Desert Isle Keeper
Sink or Swim
Annabeth Albert has entertained me in the past with several of her m/m romances, and in Sink or Swim, the second book in her navy-themed Shore Leave series, she’s upped the ante with a charming, single dad meets playboy romance.
Felix Sigurd, newly divorced doctor, parent to his two nieces Madeline and Charlotte who lost their mother two years earlier, just wants to enjoy some rest and relaxation with the girls at his family’s remote mountain cabin. What he doesn’t expect is to find it already occupied by a handsome, single sailor.
Navy Chief Calder Euler, tired of desk duty ordered following by a concussion on board his sub, has won what he thinks is a new vacation spot. Checking it out before inviting the guys for a weekend away, his solo adventure is interrupted by the arrival of Felix and the girls who startle him into taking a tumble down the stairs. With an injured leg and an approaching snowstorm, Calder isn’t going anywhere, much to Felix’s resignation. Never mind that Calder ‘won’ the cabin in a poker game with Felix’s ex-husband Tim, who technically doesn’t have any claim to the property and shouldn’t have put it on the line in the first place. Legalities aside, Felix doesn’t quite know what to make of his attractive, unattached houseguest, but he does know that the mutual chemistry they feel upon spending some time together can’t lead to anything permanent. After all, Calder is yearning to get back to his sub, making it clear he’s not relationship material, and Felix needs to keep his distance and focus on the girls. But the friendship they’re developing and the feelings that come with it make both of them wonder – is it time to go all in?
This is a really sweet, heartwarming and sexy romance. The children in this story, Madeline who is ten and Charlotte who is seven, are very likable and written age appropriately. I really appreciated that their reactions to Calder are quite different; precocious Charlotte just takes him in stride whereas Madeline is more reserved and hesitant to accept his presence. Calder has never been around children before, so watching him interact with the girls, learning their personalities, treating them as individuals and being genuine with them is really lovely to see.
Calder goes through a lot of transformation in this story, from the single devil-may-care playboy, the partying type, to a man who comes to envision a different future for himself that involves being a partner and a parent. It’s conversations with Felix, started in their first encounter at the cabin but which continue when their friendship goes beyond those boundaries and into their real day-to-day lives that make him re-assess his career, his ambitions, and what makes him happy. The author tackles this really well and makes it believable. Calder becomes a hero-in-pursuit (my favourite kind) going out of his way to include Felix in his life and introducing him and the girls to his large family, showing Felix that he doesn’t have to do everything alone. The other interesting thing about Calder’s character is that despite his external personality, he is very soft and tender in the bedroom. He likes kissing for example, and sex for him isn’t always about getting to the finish line. With Felix he finds a partner who doesn’t have any expectations of him and he’s able to relax and really enjoy their lovemaking.
For Felix, coming off a divorce where his partner didn’t want anything to do with his nieces, it’s understandable that he’s not thinking about another relationship or relying on anyone but himself (and occasionally his stepmother). He worries about the impact of a relationshp on the girls (mostly about causing them hurt with a breakup). The fact that he and Calder are in sync perfectly in the bedroom (in some very sexy and tender love scenes) will just make their eventual split harder. Calder makes his single priority of returning to shipboard duty clear early on, and it will take some effort for Felix to believe that Calder could be happy with a change in focus. Fortunately, he’s convincing in the end and the happy ending they get is well deserved.
The more I think about this story, the more I realize how well all the elements clicked together for me. The sexual relationship, the friendship, the character growth, the relationship each man has with the girls, the girls themselves who are quite delightfully unique and well characterized, the romance, Sink or Swim really is a complete package.
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I'm a biochemist and a married mother of two. Reading has been my hobby since grade school, and I've been a fan of the romance genre since I was a teenager. Sharing my love of good books by writing reviews is a recent passion of mine, but one which is richly rewarding.