REVIEW: Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh
Dear Nalini Singh,
It’s been a while since the last Hard Play release (Love Hard – I did in fact love it hard) and there have been a lot of books in between, so I’d kind of forgotten who Catie and Danny were and the various relationships in the Bishop-Esera clan. But it all came back to me pretty quickly once I started reading.
Catie River is Isa Rain’s younger sister. Isa, for those who may not remember, is married to Sailor Bishop, one of Danny Esera’s brothers. (Isa and Sailor’s book is Cherish Hard and takes place quite a few years prior to Kiss Hard.) Catie was hit by a car when she was 11 and her legs were crushed. She is a double amputee who uses prosthetic legs almost full time. She’s also a Paralympian runner.
When Isa married Sailor she and her younger sister and stepbrother (Harlow) were “adopted” into the Bishop-Esera family. Danny and Catie grew up together. Their relationship has always been one of snarky banter, practical jokes and competitive pranking. Each refers to the other as their “nemesis” but it’s obvious to anyone with eyes or ears that they care deeply for one another. Their rivalry is never mean, never crosses agreed lines and, when it counts, they’re always there for one another.
Danny and Catie are now in their early 20s. Danny is playing rugby for the Harriers and is also a regular pick for the national team (the All Blacks) where his next-older brother Jake is vice-captain. Catie is a successful runner and has begun to build a charity for amputees to assist them adapt to and use prostheses. She also actively tests various experimental prosthetic legs and is prominent on social media for her disability activism and sporting prowess. Danny and Catie have a robust and teasing rivalry on social media and their adoring public (they are very popular, especially within New Zealand) have been shipping them for years. They’re both beautiful people who have reputations of being kind and generous, so most fans just wants good things for them.
Catie has been in a few relationships but Danny has not, preferring to date casually and hook up every now and then. He’s not a womaniser but he’s not a monk either.
Before the main action begins, we have a prologue that tells readers very important information about Catie. At first it might seem like it’s out of step with the rest of the book but it is important. Catie’s dad, Clive, loves her but is unreliable and untrustworthy. He often doesn’t turn up when he says he’s going to. He is an inveterate gambler. He lets her down all the time. There’s really only been one time in her life when he didn’t – and that was when she was in hospital after the car hit her. Clive was a rock then and it is significantly because of that that Catie cannot and will not give up on him totally. She was very young when she learned he was not to be trusted and she needed to rely on herself. (Protip readers: remember this for later.)
The story itself begins when Danny and Catie happen to be in the same nightclub in Dunedin. Catie is there for a short girls trip and Danny is playing in a charity match. Catie notices Danny looks unwell. He’s not a drinker so she senses straight away that something is wrong. As it happens, his drink has been drugged and he’s not tracking too well. The damage to Danny’s reputation, his place on the Harriers and the national team and to his sponsorship deals could be catastrophic if pictures of him looking drunk and out of control surface. Catie helps Danny get out of the club safely with a friend (Viliame), a fellow rugby player (I do hope we get a Vili book one of these days!) and they take him to the hospital to get checked out. All of Catie’s medical contacts from her time in hospital come in handy here for both access and discretion.
Given they were photographed leaving together and Danny is leaning heavily on Catie, they cook up the idea to be fake dating so that there is no unwanted scrutiny of what actually happened on social media. At first it was going to only be for one night but then Catie is advised that if it ends that quickly her reputation will take a hit (even though Danny’s will not because sexism). So they decide to make the most of it and commit to a 6-month fake relationship and take the opportunity to do some couple sponsorship deals and more promotion for Catie’s charity. They tell all to the family (except for Clive). Charlotte (married to Gabriel – Rock Hard) isn’t buying it though. She’s taking bets it will be very real very soon. Clever Charlotte.
The fake dating excuse is a bit thin; Danny makes a police report and tells his team straight away, complete with medical records but I guess this way he didn’t have to make it public. Still, regardless of the reason, I’m all in for fake dating so I was happy to go with it.
Almost immediately both Danny and Catie start noticing one another in a new way – something Catie describes as getting the “tingles” – in the pants area and elsewhere. Danny notices more about Catie physically than he has before and he likes it. For all that they say they have a contentious relationship, they do not. When something is important, they each respect the other’s boundaries. Danny knows Catie is self-sufficient and doesn’t hover or treat her disability with anything other than matter-of-fact reality. He respects her vulnerabilities and doesn’t seek to exploit them and she’s the same with him. See? Clearly not close to enemies.
Danny, for his part, has struggles of his own. As much as he has a loving and involved family, he feels incredible pressure from the huge successes of his older brothers. He’s always been close to his family but sometimes that closeness has hampered him too and he’s at a crossroads in his life. Danny is also a secret and avid baker (be still my heart!) but he worries that isn’t enough to live up to the family expectations after rugby inevitably ends. Catie encourages Danny to pursue his dreams, whatever they look like but does not minimise his concerns.
There is a gentle, often self-deprecating humour to the book.
Shaking his head, he returned to get himself a glass of milk and his own plate of cookies. Because he knew Catie wouldn’t share hers. Then he sat at the other end of the couch, and they ate cookies and drank milk like any other hot young twentysomethings who were having a flaming affair.
There is also a kind of joy in how well Catie and Danny know one another and how they work things out as they go. The relationship challenges they face are realistic and not played for audience manipulation.
I do not know much about the experience of amputees on a personal level but I found the representation sensitive. I’d be interested to hear from experts in the area too/as well. It seemed to me that the book cleverly acknowledged that Catie’s experience is not universal. There were a number of characters in the book who had different experience of amputation (legs and/or arms) and various mention of some of the challenges amputees face from a health and financial perspective as well as from the emotional.
“She sees it as being herself in all her glory and fuck the creeps, which I agree with—but she also accepts my viewpoint. We’re different people with different thoughts on the whole thing. No one has a right to what we don’t choose to reveal.”
There was a lighter touch in some areas which felt sensitive and appropriate, mostly around the intimacy. When the scene called for it, there was mention of Danny stabilising Catie’s hips because her legs may not hold her up (wall-banging) but there was no up-close-and-personal about some other things which were unnecessary for me to know and would have felt, had they been there, out of place and wrong at worst and didactic and preachy at best. While I’m not an expert in the area it looked to me like the right balance was struck; realism and representation, avoiding prurience and fetishism.
I mentioned above that the fake relationship doesn’t stay fake for long but I’m not going to say much more about the plot from there. Catie and Danny spend a lot of time together, face their fears and face tests of their relationship to get to their HEA. It’s not an angsty book though. I found the tension level just right.
The sex is hot, the connection between the protagonists compelling and catching up with the rest of the family was entertaining in any number of ways.
It was only right at the end that I realised some of the things conveniently dropped into the epilogue had been missed in the story. I didn’t notice them at the time but I was grateful they weren’t forgotten because I would have wondered what happened with them afterwards. Still, there were some things which were a little light on detail and seemed to point to plot necessity rather than anything else.
I expect that Kiss Hard can be enjoyed quite well as a stand alone. But I’d also recommend at least reading Cherish Hard first because Isa and Sailor are significant to Danny and Catie both, and important context about Catie’s earlier years and Catie’s parents and even her “rivalry” with Danny are contained in it.