Things were just starting to get good between Harper Gates and MMA fighter Gage “Savage” Ringer when he was chosen for a big fight and took off to for training camp. No more dates, no more flirting, and apparently not more talking at all. After kissing Harper goodbye, he never even called. But now he's back, an injury taking him out of the fight, and it's time to see if they can pick things up where they left off.
The Verdict: Normally I'm not a big fan of novellas, but when I saw Hard Knocks was the prequel to No Limits, I couldn't pass it up. I figured that, if nothing else, it might keep me engaged until I can snatch up Holding Strong.
The chemistry between Harper and Gage is great, fueled by their previous attempt at a relationship that ended up being cut short and igniting again the moment they're alone together. I do wish, however, that I'd gotten a chance to know the characters a little better. Gage seems very straightforward, though as testosterone always seems to do, he wasn't fully aware of the strength of his feelings for a while. His separation from Harper for training made him realize just how much he wanted her in his life, even if he was a bit too obtuse at the time to slap the L-word on it. But he was sweet, certainly into her, and while a little confused about her hot-and-cold behavior around him, he never once considered denying his feelings. I suspect that had he been given a full novel and not just a short story that served up only one evening of banter and feelings, I would have fallen ridiculously in love with him.
Harper wasn't quite as interesting, not because there was anything wrong with her character, but because there wasn't really much chance to get to know her. She had crushed on Gage since they were in school, had been in love with him forever, and was pretty broken up by his apparent apathy when he left for training. In that sense, she was easy to understand, but the story really doesn't tell us anything else about her, so I couldn't connect with her the way I wanted to. Still, I love the way she didn't really play games, instead, making her attraction known and setting up a clear opportunity for Gage to rekindle things with her.
Hard Knocks by Lori Foster is a good preview of what to expect in the Ultimate book series, and I can't exactly complain about getting another glimpse of the awesomeness that is Armie. My 3-star review is more a product of not getting enough story than there being anything I didn't like about it. I think if anyone is thinking about starting this series and just can't quite make a decision, Hard Knocks is going to be a great hook to reel the readers in and give them a glimpse of just how good one of these stories in full-length can be.