REVIEW: Love Hard by Nalini Singh
Dear Nalini Singh,
Sometimes a book arrives at just the perfect time and that special alchemy that happens between story and reader happens; a combination of great book and the exact right reading mood. That’s what happened here.
I admit enemies to lovers isn’t generally my favourite trope. But Jacob (Jake) Esera and Juliet Nelisi aren’t enemies for long. And they never were really enemies per se. More, they clashed in high school but shared a very special someone and so, made an effort to get along for her sake. Calypso (Callie) was Juliet’s best friend and Jake’s girlfriend. That link drew them together as teens but it’s been six years since they’ve seen each other and a lot has changed since then.
Callie got pregnant and Jake and she became teenaged parents to daughter Esme. Shortly after her birth however, Callie became unwell with meningitis and sadly, died. At the time, Juliet had returned to Samoa, banished by her aunt and was basically kept incommunicado from her friends in New Zealand. She managed to get a message to Jake though, expressing her condolences and her own sadness.
Juliet had been a bit of a wild girl in school, always getting into trouble and not applying herself to her studies. Callie was her virtual opposite but they were fast friends. Juliet tended to get into trouble for sticking up for people weaker than her and Jake always respected her loyalty.
Jake was pretty much a good boy in school and devoted to Callie. Juliet, for her part, always knew he would do right by Callie and trusted in his word.
So, even though there was some animus between them, the foundation of a solid friendship existed even back in school. Of course, there was never any suggestion of a romantic attachment between Juliet and Jake as teens. Neither of them ever remotely considered it. Jake was Callie’s and that was that.
The book begins at the wedding of Gabriel Bishop (Jake’s older brother) to Charlotte, Juliet’s friend. Juliet is a bridesmaid. Jake is a groomsman. Sparks fly between them; they can get a rise out of one another – in more ways than one. But even when that’s happening, Jake notices how kind Juliet is with Esme and Juliet melts at what a good dad he is (I feel you Juliet – it’s like the best kryptonite). And they both think the other is sex on a stick.
It takes a little mental recalibrating for both of them to admit the attraction and then decide to act on it but the journey doesn’t take all that long.
I really loved the way the “ghost” of Callie was treated in the story. It was respectful and it made sense without taking anything away from either Callie or Juliet.
“…But I had to get past her death to be a good dad, a good man.”
Nudging his head in Esme’s direction, he said, “She needed me to get my shit together, be there for her, and that was the start, but we were also so young, Jules. In puppy love that’s frozen in time.” Sweet and soft and gentle. “I’ll never forget her, and I’ll keep her in my heart always because she—and who we were together—deserve that, but she’s gone and the boy she loved has grown into a man she never knew.”
He held Juliet’s eyes. “I’m not carrying a torch for her.”
The biggest barrier to their happiness is Juliet’s ex-husband, a professional cricketer and all-round jerk. He’s a media hound and, by extension, Juliet was thrust into the spotlight. After the divorce, Juliet was painted as a gold-digger and worse. Jake takes his responsibilities to Esme very seriously and carefully keeps away from any form of scandal. He gets a lot of media attention – as does the rest of his family, what with three rugby stars in the Bishop-Esera clan – and does not do the nightclub/party scene at all. Juliet is, understandably, reluctant to bring her unfortunate baggage to Jake’s door or to that of his brothers and parents. But she hadn’t reckoned on the power of the Bishop-Eseras.
Juliet had been basically alone most of her life. Her parents died in a car accident and she was raised, very reluctantly by an aunt. When she was sent to Samoa, she was taken in by her paternal grandparents but they were very strict and not affectionate. Jake, on the other hand, was raised in a large, loving family. Juliet longs for that kind of connection but doesn’t think it’s in the cards for her. Jake and his family have other plans.
Once Juliet and Jake decide to give things a go, things move very quickly between them but it didn’t feel too fast when I was reading. It was right for them. They fit together so well. They knew each other’s character and, given their respective histories, they knew what they wanted when they saw it.
Both main characters read older than 24 years old. They seemed more like 30-somethings. It was honestly a shock when, late in the book, their ages was specifically mentioned. Of course, the maths (Esme’s age etc) added up but I was still surprised because they read so much older.
Jake and Juliet have a very strong sexual chemistry (rowr) but there is clearly more going on between them than intimate attraction and there were lots of little gems dropped into the story which showed how well the pair worked in all the ways.
He’d found that sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder. Reaching back to grip his thighs, she angled her head a fraction more. She felt his lips curve against her even as he slid one hand around her waist and pressed it flat against her stomach. The idea of Jake smiling as he kissed her, of Jake enjoying doing things to her that pleasured her, it melted her in ways that were far deeper than sex.
I also loved the wider family – biological and found – and their interactions with one another. It felt authentic, both with the humour and joy they took in each other but also in the way they stood for one another. I loved watching Juliet being absorbed into the family. I enjoyed also the glimpses into the Samoan culture, something both Jake and Juliet share.
Jake is a great dad and that always melts me. But I also loved the way he championed Juliet’s career. Like him, I was in awe of her competence – really, it was hard to believe she was only 24.
I spotted a few continuity issues but I read an ARC so I expect they were sorted in the final published version. Regardless they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Love Hard had me making the happy book noise and made choosing my next read almost impossible – because I just wanted to read this one again.