The Out of Uniform series by Annabeth Albert has had some interesting heroes to date – a virgin newish recruit in book one, Off Base, and a widowed active duty father in book two, At Attention. Now she turns her hand to a fairly common trope, that of best friends and roommates who are attracted to each other, a classic friends-to-lovers romance. But being Navy SEALs, in an environment where the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ political policies of previous administrations still resonate despite being repealed, makes it no easy task to admit to their feelings. On Point tackles these complications in a heartfelt (and sometimes heart stopping!) way, providing an exciting and sexy romance with characters who have to go through an awkward transition phase before they get their happy ending as a couple.
For ten years, since basic training, Maddox Horvat and Ben Tovey have had each other’s backs. Enlisting at a time when being gay was not openly admitted, some leading conversations had them admitting the truth to each other and they’d become best friends. A relationship between them though? No way. Over the course of their friendship they’ve each had other partners, including a whirlwind marriage and divorce for Ben. After the breakup of his marriage Ben moved in with Maddox while getting back on his feet, and ended up staying permanently as his roommate.
Coming up on thirty, Maddox isn’t sure whether he’s going to re-enlist but hasn’t figured out a way to tell Ben yet. When their latest mission puts them in harm’s way, they are forced to confront their feelings for each other. Life or death decisions have a way of sharpening reality and soon, they’re going to have to make choices that could keep them together or break them apart for good.
The first section of this story is a nail biter! I don’t want to give away too many details except to say that it is an action packed mission with some pretty serious consequences. After such an exciting start the story settles down into less action but more emotion as Maddox and Ben deal with the fallout. But what happens during that time affects both of them quite seriously, physically and emotionally.
Maddox and Ben are quite different characters. Maddox is a quiet, calm and focused guy which makes him an excellent sniper. When he’s in a relationship, he’s all in. Ben is the playboy, the easy-going guy who has had his heart broken and is only looking for sex and not commitment. Ben brings Maddox’s attraction for him out in the open by instigating a voyeuristic threesome with a hookup guy he brings home, and since then things have been strained between them. Ben is worried that he’s screwed things up badly by trying to bring sex into what had been – to that point – a platonic and strong friendship.
For them both, their latest mission is a real wake-up call about their feelings for each other but definitely doesn’t make things easier. Once home again, Ben wants to pursue an intimate relationship in private and Maddox is unable to say no to something he’s always wanted. Maddox wants more than just a secret friends-with-benefits arrangement, but gender aside, romantic relationships between teammates are forbidden, so to remain working together in the military means they can’t be open about what’s changed between them. The problem would be solved if Maddox left the military, which he is seriously contemplating, but this becomes a main source of conflict for the couple. Ben is sometimes frustrating here, because he comes across as selfish in his focus on how much he relies on Maddox to be at his back. He really struggles to understand that Maddox has different feelings about re-enlisting, and sees it as a betrayal of their friendship, instead of looking at it from his best friend’s point of view.
Like in many families, being gay can come with many challenges and this is the case for Maddox. He’s got parents and a sister who are proud of him being in the military but absolutely do not accept that he is gay. There are some heartbreaking scenes between them, ones that affirm for Maddox how lucky he is to have his real family, his Navy family, at his back. Ben has a supportive father, but a strained relationship with his mother – not because of being gay, but because she left him and his father when he was younger. It’s given him a lot of self esteem issues that he hides behind his brash, confident persona, but inside makes him wonder whether he’s worthy of love. He has to address some of those feelings before he can be a committed partner for Maddox.
What I am really enjoying about this series is that it takes a realistic look at the challenges facing men in the military. While there is obviously an emphasis on the extra issues for gay men, it takes into account all the other things like at-home partners, family relationships, health issues, PTSD, and post military careers. It’s not an easy life, and finding love amid the turmoil is something to be celebrated. Maddox and Ben are realistically portrayed with all their flaws and the courage that makes them honorable soldiers. On Point is an exciting and emotionally satisfying story and the Out of Uniform series continues to deliver well-crafted military romances.