Harper Connelly never expected to find herself outside of a tattoo parlor at one in the morning, summoning the nerve to take back her past. She’s determined to forget her old life and is looking for an artist who can tattoo over the scars on her back.
Trent Andrews, local legend and owner of the Second Circle tattoo studio, has his own reasons for specializing in inking over scars. And in spite of her mysterious past and the difficult road ahead, he quickly realizes that Harper is funny, smart, and–under her ridiculously oversized clothing and SPF 100 sunscreen–totally hot. He’s happy to take on the challenge of designing a meaningful and deadly full-back tattoo for her.
But when cryptic messages start appearing on Harper’s phone, strange deliveries arrive at her door, and Second Circle is vandalized, Harper is convinced that her ex-boyfriend has tracked her down, and worse, that he knows about Trent. Running was the only thing that saved her last time, but now that she’s started to put down roots in Miami, she’ll have to decide if she can finally fight back instead.
When I finished The Strongest Steel I wasn’t sure whether to give it four or five stars. Without a doubt, the book was great and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I reserve five stars for those books I’d like to read again or that impact me significantly. I just wasn’t sure where on the spectrum this book fell – whether or not it was something I would consider rereading. So I slept on it. The next morning I was still undecided. Yet my indecision was still not enough to relegate it to a 4-star read as I tend to do when I haven’t committed myself to the full five stars. But as I sat down to write this review and thought more and more about the journey that Harper takes and all that she overcomes in the course of the novel, I find myself with no doubts that it is indeed a 5-star read for me.
It’s obvious from our first encounter with Harper that she has suffered something beyond tragic that has left her scarred – inside and out. Even when we see her first meeting with Trent at the tattoo studio and her reactions to his touch as well as her reactions to physical contact with others, I was not prepared for the magnitude of what she suffered and the lengths to which she went in her quest to feel safe again. But the revelations of her past makes the relationship that develops between her and Trent that much more meaningful, impressive, sweet, heartwarming, fulfilling, you get the picture. While Trent does not lack for female company and has a bevy of beauties at his disposal, his usual tactics are thrown out the window when it comes to Harper. He wants more than a one-night stand or short-term relationship with her and he’s willing to put in the time and effort it’s going to take to break through her defenses. And as they spend more and more time together in the studio and out, he realizes that she’s worth the effort … even when her past comes back with vengeance on his mind.
I really liked how much the book focused on the relationship between Trent and Harper and how Trent took it slow with her. He took what he knew of her history into consideration and didn’t push her or rush her. This allowed for a friendship to develop first and then they built upon it. I also liked that Trent’s touch didn’t “cure” her. Even after she was accustomed to Trent touching her, Harper still flinched when Cujo touched her and during her training with Frankie. Cole kept this aspect of the story true to life by making it the repeated exposure to others that enabled Harper to accept touch more and more as the book progressed. While Harper’s abduction by her ex wasn’t a surprise plot wise, I appreciated that the author kept short and that Harper was able to use Frankie’s training – it may feel a bit anticlimactic for some readers, but I liked that it wasn’t drawn out. Even though I really didn’t like Trent’s response to Harper’s less-than-thrilled reaction to his news about the reality show, it felt appropriate to the situation considering Trent’s past and it showed that he was human too. My only real complaint about The Strongest Steel would be that the Reid angle felt extremely unfinished. Harper’s brother’s desertion of her and their family when her ex was convicted didn’t sit right; it didn’t make sense for a brother who had protected her their entire life until Nathan tried to kill her would simply vanish from their lives. I can only assume that the author will be giving us more on Reid in a future installment in the series. Regardless, I absolutely loved the camaraderie between the Second Circle family and cannot wait to read more. I’m already looking forward to the next installment to find out what’s really going on between Drea and Cujo.