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Release Blitz, Reviews, and Giveaway: At Attention: Annabeth Albert

At Attention (Out of Uniform #2)
Annabeth Albert
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Release Date April 10, 2017

Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he's lucky a friend's younger brother needs a place to stay. He's surprised to see Dylan all grown up with a college degree…and a college athlete's body. Apollo's widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up. 

It's been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it's time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he's all man now—an adult who's fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo's muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can't afford to fall for that guy. He's determined to hold out for someone who's able to love him back, not someone who only sees him as a kid brother. 

Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he'd expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what's more important—his past or his future—if he wants to keep Dylan in his life. 

I must admit that the amount I enjoyed the latest Annabeth Albert novel, At Attention, surprised me, because it contained a character type that I often find difficult to enjoy: the widower with young children. Yet something about how the tale is woven around this character worked for me in a way that few stories containing this character type have, and the result is one of my favorite novels by this author.

Between his military career and raising twin daughters as a single father, Apollo Floros lives a regimented life. It’s the only way he can make sure none of his responsibilities gets neglected. It’s also his coping mechanism for surviving the nightmare of the death of his husband. His mother has been a great help being there for his preschool-age girls, but her looming vacation means he’ll need some help for the coming summer. Fortunately, his best friend’s younger brother is in town after graduating college, and not only does he love working with kids, he needs a place to stay for the summer. Or maybe that isn’t fortunate, because eight years ago, Dylan crushed on Apollo something fierce, and grown-up Dylan is awakening a part of Apollo he’d carefully buried after his husband’s death. As for Dylan, he clearly remembers the object of his biggest teenage crush, and the first sight of the man proves time has only made Apollo more attractive. The sight of Apollo being a domestic, loving dad certainly isn’t hurting either. Still, Dylan knows he shouldn’t let himself succumb to those feelings, because he knows Apollo isn’t ready for anything resembling a relationship, not to mention the fact that there’s no way he would ever see Dylan as anything other than his friend’s kid brother.

When Apollo was introduced in Off Base, I remember being intrigued by the glimpse into his character, a Navy SEAL who was not only out but in a healthy same-sex marriage, at least he had been prior to his husband’s untimely death. Widowed characters often frustrate me when they appear as main characters in romance novels simply because they can be painful to watch going through the self-imposed grief associated with the inevitable phase of fighting their attraction to someone because of some sense that they’re betraying their dead spouse.

Here, fortunately, Apollo’s character is fleshed out in a way that quickly pulls the reader into his hectic life and his conflicting needs and feelings. While I often have tepid responses to romances where one of the characters has young children, the frequent appearances of the Apollo’s twin girls gave a sense of immediacy to my understanding of the man, so when the scenes of fighting his attraction to Dylan occur, and trust me, there are many of them, any frustration and pain I felt was purely sympathetic. I couldn’t help but want him to take the steps forward with Dylan, to prove to himself that he deserves a second chance at living and loving. The author does so well with developing Apollo’s character, in fact, that when the end of the summer comes and the attendant drama of the timing forces the issue to a head, the basis and reactions for a fight I might otherwise have found a little stupid seemed very realistic to the circumstances. And that made the ending all the more sweet.

It’s probably easy to tell from this review that I connected more with Apollo than I did with Dylan, and that’s the only thing that kept me from boosting this book’s rating up higher. Dylan isn’t a bad character by any means. On the contrary, he’s the perfect match for Apollo and fits quite tidily into the family with the way he embraces both the kids and Apollo’s routine. That being said, I simply didn’t get the same dose of sympathetic feels for Dylan as I did with Apollo, because there wasn’t anything that screamed “Apollo is perfect for Dylan” in the same way that the reverse was true. While it’s certainly okay for romances to be this way, I prefer when both characters strike me not just as a good match for each other but as being the ideal people for each other to the point where anyone else would not be as good.

Before I finish, I would be remiss in my reviewer duties if I failed to mention that spread throughout this heartfelt story are a good deal of hot-and-sexy intimate scenes that ticked off several happy-Jay checkboxes: Apollo does alpha quite well, there is mirror sex (yum), and there’s some dirty talk, just to name a few. The intensity of these scenes was certainly helped by the slow burn from Apollo fighting himself over his attraction too. Good stuff.

In spite of my connecting so much better with one of the characters than the other, the story and the strength of that single character made At Attention a book well worth the read. And it once again makes me look forward to whatever Annabeth Albert has coming next.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of At Attention in exchange for this fair and honest review.

I was intrigued by the stoic, strong, widower, Apollo Floros when he was introduced in Off Base. But as we delve more into his life, we see that Apollo has merely been existing. He is still mourning the loss of his husband, his career has changed to a more supervisory role, and he is now a single father to young twin girls. He works, he cares for  his kids, and has good friends. But he closed off his heart and just lives day by day. He thrives on control, structure, and routine.

Dylan is the little brother of Apollo's best friend, Dustin. There is a ten year age difference, and Dylan crushed hard on Apollo when he was in his teens. But now Dylan is grown up and in town for the summer. Dustin is determined to convince Apollo that his little brother should stay with them and he would make a great summer helper with the girls. It's a win-win for everyone...except Apollo can't seem to shake off the attraction to this off-limits, younger guy. And Dylan does not want him to.

Apollo has been living under a cloud of loss, anger, hopelessness, and now his reactions to Dylan make him feel more guilt and confusion too. He is protective of the girls, of his heart, and of his past. Dylan is outspoken, charming, funny, and flirty. Little by little Dylan begins to bring more life and happiness to their lives. The girls adore him and it is mutual. Apollo and Dylan have a slow burn towards friendship, companionship, sexual tension, and eventually passion, and release.

What could go wrong with having a little fun since there is a time limit?

But the closer they get, the more their "sex only" arrangement scares them both. Apollo is not ready to move on, and is worried about hurting Dylan and what others might think. And Dylan is concerned that his heart will get broken and he will never be enough for Apollo. 

The push and pull is intense. I loved their ever changing dynamics and seeing glimpses of Apollo without his shields. From small touches to passionate scenes, they are pulled together and have great chemistry. But Apollo is truly battling his own heart and head. And Dylan is getting in deeper with both Apollo and the girls, but still feels like a substitute. It is a hard, but realistic situation with many ups and downs. The age difference, the shared friends, the children and families, and the fact it is only supposed to be for the summer adds complications. But by far the biggest hurdle is  Apollo himself, and him not being able to let go of this past and see hope in the future.

All Dylan wants is to be really seen, valued, and asked to stay--not for what he does for them, but for himself. He may be fun, but he also longs to be respected and truly cared for. Dylan has the ability to ground Apollo and helps him relieve stress and breathe. But it also adds more anxiety and fear because Dylan makes him smile more, brings passion, and loves his girls...and begins to make him feel again.  But Apollo is so stuck in the past and focused on what could go wrong, that he can't see all that is right. And it puts them both in situations where they disappoint and hurt each other and make them afraid to hope.

I really felt for these guys even when I wanted to smack sense into them. Apollo especially has a lot of issues to work through to have any chance of moving forward and truly living again. And Dylan is vibrant, strong, and aware of his own needs, so would not be willing to settle for any less than he deserved.

This brings back Zack and Pike from Off Base, but can be read as a stand alone. We spend more time with their friends, Ben and Maddox who will be the heroes in On Point. Their families including Dustin also have important roles.

This one was emotional, sexy, heartwarming, and realistic best-friend's-brother M/M love story with an age difference. The addition of the twins just made it sweeter, while Apollo's grief added more emotional depth. The dual points of view were critical especially in understanding Apollo's internal battles. The story line was realistic and current. I felt like the characters were fleshed out well and had conflicting emotions and fears. I was pulled in and suffered through the good and the bad with them, and it was all worth it by the end. 

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

**This is from the first chapter**

Hamburger. Onions. Pickles. Ketchup. Buns. Buns.

Well, hello, there. Possibly the most perfect specimen Apollo had ever seen was bent over in the bakery aisle at Sprouts, looking at a rack of organic cookies. High. Tight. Round. Attached to muscular legs poking out of board shorts, the kind of legs that suggested a serious investment in a sport or fitness. He wasn’t going to do more than look, but even when he’d been with Neal, he hadn’t been blind, and it was nice to know perfection like this guy existed in the world.

It was like swimming by a perfect coral reef on a dive or the blue of a cloudless sky right before a jump—

Wink. Fuck. The guy straightened before Apollo could look away and caught Apollo staring, and instead of blushing or serving him with the angry glare he deserved, he gave Apollo a saucy wink. It was the sort of wink that a decade ago would have had Apollo crossing the shiny linoleum and getting the guy’s number, but those days were long gone.

Instead he grabbed the closest twelve pack of hamburger buns and one of hot dog buns and headed to the next aisle. Those were the only kind of buns he had any business letting himself be distracted by. He was a father for crying out loud, not some single guy out treating the natural grocery store like his own personal pickup joint. Reflexively, he rubbed his ring with the side of his pinky, making it spin on his ring finger. Yeah. No more looking.

“Apollo! How are you?” Bridget from down the street almost ran her cart into his as he navigated the aisles. Her red-haired toddler waved at him from the basket.

Hell. He knew he should have brought at least one of the girls shopping. Then Bridget could have focused on the kids, and not his least favorite question in the universe.

“Hanging in there.” Apollo gave her a practiced a smile. “Good” would be a lie and no one wanted to hear “same as yesterday,” which was closer to the truth. But what the Bridgets of the world all wanted to hear was that Apollo was moving on—like time was the magic cure for the hole in his heart. “Having some people over for a barbecue later. Apologies if anyone parks in front of your place.”

“Oh, no worries.” Bridget patted his arm. “Having friends is so important.”

“Yeah, it is,” Apollo agreed because Bridget was a nice person, but inwardly his teeth gnashed together. He was so tired of well-meaning people telling him what was good for him when not a damn one of their suggestions would bring Neal back. “I better get on with my list.”

“You do that. And be sure and let us know if you need anything.”

Apollo nodded. Two years. It had been two years of neighbors and friends stopping him like this, making kind offers, but none of them able to do the one thing he wanted more than anything.

Fuck. Snap out of it, Lieutenant. No one wants your mopey ass around on this sunny May weekend. And it was an absolutely gorgeous day, perfect for playing with the girls outside and kicking back a few beers with his friends. He wasn’t on duty and had three consecutive days off for the first time in a long time. No sense dwelling on sad shit. Time to get stuff done.

Find something else to focus on.

Like that perfect ass?

No. Absolutely not that. Like…pickles. Lots and lots of pickles.

He saw Mr. Perfect Butt again in the juice aisle, and it was damn hard to keep his resolution to stick to shopping. The guy was model cute—curly hair falling just so over his forehead, sparkling eyes, chiseled jaw, and a tight T-shirt advertising a British soccer team showing off a defined chest and tight stomach. The guy smiled at him again and looked like he might want to speak, so Apollo grabbed the juice boxes for the girls and got out of there like he’d just launched a flash bang in the guy’s direction.

At the checkout, Mr. Perfect Butt was ahead of him in the only line that seemed to be moving. Apollo very carefully did not look at his butt again and busied himself grabbing some gum and trying to give off “don’t talk to me” vibes.

But those vibes seemed to be an utter failure as the guy turned, offering another movie-star-worthy grin. “You want to go first?” His voice was husky, like every word was a secret.

“I’m good,” Apollo said.

The man nodded, shy smile teasing the edges of his mouth, making his blue eyes dance. “You know—”

“ID please.” The cashier interrupted whatever flirtation the guy had planned as his six pack of beer went across the scanner.

“Oh, yeah.” A faint red flush spread up the guy’s neck. Oh hell. He wasn’t just younger than Apollo. He was a kid. A kid who still got carded, and rightfully so with that baby face. What the hell had Apollo been thinking, admiring his body?

Apollo focused on unloading his own groceries, making neat rows for the cashier, and making sure the buns wouldn’t get squished.

Buns. Nope. Not going there. The kid hung around after paying for his groceries, mouth moving as if he were debating speaking, but Apollo kept his attention squarely on the cashier.

No more looking. Remember who—what—you are now. When he finally looked up, perfect butt guy was gone, and if Apollo felt a twinge of regret for being a bit on the rude side, he squashed it quickly. Wasn’t like he’d ever see the guy again anyway.

****

What will Apollo do when he discovers that Perfect Butt guy is his best friend's little brother? Find out in AT ATTENTION!
Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)
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Our 3.5 to 4 star reviews

After trading the barracks for a fixer-upper rental, navy SEAL Zack Nelson wants peace, not a roommate—especially not Pike, who sees things about Zack he most wants to hide. Pike's flirting puts virgin Zack on edge. And the questions Pike's arrival would spark from Zack's teammates about his own sexuality? Nope. Not going there. But Zack can't refuse.

Pike Reynolds knows there won't be a warm welcome in his new home. What can he say? He's an acquired taste. But he needs this chance to get his life together. Also, teasing the uptight SEAL will be hella fun. Still, Pike has to tread carefully; he's had his fill of tourists in the past, and he can't risk his heart on another, not even one as hot, as built—and, okay, yeah, as adorable—as Zack.

Living with Pike crumbles Zack's restraint and fuels his curiosity. He discovers how well they fit together in bed…in the shower…in the hallway… He needs Pike more than he could have imagined, yet he doesn't know how to be the man Pike deserves.


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Expected June 5,  2017

Never fall for your best friend…


Pushing thirty, with his reenlistment looming, decorated navy sniper Maddox Horvat is taking a long look at what he really wants in life. And what he wants is Ben Tovey. It isn’t smart, falling for his best friend and fellow SEAL, but ten years with Ben has forged a bond so intimate Maddox can’t ignore it. He needs Ben by his side forever—heart and soul.


Ben admits he likes what he’s seen—his friend’s full lower lip and the perfect muscles of his ass have proved distracting more than once. But Ben's still reeling from a relationship gone to hell, and he's not about to screw up his friendship with Maddox, too.

Until their next mission throws Ben and Maddox closer together than ever before, with only each other to depend on.

Now, in the lonely, desperate hours awaiting rescue, the real challenge—confronting themselves, their future and their desires—begins. Man to man, friend to friend, lover to lover.
Annabeth Albert 
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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 multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

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