Squared Away – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #5

Pages: 320

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In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

The previous book of the Out of Uniform saga left me cold and with an uneasy feeling. I was actaully scared that the series was going down a path of mediocrity pretty fast. But, I’m always glad to be wrong. The fifth book is awesome. It’s up there with the first one or the third one. A true pleasure for a reader like me.

This time the story focuses on Mark, a.k.a. Wizard, a medic SEAL who is too used to take charge in every crisis. He is about to face the biggest crisis yet: the death of his sister and brother-in-law leaving behind three little kids… He rushes home to take care of them, but he finds Isaiah, another uncle of the kids, managing everything just fine (as fine as it can be in that situation…). They already knew each other, but the relationship is pretty strained. They have to get passed their differences to put their best faces for the kids and that’s the first step of their unlikely romance…

This is maybe the hardest story so far in the saga. It’s so unfair to see the life of those kids rattle so badly and yet getting used to their new reality so fast and stoically. Reading how Isaiah and Mark jump to claim the guardianship of the kids even though they had almost zero experience with them, when it would have been easier for them to let them be processed by the system, was an emotionally rewarding experience. It was really heart-warming and an example to follow. I would lie if I’d say I didn’t cry more than once (I kind of love crying with books. That means they have something especial). I was even a bit angry with the behaviour of the legal system and the social workers that were so worry about the well-being of the kids that, in order to protect them, their well-being and happiness were actually the first things to be in jeopardy. I have no idea how that works in Spain, so even more clueless about that in the United States, but what I read in this book… It’s crazy that the uncles were constantly questioned about their intentions when it was pretty obvious they cared for the kids.

If that drama wasn’t enough, there are obviously romantic issues to add to the mix. As in previous books, those are mainly fear to be open about the sexuality of one or more of the characters. In this case, the one having doubts was Mark. When the book gets its hands dirty explaining Mark’s sexualty I wasn’t down for it. Too much terms being thrown at the reader in a short amount of time: pansexual, demisexual, asexual, gray ace… I couldn’t follow the author. I even had to stop reading to look for the meaning of gray ace, only to discover that it was explained in the book. But, as if a mage herself, the unintended misdirection of the juggling of terms made me miss the proper explanation for the proper term… Once the first impression is passed, I’m glad Annabeth took that path in the book. Mark’s sexuality grants the hard cuddling scenes a level of eroticism I haven’t found in a book in a really long time. I tend to consider sex the boring, or the least interesting, part in a romance book, but in this case it adds so much to the story.

The characters were also a surprised. I barely remembered Wizard from other books and Isaiah was just a cameo in the Ben’s and Maddox’s book, so I wasn’s expecting to like them so much so fast. I love everything about them when they are apart and together, except the luck of trust on each other during the first weeks. If they would have talked, really talk, about the guardianship of the kids, they would have spared themselves of pretty hurtful situations. Although, in that case, I think the book would have been less enjoyable. Am I a bad person for wishing hard times for characters I love? Sometimes it’s hard to balance morals and reading passions.

In any other book I would have hated the classic end of a Romance book, but this time I will have to admit that is perfect. Yes, rushed; but utterly logic. It needed to be done for the sake of the kids and I have zero doubts in my mids that those kids are even happier now than with their real parents. How the system could doubt that is beyond my comprehension… I hope we know more about this couple in future books. I would love to check on them to see if everything is going fine.

I started this saga about a year ago and I do not regret one single momento of it, even though there have been some down times. I will always trust this author to deliver awesome stories and characters. I should start looking at her other works more seriously now. I’m almost at the end of the Out of Uniform series (just two more if the author doesn’t publish any more).

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