Heidi Cullinan knows her kink, that’s an established fact. She also knows how to take her readers to places we never thought we’d go. And not only do we do so with interest, but we move through her stories with a intense sense of familiarity. Her characters are people we know, people we care for. They are vulnerable, broken, resilient, unapologetic, but mostly…MOSTLY they want and DESERVE what we all do, good love. So yeah this one, Steve and Chenco’s story it took me far beyond places I thought I’d be comfortable in, there was a lot of intensity in this one. Theirs was a complex story and with its fair share of ANGST, in ALL CAPS. This third novel in the Special Delivery series, brought me back to that gang of guys we’ve known and loved…Sam, Mitch, Randy and Ethan. These boys are notorious in the M/M universe, and in this story we get to know them all a little more. They join forces to push two more of their little family to arrive at their unlikely happy ending.
So for this book, I just could not think of a single thing to cook…My appetite might have been suppressed at some points do the intensity of some of the scenes. However drinking was DEFINITELY part of the program. This time I selected an unusual wine for me, its a Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from a Spanish winery. I don’t normally go for blends and when I do, it usually is not one with two grapes that I don’t associate in their flavors. Two things that should not go together so to speak…The 2011 Pata Negra was definitely a nice surprise. It’s a beautiful ruby red color, with lovely aroma and a lightness that is usually not in a glass of Tempranillo, but also with a boldness and a lingering taste that I don’t associate with a Cabernet. It’s a lovely mix of flavor, like Steve and Chenco, not two I would have put together on sight, but that once blended make for a lovely pairing. For about $9.00 a bottle, also a very affordable and delicious choice.
So like I was saying…We reconnect with the SD guys a few years after Sam and Mitch, and Randy and Ethan found true love. This time we are in Southern Texas and Chenco, Mitch’s younger and long lost little brother is at the center of the story. Chenco and Mitch had the same father, but never knew much about each other. The old man was an evil bastard and who tried to destroy his sons. Chenco has not had many people in his life to support him, once his mom found about his secret she turned him away from her life, and he’s been fighting the world tooth and nail to be true to himself. Caramella his alter ego, and drag queen extraordinaire is the side of Chenco were he can purge all the fierceness within him, all that fire he had to keep beneath near the surface to not attract the wrong kind of attention.
We meet Chenco at the lowest time of his life, his father has died and when his lawyer informs him that the old bastard had left his trailer home, the only place Chenco had, to the KKK. The FUCKING Ku Klux Klan. Chenco could almost not believe it. Chenco was furious and desperate. What would he do now? While despairing outside the lawyer’s officethis leather daddy with a face that could make any tough guy shake in his boots came to Chenco’s aid. The guy’s outer roughness translated into incredible gentleness. He made Chenco feel immediately protected and cherished. He’s never had that, never felt like he was the most precious thing in the world to someone else. But Steve in just a few minutes made Chenco feel like he could finally put some of his load on someone else to carry. That good feeling didn’t last very long. Chenco soon found out that Steve was his brother’s friend. The brother his father warned him hated him more than anyone for being gay. The brother who was apparently back in town, and that could only make things suck worse. It figured that the one time he had ever felt like he was completely safe with someone, it had all been a lie. Or was it?
It turned out it wasn’t. Steve Vance was a friend of Mitch, and he was a good man too. A man with a sad past that he could not walk away from. Steve laid eyes on Chenco, and so many things fell into place all at once. Things that had been up in the air, and foreign to him for so long just made sense. He wanted Chenco with a yearning that he could barely control. But he could not have him, he couldn’t taint all that beauty and youth with his own life…There was too much that was a mess in Steve’s world. Too much that he would never allow to come close to that fragile beauty that was Chenco. But Chenco was not taking no for answer, once he saw the man Steve really was, he wanted him too. Caramella and Chenco both wanted the sense of safety and protection Steve provided. Steve couldn’t see past his failures to realize that Chenco was strong enough to stand by his side, that age, or darker desires would not scare him off. He wanted EVERY part of Steve, he NEEDED them too. But Steve would not give in, by trying to keep Chenco away he would end cheating them both out of happiness.
This book had kink in it that really pushed my comfort levels, but I am going to say this, if you focus too much on that part of the story you will cheat yourself out of a very good book. I admit that I had to re-read it and purposely see the heavier kink for what it was, something that Steve and Chenco needed to give each other that made THEIR relationship deeper and better. My ability to feel comfortable with what they did in their intimacy, really had no bearing on the fact that they were good men, who fought hard for their happy ending. A happy ending that when it did finally arrive, it not only felt honest, but it felt VICTORIOUS.
Chenco was a wonderful character and his alter ego Caramella was nothing short of fabulous. I really commend Heidi for going very deeply into Chenco’s perception of himself when he was in drag, and giving Caramella a voice too. For those of us who know men who do drag, we understand it is not a transformation that only happens on the surface, it is something that comes very much from within. I loved seeing Caramella in action. Something else I loved was how much Chenco expressed where his boundaries in terms of where he would go in a scene with Steve. How he voiced the fact that for some things he was ready, and for others he just wasn’t. These things don’t just happen, when someones has an “extreme” kink, even when their partner is interested and willing to go there with them, it takes time. To get comfortable, to understand why they need it. I liked that they took their time. For the most part, as always Heidi handled herself respectfully and cautiously in areas that for a lesser author could have gone terribly wrong. There WERE certain parts of the book that frustrated me a bit. Mostly Steve’s relationship with his childhood best friend, it tried my patience, but Chenco felt the same way and was VERY vocal about it, which helped!
For the most part this book had all the elements that I associate with this series. Good men with complicated lives and desires trying to make a life that makes them happy. Strong and loyal friendships, dirty dirrrrrty sex and all sorts of shenanigans at the hands of the one and only Randy. Good book, recommend it to any fan of the series.
Tough Love will be out on Samhain Publishing on April 8th, you can pre-order here.
I hope you enjoy the read and the wine!
Cheers and Happy Reading!