Rock Hard is a workplace romance, with a former Rugby player/millionaire/CEO hero. None of those things are my catnip, but since I'm a big fan of Nalini Singh & I read the previous book and novella despite having rock star heroes, I knew I was going to read Rock Hard. I'm glad I did because Singh does a fantastic job at writing heroes in hot pursuit who challenge but don't run over the heroines and Gabriel is no exception.
Charlotte Baird, works hard, keeps her head down and gets things done without looking for attention or credit. She really doesn't want anyone to notice her, certainly not the way her new boss, Gabriel Bishop does because he terrifies her. But he does notice the mousy records manger who clearly knows more about his new company than most people and is capable of keeping up with him as long as she doesn't remember to be scared of him. In a total Cinderella move, Gabriel sees through the wiles of his mean-girl executive assistant and promotes Charlotte out her records room to a glittering glass desk outside of his office.
Charlotte is used to hiding in shapeless suits, comfortable routines and the company of a few trusted friends for very good reasons. (Trigger warning, Charlotte's past trauma includes stalking, abduction, mental and physical abuse). She survived but is still has so much healing and blossoming to do. That blossoming, establishment of trust, figuring out triggers and looking for help in overcoming them is huge part of this romance. Singh does a great job in how she has Gabriel notice and negotiate Charlotte's triggers as he tries to get closer to her, accepting her boundaries, and not taking them as personal rejections. His respect and love for her drives their story.
I enjoyed their contentious courtship. I liked how he subtly baited and instigated in ways that let her have the time to come to terms with her own attraction and desire, built up her confidence until she was ready to claim him.
The secondary storyline about Gabriel's estranged and ailing father & Gabriel's workalcoholism didn't work as well for me, with the exception of what it means for Gabriel and Charlotte for him to take the steps he takes when she challenges him to. I was impressed with the kind of clear-eyed acceptance, forgiveness and compassion modeled by Gabriel's mother toward her ex. What she models makes her sons uncomfortable but it is brave and rare.
I love that the main characters love each other, desire one another &want to be together but that doesn't automatically solve their issues. They can't simply love each out of panic attacks. They need to accept that things take time, professional help and trust in each other and that isn't easy. I liked that Singh let Charlotte be frustrated and impatient. That she wanted to be able to sleep next Gabriel, to have him touch her hair without fear or panic, but her mind doesn't cooperate easily. I liked that it was a struggle for her, that she would over-reach, rush and that she has to learn to manage her own expectations and accept herself and her own bumpy path to healing. I love that even though Gabriel loves her and has great instincts and puts a great deal of though and effort things aren't perfect. But what he does do, is that he constantly gives her credit. Credit for her work, credit for her desire and wants and for all that she has overcome and still has yet to do and that was beautiful.
I received a review copy of Rock Hard from Ms. Singh through TKA Distribution via NetGalley.
Rock Hard was released March 10th.