Hard, Cheryl McIntyre
Publisher: Cheryl McIntyre
Genre: Het Romance
Tags: Erotic, Contemporary, Grief, Hurt, BDSM-Light, Potential Triggers
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com
I have been staring at her for three months. Watching her. Memorizing her.
For ninety-two days, I’ve looked into those lifeless green eyes.
And for ninety-two days she has inspired me in ways I never knew possible. A muse, unbeknownst to her. Motivating me. Encouraging my darkest desires.
I’m a man who knows what he wants. And what I want is the beautiful and broken Holland Howard.
My name is Jensen Payne—photographer, autocrat, lecher, Scopophiliac. I am who I am and I will not—cannot—change.
WARNING: THIS BOOK CONTAINS POSSIBLE EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS FOR SOME READERS. PLEASE TAKE THIS WARNING SERIOUSLY.
First off, I think this is one of the best book blurbs I have read. It gives you a sense of unease but it gives nothing away. Once you’ve read the book you see it in a somewhat different light. That’s a wonderful thing because it is a shifting book – it’s akin to looking at a photo and every time you do, you see something new. Which is also interesting given Jensen’s passion and obsession.
Holland Howard married her teenage sweetheart, Darren, settled down, and was happy. Life, however, has a way of throwing you curve balls. Within a year two major life events shattered Holland’s happiness irrevocably.
Barely functioning, going through the motions, Holland gets in her car one day, after walking in on something no one should – on top of everything else – and leaves the life she knows behind.
When I let the last piece of my life drop from my fingers in a small town in Ohio, that’s when I finally stopped. So, you see, I had no more attachments. No mother, no father, no husband, no child—no family whatsoever. No real friends. No job. All of the people I loved most in the world had destroyed me. They left me and it ruined everything I was. I had no one I had to answer to. No one who cared where I was or what I was doing. Most importantly, I didn’t care.
And I still don’t.
Holland now has a fairly mundane job waiting on people at The Pub. It’s here she comes to the attention of a local, Jensen Payne, who’s been watching Holland keenly for three months, or for ninety-two days as the synopsis specifically informs us. What Jensen sees is a woman who is outwardly beautiful but dead behind the eyes. An automaton who goes through routine but seems broken. He wants to photograph her and see if he can ignite the spark that makes a good photo great, perfection, beautiful. He also wants to fuck her, if possible, because he likes women, and he’s had sex with a lot of woman in his life, never going back to the same woman again.
The woman before me is no different from everyone else—she’s been blind for a long time. I knew this from the moment I saw her. What makes her unique and interesting to me is the loveliness of her sadness. The sweet darkness of her defeat.
One night Jensen propositions Holland to come back to his place after her shift ends. The way it occurs, the way he ‘demands’, a lot of women would balk at him, let alone agree to his wants. She doesn’t know him. Doesn’t even know his name, yet she agrees to get in his car to go back to his place. Agrees to his demands to strip and pose for him. Jensen is good looking and persuasive, charismatic even, and while Holland notices, she doesn’t actually care about that. All she knows, and cares about in that moment, is this strange encounter with a rather commanding, dirty-talking man takes her mind off the pain that haunts her daily. What she also notices, after their first photo session and fuck together, is that he has a lot of women on his photo-lab wall, and they all share a commonality. They look like her.
Jensen takes erotic photos of women and sells them to collectors. All the women agree and sign off on the photos. Photography is his job and as the book progresses you learn he’s not only lived in this Ohio town, but he’s lived in New York and had multiple showings of his work. You also learn he’d mostly given it all up until Jensen comes into his life… albeit unknowingly at first. He watches. He observes. He is driven to do more. He’s pulled to Holland in ways he’s never experienced before.
There isn’t a whole lot I can review about Hard without giving chunks of plot away. Even if I did that it wouldn’t carry the same heartfelt impact as reading the words that Cheryl McIntyre has lovingly weaved together. It’s an erotic romance, so you know that there will be plenty of sex. And there is. You know that an unravelling of the character’s individual pain and trouble will be par for the course. It is. Holland has to face her past to move forward and Jensen has to cope with his future to allow life to progress. They both have to learn to share secrets they harbour and protect. To work out issues all while getting to know one another and all while they fall. But like any book, it’s the way it occurs. How good that is – and it is good.
I loved the protagonists in Hard. They’re three dimensional and both of them feel like someone you could conceivably know. Told in alternating POV, you get to understand the motivations of both characters and the change of perspective keeps the story moving along at a perfect pace. Holland is easy to identify with and has lived through every woman’s worst nightmare – in multiple ways. She’s closed down in a way trauma does impact a woman. As she shifts and lets life envelop her again I was indescribably happy… because Cheryl McIntyre ripped my heart out on several occasions during the book. Jensen is more than just a strong-willed, sometimes stubborn, at times controlling man. He starts out enigmatic, off-kilter and then becomes someone you care deeply for as you get to know him. In a lesser author’s hands they both could so easily have been caricatures. Yet they are anything but.
One of the highest compliments I can pay a book is that it moved me – physically and emotionally. That the story engrossed me. That I loved the characters. Hard achieved all of those things – pure and simple. There is beautifully intent prose and thoughts in this book that I found achingly beautiful, and a tangibly real and absolute chemistry to Holland and Jensen. They are intriguing characters in their own right and as a couple they fit together so well I desperately wanted that happy ending for them both. If you’ve ever thought about picking up a Cheryl McIntyre book and reading it, if you like them sexy, then definitely pick up Hard. Highly recommend reading. 5 Stars!