Navy Chief Calder Euler loves to win, so when a high stakes poker game nets him a cabin in the woods, he’s stoked to have a place to head off to with his friends. Especially since an accident on his last deployment on a sub resulted in an injury, and Calder’s currently stationed on land behind a desk until he gets cleared. The last thing he expects while checking out the cabin, though, is Felix Sigurd and his two nieces. Or for Felix to claim he owns the cabin. Calder isn’t willing to give it up without making sure that’s true, but a new injury and a snowstorm has Calder trapped at the cabin with Felix and the girls for a few days.
Felix’s life has been one struggle after another lately. After gaining custody of his nieces, his husband left. And apparently put Felix’s family’s cabin up in a poker game. Felix doesn’t want to like Calder, but he’s not about to throw the man out into a snowstorm. Though he wants to, because he’s attracted to Calder, and Felix does not want to pursue any sort of relationship.
But Calder likes Felix and wants to see where things go. Calder isn’t looking for a relationship either, but he does want to be Felix’s friend. Once the whole situation with the cabin ownership gets worked out, Calder and Felix go out to dinner and a friendship ensues. But there’s no denying the attraction between them, and when they make it to the bedroom, it turns out they are more than compatible there. Calder has valid concerns about certain things, and Felix not only understands, but embraces everything about the way Calder likes intimacy. Calder sees how compatible they are, and genuinely likes Felix, so he pushes for friends with benefits. He never goes too far, but he gives Felix the motivation he needs.
As their friendship continues, Calder comes to realize he wants more. More time with Felix and more time with the girls. And he also learns things about himself and his career that he never considered before. He knows Felix isn’t looking for a romantic relationship, and he understands why. But he’s made it his mission to get Felix to realize that falling in love doesn’t mean he has to negate the rest of his responsibilities.
Ever since the end of Sailor Proof, the first book in this duology, I’ve been looking forward to Calder’s story. In the first book, I’ll admit that at first I didn’t really like Calder all that much. He’s competitive, always needs to win, and picks on Arthur, his brother. But by the end, I began to see there was more to Calder and was excited to see he’d been getting his own story. And Albert didn’t disappoint. Calder has layers most people don’t see, a huge heart, and he’s an organizational whiz who loves, beyond all else, solving problems and fixing issues. He really endeared himself to me, and I was rooting for him on every page.
This book is told in alternating first person, and so we really get to know both MCs well. Felix too, has a big heart. He’s a geriatric psychiatrist who truly cares about his patients. And his nieces are his entire world. He doesn’t resent for a minute that he’s become their guardian, and does his absolute best to be the best father he can be to the two young girls. But he’s also stubborn and insists he can’t rely on anyone else. Part of this story is Felix learning to accept help in different ways, but especially from Calder. I really liked watching their relationship grow, though I will admit to a bit of frustration with him as well. Felix’s main reason for not pursuing any sort of relationship is both because of the way his ex-husband burned him, but perhaps more so because he thinks he has to put the girls first to the detriment of all else. Particularly his own love life. I was over this argument long before Felix was, and then when he did change his mind, it seemed rather quick for how long he hung on. So this part didn’t work as well for me.
But these characters had chemistry from their first meeting, and it only grew as the story went on. One thing that really stood out to me was their intimacy and the way they approached sex. Though it’s never said in as many words, part of the way Calder explained and thought about his experiences with sex felt very much like demisexuality, which I really loved seeing. And each sex scene here was loaded with connection and understanding, as well as plenty of listening and give and take. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of heat too. But there was something a lot deeper going on here that was beautiful to see.
I really liked this one, and maybe even more so having been looking forward to it. Albert delivered another winner here, with sweet plus heat, some precocious children, and two men reevaluating their lives to be the best versions of themselves. This one is an easy recommendation from me.