Rock Hard, by Nalini Singh

9 Mar

Rock HardI don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a fan of Nalini Singh. I absolutely adore her Psy/Changeling world, and I have really liked both of her recently self published contemporary romances.

So of course I’ve been ansty as hell, waiting for the third title in the Rock Kiss series to come out–and boy oh boy, did Ms Singh knock it out of the park!

Reader beware, though: I received an ARC of this novel. There’s violence in the heroine’s past, and though very little of it is retold on page, you may want to take this into account when you read. Also, there is graphic sex and cursing.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

The very beginning of this novel happens concurrently with the beginning of Rock Addiction, so a reader who has recently read the latter will recognize a few scenes and conversations between Charlie and Molly, her best friend. However, both novels can be read as standalones; Molly’s appearances in this novel are few and brief, firmly establishing how close the relationship between these two women is, yet not taking anything away from Charlie’s own story.

Here, have a blurb from the author’s website:

Wealthy businessman Gabriel Bishop rules the boardroom with the same determination and ruthlessness that made him a rock star on the rugby field. He knows what he wants, and he’ll go after it no-holds-barred.

And what he wants is Charlotte Baird.

Charlotte knows she’s a mouse. Emotionally scarred and painfully shy, she just wants to do her job and remain as invisible as possible. But the new CEO—a brilliant, broad-shouldered T-Rex of a man who growls and storms through the office, leaving carnage in his wake—clearly has other plans. Plans that may be equal parts business and bedroom.

If Charlotte intends to survive this battle of wits and hearts, the mouse will have to learn to wrangle the T-Rex. Game on.

I am going to try really hard not to gush uncontrollably, but I have to confess that it will be hard to refrain from doing so, because there were so many things I found just brilliant about this novel.

It is not a spoiler to say that Charlie has suffered violence at the hands of a man, and is deeply scarred by it. She has learned to cope well enough to function. She has a job and has done it so well (computerizing a company’s records) that she’s rendered herself redundant.

Charlotte supports herself, pays her bills and lives by herself. She has hobbies she pursues, such as taking cooking/baking courses. She has few but very good friends.

With all of this, though, Charlie is hiding. Physically, she hides behind ill-fitting clothing and a shyness that almost paralyzes her, and makes her dread having to look for another job. Which is why Charlie allows the CEO’s personal assistant to use her as her personal bitch. As long as Anya needs someone to do her job, Charlie’s position is safe.

Maybe.

Gabriel Bishop is not only ruthless and intelligent, he’s also highly observant. Within two days of working with not-a-hair-out-of-place Anya, he realizes that the mind behind the work belongs to pretty if mousy Charlotte Baird, and nothing will do but to have her as his PA. Okay, so she has trouble speaking if he looks her in the eye, but that’s just a minor, workable detail. The important thing is that little Ms Baird has a big brain and knows how to use it. The rest? It will work itself out. In time.

After a rocky beginning–to put it mildly–the two find a rhythm that works for them and things go smoother between them as time goes on. Little by little, Charlotte starts asserting herself to her demanding boss, not giving an inch on the things that matter to her. In the process, more of Charlotte’s old wounds heal.

What Charlotte doesn’t realize is that Gabriel is even more attracted to her the more he gets to know her. Oh he found her pretty from the get go, but it’s hard to feel attraction for someone who cowers in your presence. So every time Gabriel pushes and Charlotte stands her ground, both his respect and his attraction grow, until he’s pretty much determined that they will have a relationship.

Eventually, Gabriel is forced to come clean to Charlotte about his intentions, and this is where the book becomes all kinds of awesome.

The novel is entertaining up to this point. Both characters are funny and intelligent and mature and mostly self-aware, and seeing the relationship progress slowly is wonderful. It has all the marks of a good, satisfying, sexy romance.

Then, Ms Singh makes what I consider a bold decision: she allows the characters to have honest, mature conversations with each other, and to give proper weight and importance to difficult things in their lives.

Charlotte tells Gabriel everything about the attack and her subsequent issues. He gets very angry–but, and here’s the wonderful part, at no time Gabriel makes it about himself. He is angry that anyone would hurt a woman, and particularly Charlotte, but it is never about Gabriel’s honor or macho identity or, in any way, about Gabriel. It is about Charlotte’s pain and fear.

Talk about a change of pace, hmm?

Back in February, there was a Rec League post over at the SmartBitches, asking for novels in which therapy–and therefore mental illness–are portrayed in a positive manner, as something desirable, if not necessary, for the characters’ happiness.

As Mara said, “having a heroine with major physical/emotional/sexual abuse in her past… completely dismiss even the idea of counseling (oh but the magic of the hero’s strong arms and magic penis can cure her of all her childhood traumas!) really ticks me off.”

How I wish this book had been out then, I would have recommended it in a heartbeat. Because Charlotte has plenty of issues, and while a negative experience with therapy has put her off it for a few years, she finally goes.

At the insistence of the hero!

See, a few years earlier, after the injury that ended his days as a professional rugby player, Gabriel had had trouble dealing the finality of it, and had gone to therapy on the advice of his stepfather–also an ex-player, who is described as a “man’s man.”

And while Charlotte really wants to will herself over some of her issues, it’s made very clear that the magic of Gabriel’s wang is definitely not the cure for this particular problem.

Yes, you read that right: there is sex, and it’s good and hot and well, sexy, but it’s not the magic cure to Charlotte’s issues.

All hail, realism made romantic!

There are a few other plot threads that I enjoyed very much. For example, Gabriel is not perfect by any means. He’s written as a wonderful, intelligent, truly strong man–and credit is given implicitly to his mother, who is also written as a strong, intelligent, loving woman, and to Gabriel’s stepfather, ditto. But Gabriel has his own scars, dealt to him by his biological father’s abandonment.

And Charlotte, while still dealing with her own issues, does not let him get away with any crap. At one point she says to Gabriel something along the lines of, “oh so I’m supposed to be the only one in need of fixing in this relationship, and that’s fine?” and my heart sang.

Because the “Charlotte doesn’t let Gabriel get away with any crap” thing is not just lip service. She demands that their relationship be one of equals. Yes, her issues are messier than his, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some of his own, or that he doesn’t need help coming to term with them.

I absolutely love these characters and I love how Ms Singh respected the reality of how different people deal with trauma. Gabriel’s wang may be truly magical (did I mention there’s hot sex here?) (there is hot sex here) but Charlotte needs professional help to truly address the root of her problems. And this is okay!

Rock Hard is a great installment in Ms Singh’s Rock Kiss series, and a wonderful novel on its own. 9.25 out of 10

~ * ~

Also, I must share this wonderful gif made by Lege Artis and shared by Ms Singh on her blog:

Charlie mouse v TRex

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7 Responses to “Rock Hard, by Nalini Singh”

  1. bamaclm 09/03/2015 at 12:49 PM #

    I can’t wait until tomorrow! I knew from the teasers in Molly’s book that I would love this one.

    Great review – oh, I can’t wait!

    • azteclady 09/03/2015 at 12:56 PM #

      Oh you are so going to love it! I have read it like nine or ten times already, and I haven’t had it that long either.

  2. Deirdre 09/03/2015 at 4:34 PM #

    Can’t wait! Not getting it until we’re home from vacation, though.

    • azteclady 09/03/2015 at 8:17 PM #

      Please please please, come back and share what you think of it?

      • Deirdre 12/03/2015 at 2:08 PM #

        Okay! I loved the first one.

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