Once a fearless fighter pilot, Commander Travis Wilson is now confined to a desk. It’s been eight years since the near-fatal crash that grounded him, and it still rules his life thanks to relentless back pain.
Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser almost drowned in a bottle after a highly classified catastrophe while piloting a drone. His downward spiral cost him his marriage and kids, but he’s sober now and getting his life back on track. He’s traded drones for a desk, and he’s determined to reconcile with his kids and navigate the choppy waters of PTSD.
Clint has been on Travis’s radar ever since he transferred to Anchor Point. When Clint comes out to his colleagues, it’s a disaster, but there’s a silver lining: now that Travis knows Clint is into men, the chemistry between them explodes.
It’s all fun and games until emotions get involved. Clint’s never been in love with a man before. Travis has, and a decade later, that tragic ending still haunts him. Clint needs to coax him past his fear of crashing and burning again, or their love will be grounded before takeoff.
Rating: Narration: A; Content: B
The second book in L.A. Witt’s Anchor Point series of military romances, Afraid to Fly features two protagonists in their forties who have so many issues to deal with between them that at times, I couldn’t help wondering if there were too many. But the fact that both men are a bit older than the norm for romance novels, are long-term military and have both seen active service made it more plausible that they’d have as much baggage as they do.
We met former pilot Commander Travis Wilson in the first book, Just Drive, and learned that he lives with chronic pain due to a back injury sustained in a crash some eight years earlier. He’s been divorced for well over a decade and has a daughter of twenty who lives with him; since his divorce, he’s mostly had casual and short-term relationships (with both men and women) – apart from one relationship (with a man) ten years earlier which ended badly and has left him extremely cautious about falling in love again.
A former RAP (Remote Aircraft Pilot), Lieutenant Commander Clint Fraser transferred to Adams Naval Base fairly recently. Three years before, he was involved in a mission that left him badly traumatised and ultimately led to the breakdown of his marriage; he turned to drink and became violent (though not to his wife and kids) and unpredictable. His divorce was messy and his wife has custody of their three children, but he’s doing better and hopes that in the not too distant future he’ll be able to see his kids for more than the odd Skype chat and supervised visit.
Clint and Travis work in the same office (though in different departments) and both men have had a bit of a crush on each other for a while, even though neither has the faintest idea if the other is into men. That changes on the night of the Navy Ball, when Clint arrives with his date – a guy – and when Travis, in casual conversation, mentions a somewhat disastrous date with an ex-Marine.
It’s clear early on that Travis and Clint have great chemistry, and not long after the ball, they start seeing each other. The bulk of the story is thus taken up by their working out how to be together given their health and other issues as they grow closer emotionally and start to think in terms of a making a life together. As I said before, they have a lot of problems to deal with, problems that are part of their everyday lives and have to be taken into account every step of the way. Travis’ chronic pain has caused the end of more than one relationship as his partners grew frustrated, bored or irritated (or all three) with the way his life had to revolve around his pain management and with the limitations imposed upon him by his condition when it came to sex. Clint’s PTSD still gives him violent nightmares regularly, which makes him nervous of spending the night with anyone, and he’s also battling the guilt he feels every day for the hell he put his wife and kids through. Bringing him down still further is that he feels almost as though he’s not ‘entitled’ to be traumatised seeing as he was sitting in an air-conditioned room, thousands of miles away from a war zone when the incident which ended his career as a RAP took place, but the real kicker is that the mission is still classified and he can’t talk about it to anyone, not even the chaplain or a therapist. (I have no idea if this actually happens – if it does, then it’s a disgrace.) All these things make Travis and Clint cautious about revealing the true extent of their issues for fear of scaring each other off, but as they spend more time together, they start to open up and to realise that they may just have found the one person in the world who can understand what they are each going through and how they can support each other through it.
Nick J. Russo is rapidly becoming a favourite narrator – I can’t think why I haven’t listened to him before this year! Once again, he delivers a strong performance all round, providing distinct vocal characterisations for the two principals and the handful of secondary characters in the story. He’s very good at pinpointing the emotional heart of any given scene, and does an excellent job of communicating the ups and downs experienced by Travis and Clint as they each open up and start to merge their lives.
Afraid to Fly is an enjoyable story – which isn’t devoid of heat, even taking Travis’ difficulties into account – which addresses both men’s health conditions in a sympathetic way without sugar-coating them. I have to say though, that there’s a false note struck fairly late on in the story which feels like an obvious contrivance just to throw in a bit of tension before the end. Fortunately, that doesn’t disrupt things for too long, and although there are a few questions I’d have liked answered (such as – will Clint get to see his kids again?) I was left hopeful for the couple’s future.