Tough Love by Heidi Cullinan ~ Review by Optimist ♰King’s Wench♰

Daddy kink? – check

Cross dressing Queen? – check

Sadomasochism? – check

A bear/twink romance? – check

Heidi Cullinan? – check

You bet. Where do I sign?

toughTitle:  Tough Love

Author:  Heidi Cullinan

Publisher:  Samhain

Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars

From the Publisher

Crescencio “Chenco” Ortiz pulled himself up by his garter straps after his father’s will yanked the financial rug from under his spank-me pumps. He doesn’t need anyone, yet when Steve Vance steps into his life, the prospect of having a sexy leather daddy on tap begins to take on a certain appeal.

There’s a hitch when he learns Steve is friends with Mitch Tedsoe—the half-brother Chenco never knew except through his father’s twisted lies. Despite his reservations, soon Chenco is living his dreams, including a performing gig in Vegas. Now if only he could get Steve to see him as more than just a boy in need of saving.

Steve’s attraction to Chenco is overshadowed by too many demons, ones he knows his would-be lover is too young to slay. Yet as he gets to know the bright, determined young man whose drag act redefines fierce, Steve’s inner sadist trembles with need. He begins to realize Chenco’s relentless tough love might be the only thing that will finally set him free.

Warning: This story contains glamorous drag queens, exhibitionist secondary characters, and no-holds-barred BDSM play, including watersports. Readers advised they may well leave this novel feeling uncharacteristically fierce.

My View

It’s official Ms. Cullinan has breached my Top Ten favorite authors list. This was glorious. Let me tell you why.

You know how you read a book, listen to a song or see a movie and maybe you’re entertained by it but you forget about it shortly thereafter? Then you have those experiences with something from the entertainment realm and think, ‘my God’. The ones that leave an indelible mark? I know for me when it’s really good I get caught up, swept away, dwell on it afterwards. It’s almost like I’m there immersed in the character(s) and their story. There aren’t many authors that can successfully take me on that ride. It takes effort, dedication and skill. Heidi Cullinan has that ability in spades and I respect the fact that she’s not afraid of the word count necessary to accomplish this.

“This was no game, no kinky giggle. This was more reverent than a church service, more personal than any priest-led confession. This was closer to the bone than putting on a dress and wig and makeup and releasing his inner queen.

Yes, I loved this book and, yes, I loved it due in large part to this form of BDSM. I could wax on and on about the scenes and how stunning they were, how she did a fantastic job of putting the reader in both Chenco and Steve’s head space during them, but what makes her work such a joy to read is in the details. The little things that often get overlooked, glossed over, but that make the difference between good, great and outstanding. Each of us have our own idiosyncrasies that when added together make us who we are:  how we take our coffee, what order we read the newspaper in, what kind of music we listen to, that we hate radishes or we have a crazy cat obsession. Whatever. All those little nothings that are minutiae of life, the white noise of relationships are, when added together, what make us individuals, special, maybe even unique. They’re also what bring a character to life, what makes them relatable, and three-dimensional.

What caught my attention right away in Tough Love was a tiny little grounding thing Steve does. Chenco meets the gang-Randy, Steve, Mitch, Sam-at Club 33 after Caramela has performed. She’s shaken by their presence and Randy pushes her limits backstage. She panics and lodges her stiletto in Randy’s shoulder. Steve then tightly hugs her and digs his fingernails into her arm which calms her immediately. Every time she starts to unravel he does this and it centers her. Eventually Steve can just touch Chenco’s elbow with the same effect. The simple things that make all the difference.

I loved every evolution of Chenco and Steve’s relationship; it unfolds and grows organically with twists and turns, ups and downs and an appropriate amount of angst. There’s no instalove. They don’t go from 0-60. They communicate like real people. Rightly so given that Chenco is a novice. Chenco’s wary and scared and he voices all of his concerns to Steve who both listens and reassures him. Steve doesn’t expect him to jump into the deep end. What he does expect is for Chenco to trust him to respect his limits, not push him too far too fast and to submit, surrender. He does and it’s lovely. Really. The double flogging and piercing scenes are exquisite. I love how possessive and protective Steve is and I loved that Chenco wasn’t a wilting flower. Their relationship isn’t one-sided; they rely on one another. They’re both strong enough to be vulnerable with each other too. The way Ms. Cullinan spaced these scenes out emphasized the progression of their relationship and the increasing trust.

“It was about, for an hour or two, playing God.”

“Every surrender was another chance to be free.”

She also did a fantastic job with the differentiation between Chenco and Caramela:  how they coexist, are separate and yet not simultaneously, have different strengths and weaknesses which ultimately coalesce and how the transition process psychologically occurs. Caramela is divine. Fierce. Strong. I wish I could see her shine on stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, dancing for her Papi with him cheering her on stoically all decked out in his leathers then whisk her away on the back of his Hog after she’s lit up the room.

Ms. Cullinan has done an exceptional job of giving each book its own personality, making each of these stories unique. Each has contained the gang, as I’ve begun to refer to them, which is fine by me. I love the gang and the gang welcomes Chenco with open arms, yet another addition to their ever growing, vagabond family. There is a sequence between Randy and Chenco that is so poignant in its simplicity; I felt like I was there with them at the Alamo flea market drinking mango slushies and eating tacos, watching the world go by and just… being. Randy is still Randy and randy. Fantastic as always. Sam is still adorable. I want him. Badly. Mitch and Chenco are fumbling through how to be brothers who’ve met for the first time as adults. Ethan and even Crabtree contribute to the magic of Tough Love.

But this story is most definitely Steve and Chenco’s and Caramela’s. There are subplots that I felt enhanced the main plot rather than detracted from it as I felt happened in Double Blind. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt like I was reading the same book in a different permutation. Each of the relationships formed in this series are their own special snowflakes. Sam will always have a special place and in no way does Chenco supplant him, but Tough Love is special in its own rite.

“Tough love, baby. It’s the most painful, wonderful kind there is.”

This book is a prime example of why I’m so stingy with my stars. When a book of this caliber comes along it should be recognized as such and should breathe that rarefied 5 star air.

Where to Buy



I would like to thank Samhain for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

This post may contain affiliate links.
Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews.  The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.

3 thoughts on “Tough Love by Heidi Cullinan ~ Review by Optimist ♰King’s Wench♰

  1. I’m so happy I found this series. I agree, my 5 stars are reserved for something that makes me FEEL and not something that I just enjoyed greatly.

Leave a Reply