, the best friend of his daughter’s mother, blows back into his life. In the past, they’d never quite gotten along, and despite an attraction, he knows that she draws too much attention wherever she goes, especially after a very messy, public divorce from one of New Zealand’s cricket players. This is the story of how straight-laced Jacob and wild-girl Juliet try to overcome their own issues and priorities and decide whether or not their attraction to one another is worth fighting for.
This was a really fun, really heart-felt read. I really enjoyed digging a bit deeper into Jacob’s backstory. He had appeared in previous books as the much younger brother of the Esera clan and so in this book he’s in his early twenties, growing up quickly after a teenage pregnancy leaves him the sole carer and provider for a young girl (who’s an awesome character in this book, too, just saying!). I think the teen pregnancy and death of his girlfriend, which happens off-the-page prior to the beginning of the book and retold through memories was really well done, and while it’s not everyone’s experience, it’s one experience of loss and growing up quickly. In the Hard Play series, on of Singh’s defining characteristics is strong family ties, and Jacob has a lot of support from his family and it’s clear how much love there is between everyone.
I also really appreciated Jacob and Juliet’s relationship growth throughout the book. They’re both trying to overcome their past feelings for one another, which weren’t very positive, and see the other for who they truly are. There’s an understanding that needs to take place – recognising that everyone grows up and has the opportunity to change. Juliet’s struggled with being in the limelight with her ex-husband’s very public betrayal and Jacob hides from the limelight to protect his daughter. But, being public figures, means they need to work out how to be together in way that allows them to develop their relationship, and I enjoyed reading about it.
One of the best scenes in the book was when Juliet and Jacob have to work together on an advertising campaign and Juliet has to work at helping Jacob relax. The scene itself is pretty funny, due to being an underwear campaign, but it highlights how well Juliet knows Jacob.
Overall, this was a really fun, entertaining read, and I highly recommend the whole series.