Double Blind by Heidi Cullinan
Poker player and professional smartass Randy Jansen believes in fate but doesn’t let it rule his life. Whether he’s at the table or between the sheets, Randy always knows the odds, and he only plays the games he can win—until he meets Ethan Ellison. Ethan came to Las Vegas with a broken heart and shattered spirit, and when he sits down at the roulette table with his last five dollars, he means this to be one of his last acts on earth. But Randy ropes him into first one bet, and then another, and then another…. Pretty soon they’re playing poker on the Strip and having the time of their lives—and all this even before Randy gets Ethan into his bed.
But before Ethan can plot out a new course for his life, they’re drafted into the schemes of Randy’s former lover, a tricky gangster who needs a fall guy. To survive, Ethan will have to stop waiting on fate and start making his own luck, and Randy will have to face the demons of his past and accept that to win this round, he’s going to have to put up a big ante. It isn’t money going into the pot this time, either: it’s his heart, and Ethan’s too—because for better or for worse, the game of love has a double blind.
Read about Randy before he meets Ethan in Special Delivery.
[Love the cover! The hand is kind of weird, reminds me of the Adams’ Family hand that runs out without a body attached. I wish it had just been the two men with the cards but I’m picky! I really love it regardless.]
Randy – the third in the Sam/Mitch/Randy sex trio at the end of Special Delivery – gets the happy ending he so richly deserves in the seriously great offering Double Blind. While I felt SD stumbled a few times, Double Blind is much smoother and more intense if that’s possible. Randy is a complicated character and his partner is the equally intriguing and complex Ethan. Together with Sam and to a lesser extent Mitch, the two couples grow, mature, and settle in for a wild ride in Vegas. The rich setting brings Vegas completely alive with a lot of poker instruction, almost too much. While you don’t necessarily need to read Special Delivery first, I think both books will mean more and be more entertaining if you read them in order.
The story focuses on Randy as he’s struggling with a strange restlessness in his life. On a whim Randy decides to take a bet with a swarmy casino owner that he can predict the life of a down on his luck gambler. When Ethan surprises Randy’s usually rock solid intuition, their attraction starts to heat up. With a painful past and uncertain future Ethan signs on to Randy’s crazy life, including his sexually ambiguous relationship to best friends and married couple Mitch and Sam. However life is never easy when gangsters, poker, and sex are involved and all four men must come to terms with their issues and their wants.
The action tends to be character driven again and in the best ways. This allows the complex and complicated men to take the focus in all their flawed, exuberant charm. The story blends each man’s struggles incredibly well against a rich and vivid backdrop of Vegas. There is an amazing level of detail offered in the setting from the various casinos to the night life to the energy and it translates across the page very well. The great writing drops you into the pulse and addiction of Vegas from it’s shabby, worn down casinos to its empty, beautiful shopping malls. The wealth and indulgence fairly drips on the pages contrasting the heat and electricity of the characters.
The characters are all well drawn and very different, yet interesting men. Randy and Ethan are the main couple, but Sam and Mitch are introduced pretty early on and remain very prominent in the story. Randy absolutely shines in his insecure, exaggerated persona trying to fix his friends’ problems without understanding how. He makes mistake after mistake but with only the best intentions and desires. He falls in love with Ethan pretty quickly – two days – but the intensity of their relationship and the deep emotions involved help smooth over any rough spots of disbelief. Likewise Ethan is a very intense man. His fall from grace so to speak sets off a difficult and emotional process where he flips from happy to sad, confident to insecure, and back again numerous, numerous times. He cries frequently and struggles with serious depression and dark fears. His back and forth emotions are bit like watching a yo-yo on crack and may tire some readers just as his tears (and he cries a lot) may bother others. Yet both are not only in character for the man but handled with a deft hand so they don’t overwhelm the book or turn many readers off.
Similarly there is a lot of sex between Mitch, Sam, Ethan, and Randy. There are boundaries crossed that may make some readers uncomfortable. In Special Delivery, Sam and Mitch’s kink for playing with others is exposed and that certainly doesn’t go away just because they’re in love and married now. If anything, this book cements that as an aspect of their life likely for a while to come. Their sexual relationship with Randy and now Ethan also has some ambiguous territory and I didn’t necessarily always buy into the rationale and emotions stated. For example Ethan’s jealousy over the gangster Crabtree always exists yet Ethan accepts Randy’s deep emotional and sexual love for Sam almost instantly. There are very, very brief moments of insecurity by Randy or Ethan but these pass almost in the blink of an eye and the overall acceptance between all the men didn’t always translate believably for me.
However Sam’s maturity and the growth of his relationship to Mitch is wonderful to watch and helps offset any rough spots with the frequent multiple partner sexing. Sam is an essential component of the story as he grows and becomes his own man and not so much of a sheltered, fragile young man. His emotional struggles show an obvious and stated parallel to Randy’s as they both come to terms with the death of a beloved family member. Here and throughout the story, the writing tends to state the obvious repeatedly for the reader. Deep emotional scenes, fears, breakdowns and breakthroughs all occur with the reader in that person’s perspective so we’re given a detailed accounting of just what the character is feeling, seeing, and interpreting. This helps you understand exactly what the story and character is trying to portray but also tends to beat you over the head with the point and interpretation. This is unlikely to bother most readers and I wasn’t put off by it too much but I can see how some would prefer more subtly.
Overall this is another fabulous offering from the author and rife with talking points. I don’t want to blather on too long but the secondary characters are rich and incredibly well drawn. Crabtree is used brilliantly as a key manipulator to move the characters and the story along while showing both his flaws and good points. The incorporation of the rules of poker is used throughout with parallels to all the various men and also important to the storyline. Some of these rules felt like walls and walls of text that make your eyes gloss over but at the same time offer a great level of detail. There definitely could have been fewer lectures on the basic rules of poker and the various terms but the engaging writing keeps you interested. The final resolution is well drawn and above all, felt honest and real to all the participants involved. If you haven’t read Special Delivery, read it now and immediately move to Double Blind.
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4 thoughts on “Double Blind by Heidi Cullinan”
Kassa, this sounds terrific! I’m going to get it.
And what you said about the cover, The hand is kind of weird, reminds me of the Adams’ Family hand that runs out without a body attached.” Ha, ha! That gave me a big laugh after I took a second look and saw you were right. Yes, I remember “Thing”, the disembodied hand that lived in a box and was sort of the Addams family pet!
“Thing” .. yes! That’s its name, thank you for reminding me. I swear my brain goes to some weird places but I’m glad you saw it too.
I hope you like this! I still say read Special Delivery first, then this even though I did like Double Blind more.
I loved Special Delivery and can’t wait to find out what happens to Randy. I’ve never before seen a writer who can place a third in with a committed couple and make it believable. Heidi Cullinan does it, and does it well. Finding time to read this book may prove problematic, but I’ve got to work it in. Especially after your great review.
I agree! The trio is really hard to write and often I’m leery of menages since a lot of authors try them but never quite work in my opinion. So that’s why this particular book is even more interesting. There are several multiple partner scenes – almost orgies! hehe – but they work, even with all the complicated emotions. It pushes the envelope I think and not all readers will like that. But well done..
Good luck finding the time!