stacking the deck coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

Jack Constantino is the head of cybersecurity at Four Kings Security. Ever since he met hairdresser, Fitz Harlow, on a case, Jack hasn’t been able to get the man out of his head. But while Jack thought they had made a connection, Fitz never returned his calls or texts and Jack assumed Fitz wasn’t interested. Yet Jack hasn’t forgotten about Fitz, and his friends encourage him to give things another shot when the men attend a charity event together.

As it turns out, while Fitz was in a bad place a while back after getting out of a long-term relationship with a messy breakup, he did have feelings for Jack. But now, with two years gone by, Fitz doesn’t know how to reconnect with Jack. When the two meet again, however, sparks fly and the chemistry they felt two years before comes roaring back. Before they know it, Fitz and Jack are exploring a relationship together and falling hard for each other.

However, someone else is clearly trying to get Jack’s attention — and not in a good way. A series of incidents make it clear that someone is trying to get between Fitz and Jack. And when that doesn’t work, they are willing to do whatever is necessary to separate them for good. Now, with the help of the rest of the Kings gang, Jack is determined to find out who is looking to harm him and Fitz and stop them before it is too late.

Stacking the Deck is the first in The Kings: Wild Cards series, a spin off of Charlie Cochet’s Four Kings Security series. While this story technically starts a new series focusing on Kings side characters (rather than the original Kings themselves), it does read like part of one long series and you will definitely get more enjoyment here if you are familiar with the original series. All the gang is here in this book, so I think it would be a lot of side characters to manage if you didn’t have at least a passing familiarity with the other books. That said, this story is a standalone and plot-wise you can jump in here with no problem.

Fitz and Jack met two years ago at a shooting on the beach (at the same incident where Red and Lax met). I am not sure if we actually saw their original encounter in Be Still My Heart, but either way, I read the book too long ago to remember. By the time we start this story, both men are pining away for each other, so emotionally they are already pretty invested. As a result, the romance side of the story flows pretty smoothly as the men are open with their feelings (yay!) and move into a relationship fairly quickly. Fitz and Jack are a likable pair, both engaging men who support one another nicely and their relationship has some nice heat.

The suspense end develops more slowly, as it the men put the pieces together and realize something is going on. Things build to high intensity by the end of the book, and there is a very exciting and suspense-filled conclusion. The bad guy did feel a little out of nowhere to me — I don’t want to know whodunit right away, but I also want more clues to appreciate in hindsight once we get the reveal. The bad guy also seems to be unbelievably skilled in a variety of disciplines that don’t see to fit their background, making them a foil for these highly trained men in a way that felt somewhat unrealistic. That said, it was an exciting ending, so that left me feeling satisfied.

As always with these books, the story is chock full of found family. The Kings are like brothers and their partners round out the group to make a really entertaining bunch. I enjoy seeing them all interact in each other’s books. The show stealer for me was Joker, Jack’s best friend, along with his dog, Chip. We get teasers here for both his story, as well as the next book to come, and I am very eager to follow along.

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