by Annabeth Albert
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Carina Adores
Book #1 in the Shore Leave series
Number of pages: 384
Source: ARC from Netgalley & Carina Press
Ages 17 and up
The sexy Navy chief and his best friend’s adorkable little brother…
It’s petty, but Naval Chief Derrick Fox wishes he could exact a little revenge on his ex by showing off a rebound fling. His submarine is due to return to its Bremerton, Washington, home base soon and Derrick knows all too well there won’t be anyone waiting with a big, showy welcome.
Enter one ill-advised plan…
Arthur Euler is the guy you go to in a pinch—he’s excellent at out-of-the-box solutions. It’s what the genius music-slash-computer nerd is known for. So when he finds out Derrick needs a favor, he’s happy to help. He can muster the sort of welcome a Naval Chief deserves, no problem at all.
Except it is a problem. A very big problem.
When Arthur’s homecoming welcome is a little too convincing, when a video of their gangplank smooch goes enormously viral, they’re caught between a dock and a hard place. Neither of them ever expected a temporary fake relationship to look—or feel—so real. And Arthur certainly never considered he’d be fighting for a very much not-fake forever with a military man.
Arthur turned out hot. That was my first thought when I spotted him after I heard my name called. Derrick. My actual name, not Fox, not Chief, and outside of Calder a couple of times, I hadn’t heard that name in months. And definitely not like that, all eager and excited and happy. On the sub, hearing my name inevitably meant that someone needed something right that minute, but the way Arthur said it didn’t inspire dread at all.
I’d already been caught up in the energy of the day. Homecoming day was always exciting, even if I didn’t usually have someone waiting. The whole crew was jostling about, getting into our dress whites, making sure everything from our cover to the chest candy of ribbons and medals to the gig line was perfectly straight. Getting chosen to be on deck as we came into port was an honor, one that I usually let others, especially those with kids, fight over, since there was still plenty to do belowdecks in preparation and support. As the chief sonar tech, I was responsible for working with the A-gangers from engineering and the operations department to help navigate us in. Adrenaline was contagious, and by the time my department was cleared to disembark, I had enough energy to rival the reactor that powered the sub.
And then I heard my name.
I recognized Arthur’s red hair right away. But the rest…
Wow. Arthur had grown hot. Still shorter than me and skinnier, but wiry now, each lean muscle defined under a thin white shirt and tight jeans. No signs of his ever-present too-big nerd-humor tees. Same startling green eyes as before, though, and a new, more chiseled jaw sporting the perfect amount of fuzz. He’d grown into his long regal nose, and the hair that had seemed to have a life of its own when he’d been a teen was sculpted now, this perfectly styled wave that made me want to mess it up. His hands, which had always seemed too big for the rest of him, were clutching a giant sign.
And for a second—a literal instant when our eyes met and time stopped—I forgot it wasn’t real. And in that moment, I wanted it to be. Someone smiling that broadly for me. Had Steve ever been so happy to see me? Hell, I wasn’t even sure the poodle my grandmother had let me keep had been that happy. Arthur just radiated pure joy. The kid was one hell of an actor.
“Welcome home.” Even his voice was different. Deeper. Sexier.
“Hey,” I said because I was simply that brilliant at conversation. I reached an arm out, instinctively going for a handshake, but Arthur shifted his sign and met me partway, coming in for a hug.
A really tight hug.
Damn, he felt good. Amazing really. Solid muscle against me, hair tickling my nose, exactly as silky as it looked, strong arms able to haul me in and hold me tight. He smelled like mint and green tea, two things in short supply on a boat that tended to smell like old socks on a good day. Sweet. I inhaled deeply as his lips brushed my ear.
“Calder said to kiss you,” he whispered. “And I want to. But you gotta tell me you’re good with that first.”
Was I good with that? Hot guy who smelled like a concoction I wanted to drink every day for a month wanted to kiss me. And ordinarily, the friendship code would put Arthur far, far off-limits, but here was Calder telling us to kiss. It was a free pass, the sort I’d be a fool to turn down.
I wasn’t a fool.
And what harm could a peck do?
“Yeah.” My voice was a rough whisper, and I didn’t have a chance to brace myself before Arthur was sliding his mouth over from my ear to mouth. A double shot of tequila would have had less punch than the first brush of contact.
And okay, not a peck.
We were kissing. Arthur and I, which should have been weird but somehow wasn’t. At all. Someone whooped behind us, but almost all of my attention was riveted on Arthur, like I was on watch and every sense was heightened lest I miss something vital.
Like how soft his lips were. Full too. Or the bristle of his scruff against my cheek. I’d done a submarine shave that morning, not my best job, but close enough that the rasp of beard felt electric. Our chests were pressed so tightly that I could feel his heart pounding. Or maybe that was mine, blood zooming to places that had been in deep freeze for months.
“Wow.” Arthur pulled back, leaving me dazed and still clinging to him.
“Damn.” The statuesque purple-haired woman he’d been standing with laughed loudly and thumped Arthur’s shoulder. “Is that the best you can do? Your man has been at sea how many months?”
Your man. If only. If he were actually mine, we’d be racing across base, a mad dash to find a room with a door. But he wasn’t and all we’d ever have was this moment. A potent mix of want and resolve raced through me as suddenly I was determined to make this count.
I pulled him back to me, and this time when our mouths collided, I was ready. Ready to taste. Ready to absorb every single detail. Ready to seize control and kiss like the world might be ending.
And it could have. Not sure I would have noticed. Everything faded away. The crowd. The docks. The balloons Arthur had been clutching and his sign both as his strong hands clung to my shoulders as we kissed in earnest. He tasted like he smelled, sweet and minty, and his tongue against mine was like floodlights coming on. “Welcome home,” Arthur breathed against my mouth as the sound of applause gradually pulled me back into awareness of our surroundings. Applause. Whoops of laughter. Clicking cameras. But still I couldn’t seem to look away from him.
This is my first military romance by this author, although I am aware she has a popular military romance series in Out of Uniform. After reading this one, I’m really looking forward to getting to those books. My husband was in the Navy for the first 10 years of our marriage and I often have issues with authors just getting things so very wrong. Now, I’m not saying this was accurate down to the last letter. There is, of course, some artistic license that is needed to be given. But this author gets the bigger, underlying things right and I love that attention to detail.
Being as this book dealt with the families of the servicemember, I can attest to the feelings and thoughts of those “left behind”, so to speak. Again, the author does a wonderful job with these things and I’m so very thankful for that.
As to the actual story, it’s so much fun. Not only do we have a fake relationship story (one of my favorite things), but also an only one bed story (another of my faves). With the chemistry Derrick and Arthur have from the very moment Derrick steps off the submarine, I just couldn’t get enough of these two. They are both such loveable characters on their own, and together they are out of this world. Derrick has this surprising innocence to him that was endearing and helped the coupling of these two to feel more authentic.
One of the things I really love about this story is the journey Arthur takes with his family. There is an invisible curtain drawn between him and the rest of his siblings. Arthur has always felt he was on the outside of his family. Sometimes he’s right, but things aren’t as cut and dry as it seems at first. I love the growth that is shown as this story progresses.
Derrick has his own realizations he must come to eventually. Thankfully, he does open his eyes and his heart and gets his HEA. I can’t wait for the next story in this series.
**I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and CarinaPress. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and given freely**
About Annabeth Albert
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a Pacific Northwest romance writer of many critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ romance series. To find out more, check out: www.annabethalbert.com. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content.
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