Review: Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Title: Hard Time*
Author: Cara McKenna
Series: n/a
Genre: contemporary erotic romance
Publisher: InterMix
Format: ebook
Date/Year: April 15, 2014
Reviewed by: Michele  

*This book was provided to reviewer by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Summary from the publisher:

In this all-new novel from the author of Unbound, a woman with a rocky past finds romance in the last place she’d ever expect…

Annie Goodhouse doesn’t need to be warned about bad boys; good sense and an abusive ex have given her plenty of reasons to play it safe. But when she steps into her new role as outreach librarian for Cousins Correctional Facility, no amount of good sense can keep her mind—or eyes—off inmate Eric Collier.

Eric doesn’t claim to be innocent of the crime that landed him in prison. In fact, he’d do it again if that’s what it took to keep his family safe. Loyalty and force are what he knows. But meeting Annie makes him want to know more.

When Eric begins courting Annie through letters, they embark on a reckless, secret romance—a forbidden fantasy that neither imagines could ever be real…until early parole for Eric changes everything, and forces them both to face a past they can’t forget, and a desire they can’t deny.

My Musings:

In a landscape filled with billionaire Doms and their blushing virgin submissives, HARD TIME is a refreshing alternative, thanks to Cara McKenna’s unerring ability to take any guy in an otherwise completely undesirable situation and transform him into a legitimate romance hero. This time the hero is a convicted felon and his heroine is the town librarian working part-time at the medium security prison where the hero has been locked up for nearly beating another man to death.

Annie Goodhouse had a comfortable middle-class life she took for granted until the day when her worthless boyfriend crossed the line into abuse, puncturing her eardrum with a smack to the head when he was drunk and she was convenient. Her self-recrimination at letting it happen spurred her to get as far away from her ex as possible. And there isn’t a place farther both in distance and existence than the cold and impoverished town of Darren, Michigan.

Now years and miles away from her old life, Annie has given up on men and sex with them, although she feels the loss now and then. The last place she expected to rekindle her desire was at the Cousins Correctional Facility on her first day as its new part-time librarian. But there was something different about Prisoner 802267. In a room of frightening faces, he was an irresistible flame and she was the moth who should have known better. Annie can’t help being drawn to him, not only because of his good looks and polite behavior, but because as a prisoner, he won’t be able to control her in the way a free man could. But this was someone who had not only tried to kill another person, but still insisted that given the same situation, he’d do it again. So why is Annie even considering letting him into her head and her heart?

After nearly five years behind bars, Eric Collier is ready to stop being a number and start being a better man, one who deserves a woman like Annie. His single-minded pursuit of her is clearly ill-advised and incredibly risky for them both. Still, Eric’s ten year prison sentence ensures that they can never exchange more than heartfelt letters and furtive glances. But when Eric receives an early parole, he and Annie must learn how to begin and sustain a real relationship on the outside. As they deal with all the obstacles between them and happiness, they are soon confronted with the same forces which sent to Eric to prison before, now threatening to send him back. It’s up to Annie to convince Eric not to make the same mistake twice, even if it means losing him for good.

What I loved the most about HARD TIME was how Cara McKenna immediately set up my anticipation for what would happen and then made me believe that it could. The opening list of the prison’s rules of behavior became a framing device for Annie’s descent into madness as she violated nearly all of them in pursuit of her passion for Eric. And in this book, Cara McKenna also somehow turned the simple act of selecting clothes to wear into an erotic experience. Eric is no Dom, but his ability to dominate Annie with her full and ongoing consent just by asking her to wear a specific color or item of clothing was more sexually explicit for me than a hardcore BDSM scene. McKenna’s writing here is just that good.

Although I was happy to be back in the same world as McKenna’s previous book, AFTER HOURS, I didn’t mind not having an update on the hero and heroine from that book. I was completely caught up in the illicit nature of Annie and Eric’s secret romance behind bars, and the major adjustments they had to make once they were able to openly acknowledge their love. Cara McKenna books are always a treat for me, but this one was so lyrical, so emotional, so real, that I couldn’t put it down for more than a few minutes at a time.

Books like HARD TIME are why I make a point of not throwing around 5 star reviews for every book I love. Because I want it to mean something when I do. Cara McKenna’s HARD TIME is a five star read in every possible way, and it will be near or at the top of my Best Reads of 2014 by year’s end.


Overall: 5 stars
Sensuality level: 3.5 

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