Whitewater rafting guide Grady Kelley is filled with guilt for his role in an accident that killed one man and put Grady’s cousin, Finn, in a coma. Grady loves outdoor adventure, but he blames himself for the accident that occurred during rafting trip he was leading.
One day while visiting Finn in the hospital, Grady meets Micah Swaine, a volunteer who reads to coma patients. When Grady learns Micah was in a coma himself years ago, he agrees to meet Micah to talk to him more, in hopes of learning what he might expect for Finn and his recovery. Grady isn’t thrilled that Micah works at a BDSM club as bartender, as it is a place where many of the guys from Finn’s adventure company hang out. They are all Doms and Grady fears that if they see him with Micah, they will assume Grady is a sub, something that has him panicked after a bad experience years ago. But he finds himself drawn to Micah and wants to learn more from him.
Tension between the men turns into a night of sex, but both men are surprised to find that they want more. Each of these guys has demons haunting him. In Grady’s case, it is both the guilt about the accident, as well as his own fears of being seen as weak or submissive. For Micah’s part, his coma left lasting effects on his brain, and he has some permanent issues as a result that affect many aspects of his life. Most guys don’t have the patience to deal with him, and he has been pretty much resigned to casual encounters before Grady.
Even though both of these men are hurting, they also manage to be there for one another and provide comfort and support that they both need. They open up to one another, and things begin to get more serious between them. But Grady’s demons are proving hard to battle, and his instinct is to run away rather than open up. Both of these men need to learn to trust one another, and if they do, they may be able to have a future together neither one expected.
The Harder He Falls is the first book in the new Kick series from Lynda Aicher, which looks to focus on the outdoor adventure company Finn owns. I really liked the set up here and thought it was interesting how we meet Grady after the accident that left one man dead and his cousin in the hospital. It not only makes the conflict sharp, but it puts the focus on Grady and the aftermath, rather than Finn and the accident itself. We can see how much Grady loves his cousin and how devastated he is for his role in it. Being a river guide is so much a part of him, and Aicher does a great job really developing Grady’s character and letting us feel how this incident is just tearing him up.
Really this is a character-driven book, and the highlight for me is how well drawn these guys are. Both are hurting, both have complicated pasts, and these things have shaped the men they are now, and the character development really highlights this. For me, Micah was an easier guy to like. He has his struggles, but he is so caring and kind and so patient with Grady. His brain injury has left him with a debilitating, but also fascinating, condition, and I enjoyed reading about how he handles these challenges and how Grady’s support makes such a big difference. Both these guys have to learn to trust the other, but we see the Micah’s growth come more easily and really feel what a difference Grady makes for him.
I found Grady a more challenging character, to be honest. He is in a much darker place through most of the story, as his wounds regarding the accident are still fresh. He is full of so much guilt and so much pain that he is having trouble moving forward, especially as Finn remains in a coma. I could totally get that, and Grady’s behavior made sense to me in this regard. But I did find some of his issues regarding the club and BDSM to be a little confusing for me. This isn’t a BDSM story and Micah is very clear that he doesn’t identify as a Dom, though he likes to be in charge during sex. And Grady definitely enjoys submission during sex, but he definitely doesn’t want to be seen as a submissive. And I totally get that given his past. But his behavior felt very irrational to me a lot of the time. For example, Grady is afraid to be seen with Micah because he is sure that since Micah works at the club, if anyone sees them together they will automatically assume Grady is his sub. But Micah is clear he is not a Dom, so I am not sure why that would be the assumption. And if Grady is that scared, why does he keep meeting Micah at the club? Even more strange to me is the issue with the fellow adventure guides, who are all former military and Doms themselves. Grady is terrified that they will see him and think he is a sub and therefore weak. Again, I don’t follow the leap why they would think him a submissive, but even so, any decent Dom knows that a submissive isn’t weak. We have no reason to think these guys are jerks who don’t understand BDSM culture. But Grady is so terrified that at one point he thinks he shouldn’t not submit during sex because it will prove to these guys he is a submissive and therefore they won’t respect him (how they will have any idea what goes on his bedroom is beyond me).
I think in the end things come together well, and we get more of a sense why Grady has all these fears, even if they aren’t all rational (at least to me). So things do pull together well at the end, but it made me struggle with Grady and his character somewhat throughout the story as he keeps running and getting freaked out.
Regardless of these issues, I enjoyed this one and my interest is definitely very peaked for the rest of the series. Former military, outdoor adventure Doms! I am not sure what else is planned, but you had me pretty much at that alone. And I think Aicher’s character development is really excellent, and so I am definitely looking forward to reading more from her. So this is a nice start to what looks to be an engaging series, and I am definitely anxious for more.