I adored Rock Hard, Gabriel Esera and Charlotte Baird’s story, and was delighted to find the opening scene to Love Hard was their wedding day. By the time I tapped the final page, I realized it was the novel’s best, most vibrant one, with droll moments and full of affection, fun, and Esera family high-jinks. The Eseras are QUITE the clan. It is in this scene we are introduced to hero and heroine as they take their places as groomsman and maiden of honour. They are Jacob Esera, Gabriel’s rugby-star younger brother, and Juliet Nelisi. They are also former HS antagonists and, as a result, there’s a lovely dose of banter when they reunite. Not all is light and fluffy, however; they share a great sadness. Juliet’s best friend and Jacob’s HS sweetheart, Calypso “Callie,” died of meningitis soon after giving birth to their daughter. Callie and Jacob were teen parents. Jacob has been a single-dad to Esme going for six years.
While Jacob and Juliet aka “Jules” start out with snarky banter, contrasting his serious bent to her wild-child, the fun peters out. With Jacob’s superstar profile and Juliet’s working in management design, she and Jacob are brought together when he signs on for big-bucks promotional work. Their interactions, except for the love scenes, are punctuated by the lispy adorableness of Jacob’s daughter. Esme’s relentlessly cuddly adorableness wore thin and was one of the reasons, among others, I didn’t enjoy Love Hard.
Singh has tried to add depth to Juliet and Jacob, but they still turn out one-note wonders. Jacob is “overprotective” because of the way he lost Callie, which is VERY sad, and Juliet has had to live with an evil EX and a loveless childhood, also VERY sad. I can’t say I didn’t feel for them. Their stories did pull at the heartstrings, but their romance was strangely flat. Oh, there were sexy times, not terribly interesting ones, but plentiful and raw. As we know, they do not a romance make. Jacob and Juliet play an initial fun little banter dance, indulge in mental lusting and soon fall into bed and into time spent with Esme and Jacob’s admittedly likeable family. Because there’s not much keeping them apart, Singh develops an external conflict involving Juliet’s ex. Which brings out the protectiveness in Jacob and his family. Starved-for-love Juliet is touched, moved, wary at first, but sinks into their care and affection. She deserves it. Jacob’s a great dad, a great dude. What the novel lacks in tension, it makes up for in niceness. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it has its moments, just not enough of them. With Miss Austen, we’d say Love Hard offers “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Nalini Singh’s Love Hard is self-published. It was released in March and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley on Netgalley.