Miss Bates knows Nalini Singh as a popular PNR author. Miss Bates doesn’t read PNR – not since she was traumatized by one Blackdagger Brotherhood title she picked up “impulsively” – but Singh’s Slave To Sensation was on AAR’s Top 100 Romance Reads and that left her curious. When it was cheaply available on audio, Miss Bates listened to it in fits and starts – because it bored her silly. The overwrought growly hero and tough-as-nails-but-really-vulnerable heroine – why must PNR heroines sound so pugnacious? – and keeping track of the various groups/packs and other growly males was tedious; she got through it, but doesn’t care to repeat the experience. As a result, she was wary of Singh contemporary romance “Rock Kiss” series, but wanted to give Singh one last try.
Singh’s Rock Hard is light on plot and primarily focussed on the relationship between Gabriel Bishop, former NZ rugby star, and office clerk, though soon promoted to PA, Charlotte Baird. Gabriel is brought in as CEO to save the luxury good store chain Charlotte works for. Gabriel’s specialty is to swoop in and ruthlessly but fairly, bolster failing companies and render them competitive and profitable. He recognizes Charlotte’s superior abilities under her diffident, bespectacled, mousy appearance and ensures she has the company position she fulfilled all along – doing others’ work. As he cuts a swathe through the company, rewarding loyalty, work ethic, and smarts, Charlotte guides and assists him. His attraction to her and hers to him is, of course, immediate and powerful. He recognizes her qualities, but also her “bitable” lips and soft blonde curls. her “pocket Venus” of a bod and beautiful smile. She’s smitten with him as well: his steel-grey eyes, broad shoulders, and sheer hugeness draw her. But something is very wrong in the city of Aukland (which, BTW, sounds magnificent): it’s obvious Charlotte was once hurt and is still traumatized, inspiring Gabriel’s protective instincts. He wants her to open up to him because he’s ready to ensure her safety and love her body and soul.
From Rock Hard‘s opening to closing page, Singh constructs her narrative on the foundation of a singular conceit: the analogy of Gabriel’s “T-Rex” size and personality to Charlotte’s “mouse.” It is charming and humorous (and also used to great effect epigraphically). Here is an early example:
Jerking around at the sound of that deep male voice, Charlotte said, “Yes.” It came out a squeak.
“Have you been here all day?” Gabriel Bishop’s eyes – cold, hard, incisive – pinned her to the spot, his big body blocking out the light.
She nodded, her voice having deserted her totally by this point. The man was a wall of pure muscle, like some Greek god carved by an adoring artist.
“In that case,” he said, “I’m sure you’re hungry. We’ll go to a bistro I know nearby for dinner.” It wasn’t an invitation but an order.
This early scene establishes Gabriel’s size, intelligence, and ability to protect and care for Charlotte. Charlotte’s trauma from an abusive ex runs deep, though she’s come a long way, getting a job, living on her own, and standing up to T-Rex. T-Rex/Gabriel is definitely an example of a man whose bark is worse than his bite. Soon, instead of uncertainty, Charlotte comes to feel defiance and her defiance results in confidence. Gabriel, in the meantime, is a goner for Charlotte. He realizes, however, how carefully he must tread to win her confidence, delectable bod, and heart.
Singh’s romance kept Miss Bates’ attention and the T-Rex/Mouse conceit amused her. Nothing really wowed her, though. Singh’s Rock Hard doesn’t deviate from what Miss Bates experienced when she listened to Slave To Sensation: alpha male, protective and big, meets broken heroine, helps her heal, and gives her sexual pleasure as she gains in confidence – in T-Rex’s/Gabriel’s case, he also gives her a diamond bracelet and a lot of frothy coffees and cupcakes. There is some complexity to Charlotte’s realization that Gabriel, thanks to his childhood trauma of paternal abandonment, is a workaholic. And she helps him with that. There is fun to Charlotte and Gabriel’s verbal sparring. And, if you’re into this kind of thing, the love scenes are quite explicit. In the first third of the novel, the writing is serviceable, but clunky and wordy too. It improves and the pace clips along, despite a dearth of plot – of course, the evil ex has to figure at some point. Miss Bates will let her readers decide if Singh’s Rock Hard is sufficiently intriguing to be worth a read. As for Miss Bates, she doubts she’ll be going back for more of the same. Miss Austen says of Singh’s Rock Hard “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Nalini Singh’s Rock Hard is, Miss Bates believes, self-published. It has been available since March 10th, in “e” and paper, at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, via Netgalley.