Re-Release Review | Family Man by Heidi Cullinan & Marie Sexton

I almost let this min-tour pass me by.  Thanks to the wonderful team at Dreamspinner Press, I already had the ARC but I hadn’t read it yet and I wasn’t sure what my feelings would be.  I don’t like joining a tour if I’m lukewarm about the book.  Everyone on a tour should be ecstatic.

I’m now ecstatic about Family Man!  As soon as I finished I contacted Heidi’s Helpers and prayed it wasn’t too late.  A huge thanks to Heidi’s team for letting me join!  I’m thrilled to do my part to spread the love for Family Man!

Family Man.jpg

About the Book:

Sometimes family chooses you.

At forty, Vincent “Vinnie” Fierro is still afraid to admit he might be gay—even to himself. It’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, it’s getting harder to ignore what he really wants.

Vinnie attempts some self-exploration in Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.

Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek, Trey agrees to let Vinnie court him and see if he truly belongs on this side of the fence—though Trey intends to keep his virginity intact.

It seems like a solid plan, but nothing is simple when family is involved. When Vinnie’s family finds out about their relationship, the situation is sticky enough, but when Trey’s mother goes critical, Vinnie and Trey must decide whose happiness is most important—their families’ or their own.

This book was co-written with Marie Sexton.

Standalone
M/M Contemporary Romance
Dreamspinner Press | September 11, 2017
Publisher • Amazon • Kobo • iTunes • Barnes & Noble


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I eyed this book pretty hard when Samain first released it in 2013, but I ended up putting it off.  I think I lost interest after reading a few lukewarm reviews.  I try not to read reviews specifically for that reason, and especially because I often disagree.  Sadly, I think that’s what happened with Family Man.  It wasn’t until I saw it was being rereleased by Dreamspinner (one of my favorite publishers) that I knew I couldn’t resist a second time.

Now I’m kicking myself because Family Man was everything I love in one book.  Seriously.  It was absolutely adorable!

Vinnie and Trey were the perfect opposites.  Normally I’m not a big fan of macho, burly, aggressive men, especially with gold chains, but my goodness did Heidi and Marie make me adore Vinnie.  He was so perfect just the way he was!  The attributes that usually annoy me left me feeling affection, and I think it was because of how sweet and tender he was with Trey.  Sweet but prickly Trey.  I also loved the age difference between the two men.  In other romances I’ve read, with a huge age difference, it’s a problem the couple needs to work through.  Or, there’s the whole ‘Daddy’ kink, which is so not my thing.  Neither trope could be used to describe Vinnie and Trey.  Yes, Vinnie was 13 years older than Trey, but not once did either of them act like it was a big deal.  Trey wasn’t turned on by it, Vinnie wasn’t embarrassed by it.  It just was, and they both accepted it without it ever really needing a discussion.  It was really awesome.

I also adored the ‘no sex’ aspect of the story.  It wasn’t about not wanting to have sex, it was about wanting a relationship to be about more than sex.  I think it really helped me feel their emotional connection long before the physical.  It’s so important, I think, because if I already buy them as a couple than any physical intimacy will automatically mean more.  My anticipation built up with them, so when it did happen I’d be giddy.  (I need to feel romance first.  I’m a romantic in every way.)  It wasn’t a slow burn, because the romance progressed pretty easily, but the intimacy level definitely developed slower and I think it made all the difference.

Anyway, basically I loved everything about this read.  I loved Vin and Trey, I loved Vin’s family.  I loved Trey’s strength.  The characters were well developed, with personalities outside of the romantic relationship.  It was gorgeous, and I wouldn’t mind getting a little novella of Trey and Vin, married with children.

Thank you to Dreamspinner Press for providing a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Excerpt.jpg

I was just turning to head back to our table when I spotted him: dark hair, dark skin, sitting on the barstool looking so out of place, I wondered how I hadn’t seen him before.

“Vinnie?” I yelled, moving around the barflies in between us to get to him. “Vincent Fierro, is that you?”

What a stupid fucking question. Of course it was him. And when he turned to me, the blood drained from his face like I was the goddamn ghost of Christmas past. “Trey,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

Well, at least we were tied on the stupid-question front. There wasn’t an empty stool next to him, so I angled myself into the narrow space between him and the bar. “I’ve never seen you here before.”

“It’s my first time.”

“I didn’t realize you were gay.”

All the color that had left his cheeks came back with a vengeance. The glare he turned on me would have made me back up, if I’d had anywhere to go. “I’m not.”

I laughed. What the hell else could I do? “Oh yeah? Let me guess. You wandered in here by mistake, saw all the guys practically having sex on the dance floor, and thought you’d just pull up a seat for the hell of it, right? ’Cause that’s what all the straight guys do.”

He clenched his jaw, turning away from me, and I felt a twinge of guilt for having goaded him. Tough guy like him, big Catholic family—it couldn’t be as easy for him as it had been for me. My Gram had barely batted an eye when I’d come out to her, and that had been six years ago.

“It’s cool, Vinnie,” I said. “I get it.”

He seemed uncertain, and I did my best to be reassuring. “Let me buy you a drink.”

He winced, glancing around the bar like he was searching for an escape hatch. “I don’t think I’m staying.”

Christ, offer to buy a guy a drink, and he’s ready to bolt. He probably assumed I was trying to get in his pants. Of course, I’d been in that position a billion times myself, so I didn’t take it personally. “You don’t have to go. I’ll leave you alone—”

“No!” I had a feeling the word had escaped without him meaning for it to. He looked like he regretted it. I wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t sure if assuring him that I wasn’t cruising was what he wanted to hear or not.

He took a deep breath and blew it out. “I didn’t mean because of you,” he said at last. “I just mean, I really hate this scene. What the hell kind of music is this anyway?”

“Club music.”

“I keep wondering if this goddamn song will ever end. It’s been going on for at least an hour.”

I laughed. “No, it hasn’t. This is some club mashup of ‘Umbrella’ and ‘Single Ladies.’ That last song was something by Lady Gaga. The one before I think was—”

“You mean these are real songs?”

I laughed. “What else would they be?”

He rolled his eyes. “I thought it was a techno loop clubs played when they couldn’t afford to hire a real DJ. Or a band. I didn’t realize people actually listened to this shit.” He shook his head, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “Fuck, I’m old.”

The music wasn’t exactly my speed either, although I’d long since grown immune to it. “What kind of music do you like?” I asked.

“Jazz. Swing. Real music. Three notes by Coltrane and this crap would back off in shame.”

His answer gave me an idea that was too good to pass up. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

The look he gave me was almost like panic, and I smiled. “I don’t mean, ‘your place or mine?’ I just mean, let’s go someplace better.”

He immediately relaxed. “Where?”

“Trust me.”

I took a minute to pull out my phone and send a text to Tara. Leaving. Be safe.

Her WTF? came back to me in record time—I’d never left the club with anybody before—but I ignored it.

I led him out of the hot, loud club into the cool night air. The sidewalks were still wet, but the rain had stopped. The only part of the music we could hear from outside was the thumping bass. My ears were ringing. “You mind walking?” I felt like my voice was way too loud.

“I don’t mind.”

We rounded the corner and went a few blocks. “You know where you’re going?” he asked as we walked.

“Of course. I’ve never been in this club before, but I’ve heard about it.”

We reached our destination. No thumping bass here. I opened the door, and smooth jazz flowed out around us, wrapping us up, drawing us in.

Inside, the lights were low—no bright lights or flashing strobes. A few couples were dancing. A lone black man sat on a stool in the corner, playing a sax. The music was sultry, loud enough to be heard, but not so loud you couldn’t hear the person four inches away from you.

I glanced over at Vinnie, and he smiled. His smile was cute. Sort of smartass and self-deprecating at the same time—like he was daring the world to take him seriously. It made him seem years younger.

“Better,” he said.

We found a table near the dance floor, and the waiter didn’t bat an eye when I only ordered a Coke. Vinnie ordered a vodka tonic, and then we sat there, not knowing what to say. When I realized he would wait until doomsday before breaking the ice, I fished around until I found something that felt safe to talk about. “Sorry about the idiots in the restaurant the other day. I made them tip Marcie well.”

It was a little astounding how much this subject relaxed him, and I can’t say I minded the look of approval I got either. “They didn’t seem like your usuals.” His tone hinted heavily that I generally had more taste.

“Group project,” I explained.

He made a face and shook his head. “They’re still doing that shit? I figured they’d quit once they saw what a mess it was.”

“Are you kidding? A week’s worth of group project is that much less shit for professors to grade. Plus they get to say they’re teaching us team building and crap like that.”

Vinnie rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Well, you have my condolences.”

He tipped his glass toward mine, and I met him in a toast. We drank, our gazes tangled in a moment of camaraderie. I didn’t want it to end, so I gave him another conversation prompt. “What is it you do? I know you don’t work for the restaurant anymore, because they’re always carrying on about how ‘If Vinnie was here, this wouldn’t have happened.’”

He raised a dubious eyebrow into his hairline. “That I didn’t know. This recent, this carrying on?”

I tried to think. “Yeah, I think so. Last week was the last time it came up.”

He grimaced. “They’re likely getting ready to gang up on me again to come back. Thanks for the intel.”

“But what is it you do now?”

“Plumbing.” He took a drink. “I work for my uncle up in Northbrook. Parino Brothers Plumbing.” I tried not to be shocked, but I must have failed because he laughed and waggled both eyebrows. “Hey, somebody’s got to unclog the toilets.”

“But do you like that?” I pressed. It was a little rude, but I knew he’d gone to not just college but graduate school, that he had an MBA and used to do accounting for his family’s restaurants. Now he fished out drains?

He shrugged. “It’s okay. Pay’s good, and I get out and about.” He gave me a sideways smile that made my stomach turn over. “Haven’t you heard my family gossiping about how I’m the one who can’t settle down on anything?”

I had. Vince always had a new job, and he’d been married three times, unless I’d missed an ex-wife in there. “Whatever makes you happy, I guess.”

This comment made his smile die, and he became focused on turning his drink casually in his hand. “Not sure about that. Do my best, though.” Clearing his throat, he set his glass down. “What about you? You’re in school, right? What for?”

“English major. I originally wanted to be pre-law, but at the rate I’m having to go, I’ll be ninety when I get out. I thought about getting an education endorsement, though my advisor is trying to talk me into political science.” I shrugged and twirled the straw in my Coke. “Right now I’ll be happy to get far enough into a degree to be able to graduate. I’m tired of school.”

Vinnie frowned at me. “How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Twenty-five. And yes, I know it’s a long time to be in school.”

To my surprise, Vinnie only nodded. “You’re taking care of your grandmother and mother, though, and you work full-time, right?”

“More than. I have two jobs. Barista at Full Moon, the coffee shop up on Racine just north of the interstate, and waiter at The Rose.” I was ready for the look of disdain he gave me for working at his competitor, and I had to bite back a smile. “Hey, we can’t all be born into the Fierro clan.”

“Have you ever applied at Emilio’s, though?”

“When I was looking, there wasn’t an opening. Plus, I hate to be rude, but the tips are higher at The Rose. All those lovely tourists coming out of the Loop, grateful to get a table.”

“The food’s terrible. They only survive because that bastard has city councilors in his pocket.” He ironed out his scowl and held up a hand in surrender. “But you’re right. The tips have to be killer.”

“If it helps, the chef’s an ass. Mostly because I won’t blow him in the back room, I’m pretty sure.” Too late I realized I’d accidentally shined a spotlight on the elephant in the middle of our table. I winced. Vinnie slouched and took a heavy hit from his drink. He wouldn’t look me in the eye anymore, and it made me sad.

This time, though, it was Vinnie who brought us back into conversation. “So you come up here a lot?”

“To Boystown? Not often if I can help it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great neighborhood, but mostly I see the bars, which I could do without.” This got me the eyebrow again, and another one of those sexy little smiles. “What?” I demanded, trying to tamp down the butterflies that smile unleashed in my belly.

“You’re young. You’re cute. Yet you could do without going to bars full of guys wanting to hook up with you?”

He thought I was cute? My butterflies went crazy, and I focused all my attention on my drink. “I feel like I should tell you something.” I concentrated on spearing my thin red cocktail straw through one of the round ice cubes in my Coke, debating how to tell him I was a virgin. “I don’t have sex.”

“What? Not ever?”

I glanced up at him, trying not to be bothered by the amused disbelief in his eyes. “I just mean, I don’t sleep with guys on the first date.”

His laughter died fast. “This isn’t a date.”

He said it like a threat, as if he had to set the record straight—and I do mean straight—and I laughed. His protests actually took a great deal of pressure off me. “All the more reason I won’t sleep with you tonight.”

I was glad when he smiled again. “Deal,” he said.

It was strange how freeing that word was.

I’d learned over the years to be so careful about my interactions with men, lest they misunderstand my intentions, but it wasn’t as if I was opposed to sex or to fooling around. I wasn’t immune to the calling of my own hormones. I woke up horny like any healthy male. The problem was that with most guys, the line between flirting and fucking was razor thin. But Vince wasn’t most guys. He wasn’t some stranger I’d barely met. I’d known him for most of my life. I knew I could trust him.

Suddenly, I felt I could throw caution to the wind. Having the boundaries firmly in place and a partner I trusted opened up the playing field considerably.

I reached over and put my hand on his thigh, and he raised one eyebrow questioningly at me. “No sex,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t flirt, right?”

He stared hard at me for a long second, like I was some bridge he couldn’t decide if he wanted to jump off of. Eventually he said, his voice low and rough, “I guess not.”

My heart went into overdrive. It made me bold. It was a new feeling for me, and I embraced it. I had nothing to lose.

I moved into his lap, straddling his thighs so I could face him. His hands were on my legs, but it wasn’t as if he was touching me on purpose. It was more like that was the safest place he could find to put them. His guards were back up in full. “This doesn’t feel like flirting.”

“Then what does it feel like?”

“Like you’re coming on to me.” He said the words like an accusation.

“Aren’t they the same thing?” He didn’t move as I undid the top button on his shirt. “We already said no sex.” I undid the next one. “Relax.” There wasn’t much hair on his chest. Just smooth, dark skin, and I caressed it with my fingertips. I traced his collarbone. I put my arms around his neck and leaned closer to kiss his cheek, which was stubbly, and then the side of his neck. “God, you smell good.” It was a spicy scent—some kind of aftershave—mixed with the clean, soapy smell of his hair. I kissed him again, below his ear, and I heard his breath catch in his throat.

He clenched his hands. His fingers dug into my thighs. “Trey—”

I knew he was going to tell me to stop, and I cut him off, leaning back a bit so I could look in his eyes. “Dance with me.”


Fun Facts

  • Heidi & Marie wrote Family Man initially as a private project they weren’t sure they would publish, a “fun book” entirely for their own joy and entertainment.
  • Though Second Hand was their first published co-written book, they began writing Family Man first.
  • Marie called Family Man less of a collaboration and more of a “relay race” because of the way we kept handing it off to each other. Marie doesn’t write in order and Heidi does, so she would write all over the place, get lost, then pass it to Heidi and say, “OMG, your turn!” and Heidi would start at the beginning and fill in things until she too got stuck, and they kept continuing the process over a period of years until eventually they had a book.
  • Though Vinnie was originally Heidi’s character and Trey Marie’s, they did write each other’s character’s POV scenes too, and in the end, their betas coudln’t tell who wrote what, and frankly, Heidi and Marie weren’t sure who’d done what either.
  • While Boystown, Buckingham Fountain and the aquarium are real places, most of the other haunts in Family Man are invented, alas. You can’t visit Orecchio’s or Emilo’s or the jazz club. But you can reread the novel as much as you want, and there, everything is always as real as you want it to be.

another date

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About Birdie

Don’t look for her in any bar, club, crazy raging party, or anywhere there may be a large gathering of strangers. She’s more likely to be found tucked into the corner of the couch watching one of her favorite shows, or preferably under a comforter with her current novel.

4 Responses

  1. Beware Of The Reader

    Wonderful review Wendy! And the no sex wouldn’t be a bother for me as I have problems with sex scenes in M/M romance in general. It’s not that I’m prudish or disgusted but only that I’m always puzzled as I lack some essential appendice to grasp the finesse of everything LOL To make it short I can’t relate. The emotional parts and love that I can really understand and enjoy 😉

    Like

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