Formats available: ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Ultimate, #0.5
Length: 61 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: August 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Power. Brute strength. Unforgettable moves. It’s no wonder Harper Gates hasn’t been able to get her fling with Gage “Savage” Ringer out of her head. Months have passed since she laid eyes—or any other body parts—on him. Months without a word of contact…until, sidelined by injury, he comes back to town.
Staying focused on his training seemed like a smart move to Gage, even if he thought about Harper every day. Seeing her again only makes it clear how much is at stake. He’s got one night to earn back her trust. One night to show her that behind his breathtaking skill and ripped body is a man who’ll give her everything she needs.
The action takes place at Cannon’s rec center. Cannon was an important side character in Getting Rowdy (reviewed here), the third book in Love Undercover. Cannon is a mixed martial arts fighter who is training himself to fight in the SBC. While training, he becomes Rowdy’s bartender and bouncer, and helps police the neighborhood and bring down the bad guys.
His reward is a contract with the SBC, but he uses some of his new found wealth and prestige to open a recreation center in the run-down town he started from. It’s a place where fighters can train, and most importantly, a safe place where kids can play, learn and keep off the streets. The disciplined fighters serve as coaches and role models for the kids who might otherwise be sucked into gangs or other dangerous and hopeless behaviors.
While the story takes place at Cannon’s rec center, it isn’t Cannon’s story. That comes next in No Limits. But in this story, the neighborhood and all the fighters back at Cannon’s center are watching him fight on TV.
Instead, we have the story of Gage and Harper. While I want to say that Harper is kind of the mascot of Cannon’s rec center, that diminishes both her role and her agency, so it’s not quite right. She is kind of the glue that holds the neighborhood to the center, AND she’s the honorary sister of every one of the fighters who train there.
Gage is the one fighter who doesn’t see her as a little sister. They grew up together, but now that they are both adults, they were heading towards a relationship. Fast.
Until Gage went to another camp to train for an important fight, and wasn’t the least bit clear about his feelings for Harper or his intentions when he came back. Then he got injured in training and had to come home. He expected a warm welcome, and got the cold shoulder.
Let’s just say he was REALLY unclear (read that as silent) about his feelings for Harper or his hopes for furthering their relationship. He was too busy concentrating on the fight.
The sizzling heat of Hard Knocks is created when Gage and Harper try to figure out what they each want, while in the middle of that neighborhood crowd watching the fight. So everyone they know watches them court and spark.
Lots and lots of sparks, enough to set the place on fire.
Escape Rating B: Hard Knocks is way, way too short. It does provide a nice setup for the rest of the series (It feels like all the fighters we meet are going to get their own book!)
Gage and Harper’s story gets shorted just a bit. This isn’t a “falling in love” story, it’s more of a long-term friends into lovers story, but we don’t get quite enough background. Other people report on their feelings and reaction to each other, and we see into both of their heads a bit, but the story is more of one hot encounter than seeing them fall in love and getting invested in their relationship.
I also felt that Harper sold herself short, or gave up too easily about communicating what she needs. On the other hand, the introduction to the guys and the neighborhood was great.
As a tease for the Ultimate series, Hard Knocks certainly set the stage for plenty of hot romance and fighting action to follow.