When a SEAL medic inherits three young children, he must battle to keep the family together and keep his long-held feelings for the man challenging him for custody at bay.
Series: Out of Uniform #5
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date (Print & Ebook): April 16. Print, ebook, and audio all available.
Length (Print & Ebook): 80,000 words
Subgenre: m/m military romance
Includes: military romance, insta-family, hurt/comfort, angst, interracial, heroes-with-kids, gay romance, demisexual/gray ace hero, first time, loss, reunion, forced proximity
Carina Press: https://www.carinapress.com/shop/books/9781335980809_squared-away.html
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.
What Annabeth Albert has to say about this book in her Out of Uniform series:
“I wanted to write a book about the nature of family and how loss and tragedy can shape family, mold it into something stronger, force growth and change. I’m enormously proud of SQUARED AWAY as a result because how I fell in love with this little family.”
“When Wizard first appeared in ON POINT as a secondary character, I was intrigued by him, but it wasn’t until I let myself get into his head that I really saw how complicated he was. I feel honored and privileged to have been able to tell his story.”
“No book gets written in a vacuum and this one is no different. I owe a huge debt on this book to my sensitivity readers who really encouraged me to dig deep.”
Praise for the series:
“Albert delivers a solid hurt/comfort story…” RT Book Reviews on SQUARED AWAY
“Mark and Isaiah’s budding relationship happens with sensitivity and steamy moments…” RT Book Reviews on SQUARED AWAY
“Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series is a unique look at SEALs’ lives, showing us the insides of their hearts and homes and the love that drives them.” ~Layla Reyne, author of the Agents Irish and Whisky series.
“Sexy, sweet and heartfelt, Annabeth Albert’s Out of Uniform series is a fresh take on Navy SEALs that will delight and entertain romance readers.” ~Layla Reyne, author of the Agents Irish and Whisky series.
Short #1: To his surprise, Mark didn’t laugh. Instead, he looked thoughtful. “What if I asked you to?” he said softly.
“To put out?” Isaiah’s throat had never seemed drier.
“We’re sitting here. Talking. Like adults. Just a couple of guys. And I can’t quit thinking about your lips, and I don’t know why.” Mark’s voice had a sleepy, dreamlike quality to it, and Isaiah was fully prepared to wake up any second because he’d been dreaming about Mark saying shit like this for years.
“I do.” Moving slowly as to not bang heads or—more likely—spook Mark, Isaiah moved so that their faces were level, inches apart. “You want to kiss me.”
Short #2: It was not a date. Mark had been on those, and they usually made him feel like his clothes were three sizes too small, all buttoned up and uncomfortable. Hanging out with Isaiah was nothing like that. Sure he drove Mark nuts, but he was also fun, making Mark relax in a way he did with few others, and that had been the case ever since their first meeting. And despite himself, despite everything that had happened, he found himself looking forward to the rest of the day. And that was something he hadn’t thought possible.
Damn it. Liking Isaiah was just too easy. He needed to be careful.
Long #1: Thus, it was much later than he’d intended when he rolled back into the driveway at the house. Past dinner. Fuck. And he’d promised to help. He was falling down on the job already. Cursing himself, he entered through the side door, surprised by how quiet everything was. Were they in bed already?
A quick investigation revealed the truth—they were all in the family room, on the oversized sectional. A kids’ movie was playing softly on the TV, and Isaiah was passed out on the chaise part of the sectional, Liam asleep on his chest, girls sleeping cuddled up on either side of him, the blankets they were seldom without wrapped around them. Half a bowl of popcorn sat on the floor.
That seldom-used place in Mark’s chest pinged again, a deep ache that resonated through his whole torso. This was why he’d accepted the instructor position without much fuss. He couldn’t let it all fall to Isaiah. They’re mine now. Like it or not, these were his kids now, and it was time to start acting like it.
“You want to kiss me,” Isaiah said again. “So you should.”
His face was right there, waiting, body no longer the reassuring weight on Mark’s lap. He seriously could have kept touching Isaiah all night. He’d never wanted to explore another person the way he did Isaiah.
You want to so you should. Isaiah made it sound so simple.
“Unless you’re chicken?” Isaiah grinned at him, unrepentant, and Mark flashed to the last time Isaiah had dared him like this, the last time he wanted to find out what Isaiah tasted like. He’d wanted to kiss Isaiah so badly that night that it had hurt. But Isaiah had been eighteen and he’d been himself and just…yeah.
But now the want was back and his heart was beating so hard Isaiah had to be able to hear it.
“I’m not chicken.” As if in a trance, Mark reached out, traced Isaiah’s generous mouth with his thumb. Soft. So soft. His tongue came out, licked at the pad of Mark’s thumb, making him hiss in a breath. Apparently Isaiah liked that reaction because his lips curved up into a hint of a smile and he used his teeth next, grazing Mark’s callused skin.
Fuck. A burning hot sizzle raced up his spine.
Isaiah’s tongue attacked his palm next, little flicks that were the single most erotic experience of Mark’s life. His breath came in harsh little pants. Dipping his head, Isaiah trailed his mouth along Mark’s bare arm, hitting nerve endings he’d never seen in his anatomy texts. His wrist. His inner elbow. Dipping under the edge of his T-shirt. Moving to his neck, licking a determined path to his jaw.
“Kiss me,” Isaiah whispered, lips against his cheek. He could have closed the gap himself rather easily, but he was waiting on Mark, giving him just enough space to pull away. And somehow that hesitation, that consideration was what undid Mark, made him lean in.
Isaiah was going to tempt and dare and tease but he wasn’t going to take. No, that had to be up to Mark. And fuck, Mark couldn’t bear pulling away, not ever knowing what those lips felt like against his own. So he slid his mouth over, cautiously finding Isaiah’s. It was the most glancing of contact but he felt it all the way to his toes.
He’d been kissed before, but usually the other person took over by this point. Not Isaiah. He seemed content to let Mark get his bearings, decide how much pressure felt good, move his mouth this way and that, experimenting. Mark felt like he’d been waiting years to nip at that full lower lip, so he followed that impulse, which made Isaiah groan low. His hand came to rest on Mark’s shoulder, not yanking him closer, just a steady pressure. Another point of connection.
Mark repeated the motion, more aggressive this pass, sucking on Isaiah’s lip. He used his tongue to trace its contours, moving to lick at the seam, his turn to tease. Isaiah whimpered and trembled, and then it was Mark doing the pulling, making their torsos collide. Mouth opening on a groan, Isaiah wordlessly invited him to take more. This was the part that Mark hadn’t always liked in the past, but his tongue rushed ahead, eager to continue exploring.
And it was good.
“I take it that’s a yes?”
“It’s always going to be a yes for more kissing.” Isaiah scooted closer. They’d done the massage and goodnight kiss routine a few more times, but he was careful to not press for it, to let it be Mark’s idea.
Mark gave him a fast but still electric kiss. “I was thinking about this when I was helping you outside earlier. It’s crazy how much I like touching and kissing you.”
“I love touching you too.” Isaiah trailed his fingers down Mark’s cheek. “You haven’t had that before?”
“Not really. I’ve had a lot of kisses that felt like getting my earlobe chewed by a cat or trying to kiss a salmon. Not awful but not ‘can’t wait to do it again’ either. Had some kisses I liked, but right as I was getting comfortable, the other person would try to take it to the next level. And that was always a disaster.”
“Even with your friend? The other medic?”
Mark shrugged and looked away. “He got huffy when I didn’t want to get naked after a few kisses. Called me a closet case.”
“I’m sorry.” Isaiah patted his leg, not sure what else to say. “You’re a great guy. You deserve all the good kisses—no fish or earlobe chewing allowed. And you deserve to go at your own pace. Always.”
“I feel guilty. Like I should be doing something more for you…”
“Hey now. I’m getting amazing kisses from a hot-as-fuck guy who also likes to massage me until I’m a pile of limp lettuce. Trust me. I’m not getting a shabby deal here. At all.” If anything, Isaiah felt guilty for how very much he was enjoying all this. “And add in yard work help and cleaning? Man, you’d be a lot of people’s idea of a dream date.”
“Good.” Mark leaned in for another, softer kiss. “Because I really like doing this.”
“Me too.” Isaiah tried to calm the thumping of his heart. Careful, he warned himself even as his long-comatose hope monster hefted itself up and did a dance. He couldn’t afford to go falling for Mark again, yet with each kiss, each tentative touch, he could feel his grip on his resolve weakening.
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 multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer. The #OutOfUniform series joins her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ romance #Gaymers, #PortlandHeat and #PerfectHarmony series. To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, check out her website: http://www.annabethalbert.com or connect with Annabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content and exclusive contests.
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 active children.
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