off baseRating: 4.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Navy SEAL Zack Nelson is not out, not even really to himself. But that doesn’t stop one of his teammates from giving him a hard time and making his life miserable. Zack is determined to get out of the barracks and into off-base housing — so determined he agrees to take on the job of doing home repairs in exchange for a place to live, even though he has no idea what he is doing.

When Zack learns that a friend of a friend, Pike Reynolds, needs a place to live and has actual home improvements skills, Zack reluctantly agrees to be roommates. See, Pike is nice enough, but Pike is openly gay, very flirty, and the two had an awkward night a while back where something might have happened between them if Zack wasn’t so drunk. But Zack figures it is worth a shot and agrees to let Pike live with him in exchange for help fixing up the house.

The two men are very different, but soon become friends. They come to rely on the comfort they each bring to one another, and a real bond begins to form. And despite Zack’s best efforts, his attraction to Pike grows as well. Part of Zack is determined to stay totally in the closet; things are bad enough with his SEAL team without them having confirmation that he is actually gay. At the same time, he can’t help his feelings for Pike. For his part, Pike has had enough of “tourists” and is determined not to get involved with another closeted man. But the attraction between the men is smoking hot and neither can deny their feelings. Soon the two are having a hot, sexy, and totally secret relationship.

On one hand things are great for Zack and Pike. They love living together, they enjoy doing the renovations as a team, and they are close friends. On top of that, they are totally falling for one another, and along with the hot sex, a real emotional connection has grown between them. Pike has been willing to give Zack time, but he can’t wait forever for Zack to be ready. Not when that day might never come and Pike knows his heart will be broken. Now the men must figure out if there can be a future for them, one where Zack can be himself and the guys can be open about the love that has grown between them.

Off Base is the first book in Annabeth Albert’s new Out of Uniform series. It is also a spin off of sorts from her excellent #gaymers series, in particular Connection Error (which happens to be my favorite so far). While this story can stand alone just fine, we do meet Zack and Pike in Connection Error. Zack is Ryan’s roommate when he is in the rehab hospital, and Pike is Josiah’s friend who flirts shamelessly with Ryan at a gaming party. For their part, both Ryan and Josiah make appearances in this book as well, particularly Ryan, who is Zack’s best friend and offers him some guidance along the way from his perspective as an out, gay, military man. So again, this story will stand alone, but if you have read Connection Error, I think you will enjoy the way the two books tie together.

This book has one of my favorite setups, and that is roommates to lovers. Things start off tense between the guys, as they are pretty well acquainted, but an awkward night out a while back has left things uncomfortable between them. Pike is definitely interested in Zack, but he is doing his best to stay away knowing that Zack is not out, or really even come to accept his own homosexuality. So there is a conflict right away, as these guys adjust to living together. But even more, there is quickly a bigger issue, and that is the guys’ mutual attraction to one another. They hold off as long as they can, but soon neither can deny how much they want one another, and the chemistry is just great between them. These are both such likable guys, and you can’t help but root for things to fall into place for them.

For me, this is the kind of conflict that has the potential to go bad. A”straight” guy who is sleeping with a gay man but denying his sexuality can end up being an exercise in frustration for the characters and the reader. I don’t want to see anyone jerked around or used by someone who is “exploring” with no intent to ever be out. But Albert really makes things work well here because not only can we understand Zack’s fears, but he is clearly so emotionally invested in Pike and he never hides that when it is just the two of them. Zack is clear how much Pike means to him. He opens up and shares his feelings and his body and his heart without reservation. So while Zack is terrified of anyone else knowing, he is never in denial with Pike about how he feels, and for me, that prevented any potential annoyance on my part as a reader. We never doubt the depth of Zack’s feelings for Pike, or Pike’s in return, and so we can put all our energy into rooting for things to work out.

My only small issue here is that for the first third of the book or so, I felt a lack of clarity on whether Zack is closeted, or if he is in denial that he is actually gay. Early in the book he notes that he is not “openly gay.” To me that meant that he knows he is gay, but keeping it a secret. So for parts of the story, I was confused because at times it seemed like he was in fact closeted, and others it seemed like he hadn’t accepted even to himself that he was gay. As it turns out, Zack definitely hadn’t come to terms with his sexuality yet, so it wasn’t so much closet as denial. But until that was spelled out, I found myself confused off and on for early parts of the book.

That is just a small issue and certainly nothing that affected my overall enjoyment of this story. And I did thoroughly enjoy it. Off Base is romantic and sexy and just the right amount of angst. Both Zack and Pike are totally likable, both more than they appear on the surface, and you just can’t help but root for them. I really loved this story and I am so excited for the continuation of the series.

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