ORDER A COPY: Hard Time
Publishing Date: April 15, 2014
ebook: 304 pages
Rating: 5 stars
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.
Cara McKenna takes us back to the Town of Darren, Michigan, but instead of the psychiatric ward of Larkhaven, we are going into the dangerous corridors of Cousins Correctional Facility. A medium security facility where criminals are doing time for drug charges, assault, rape, and various hard core offenses.
Annie Goodhouse is the new hire at the library so it falls to her to take over the library’s education program at the prison. She hopes to make it back out without being verbally or physically assaulted. Cousins is the last place she would ever believe she would find a man who stirs her fantasies for the first time since she left her ex five years ago.
Stephen’s abuse started slowly with a pinch or a taunt but there was no question that when he drank, the violence was getting gradually worse. Until that last time, when he dislocated her jaw and ruptured her eardrum. Although it was truly painful, it was the wake up call that she needed to walk away. But Annie has been hibernating from the world and men since then.
When she walks into Cousins she meets the eye of Eric Collier and there is no question that there is an instant connection between the two of them. While Annie has been in her self-imposed prison, Eric has been behind bars for assault. For the first time in five years, both Eric and Annie have found themselves thinking of someone in a sexual way.
Eric may have approached her to get his help with his writing, but his practiced correspondence becomes more and more erotic and as Annie and Eric discuss their fantasies, they each once again awaken desire in each other.
But when Eric gets an early parole, what happens to their fantasies when the real world creeps in? Will they have the courage to embrace their growing feelings or will the ability to date in the real world, take away the safety that distance allowed?
Cara McKenna writes such interesting and unusual characters and obviously takes us to interesting places to tell her stories. After Hours took us to a psychiatric ward and now, we are at the local prison. These are not rich, affluent people. No tie me up billionaires in her stories. These are everyday people, some with less than average upbringings and circumstances, just trying to get by.
You can’t help but fall for Eric. There is no question that Eric is dangerous. He is in prison for assaulting a man with a tire iron, and although he declares that the man deserved it, it does show he has the ability to reach that level of violence. Even though he says he would do it again if the circumstances called for it, there is definite growth in Eric from the young man who was originally incarcerated. He understands what he wants to do with his life when he finally get out. And he also understands that a woman like Annie is too good for someone like him, but he wants to be the kind of man she would deserve.
There is such a strong connection between the two main characters here but when Eric is paroled, it takes the safety of the fantasy away from Annie. She is not jumping up and down when she finds out, and poor Eric is heartbroken when she is not ready to start a real life romance with him upon his release.
Although their letter writing was very erotic and in one way bonded them, I was disappointed that there wasn’t even some attempt made for a real ‘get to know you’ in their letters. Obviously, these letters were all part of the fantasy between them, especially since Eric expected to be locked away for a few more years. They weren’t meant to be indepth philosophical discussions. The purpose of the correspondence was simply to fuel each other’s fantasy life. I loved that Annie would dress up and put on make up and perfume to read Eric’s letter.
Once Annie works past her fear of the real world with Eric, it is almost a redo of the story as they get to know the person behind the letter.
This was wonderful storytelling and such interesting and unforgettable characters.
Received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I could only image how he might be, in real life—how he’d treat me if we were alone together. Happily there was no possibility of us, alone together in real life, and so I imagined everything, every possible flavor, relieved to know my hypotheses would never be proven right or wrong. That he’d never get a chance to disappoint me.
I spent so much time fantasizing about him, it occurred to me on Friday morning that I had no idea how to act toward him if he approached me again. Play dumb, pretend I really did think that letter had been meant for some other woman? Be stern, shut him down before he grew bolder?
I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to tell Shonda or any other CO about it, but I also knew I wouldn’t be doing that. Selfishly, I wanted the letter for myself. And recklessly, I even hoped maybe he’d want to tell me more.
It was insane, of course, but when you’ve not felt sexual hunger for months, for years…The idiotic risks people take in the midst of affairs made sense to me, suddenly. Nothing felt as good as this wanting. Logic was impotent. Flaccid. A pitiful, powerless thing.
I saw Collier as I passed through the dayroom, and it was recognition as I’d never felt it. I’d lived out a thousand imagined intimacies with this man, and when our eyes met it felt as though he must have lived them too.
It was muggy and brutal that day, leaving inmates and staff alike punchy. The convicts bickered and baited, but it was for the best—the discord kept me on my toes, kept my mind off Collier through Literacy and Composition, kept my eyes off him for the most part during Book Discussion.
As always, though, he caught me during the afternoon Resources block. I had to wonder if that was on purpose. If he wanted to be my final memory of the day when I left this place.
Oh, the meaning I read into every crack and crevice of our encounters.
Attendance was down. The Resources room wasn’t air-conditioned, and apparently the allure of ogling my breasts and butt wilted some when the temperature flirted with the triple digits. Men still came and went, and most showed up for their computer slots, but for the first time I had a bit of free time, myself, and I used it to make a list of things I’d need to implement Karen’s unrealized plan of starting a cell-to-cell book cart service. I’d nearly begun to think I could put off choosing my stance toward Collier another week. Or indefinitely. Maybe he pulls that “help me write a letter” shit with every librarian. Maybe he’d never come calling again.
He came for me at twenty minutes to five. I felt him step through the door, a heat wave and a cold front all wrapped inside one man. He strode to where I was sitting, lazy as you please, and I knew it was him without even looking up. He stood across the tabletop from me. behind an empty chair, his big fingers curled over its back. I raised my chin. Played it cool aside from the pink I felt stinging my cheeks.
“You free?” he asked, in that voice that had whispered the most brilliant, disgusting secrets in the privacy of my head this past week.
“Sure.” I nodded to the chair and he sat. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, and a knot formed in my middle. Another letter?
“I was hoping you could read something for me?” he said, gaze on my hands. “Something I wrote.”
“Sure.” I realized in that moment, I knew exactly where the nearest officer stood, and not for my own protection. I knew it the way every one of these cons must. The way a criminal keeps his radar tracked on witnesses and cameras when he knows he’s on the brink of wickedness. I took the paper from him, but he stopped me before I could unfold it.
“Not now. But maybe you could take it with you. Take your time. It’s real important. I want to make sure I say everything right.”
Thump, thump, thump “Um…Yeah. Sure. I can do that.” It was lined paper, and I could see the impression of his handwriting. Lots of it. “Whether it needs rewriting or not, this was good practice writing it all out,” I offered.
He nodded. “I used that machine. I wrote it on that, and it fixed my capital and spelling. Then I copied it down on paper. I didn’t have to rely on my head, to know which way all the letters went.”
Collier’s brown eyes swiveled, seeking the guards. Finding them busy with the now departing inmates, he leaned a bit closer. “I’ll make this real easy for you,” he said.
I felt my brow rise and my heart tumble into my shoes. “Easy?”
“I’ve got stuff to say. To you.” He tapped the paper, his voice barely a whisper. “If you want to hear more, next week, you wear red.”
“You show up next week wearing red, I’ll know what I’ve got to say is okay by you. You wear any other color, I won’t even bother you again. Not about typing or anything else. I won’t be angry or anything. But if you wanna hear, wear red.”
“Collier!” The guard shot him a look. “Check your posture, loverboy.”
Collier sat up straight, drawing his crossed arms away. “Red,” he said. “but only if you want to hear more.”
I nodded, tucked the folded paper in my note book along with a couple other convicts’ letters I’d promised to drop in the mail room.
He watched my hands then stood. “‘Preciate that,” he said at a normal volume, and pushed his chair back in.