Rating: 4.5 stars
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Randy Jensen is sitting in the office of Herod’s casino, watching the guy at the roulette wheel on the monitor as he bets on black over and over, losing time and again. It is making Randy crazy watching this guy throw his money away. Randy can read people, and he sees the desperation on this guy’s face, is sure he has been dumped and cheated out of his money. When challenged by his boss Billy to prove he is right, Randy takes the bet in order to meet the man who he can’t stop watching.
Ethan Ellison has in fact been dumped and had his money stolen by the man he loved, a closeted boyfriend who went back to his wife and family leaving Ethan alone and broke. Ethan came to Vegas planning to end his life, but somehow meeting Randy is just the distraction he needs.
Randy is like no one Ethan has ever met, and slowly Ethan begins to find himself again from that broken shell he was when he arrived in Vegas. He meets Randy’s friends Sam and Mitch, and begins to find a new little family. He even somehow ends up working for the casino, helping to bring it back from the brink of bankruptcy. And soon Ethan realizes that he is stronger than he believed, that he is capable and tough. He and Randy fall for one another, settling into a life together that neither of them anticipated. It is clear that the men love one another, but neither believes that he is worthy of the other, sure that things will end as quickly as they started. Both Randy and Ethan are afraid of what they feel, sure that it can’t work out. But if they are going to have a future together, both men must take a chance and open themselves up to love.
Double Blind is the second book in Heidi Cullinan’s fantastic Special Delivery series. It follows the first book, Special Delivery, and reunites us with Randy who is a key player in that story. Mitch and Sam also play prominent roles here, temporarily living in Vegas with Randy while Sam takes a nursing job. So we have the whole gang together again, which is such a joy for readers like me who are fans of the series.
While we get to know Randy pretty well in Special Delivery, here we really delve much deeper into the man and his past and what has shaped him. Cullinan does a great job throughout these two books of slowly opening Randy up. He starts off as snarky and crusty in the first book, and softens as he gets to know Sam and reconnects with Mitch. But here we learn about the pain in Randy’s past, why he feels the need to control his own destiny so much, and why he puts up so many walls. He is really a fascinating character and I love the way Cullinan shows his growth. Randy is tough and strong and wicked and fun, and he totally grew on me over the course of the two books.
What is interesting here is that even though Randy is the recurring character from the first book, I really feel like Ethan is the star here. When we meet Ethan he is a broken mess, ready to kill himself for fear of not having any other options. Ethan has hit rock bottom, and it is only the fateful intervention by Randy that manages to save him. But Ethan is so much more than we see at the start. As he begins to get his legs back under him, Ethan turns out to be strong, and powerful and competent. He does things he never thought he could do, handles problems that would be insurmountable for others. By the end of the story, Ethan just radiates power, and we know that all that confidence has its roots in his relationship with Randy. They are such an unusual couple, but somehow these two very different men just work together.
The story takes place in Las Vegas and Randy and Ethan both work in a casino, so this book focuses a lot on poker. Randy is highly skilled and plays often, and over the course of the book he teaches Ethan as well. They play at the casinos, they enter competitions, and they play for fun at home. In addition to literal poker, the book also uses poker and game playing as a metaphor for a lot of life. For example, Randy’s boss Crabtree shares his parable that people are like cards in a deck. Ethan is described as an Ace, someone who can be at the very bottom or at the very top depending on circumstances. Game play and reading people and relying on fate are all themes that are incorporated into the story. Cullinan does a great job, not only capturing the intricacies of poker, but also the atmosphere and lore of Vegas. It all really comes alive, especially as we see it through Randy’s eyes. That said, at times it was a little much for me. I have played poker and could follow most of the discussions. And Cullinan makes sure that rules are explained clearly enough that a new reader can understand what is going on. But even so at times I felt a little burned out on the topic just from the sheer volume of it. Other readers may feel differently depending on how much the subject interests them. That said, it is all done quite well, especially the parallels between poker and life and how well it all integrates together.
As I mentioned, Sam and Mitch play a big role in this book and arrive in town soon after the story starts. Not only do we catch up with them since their marriage, but they also are important to Ethan and Randy’s story. Sam and Mitch are dealing with a lot of stress about Sam’s fears Mitch will get hurt while driving. Helping them through this issue also forces Randy to open up about his past and face his own struggles he has kept hidden. As usual when this group is together, there is some hot and steamy sex in a variety of combinations. So while this story is not nearly as kinky or intense sexually as Special Delivery, there is group sex, some light paddling, and other lightly kinky play.
Just one more note, which is that this story is a rerelease of the original version and has been revised along the way. I have read the first version but it has been too long for me to really say how different this one is and whether you need both. Cullinan mentioned in an interview I did with her, however, that the changes are large enough that it is worth getting the new version even if you read the older one. And of course, if you like the idea of having a matched set of the whole series, you will want the new cover and the new publisher.
So I have read this story before and I continue to find this one a delight. I love this world that Cullinan has created and just adore these characters. I love the way we see Randy and Ethan transformed through their relationship with each other. And I really enjoyed how well we are immersed in Vegas and the culture there. Maybe a bit too much poker for me, but overall I loved this story and continue to adore this series. I can’t wait for the third book next month!
P.S. Heidi came stopped by yesterday for an interview about Double Blind. Be sure to check it out for more about this book and the chance to win a copy!