Monday 9 March 2015

#CBR7 Book 28: "Rock Hard" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 351 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer! I was granted an ARC from NetGalley in return for a fair and objective review. The book will be on general release 10/03/15.

Charlotte Baird is anxious and painfully shy due to some unresolved trauma involving her first, very unfortunately chosen boyfriend. When the company she works for hires a new CEO, known for his ruthless efficiency, to come clean up the mess left by corruption and mismanagement, she and pretty much everyone else is terrified they might lose their jobs. Yet Gabriel Bishop, popularly known as the T-Rex, doesn't fire the mousy Ms. Baird, he promotes her, quickly realising that she's been fulfilling most of the duties already, with the former CEO's secretary taking all the credit. Charlotte is gobsmacked and nervous, not to mention quite uncomfortable, as she's been desperately trying to hide herself away, physically and emotionally since her traumatic past experience and Gabriel Bishop is a deeply perceptive man who will not be ignored. 

Observant and efficient as he is, Gabriel Bishop, a former champion rugby star turned sought-after company fixer, cannot help but notice that Ms. Baird is an attractive woman, if prone to wear ill-fitting and shapeless outfits. During their first encounters, she's clearly scared stiff, but she's also a consummate professional, determined to do the best job she can, even if she's nervous. He keeps trying to provoke a rise from her and is delighted when the timid mouse starts snapping back. He knows that he's her boss and hitting on her would be deeply inappropriate, especially since she clearly suffered something in the past that still affects her deeply, yet he notices that she finds him attractive in return, and cannot help himself from fantasising about her constantly. He thrives on challenges and on fixing that which is broken. Ms. Charlotte Baird might be his biggest challenge yet, because patience and gentleness are not Gabriel's strongest qualities and that's what he's going to need a lot of to win her over.

This is the second full novel in Nalini Singh's Rock Kiss series, with Rock Addiction being the first and the follow-up, Rock Courtship, being an extended novella. I really didn't like that the couple in the first book hooked up after seeing each other across the room at a party, and then apparently found everlasting love after about a month together. It had some good sex scenes, but frustrated me more than it amused me. As the title suggests, courtship was a much more important part of the sequel novella, where the tension between the couple is built up convincingly over months of acquaintance. Charlotte, the heroine in Rock Hard is a supporting character in Rock Addiction, being the best friend of Molly, the heroine in that book. Some scenes from that book are actually repeated here, from Charlotte's point of view. The thing I liked the most in Rock Addiction was probably the female friendships, between Molly and Charlie and Molly and her sister Thea. They were caring, supporting and cheered each other on. Most of Molly's cameo appearances in this book is in phone calls, but she remains an important corner stone in Charlotte's life.

Charlotte is a strong and capable woman who went through hell because she was vulnerable, inexperienced and insecure and gave her trust and heart to the wrong person when she was younger. He turned out to be a complete psychopath and she is scarred physically and emotionally because of him. She also finds it very difficult to be around men, unless they are completely non-threatening. At the start of the novel, she's been in a pretty much platonic dating relationship with a shy geek called Ernest, because he is never going to demand anything physical from her. The only other male friend she has is the young mail room clerk at the office, who seems like a human puppy dog. Enter her new boss, who is extremely physically imposing, has a magnetic personality and oozes masculinity. He works hard and he plays hard. Forced to give up his promising rugby career after a knee injury, he is now a shrewd and successful businessman instead. He gets hired to come in and save foundering companies and thrives the more difficult a prospect he is faced with.

As in historicals where the aristocrat falls in love with the governess or housekeeper or some other woman in his service, the boss and the secretary could be an uncomfortable proposition, as the boss has so much power over his employee. It's made very clear from their very first meeting (when Charlotte thinks Gabriel is a burglar and throws a stapler at his head), however, that she finds him as attractive as he does her, and that it's her troubled history more than the inappropriateness of the workplace relationship that holds her back from flirting with him. As the months pass, with them working long hours, closely together, Gabriel tries to make Charlotte jealous by making her book dinner dates and send roses to scores of women. She in turn tries to sabotage his dates by finding dreadful restaurants and sending poor quality flowers. They grow closer and a trust builds up, but Charlotte is still very vulnerable.

One of the things that really frustrated me, but which is luckily addressed in the latter third of the book, is why Charlotte isn't in therapy to work through her issues. When the topic is finally brought up, it is explained why she's not seeing a therapist to get over her ordeal and steps are taken to get her to a good place emotionally.

While I still think Rock Courtship is my favourite, there is a lot of fun banter in this one, and the supporting cast, especially Gabriel's family is a good one. I don't think Nalini Singh is ever going to be one of my favourite contemporary romance authors (I prefer her paranormals), I don't regret spending time with Charlie-mouse and her T-Rex in this one.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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