Five dishonored soldiers.
Former Special Forces.
One last mission.
These are the men of Hard Ink.
Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he’s shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister’s sake, Crystal can’t get too close. Until her job and Shane’s mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed.
Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former SpecialForces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn’t want him to uncover. Too bad. He’s exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can—and never let go.
WORDY BEGINNING, SO HANG IN THERE…
In all honesty, the beginning of this book can be a bit overwhelming in terms of action and background dialogue, but the intention is to bring the reader up to speed quickly. The story begins in a seedy strip club, controlled by a crime lord and unsavory henchmen. “Crystal” Dean, has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s caught between a rock and a hard place working as a cocktail waitress to pay off a debt she did not incur.
Cue the tall, lethal leading man, Shane “Pretty Boy” McCallan. Former Special Forces, he enters into “Crystal’s” world, along with other ex-military operations characters, on a mission to rescue a friend that was kidnapped, held and tortured in the club. Crystal’s situation triggers a response in Shane connected to his own angst-filled past regarding the loss of his sister.
Now, Shane’s mission is to save “Crystal” from the clutches of her abusive boyfriend, her indentured situation at the club, and ridding her life of the nightmares that consume her true identity and dreams of freedom.
While the Hard Ink novels are intended to be standalone books, there are moments when the cast of characters seem lengthy, and acronyms are not easily explained to a reader that might have just picked up this book without reading the prior Hard Ink novel, Hard as It Gets. Things “crystallize” about 1/3 of the way into this story, and the mission becomes clear. Shane must rescue and restore “Crystal’s” world as a way to heal his own tortuous past. He must also convince his most trusted friends to join this new tactical operation in addition to their own precarious agenda. Shane will only be successful if Crystal trusts his intentions, which is no easy task when her only prior examples of love and family have been laced with abandonment and false promises.
The author does an excellent job invoking feelings of sorrow toward “Crystal’s” dire situation as a captive in a world that she never desired to inhabit, but at times the narrative voice seems a little distant and detached when referring to Shane. Maybe that was a derivative of the female character’s desire to push away Shane rather than to explore their possible connection.
Clearly something has to change in order for these two soulful people to come together and forge a bond strong enough to save one another. There are moments of heated passion in their clandestine meetings.
“His gaze dropped to her lips. She shuddered, everything inside her but the smallest voice of reason crying out for him to do it. Just once. ‘Tell me not to,’ he said, his voice a raw scrape.
‘I CAN’T’, she whispered in a shaky voice.”
“Crystal” is a fiery red head, with “(h)air like a low, warm fire on a cool winter’s night. Skin like peaches and cream.” Shane’s body was sculpted by his military past, and his blonde-tipped hair is messy and, “…totally sexy…like he’d been running his fingers through it.” Together, their scarred pasts merge as they forge an unbreakable bond designed to heal both of their physical and inked odes to their troubled history – no matter how hard it gets.
Guest Post – 10 Reasons to Love Heroine Crystal Dean
Hey guys! I’m super excited to be here today to celebrate the release of the second book in my new Hard Ink series, Hard As You Can! This book follows the surviving members of a disgraced Army Special Forces team as they fight to regain their stolen honor, and finds their investigation crossing paths with a waitress willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and protect her younger sister. For Shane McCallan, saving Crystal Dean is a mission he refuses to turn down, especially when the team’s mission puts her in even greater danger.
Today, Shane’s here to tell you what he most loves about Crystal:
10. Crystal has the prettiest red hair I’ve ever seen. Soft as pale red silk.
9. She’s such a slight little thing in my arms and, damn, she feels so right.
8. When she smiles, it’s like the sun coming out after a long stretch of gray. A man could make a mission out of earning those smiles.
7. She cares for everyone around her first before thinking of herself. Such selflessness is an admirable quality, even if it raises all my protective instincts.
6. She’s great under pressure—can hold her cool, school her expressions, and think quick on her feet. Damn, it’s sexy, too.
5. She’s tough as nails. The stuff she’s endured, the way she’s protected herself and her sister through some of the worst situations I’ve ever known anyone to go through, and how she’s come out of it without being bitter or angry… Crystal’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, and she bears the scars to prove it.
4. And she’s also one of the bravest. Wait til you learn more about the things she’s done and survived and pushed through despite the risk and danger…
3. She’s fierce and vulnerable at the same time, and it’s the sexiest frickin’ combination.
2. She makes me feel like I’ve done something good and just and right in the world. Damn, the way she looks at me and touches me makes me feel ten feet tall.
1. She believes in me and that’s meant the world since I haven’t always believed in myself.
So, what do you think of Shane’s list? Do you have a favorite reason to love heroine Crystal Dean? Or, if you’ve read the book already, is there another you think should be added?
Thanks for reading!
About the Author
Laura is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen books in contemporary and paranormal romance. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.