Sailor Proof (Shore Leave #1) by Annabeth Albert

sailor proof
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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

Rating: B

Annabeth Albert kicks off her new Shore Leave series of military-themed contemporary romances with Sailor Proof, a cute, sexy, low-angst, veritable trope-fest of a love story.  We’ve got best friend’s little brother, only one bed, first times and a fake relationship, all thoroughly mixed and cooked to perfection to produce the equivalent of a soufflé in book form!

When a ship comes home to port, it’s tradition for the crew to vie for the privilege of being the first to disembark and greet their loved ones.  Naval Chief Derrick Fox has seen more than one marriage proposal come as a result of the First Kiss, and usually, he’s happy for whoever wins that honour. This time however, he’s more than a little bit pissed off that one of the junior officers has won the raffle and is taking great delight in taunting Derrick about the fact that he will be disembarking first and getting to plant one on his new squeeze – who happens to be Derrick’s cheating ex.  Derrick’s best friend Calder suggests that what Derrick needs is a hottie in the crowd he can make a beeline for and kiss the hell out of in full view of his ex – but unlike Calder, whose large, loving family is bound to be waiting for him, Derrick doesn’t have anyone.  He’s not opposed to the idea in principle, but being deployed on the sub for another two weeks isn’t exactly conducive to meeting said hottie and fixing a dockside smooching session.

But logistics expert Calder isn’t about to let a problem go unsolved.  His brother Arthur owes him a favour and he’d be up for being the kissee – but Derrick doesn’t see how kissing Calder’s red-haired, spindly, “too nerdy for band camp” little brother is going to make anyone jealous.

Arthur Euler is the only member of his family who isn’t involved with public service in some way.  He’s a super talented musician and award-winning composer who makes his living writing scores for video games, and has always felt somewhat out of step with everyone around him, who seem to think that music is just a phase and that he’ll settle to a real job one day soon. He loves his family dearly, but is tired of never quite being enough in their eyes, of feeling like he’s a disappointment, no matter his achievements.  Seeing the toll taken on his mother and their family by his father’s deployments, Arthur has a strict rule against dating anyone in the military – but he really does owe Calder and has no problem with his plan to help Derrick out. After all, Derrick is all but part of the family; he’s Calder’s best friend and they’ve all known each other for years, so it’s no biggie.

Except… when Derrick and Arthur – who haven’t seen each other for a good few years – finally meet up again, sparks fly.  Derrick realises Calder was right when he said his little brother wasn’t so little any more and Arthur, who even as a teen knew better than to develop a crush on a military man, can’t believe he’d forgotten how gorgeous Derrick is. Their kiss is electric, leaving them both slightly befuddled – but before either of them can bring the charade to an end, Arthur’s mother Jane arrives on the scene and, delighted to see Derrick and Arthur together, immediately invites Derrick to join them for a family dinner.  Reluctantly, Derrick accepts – Jane was like a mother to him when he was growing up and he doesn’t want to disappoint her – and is trying to come up with a way to make a quiet exit when she invites him to join them for their regular week-long family get-together; Arthur will be going so it makes sense for his boyfriend to come along, too, right?   Put on the spot, Arthur and Derrick find themselves agreeing to be fake-boyfriends for the duration, but the more time they spend together and get to know each other, they more they realise that they don’t want to be ‘fake’ boyfriends any more.  But Derrick knows Arthur’s stance on dating guys in the military – is there any way they can be together without his career coming between them?

Sailor Proof is an easy, light-hearted read featuring likeable characters, a strong secondary cast and a cute, sexy romance that is mostly drama-free.  If you’re in the mood for well-written fluff that isn’t going to put you into a sugar coma, then this is your book; the tropes are well integrated and the characters have enough depth that the low-level conflicts that do arise make sense in context. I loved the way Derrick and Arthur decide to make the best of an awkward situation, and do it with so much humour, affection and mutual respect.  I really liked their ease with one another and how they so quickly begin to look out for each other, how Arthur is comfortable enough to open up to Derrick about his family’s competitiveness and how it makes him feel, and how he begins to remind Derrick it’s not all about work and that he needs to get out and ‘people’ now and again.

These two balance each other out really well and Ms. Albert does a great job building a genuine emotional connection alongside the physical attraction that hums between them from the start.  Their romance does develop quickly, but she makes it work.

The military angle really only comes into play in a big way towards the end of the book, but the ups and downs, the waiting and the uncertainty experienced by so many military families is expertly captured, and it adds a subtle element of realism to the story.

I likened this book to a soufflé at the beginning of this review, and while that’s a delicious thing, it can also be a fairly insubstantial one – and that’s my main criticism of this story.  And it’s not really a criticism as such, it’s more of one of those things about which YMMV – this is well-written fluff of the highest order, but I generally prefer something with a bit more heft to it.

That isn’t going to stop me from recommending Sailor Proof however, because it’s a charming and extremely well-crafted character-driven story told with a great deal of warmth and humour, and I had a lot of fun reading it.

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