I admit, I’m a bit late to the SEAL romantic fiction fan club. Because of my father’s job, I grew up around Marines and Navy SEALs and perhaps that’s why neither group ever held any special appeal to me. But then I started reading Ms. Albert’s Out of Uniform series… and I’m feeling the SEAL love. In the first book, Off Base, I loved the fictional, romanticized SEAL world she imagines, although I wasn’t crazy about the principals in that particular novel or their story arc. And since I was so enamored of her SEAL team – despite my problems with the relationship in Off Base – I decided to request At Attention for review and I’m glad I did. At Attention is steamy, romantic and bittersweet. I finally understand the Annabeth Albert hype, and fortunately for me, she has a vast back catalog to read through.
At Attention is Apollo’s story. We met and liked Lieutenant Apollo Floros in the first book (he played a pivotal role helping one of the principals struggling to come out), but we weren’t given much of his back story. And it’s heartbreaking. After finding and losing the love of his life two years ago, Apollo is raising their twin five year old daughters with help from his mom and in-laws, with whom he’s still close. He runs his family and home life like he runs his professional life as a SEAL. Organization, discipline, attention to detail and a well-defined routine and game plan define each day. Spontaneity is not the name of Apollo’s game – but avoidance is. Weighed down by unresolved grief over Neal’s sudden death, consumed with professional and personal responsibilities, and convinced (and maybe determined?) he’ll never love again, Apollo is struggling but can’t and won’t admit it.
On a shopping trip shortly before a picnic at his house with his best friend Dustin and some other colleagues, Apollo spots a hottie in the grocery aisle and can’t force himself to look away. It’s a new sensation for him, and makes him feel uncomfortable and disloyal to Neal. In short order he cycles through lust, guilt and frustration, until, through sheer force of will, he shuts those feelings down and resists the temptation for one more peek.
Dustin’s brother, Dylan, is in San Diego spending the summer with his brother, and working at the local Boys & Girls club. When he spots someone checking him out in the grocery aisle he recognizes the older man right away, because he had a massive crush on him as a fifteen year old. He makes every effort to catch Apollo’s eye – but Apollo refuses to give him any opening to approach. Dylan likes the attention and knows he’ll get his chance with Apollo soon enough; after all, he’s just picking up beer for the cookout he’s been invited to at Apollo’s house later that afternoon.
When Apollo realizes who Dylan is, he’s relieved (sort of), because Dylan is his Dustin’s kid brother and therefore, even if he wanted to hook up with him (he does), he’s off limits. But events and circumstances conspire to bring them together anyway. Apollo needs help with the girls during the summer while his mother takes a trip, and Dylan is great with kids. Before Apollo knows what’s happening, someone suggests Dylan help him out, Dustin and his other friends agree, and it becomes impossible (and awkward) to refuse. A few short days later, Dylan is moving in and Apollo is facing a day-to-day struggle to keep his intense attraction to him under wraps. It’s just too bad for Apollo that Dylan has a completely different agenda for their summer relationship.
Lucky for us, Dylan is a babe. He’s also great with children and Apollo. Attraction leads to flirting and flirting leads to sexy times. And when I say sexy, I mean it. Both men know what they’re doing in bed (though Apollo has some new skills to teach Dylan) and the sex is hot. I loved their dirty talk in bed and how Ms. Albert ramps up the anticipation and then delivers supremely satisfying (and romantic) sex scenes. A standing mirror is put to particularly good use. The relationship, the sex, the feelings – it’s all intense and unfortunately, ripe for one or both men to screw up.
The fling/relationship goes off the rails when a secret Dylan is keeping from Apollo is abruptly revealed while both men are still struggling to figure out what they mean to each other. Although they both know in their hearts the relationship is more than a fling, only one of them is willing or emotionally able to admit it. Guess who?
Despite Apollo’s experience of being in a long term relationship, he struggles to admit how deeply he feels for Dylan and to be the partner Dylan deserves. Dylan doesn’t. He’s true to himself when Apollo pushes him away, and even though he’s convinced they belong together, he isn’t willing to compromise on what he wants and deserves from a partner, and he isn’t willing to be a placeholder for Neal in Apollo’s life. As the story progresses, it’s a bit of a fascinating change in dynamic – Apollo embodies all the characteristics about SEALs that make them so compelling as Alphas: strength, heart, great instincts, and determination, but by the end of At Attention, those labels are a better fit for Dylan. I wondered how Ms. Albert was going to reconcile these not so opposite men and help them find their happy ever after, but she finds a way to bring Apollo and Dylan back together that checked all my boxes – it’s realistic, sweet and romantic.
I loved almost everything about this story (I’m not a big fan of kids in my romance novels), especially Dylan. He’s so much more in touch with his emotions than Apollo, and despite his age, he shows great emotional maturity as he deals with all of Apollo’s hang-ups and anxieties. I wasn’t as crazy about Apollo though, perhaps because I recognize his particular personality type – alpha, military, SEAL – is a real challenge to form a relationship with. And in case it isn’t clear, I loved the sexual relationship between Apollo and Dylan. No fumbling, no awkwardness. Dirty, naughty and intense – no wonder they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
At Attention deserves your attention! I can’t wait for On Point, the next book in the Out of Uniform series, which stars two SEALs we’ve gotten to know in the first two books in one of my favorite romantic tropes, friends becoming lovers.