Contemporary Romance

ARC Review: Love Hard – Nalini Singh (Hard Play #3)

Rating 4 Stars

What’s the story about?
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.

My Review
I’m a long-time fan of Nalini Singh and consider her Psy-Changeling series to be one of my favourites so when I saw an arc available for her work, I jumped at the chance! That being said, I haven’t read any contemporary stories by her before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I had no reason to worry; Singh’s beauty and skill with words translates so well across genres!

Love Hard tells the story of rugby star and single father, Jacob Esera, and former bad-girl classmate of his, Juliet Nelisi. Jacob and Juliet occasionally butted heads during their time together at school but were brought together by their common ground of Calypso, Juliet’s best friend and Jacob’s girlfriend. In their senior year of high school, Juliet is transferred to a Samoa due to her ‘behavioural problems’ and Callie discovers she’s pregnant to Jacob. Shortly after giving birth to little Esme, Callie contracts meningitis and suddenly passes away leaving Jacob devastated but needing to be strong for their little girl. It’s not until years later that Jacob and Juliet reconnect and sparks fly.

I don’t typically read stories involving the deceased best friend’s partner trope because I find there to be a delicate line with sensitivity and respect towards the deceased person and having the new partner not feel like second best/runner-up. It always makes me question “but what if so-and-so never passed? Would the two main characters still have ended up together?” However, Nalini Singh is such a talented author that she was able to tackle this issue with the sensitivity and respect it deserves. There’s even a scene where Juliet says to Jacob that she refuses to be second best in any relationship, even to her best friend, and I felt the way Jacob explains his feelings as a teenager towards Callie and his feelings as the man he is today towards Juliet to be so full of compassion, understanding and intelligence that comes with growing up. Jacob was such a wonderful character and both he and Juliet balanced each other so well.

One of my favourite things about Singh’s stories are her characters. Just like her Psy-Changeling series, her Hard Play series is full of loving characters that truly value family, friendship and living vibrantly. In addition to seeing the relationship develop between Juliet and Jacob, we also get to see a range of other amazing characters including Jacob’s daughter Esme, his entire family of brothers, parents, and in-laws, and Juliet’s amazing work colleagues. I haven’t read the first two books in the series – yet – but I’m definitely going to backtrack to find out more about them while I await for book 4! Overall, I thought this was a wonderful story about two characters maturing, reconnecting and finding love in what previously seemed as the unlikeliest of places.

Disclaimer: Thank you to Independent Publishers Group and Netgalley for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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