Rock Hard is the second novel in the Rock Kiss series by Nalini Singh, though it also ties in with her Hard Play series.
Finished on: 26.3.2020
[Here’s my review of the rest of the series.]
Content Note: abusive relationship, stalking (not in the main couple)
Charlie works as a record keeper in a company and just got a new boss, former professional football player and known corporate hard-ass Gabriel Bishop. Their first meeting isn’t very great when he suprises her at the office when she thinks she is alone, her shock and subsequent mortification further increasing her already strong shyness. But Gabriel soon realizes that Charlie is an exceptional worker and promotes her to his personal assistant. As they work together more and more, Gabriel knows that he is falling for Charlie. But Charlie has demons haunting her from the past that may keep her from going for romance.
Charlie and Gabriel’s story is hinted at in Rock Addiction and was the main reason I wanted to continue with this series. And hot damn, it absolutely fulfilled my hopes in being a wonderful read with intriguing characters. I blazed through it.
Rock Hard sits at a bit of a strange position in the series – while Charlie is Molly’s best friend (protagonist of Rock Addiction), the book itself has nothing whatsoever to do with rock stars, so you shouldn’t expect that. Plus, Gabriel has three brothers who are all very much into/play football and this book is kind of an entry-point into a football-focused series about them, too. But both these connections to other books Singh has written, don’t really take center stage. This really is all about Charlie and Gabriel. (Admittedly, when they talk about football in this one, I mostly skimmed because I have no clue what’s happening anyway, and I don’t particularly care.)
And I just really enjoyed their entire dynamic. Although office romances can be pretty difficult, Gabriel takes care in his pursuit of Charlie – not only because he quickly notices that she is more than just a little shy, but also because he is aware of the power imbalance between them and wants to make damn sure that it isn’t an issue. And I very much loved how perceptive he is of Charlie’s mental state and knows when his ribbing and flirting triggers her trauma and immediately backs off when it happens, without giving up on her or suddenly treating her like a delicate, broken thing.
Charlie’s fight for herself is also nicely handled, I thought – at least for somebody who isn’t experienced with actual PTSD. Her ex-boyfriend abused her badly and she’s never really worked through her trauma, instead carving out a small trauma-free area in her life in which she hides. Gabriel kind of forces her to consider that there is a world beyond that. Fortunately, the book does not pretend that love is enough to make such deep trauma go away, but by the end, Charlie is in therapy and progress isn’t always a smooth way forward, but also includes steps back.
They really are great together. Plus, the heat between them is absolutely sizzling. I felt like I needed a spray bottle filled with ice-cold water. Or maybe just a bucket.
Really, Rock Hard comes impressively close to being the perfect romance novel, at least for me. There’s nothing more I could ask for.