Double or Nothing, Cari Z & L A Witt
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: US Marshal and Mafia Witness, Ex Marine, Some PTSD, Witness Protection, MCs On the Run, Humour, Some Minor Violence, Opposites Attract, Contemporary Setting
Length: 282 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com
Rich Cody joined the U.S. Marshals to hunt down bad guys, not babysit witnesses. Orders are orders, though, and now he’s protecting a hacker with ties to the Albanian and Sicilian mobs. It’s just another exciting day in WITSEC.
Leotrim Nicolosi was born into a world of crime and bloodshed. When that bloodshed hits too close to home, taking down Leo’s boyfriend—the son of a notorious mob boss—Leo is determined to destroy the Grimaldi family. He’s got evidence that will send every last Grimaldi to prison, he’s got the family’s wealth in an electronic chokehold, and he’s got a vendetta that can only be settled with the blood of the man who killed his lover.
When a routine transfer to a safehouse goes horribly wrong, Rich and Leo narrowly escape with their lives. With the Marshals compromised and Leo being framed for murder, he and Rich are on the run from criminals and law enforcement alike. They have no one to trust except each other, and nowhere to go that their enemies can’t reach.
And the only way out might mean making a deal with the Devil.
This novel is approximately 77,000 words long.
I really enjoyed the Bad Behavior series by L A Witt and Cari Z. Darren Corliss and Andreas Ruffner remain fictional favourites of mine. When I saw the same writing team and a similar theme within genre I was crossing fingers for the same sort of chemistry and action again with Double or Nothing. I started off immediately looking for a personal reader connection with Rich and Leotrim. I didn’t find it straight away but then I looked at my review of Risky Behavior which was – I started out unsure how I felt about both characters but within a few chapters they clicked and had me on their individual and collective side… I laughed as I read that because I added my only Goodreads status update for Double or Nothing at 2% which was – Eh. I don’t know. It’s not off to nearly as good a start as Risky Behavior. Hmm. What can I say? I’m an awfully impatient character obsessive who forgets things. I love the feeling of being joined at the Kindle hip with the people I’m reading about. I developed a good connection after a few chapters with Rich and Leo too. I mention it for anyone as impatient as me.
The reality is that this is quite a familiar story. MC #1 is Rich Cody, an ex marine who has PTSD. He’s miraculously managed to keep the anxiety and the flashbacks to himself and get a job in the US Marshals, his father is also a Marshal. He really didn’t want to draw WITSEC duty but here he is in Chicago babysitting witnesses pre-trial then, later, transitioning them over into a new life. This is not where he imagined himself. He was hoping for something more meaty.
I’d joined the Marshals for the same reason everyone did—to chase down bad guys and bring them in. Especially with the FBI shifting its focus to antiterrorism, we had plenty of work to do. Lots of fugitives to keep us busy. All through training—all twenty-two weeks of it—I’d been chomping at the bit to get out there and do my job.
The latest babysitting duty is a recent Mob informant, Leotrim Nicolosi, who’s relatively young, sexy – naturally – and has a lot of information on the Grimaldi family. He’s not a witness Rich generally finds a great deal of joy in helping.
Good looks aside, he was my least favorite type of witness. This wasn’t some innocent person who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and seen something they shouldn’t have. No, Leotrim Nicolosi was a criminal through and through. The mastermind behind the Grimaldi crime family’s obscenely successful and highly illegal online gambling operation. He wasn’t a made man, but he wasn’t an innocent bystander either.
As they’re getting Leotrim ready to move there’s an ambush at the hotel, a gunfight, and everyone is taken out except Rich and the witness. Rich has problems when there are firearms involved, it affects his PTSD, and there’s a lot to take in after the fight and carnage at the hotel. Is he going to be able to keep himself together and keep his witness safe?
MC #2 Leotrim Nicolosi, or Leo, is of mixed Albanian/Italian heritage. He’s a peripheral mobster with enough chutzpah to make him a believable problem but with the added bonus of having a heart – pretty standard romance stuff. His mother deserted him when he was young, his father has been in jail for nearly as long, his Uncle Angelus is so nasty the Mafia are afraid of him, and Leo spent a bit of time growing up around him before ending up with the Grimaldis. Not a fantasy childhood. He’s learned to be street smart, a survivor, bold. Tony Grimaldi, one of the Don’s sons, took him under his wing and taught him to be a clever, planful criminal, to think big. Leo is tech savvy and he’s made sure to obtain a lot of the Grimaldi’s business secrets and access to their bank accounts along the way, and they’re all nicely organised on a personal database. He may be under US Marshal protection but he’s smart enough to know he needs plenty of insurance. Every hour he requires Wi-Fi access so all the Grimaldi accounts and money, all the sordid details, aren’t either siphoned off or leaked prematurely. It’s a double security measure – he has a plan afoot for the Grimaldis, and he can be useful to the Marshals. Tony wasn’t just Leo’s mentor either, he was also his lover of three years. There’s a lot of emotion attached to his death, and he was killed by his own brother, Matteo, because of petty jealousy, family politics, and because of (conveniently for Matteo) homophobia when they found out Tony was sleeping with Leo. The Family is violent and Matteo is a total dick.
An old nine-millimeter wound on my thigh, a peppery smatter of scars from a shotgun on my left shoulder, the thick ropey tissue on the top of my right index finger where Matteo had pressed his knife down to the bone…my body was a map of reasons to hate the Grimaldis.
After the escape and subsequent need to leave the scene, it soon becomes apparent that the Grimaldis have men in the Marshals, and not just a few. When they get out of the initial fracas, and they take off, Rich wants to phone it in to his superiors. Leo doesn’t want any such thing to happen. After a fair amount of hotwiring of cars, being tailed, suspicious activity, and crime figures in Marshal’s uniforms who aren’t Marshals, Rich is onboard with holding off. Still, Rich can be a bit of a noob… but Leo isn’t, and he hasn’t walked away from the Mob and gone to the Marshals just to be killed without his exit strategy taking place. This is not about law and order. This is personal.
He wanted to reach out to his team, I could see that, reach out to the people he relied on. He was used to being part of a team, probably had no reason to watch his back or sleep with one eye open, the way I’d grown up. I was asking him to betray all his sensibilities by going along with me on this.
Bit and Pieces:
I like the dual POV for this type of book. I like knowing what both MCs are thinking and feeling. Also, most of the time there is a very clear delineation between Rich and Leo’s voices.
The story is really well paced, the action starts pretty soon after the beginning and it keeps on rolling until near the very end. It’s hard to know who to trust, everyone in Rich’s life is monitored by the Grimaldi’s corrupt empire. Where Leo is doubtful this newer Marshal, who experiences intermittent episodes of PTSD, can really keep him safe, he’s all he’s got. However, at the first sign Rich can’t seem to deal, Leo is going to lose him. Rich has an innate sense of right, to protect his witness at all costs. It’s because of this that Leo is able to form a gradual trust of him. Conversely, Leo’s support during some haywire moments for Rich means he’s more than just a mobster now, no longer the least desirable of witnesses to protect, there’s more underneath the veneer. And let’s not forget attraction, because this is still a romance. The two men find themselves in a ‘foxhole’ together and out of that desperation they have to have each other’s backs. Leo has a plan but Rich is a complication, emotions he hadn’t expected. Rich has a witness and you cannot cross a professional line… except that seems impossible when you fall for the witness because he’s become that bit more than a sense of duty.
The chemistry works very well, there’s an initial attraction but also time given for them to get to know one another, albeit during stressful times. There are no I love yous because this is all new and with everything else going on there is no time for that. Anyway, I was too busy being involved in the primary plot for declarations of love. I was also too busy wondering would they or wouldn’t they stay together for the entire book, as part of the deal to protect and be protected, as part of exacted revenge. If they would act on the growing attraction, and if so, how that would work out. This book is still self contained as it stands but it has a HFN ending.
Leo’s family are not functional. On top of their dysfunction, he could never be open about being gay. Rich’s family are the polar opposite and have also had his back when an uncle decided gay was not okay. I actually enjoyed the code Rich’s father had in place for the entire family for difficult times, for when the proverbial might hit the fan, because being a Marshal can have its moments. Like now.
Secondary characters are all interesting. There’s Smitty, an ex marine buddy of Rich who now lives off the grid in a Colorado missile silo. He was good for some humour, somewhere to hide out, facilitating some down and dirty time between the MCs. Smitty added extra overall colour to the story. Leo’s Uncle Angelus is very flawed – he’s a hitman – he’s callous but, kind of, a good(?) man to have on your side in dire straits… when he feels like being on your side. Kara, Angelus’ apprentice, is one tough and capable cookie. All the secondary characters elevated the primary storyline in their own way. They all made it really easy for me to want to stay up late to finish that extra chapter… or three.
The writing, narrative, and primary story arc are all good. I seem to be a sucker for this writing duo and that made the book so much more enjoyable. Cari Z and L A Witt take a plot that feels familiar and make it all the better because they stamp their own entertaining brand of writing all over it. Just little things in the humour, the character interaction and the tale add up to fabulous overall reading.
There was only one niggle where I thought, really? Now you do that? Not mentioning for spoiler reasons.
Double or Nothing is a page-turner. It’s well written. It will be a re-reader. It’s pure entertainment. There are likeable MCs, interesting secondary characters, bad guys, a pace that keeps you up on the edge of your seat pretty much throughout – I really did need to know where it was going. It’s everything I expect from a book with good guys, murder, dirty authority figures, murky characters, payback, lives on the line, along with a nicely developing romance. I’m very much looking forward to book #2. Hope it’s on the way. 4.5 Stars!