Lieutenant Dustin Strauss is a Navy SEAL and for the last six months, he has been having hot chat sessions with another military man across the country via a military hook up app. Dustin hasn’t told anyone that he is bisexual, nor that he has a kinky side that enjoys submission. The only person who knows his secrets is Saucer Man, the guy who makes many of Dustin’s fantasies a reality, albeit long distance.
When Dustin takes a trip to DC, Saucer Man (aka Wes) surprises him with the suggestion they meet in person. Dustin is terrified of the idea of actually connecting in real life; he has long known about his attraction to men, but hasn’t actually acted on it before in person. But the temptation to actually have a real life experience with Wes is too much for him to pass up. The men have a intense, heated night together that turns many of Dustin’s fantasies into a reality and fuels him when he returns home. Not only does Wes turn him on like crazy, but a real connection has developed between them.
Things take a horrible turn, however, when Wes is reassigned to Dustin’s SEAL team. With Dustin an officer and Wes an enlisted man under his command, a relationship between the two is completely impossible. Even a friendship between them would be considered inappropriate, and certainly they can not continue their sexual relationship. But losing one another as friends, confidants, and sex partners is miserable for both men. Being so close and not able to show even the slightest connection is incredibly hard. And as each man deals with issues in his own life, the draw to reach out to the other is intense. Both men have moments of weakness where they break and get together, but they also both know that there is no way they can be together without destroying both of their careers. But as the connection between Dustin and Wes grows, staying apart may just prove impossible.
Wheels Up is the fourth book in Annabeth Albert’s excellent Out of Uniform series and features Dustin, a side character in some of the previous books. While we do get some cameos here from previous series characters, including Dustin’s brother Dylan and his best friend Apollo, you could easily pick up this story as a standalone.
I think what makes this story particularly engaging is the unique structure in terms of the romance arc. The conflict is in place almost from the start of the book, and rather than building the relationship and then bringing in the conflict, here most of the book is focused on how (or if) the guys can overcome the fact that they are not allowed to be together. Albert makes this really work by starting us with an intense and crazy hot meet up between the guys right at the beginning of the story. By seeing them together, we are able to really get a sense of their connection, both romantically and sexually. Sometimes it can be hard to jump in on a previously built relationship, but here I had no trouble really feeling the attraction and the friendship that already existed between the men. And when I say they are hot when they get together, holy cow! Dustin is exploring his desire for submission and Wes likes to direct and dominate and these guys are steamy to the extreme.
The guys are then faced almost immediately by the problem of Wes working in Dustin’s unit. This conflict felt real and serious and never contrived. Albert really makes us feel not just the attraction, but the longing these guys have for one another, the deep need to talk and connect and have someone that they can be open with and share their problems. I think the balance works here pretty well. Basically these guys “fall off the wagon” often enough that we get to see them being together fairly regularly. But there are times when it is hard to see them so frustrated and the conflict last for so much of the book. But in the end, I think Albert pulls it all together really well. There isn’t a magic fix, but there is a solution that ends up working for the guys and it comes together nicely.
So I really enjoyed this story and am a big fan of the series. This is one of the hotter books in the series and I loved how Albert explores that bit of dominance and submission in these guys. But on top of that, the story really builds the conflict and it plays out well over the course of the book. There are lots of great military details and a nice sense of really being connected to their world. So another great installment in a series I can highly recommend.