You can find my full review at Sinfully Sexy .
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.”
~Richard Lovelace, To Althea, from Prison
Hard Time is yet another wonderfully written romance by Cara McKenna. This is not my first book by this author. I have come to expect very real, edgy and raw books from her. Ms. McKenna has this innate ability to provide her readers with very relatable characters that simply seem so “normal”. I love the fact that her stories are brilliant depictions of ordinary characters making a real and honest connection. Nothing is over-the-top angsty bullshit. Yet, with these somewhat unassuming characters, this author is able to draw me in and I become completely engrossed with the romantic tales she weaves. Seriously....I love that!
Anne (or Annie) Goodhouse is a sweet, polite and somewhat reserved woman who is living far away from her southern roots. Her rocky past with an abusive ex led her to take a job in a small northern town as a librarian – a job that takes her to schools, has her working with seniors and young children and also has her going to Cousins Correctional Facility as their outreach librarian working with the inmates who earn the privilege. Given Annie’s past with the opposite sex, she is quite nervous and intimidated when she commences her new role at the prison. Little does she expect to find someone there who awakens the part of her that has long been dead, someone who draws her in with his intense and commanding presence and has her girly parts standing at attention.
“I’d never felt this. Never had a man felt so right, my need for him so urgent. Animalistic and instinctual.”
Eric Collier has spent the last five years in prison paying for a crime he committed and that he feels no remorse over. In fact, he would do it again if it meant protecting his loved ones. Born and raised in a trailer park and dingy town, Eric is loyal to a fault and would do anything for his family including the use of brute force. When Eric spots the new librarian on her first day, he can’t help but feel this inexplicable pull towards her. She is vastly different from the women he associated with prior to his prison term. Eric soon realizes that Annie is not unaffected by him and so he takes a chance, going against all the rules, and writes her a letter.
"802267. Those digits imprinted on my brain, burned black as a brand. He watched me. But not the way the others did."
“His attention had become some strange, dark, private treat to brighten the toughest day of my week, and I'd come to crave it.”
“Like you said, we don’t know each other. Only how we seem to make each other feel. But sometimes that feels like enough. So simple and right, when real life can feel far too messy.”
So ensues the beginnings of a forbidden romance between a prison inmate and the shy and timid librarian – neither one of them unable to resist the sizzling connection they seem to share. A secret romance expressed in the weekly exchange of letters. Lusty fantasies are conveyed by both around the safety net of the unlikelihood that their fantasies will ever become reality and come to fruition. The bubble bursts when Eric is released on early parole. Can Eric and Annie translate all they have shared on paper to a relationship outside of the prison walls? Or, is the illusion they created while Eric was incarcerated all they will ever amount to?
"I want to make you feel a hundred things at once - powerless and aggressive, needy and pushy, grateful and greedy..."
"I probably don't make love. I probably fuck. I'd try for you if you asked me to, though. You'd have to tell me how it's different. It just seems like something a different kind of man would do."
“I want to be someone who deserves to be with somebody like you.”
Going into this book I expected it to have a harder, grittier, feel to the storyline given the fact that our hero is a convict. I was so pleasantly surprised to be given a sweet and romantic tale that was quite endearing. Here you have this felon who has to deal with the harsh realities of prison life on a day to day basis, and yet, this same man is capable of relaying his vulnerabilities and deepest desires in his letters to a woman he feels a connection to. He awkwardly expresses himself in writing winning over the sweet librarian with his words. I loved how honest both Eric and Annie were with each other about their feelings, specifically after Eric was released and out on parole. Obviously Annie was hesitant to pursue things with Eric outside of the prison walls at first but she soon comes to understand that the man who wrote the beautiful and sexy letters to her was still the same man openly declaring his feelings to her face to face. Eric and Annie brought out the best in one another. Annie was someone who called to Eric’s protective and passionate nature and he found himself being tender and treating Annie with a gentle hand – something he had never really done before with a woman. Annie blossomed as her relationship with Eric grew deeper and more profound. The shy and reserved girl she started out as became this woman who was willing to stand up for the man she was in love with.
It is worth mentioning how hot and sensual this book is. Cara McKenna surely excels in her ability to provide her readers with some sizzling scenes that will leave you all hot and bothered. The pair starts out on a slow simmer only being able to exchange their fantasies on paper and it all eventually bubbles over when Eric is released and they can experience first-hand the many experiences they articulated on paper. Damn! Just...damn! Sizzling hotness at its absolute best.
All in all, Hard Time is yet another reason that Cara McKenna is a must read author for me. Her books have this human element and realness often lacking in so many other books. This book was wonderfully romantic and it is a story that left me happily sighing. It is also one that I will re-read when I need a dose of sweet and sexy.
***An advanced reading copy of Hard Time by Cara McKenna was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.