“Ride, authors. Write a ride. Figure out what yours is and then pimp the ever-living shit out of it.” – Heidi Cullinan
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 408 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: It takes a strong man to be this fabulous.
Crescencio “Chenco” Ortiz pulled himself up by his garter straps after his father’s will yanked the financial rug from under his spank-me pumps. He doesn’t need anyone, yet when Steve Vance steps into his life, the prospect of having a sexy leather daddy on tap begins to take on a certain appeal.
There’s a hitch when he learns Steve is friends with Mitch Tedsoe—the half-brother Chenco never knew except through his father’s twisted lies. Despite his reservations, soon Chenco is living his dreams, including a performing gig in Vegas. Now if only he could get Steve to see him as more than just a boy in need of saving.
Steve’s attraction to Chenco is overshadowed by too many demons, ones he knows his would-be lover is too young to slay. Yet as he gets to know the bright, determined young man whose drag act redefines fierce, Steve’s inner sadist trembles with need. He begins to realize Chenco’s relentless tough love might be the only thing that will finally set him free.
Review: The first two books in Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery series, Special Delivery and Double Blind were originally published in 2010. It has been a treat for this fan to see those first two books republished, and this third volume added to the series. We meet some new characters and have the pleasure of catching up with old favorites.
Crescencio “Chenco” Ortiz has had one too many kicks in the teeth from life, better known as his father. He suddenly finds himself homeless and alone. He is terrified of an older brother whom he’s never met but that his father made sure he knows hates gays and wishes them all dead. This brother turns out to be the unquestionably gay Mitch Tedesco from Special Delivery. Chalk up another lie for Chenco’s dad. Mitch is in town for their father’s funeral and Chenco has seen him and his friends around town.
While at the lawyer’s office trying to find a way around his father’s will so he can continue to live where he is now, Chenco literally runs in to Steve Vance. Steve is a sexy, older leather daddy. Chenco is almost to the point of opening up to him when he sees one of Mitch’s friends approaching Steve. This friend of his hateful brother is obviously also the friend of the man he was just about to share his trouble with. Chenco runs off, of course.
Caramela is Chenco’s drag alter-ego. These two, yes two, characters are skillfully written by Ms. Cullinan, not as split personalities, not as a trans man, but as a healthy gay man who loves to turn himself into this beautiful, beguiling woman to entertain others. They are both integral parts of one personality. It is intriguing to read how Chenco turns himself over to Caramela to let her get them ready for their shows. He reaches down into himself to pull out her courage when he needs to.
When Steve and the gang show up at one of Chenco’s shows serendipitously, the crowd gets a bit wild. Caramela and Steve have been locking eyes all evening and after the show, Steve helps get her back stage to safety. Only to find out that Randy (most recently of Double Blind) is there as well. There is a stiletto stabbing, bloodshed, confusion and one controlling hot Dom to take the situation, and Chenco, in hand.
When things get sorted, Chenco slowly builds trust with his brother, Mitch, and Mitch’s husband, Sam. It takes a little more time with Randy, but that seems to be the case with everyone he meets. Chenco and Steve begin exploring an S&M relationship. It is something Steve has always lived, although he hasn’t dated in many years, but it is new to Chenco. He finds out that it, and Steve, are a perfect fit for him.
Chenco’s dream is to take Caramela on the road. To make her famous. With Randy’s Las Vegas connections, they are all able to work together to make this happen. They all pick up stakes and move to Sin City. The only problem is a dirty (literally) little secret that Steve has been hiding in an abandoned building on his property. This secret follows them to Vegas and is being handled by Crabtree, a mobster who used to own the casino that Randy’s husband Ethan now owns. I know, it’s a lot. I strongly recommend that you read these three books in order to get the best reading experience.
Steve’s secret comes out and threatens not only his happiness with Chenco, but Chenco’s very life. Even though you see it coming, it is still shocking when it happens. It was such a treat to get caught up with Crabtree, Mitch & Sam, Randy & Ethan, and Las Vegas herself. This an exceptional cast of characters Ms. Cullinan has created. It’s been a wild ride and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Readers should know that there are some pretty hardcore S&M scenes in this book. They are really hot, and there is so much love and tenderness involved that it tempers the impact to a certain degree, but they are graphic. Heidi Cullinan looks like a suburban soccer mom. I can’t imagine where she had to go to research these books. I can’t imagine the dark corners of her mind where all these things hide out. It is always a feat when an author can combine that darkness, some romance, a little love and create a must read book. And Tough Love is a must read.