Jeremy Rixley is still getting his footing after a bomb exploded in the warehouse that holds his home and tattoo shop, Hard Ink. His brother, Nick, and Nick’s Special Forces team have been staying with him as they investigate a threat that nearly destroyed their team and continues to be after them. Jeremy has been helping out as much as he can, but he feels guilty that he isn’t as much of an asset as he would like to be. One person who helps Jeremy feel more centered is Charlie Merritt, a computer guy who also has been helping the team. Like Jeremy, Charlie is both in the middle of things but also on the outside of the team, as he helps out with their IT needs and recuperates from his recent kidnapping.
Jeremy definitely feels an attraction to Charlie, but has no idea how Charlie feels in return. The men have been drawn to each other ever since Charlie was rescued and Jeremy helped care for him during his recovery. When the shy Charlie finally makes his interest known, Jeremy is thrilled and eager to move forward with him. The guys indulge in their attraction, even as they continue to help out the team. Jeremy definitely wants to move forward with Charlie, but when Charlie seems hesitant about being open about their relationship, he wonders if he has mixed signals. Charlie’s father made it clear he didn’t accept Charlie being gay, and so being public about his feelings for Jeremy is tough for Charlie, who is still uncertain how he fits in with the group and what they will think. But Charlie also knows he cares too much about Jeremy to hide his feelings for long, and soon both men are realizing that, in the midst of all the chaos, they just may find real happiness with each other.
Hard to Be Good is book 3.5 in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series. The other books in in the series are all m/f stories and this novella features two male side characters who are now getting their own story. This book is set up in a way that it works as a standalone for readers who haven’t read the other books in the series. I was not familiar with this series at all and I had no problem jumping in to the story and figuring out what wa happening with the relationship and the larger series arc (though I did have the benefit of reading Kaye’s guest post she wrote for the blog for next week, which did give me a bit of added background most readers wouldn’t have had). The book opens soon after the explosion that destroyed the warehouse (presumably this happens in the previous book). We quickly get some back story on the larger series arc — Jeremy’s brother Nick and his team are tracking down some bad guys, they have learned that Charlie’s father (the Colonel in charge of their team) was not the traitor they thought he was, and Charlie has been recovering from a kidnapping by the bad guys. We don’t get a whole lot of detail on any of this, but we don’t really need it. The important points are that this whole gang (Nick’s team and their assorted love interests) is now living together in Jeremy’s warehouse as they conduct their investigation, and that Jeremy and Charlie have grown close, but not acted on their attraction before now.
Most of this story focuses on the relationship between Charlie and Jeremy within this larger series world. They admit their attraction to one another and we get a series of super hot scenes as they get together for the first time and explore their feelings for one another. Let me tell you, these guys are so hot together. Jeremy is tattooed and pierced and has a bit of a bad boy vibe. He is bisexual, but his experience with men has mostly been casual in the past. Charlie is sweet and a bit geeky. He is out, but his father also was very clear in his disapproval that Charlie was gay and their relationship was very strained. I loved that shy Charlie is the one who takes the first steps with Jeremy and I found them very sweet and sexy together. I love a hero who is a bit shy or insecure and watching him blossom from the connection with his love interest, and that is explored really nicely here. Now things do seem to happen really fast. The whole book takes place from one day to the next, and these guys jump from never having kissed to proclaiming their love in that time period. Perhaps if I had read the other books where we see their friendship developing it wouldn’t have felt so fast, though if I am understanding the backstory correctly, they have still only known each other two weeks. So while I loved them together, I felt like the jump to “I love you” happened sort of quickly. We also are told a lot about them, but don’t have much time to really see it for ourselves in the short format of the story. So again, this is a quick look into their lives with lots of steamy sex and some sweet tenderness between them.
As I said, this book is written to stand alone for m/m readers who haven’t read the rest of the series. It is also written in a way that regular series readers could potentially skip this book and continue on without missing much. Although we get backstory on the larger series arc, nothing really happens to advance that plot here and most of the book is Jeremy and Charlie and their relationship. We do get to meet a LOT of other characters, presumably all series regulars. We learn their names, their roles in the group, with whom they are partnered, etc. I actually found that it was more information than I needed for this book. So little happens outside the primary relationship that beyond knowing which ones where Charlie and Jeremy’s siblings, I didn’t really need to know who the rest of these folks were and it got kind of overwhelming as they are all introduced. I think new readers to the series won’t need all that information, and readers who have already read the other books will know who these people are without having them reintroduced. So I think some of that backstory was unnecessary, but I do think Kaye succeeds well in bringing new readers in and allowing them to jump into this story with no trouble.
Overall I was really impressed with Kaye’s writing and enjoyed her style quite a bit. I loved Jeremy and Charlie and found them super sexy together. I appreciated that Kaye just went for it with them (and OMG the blowjob scene on the tattoo chair…) without taming down the sex for the m/m story. Reading this novella definitely got me intrigued about the larger series and I would definitely look into starting from the beginning to check it all out. And for sure I will keep my eyes open for other books by this author because this story definitely whet my appetite for her work and I really enjoyed this novella. So if you are a fan of this series already, I would definitely pick up this story. And if you are new to the series or to Laura Kaye’s work, I think this is a great introduction. The story is super sexy, sweet, and fun and definitely an enjoyable read.
Cover Review: I like this cover, but admit it bugs me that both these guys are dark, because Charlie is repeatedly described as blond. His hair is mentioned often in the book, so it seems strange to me that they didn’t make one of the men blond. But Jeremy is nice and inked and fits the story well to me.