You’ve just published the third (and last?) book, All or Nothing, in your Taking the Odds series and I thought this was a good chance for me to reread (and review) the first two as a refresher before I start Book 3.
Cheating Chance is the first book in the series. My review here. Inland Empire moves Brandon and Nicky to Riverside and Brandon’s job, instead of Nevada and Nicky’s job. Nick comes down to spend some time with Brandon before springing his hearse from the police impound since it’s no longer evidence in the case from Cheating Chance. When he’s there, he ends up joining the investigative task force Brandon’s involved in because his knowledge of computers and coding is desperately needed by the task force. This freaks Brandon out because Nick doesn’t know the definition of a closet, and Brandon, despite being out to his partner, is terrified of being assumed gay by association. This creates tension between Nick and Brandon that tears them apart a couple of times, but they always struggle their way back together.
What I loved about this book is HOW you show Brandon as a cop. He is part of a task force, but he’s still very much a junior detective in a large department. He’s got his contacts and, besides bringing Nick into the investigation, he comes up with some clues that are vital to the case, but he doesn’t save the world, he doesn’t figure everything out, he doesn’t go anywhere guns blazing with no backup. You show his world with ultra-realism and the care in your research and your ability to make that world interesting and meaningful is, to my mind, astonishing, because it could so easily suck so much.
I love the way these guys talk. Brandon is talking with his partner, the only person he’s out to:
“Okay, you’re dying to ask it.”
A shake of Weaver’s head denied it. “No, I’m good.”
“Bullshit.” Brandon grabbed the printed line-up and stepped to the door. Blocking Jeff’s exit, he added, “ask it.”
Unable to pass, Weaver glared. “No!”
Jamming his hands under his pits, Brandon threw the glare right back. “You want to know who lays pipe, “cause you were expecting some limp-wristed sissy boy and Nicky ain’t none of that.” The printout dangled from his fingers. Brandon wasn’t about to give in until Jeff did. “So ask.”
“No.” Hands up in mock surrender, Weaver rolled his eyes. “Okay, yeah, damn it, you win.” Then he slapped Brandon’s cheek in mock anger. “No, never mind.”
Brandon stepped away from the door, twisting the knob as he moved. “He does mostly.”
Jeff froze. “What?”
“Nicky’s much more a top than I am.” Everyone else got to talk about their girlfriends. Keeping it all bottled up for so long, Brandon couldn’t stop himself. It was like he opened his mouth and someone else started talking. “But it ain’t like one-hundred percent either way.”
“I didn’t need to know that.”
“Yeah, you did.” A quick scan and Brandon stepped into the hall. “Otherwise it would bug the shit outta you. Of course I’m guessing that something else is gonna bug the shit outta you now. Change things?”
During a fight with Nick, Brandon finds himself discussing things with one of his street contacts:
“You can see it? Boy, you can’t see anything but the back of that door you been staring at for years. You in the midst of a fucking pity-party. Y’all did a stupid ass thing, and you don’t want to try and fix it because it’s just too damn hard. You’d have to admit you fucked up. Well, baby, news to you, you fucked up. Don’t you dare fuck it up more. “Cause if you don’t go and tell that boy why you all put out, he is gonna leave your sorry white ass. And then you’ll deserve it. Get your head outa your ass and go over there and crawl. Beg. Whine. Whatever you got to do. “Cause the only time I ever seen you not bouncing like a freaking crack-head was when you were around that boy. He’s good for you in ways you don’t even understand.”
“You have no freaking clue what you’re talking about.” He could feel the heat rising up his neck. “What, you think you know me? You’re life’s so fucking good that you can give me advice?”
“See, you’re mad… that means I’m right.”
“Fuck.” Brandon muttered and tossed back more nasty coffee to mask his agitation.
Roberta stared at him for a bit. Finally, she asked, “Do you love him?”
“He’s Nicky.” Drawing little patterns in the wet ring left by his cup, Brandon tried not to think too hard. “He’s like my best friend.”
“Do you love him?” Slower this time, she repeated the words.
“Yeah.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, I love him.”
“Have you told him that?”
“Nicky knows how I feel.”
“So you haven’t told him.” Roberta added a few tsks to punctuate the statement. “Look Detective, sometimes people need to hear the words. Your Nicky needs to hear you say it.”
“So you’re a shrink now?”
“No, baby, I’m a hooker. For some guys that’s the same thing.” Roberta’s laugh echoed through the diner. Brandon dropped an inch down in the booth in case anyone looked. “Like I said before, I like you. You’re good people. I don’t want to be reading about you in the paper. How you ate your own gun and everyone is calling it a “cleaning mishap’ “cause no one wants to say another cop blew his goddamn head off.”
Brandon and Nicky’s HFN edges closer to an HEA, although they still have a little bit further to go, considering they still live four hours apart. But, in general, and specifically in these books, you have a gift for writing men who sound, look, act, and feel — or not — like real men. I certainly want to slap them around a bit like Cher in Moonstruck like I do real men. You certainly have a gift for writing about police work. And very definitely a gift for writing sex. :) All of them are strongly in evidence in this book.
These books are the very best of contemporary romance, gay or straight. Your characters are beautifully drawn, the sex is smoking hot, the mystery/suspense plot is integral both to the reader’s interest in the story and to the characters’ personal growth. And somehow everything fits together.