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.
10. For anyone who’s been living under a rock in a galaxy, far, far away- I am here to tell you that Nalini Singh is one of the most phenomenal romance writers ever. Authoress of five wildly successful series, Singh once again brings the heat and every feel in a 50 mile radius with her latest novel, book 3 in her Hard Play series, Love Hard. I knew before I began the first page that in was in for a treat. And- boy was I treated!
9. Jacob and Juliet freaking smolder. Their chemistry is palpable.
“..tight nipples pushing against the white lace of her bra, she pressed into his body, her nails digging into his neck. He bit lightly at her lower lip before taking another kiss. In revenge, she deliberately pricked him with her nails again—and got a deep, wet kiss that was all tongue and sex for her trouble. Juliet melted. She’d never been kissed this long and with such open satisfaction, never had her panties go damp before a man so much as touched her breasts.
8. Jake’s dead ex was Juliet’s high school BFF. And it’s ok.
This isn’t microwave pop corn romance. Not a super slow burn, but we truly earn it with Jake & Juliet. I usually don’t go for dead ex trope but Singh made it work in a way where I never felt any competition or irritation with unresolved feelings. I felt respect and reverence for Esme’s mother, however, her ghost wasn’t hanging around crowding the place..
“Do you miss her?” Dark eyes that held a weight of memory… and a question that was a gray barrier between them. “Callie?”
He took his time thinking about that, his mind filled with a thousand faded snapshots. “I miss that our daughter will never know her. I try to keep her memory alive, but to Esme, Calypso’s an image in a photograph, a face and voice on a screen. I miss knowing who she would’ve become as she grew. But I had to get past her death to be a good dad, a good man…we were also so young, Jules. In puppy love that’s frozen in time. I’ll never forget her…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.”
Juliet was the one who broke the eye contact, but because this was Jules, she remade the contact a second later. “I had to ask…”
Their bond was a work of art, each layer so significant and the pay off is just *air kiss*
7. Single Dad Trope is kryptonite catnip. You want it- and it slays you every.damn.time.
“Daddy!” A tiny sprite jumped up and down in front of him. His entire soul smiled, the sadness of memory fading away into the past where it belonged. Because his future was right here in front of him, and she needed a man with a whole heart, a man who understood joy. Going down on his haunches, he said, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“It’s me, Esme!”
“I don’t think so.” He rubbed his jaw. “My daughter’s a little girl, and you’re a beautiful young lady.”
She giggled. “I love you!” She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek before running away to join Emmaline and the kids who’d been attracted by the bridal party. Yeah, he did okay. Even if he was scared all the time about fucking up.
6. Jake Starts a Fight (and Texts a Cat) / Juliet Breaks out the Scary, and p.s. Esme Sees and Knows All. / Juliet Nelisi is Not a Chicken.
The chapter titles are hysterical and I looked forward to seeing what they would be with each and every chapter.
5. Favorite Quote: “I’ve felt you loving me all this time. You love hard, Jake. Impossible to be yours and not know.”
A salt-laced kiss pressed to his lips. “It’s okay, baby.” She stroked her hands over his trembling shoulders. “I’m right here. Loving you back just as hard.” Unable to speak, Jake held on, just held on.
4. Brotherhood Bonding (and good natured ribbing).
“Why the hell aren’t you concentrating on your honeymoon?” His big brother’s response was quick and brutal.
“Wanted to make sure you didn’t chicken out of today.”
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” Jake muttered, tugging off the towel to pull on a pair of white boxer briefs. “The damn contract is airtight.”
“Excellent.” Total lack of sympathy. “We need to set you up for what happens after you retire from the game. The body doesn’t last forever, Jake.”
“But seriously, Gabe, an underwear commercial?” He was going hot under the skin just thinking about it.
“Face it, little bro.” Gabe chuckled. “You’re a heartthrob. Getting caught snuggling Esme after that championship win did great things for your marketability.”
Jake rubbed his temples.
3. Chapter 15.
That’s it. That’s the caption. Chapter 15 is sexy, raw, hot etc …
Gripping her under her rounded thighs, he hauled her forward until her hips were at the edge of the bed, then he spread those thighs wide and looked down. Unable to take the intensity of the connection, she glanced away and to the side.
“Jules. Look at me.”
Teeth sinking into her lower lip, she nonetheless obeyed his command. Though why the hell was it so hot that he’d demanded her participation? He didn’t move until their eyes had reconnected, his chest rising and falling in a rhythm as rapid as her own.
2. Esme. Jake’s daughter is easily the unsung star of Love Hard. She is a little precocious and a lot adorable, Esme is the glue that melds Jake and Juliet together as family. Her presence elevated any scene she was in. Did I mention she was adorable?
“Bouncing up and down beside Juliet, she said, “Jules! Are you gonna stay with us now and hug me and kiss Daddy?”
“Why are you awake?”
“I just am.” She played with Mr. Mouse’s bedraggled ear, all nonchalance. “I dreamed about a cute doggie. He was so nice and he had a waggy tail and he licked my face and made me happy.”
Yeah, Jake hadn’t been born yesterday. Instead of asking about her “dream,” he said, “Since we’re both up, shall we make pancakes?”
Her face lit up, the cute doggie forgotten. “Even though it’s a school day and you gotta eat proteins?”
1. Mature Romance is oh- so refreshing.
By mature, I don’t mean that the characters are particularly up in age. However, how they behave is mature, responsible and after reading story upon story where the Hero is an asshole for gratuitous reasons and the heroine goes off half-cocked about one thing or another- it was so nice to read about real people, with relatable lives and watch them conduct themselves with emotional intelligence. The trouble that threatens their HEA isn’t contrived nor is it some ridiculous misunderstanding with Jake & Juliet acting like twin bone-heads and getting in their own way. Jake was a grounded, honest and deeply feeling man. A little (a lot!) straight laced but he managed to compliment Juliet’s more free-wheeling spirit and together they felt like sublime balance. This was peak adult men and women acting like grown-ups in their relationships – sign me TF UP!
*Disclaimer I love, adore, revel and binge asshole hero trope- don’t ever mistake me- a grumpy ass, possessive ass dude is my jam- BUT that is also what makes writing like *this* feel so good. Besides, you appreciate a well cooked steak even more when you’ve been nibbling on pork rinds- AmIRight!? lol
I recommend this novel 100%. It is third in its series, and while some characters are inter-sectional, the Hard Play books stand alone.