Rating: 5 stars
Entomology grad student Adam Ellery is trying to get his clothes washed at the laundromat when drunken frat boys start to harass him. Just as things start to escalate out of control, Adam is saved by a muscled mountain of a man who dispatches the frats after making them apologize to Adam. His rescuer’s name is Denver Rogers, a bouncer at the local gay bar. Every thing about Denver pushes Adam’s buttons and, unbelievably to Adam at least, his thanks turns into a sexual encounter the likes of which Adam has never experienced before.
Denver Rogers knows his physique ensures his bed is never empty and the bar is the perfect place to find players for his games but something about Adam is so different from his usual bedmates. Denver can’t get Adam out of his mind, and starts to pursue the Entomology student with a passion for bugs and rough sex. But Denver comes with a background of abuse, self esteem issues, and no formal education. Denver wonders what the brilliant Adam will think about a man who doesn’t even have a GED?
Adam is OCD, with a side of clinical anxiety and just getting through the day takes all his strength and determination. His only long term romance ended because of his mental illness as well as the fact that they did not mesh sexually. But his encounter with Denver has fulfilled him and left him satiated and his mind quite for once. Denver is everything Adam could want but how will Denver feel when Adam tells him he has obsessive compulsive disorder? Will Denver be able to deal with Adam’s illness? Adam and Denver each have their share of dirty laundry in their closet. Will they be able to come clean so they can see a bright future together?
Cullinan had me at Sphingidae. An author who gives me a main character who is an entomologist specializing in hawk moths, be still my heart, watch as this Park Naturalist swoons. But that one thing shouldn’t surprise me as Cullinan continues to bring us characters so human, so realistically flawed and interesting in their emotional makeup that it is a wonder that I haven’t seen someone like Adam in her stories before now.
Tucker Springs is a town full of amazing people and Cullinan has just contributed two more town citizens so remarkable that I still stay up at night thinking about them. Both are, as I said, beautifully realized human beings, with their flaws and emotional issues. But Adam and Denver also have the ability to disarm the reader with their vulnerability and surprising decency. First let’s talk about Adam whose OCD and clinical anxiety is something thousands face in their lives today. Cullinan has made this mental illness accessible and understandable through the character of Adam. As he fights his way through his demons at every step in his day, from the lab to just getting out of the house, we really start to comprehend just how overwhelming it must be to just try and stay a functioning human being, let alone one successfully getting through college. Adam has heart, and bravery, and a need for kinky sex in which he can give up control. Adam kept surprising me all through the story, love him.
Then Cullinan delivers Denver Rogers to Adam via the laundromat. Denver Rogers has his own demons in his head (none I will list for you here) and a need for rough sex and to be the one in control. Everything about Denver will surprise you as it does Adam. He could have easily degenerated into a stock character, but that never comes close to happening here in Cullinan’s capable hands. Denver is a decent, multilayered human trying to work through his past and starts to think that he might just have a future with his “bug boy”. I adored this man.
We must also talk about the characters sexuality because it is such a huge component of the story and their relationship. This is not your vanilla sex but rough, consensual hot sex. It is bdsm and D/s and both are absolutely necessary for the story and this couple. While neither is something I normally read, here it makes total sense for the characters and that helps the reader who either is not familiar with bdsm or reads bdsm to not only accept it but enjoy it. Adam and Denver need this part of their relationship. It is an integral part of who they are and it satisfies a deep seated need for Adam to be submissive and for Denver to be the dom. Not only that but it calms Adam’s OCD as nothing else has. I won’t get into the explanations but needless to say, the author does the same exemplary job of bringing the reader into Adam’s head to help us understand his thoughts and feelings on this element as well as the others. So, even if this type of sexuality is not something you normally enjoy, Cullinan helps you understand, if not outright accept and enjoy this as a mutually healthy expression of their love and outgrowth of their relationship.
Cullinan then to proceed to slowly build an engrossing, heartwarming love story between Adam and Denver, one complete with a step backward for every two they manage to go forward with. Adam and Denver must over come one obstacle after another, ones both small and large, including each other. By the time, their story is finished, as a reader you are so throughly invested in this couple’s lives that you don’t want it to be over. Not by a long shot. My hope is that we will see them in other Tucker Springs novels just as El and Paul did here. I would also love to see more of Louisa, a trans character equally memorable and endearing. I highly recommend this story and all of the Tucker Springs novels. This is a town full of people you will never tire of visiting with and listening to their stories. And while you are off to get the book, make sure and add Heidi Cullinan to your list of must have authors. Really, she deserves to be there. Sphingidae, indeed!
Cover art by LC Chase is perfection and works in every way for this story and overall appeal.
Here are the Tucker Springs novels in order they were written:
Where Nerves End by LA Witt (Tucker Springs #1)
Second Hand by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan (Tucker Springs #2)
Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan
Plus there is a website for Tucker Springs novels. TuckerSprings.com