stepback cover for "Hard to Handle"
Extreme fighter Harley Handleman has an outlook on life as hard as his muscular body. Fate has dealt him a sucker punch - and a low blow, at that. First, there were his failed attempts at the title belt. Then, Harley's mother lost her fight with breast cancer, leaving him with no family but his trainer, Uncle Satch.
Taking a break in the mountains seems like a good idea. But his vacation isn't nearly as restful as he expected - thanks to his landlady, Anastasia Bradley. Their verbal sparring keeps him on his toes, and the sensual sparks that fly between then would knock out a lesser man. The last thing Harley wants is more complications in his life, so he's determined to keep his distance from the alluring Stasia. But someone else has also noticed Stasia - someone who is putting her life in danger. To protect Stasia, Harley must stay close, but his growing feelings for her may be a bit hard to handle....
Anyone who's ever read this blog on a regular basis knows that Lori Foster is an auto-buy author for me. I just love her strong, capable heroes and her spirited, independent heroines, and the sometimes unusual but loving families she creates in her stories. I'm not really a fan of the UFC and all the wrestling, boxing, fighting stuff, but I do love the SBC world she's built, and the discipline, respect, friendship, and responsibility these men all have in spades. Harley Handleman is no different, yet he is a more complex hero than what we've usually seen fighting in the SBC before.
Because of several unexpected things that have happened in his life, Harley is determined to control whatever aspect of his life he can, and that includes sex. He doesn't believe in completely abstaining when he is in training, but he does feel the need to control what happens with his partner in the bedroom. And he's all about temporary - no fuss, no muss.
Most of the women Harley comes into contact with have absolutely no problem with this, and walk away happy and satisfied. But now Harley is noticing his landlady in a way he can't deny anymore, yet he knows Anastasia Bradley is not the temporary kind, so he tries to keep his distrance. But someone is after her, and being the protective man he is, Harley is unwilling to let her handle things on her own. After one rather intimate night together, Harley is determined more than ever to stay away from her, and after he leaves Echo Lake, he really doesn't expect to see her again anyway.
Stasia is a life coach, someone who works with clients and evaluates their goals, their lifestyles, their personalities to try to help them achieve what they set out to do and to be happier and more content. After getting to know Harley, she's convinced he needs some assistance to live a more fulfilling life, but of course he's not having it. Stasia accepts his decision, but feels that he could truly benefit from working with her. Naturally Fate has a way of bringing them back together, and the attraction between them is as explosive as ever, but Anastasia is not willing to let Harley control things in the bedroom; she's not going to be just another notch on his bedpost.
I found Harley to be rather fascinating, very determined and set on his path to win the title while almost closing himself off from emotion. He hangs with the other guys, and lets his uncle call all the shots, but he tries to steer clear of any entanglements. He knows he's in trouble right away with Stasia as she's not the typical groupie, and therefore has no problem butting heads with him. She's pretty upfront with him right from the start, throwing him off with her blunt honesty, and that only attracts him more. She's also not shy about admitting she wants him, but only if he's willing to let go of his control, which of course he has a problem with. It takes a long time for them to finally fall into bed, but by that time, they are well on their way to falling in love.
Stasia is such a likable heroine - pretty, honest, independent, confident - and way over her head when it comes to resisting Harley, who has always attracted her. She's had her own share of disappointments, but she knows she's good at what she does and she truly believes her work helps people achieve their full potential, and she feels she could do the same for Harley, if he would only take the chance and trust her.
As always, I enjoyed re-visiting the SBC fighters and the women who love them. Much like her Visitation series, Lori's SBC books center around a close-knit group of friends and family who love what they do and take pride in it, and it's really fun to get a sneak peek into the UFC, which is a labor of love for Lori, who is a huge fan of the sport. Brief mention of the negativity of steroids is brought up, which is very relevant in today's sports news. Instead of drugs, it takes discipline, training, talent, and hard work to win a title. Harley's story definitely focuses on the positive aspects of UFC fighting, and how that can carry over into everyday life. Another job well done.
However I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I was rather disappointed that musician Barber didn't get his own story! Especially after we got to know him so well as Dakota's good friend, I thought for sure he would have gotten his own book, and not have his HEA tacked onto Harley's. He has the charisma, attractiveness and charm to pull it off all on his own, and it would have been rather fun to see him suffer a little bit. Don't get me wrong: his was a nice story, but way too quick. Oh well, maybe he won't get off so easy after all.....
Rating: **** out of *****
And stay tuned for the next L.L. Foster book: "Servant: The Acceptance"
Berkley single title
Gabrielle Cody has accepted her destiny as one of God’s warriors, charged to destroy evil. When surrounded by violence, she must be ready for anything, but Gaby wasn’t prepared to see Detective Luther Cross ever again. He’s the beacon of reality in her life, the one thing that makes her feel human, like a real woman.
But Gaby can’t get caught up with Luther now. She has work to do, this time protecting the street walkers. But Luther gives her purpose, something more than just working at God’s whim. Yet her life of retribution is far too dangerous even for Luther, and this time, it’s not just their hearts that won’t come out unscathed.