Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M military romance from Liz Borino. NO FLAG has been re-released and is the first book in the After Everything series. This story follows a gay military couple that weather Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Domestic Discipline, and major trauma after being injured in the act of service.
Drop down to catch an excerpt, my review and enter for a chance to win a $50 GC.
About the book:
Captain Mike Kelley does not ignore his intuition, so when sexy bartender Will Hayes captures his heart, Mike embarks on a mission to win him over to a Domestic Discipline relationship. Will accepts with one caveat: Mike must promise not to renew his army contract.
Mike agrees, until the army invokes the stop-loss military policy to involuntarily extend his commission and send him back overseas, rendering him powerless and threatening everything he and Will have built. Will, left alone to cope with a new café, must rely on the support of old friends who may no longer be trustworthy.
A horrific terrorist attack on Mike’s outpost changes everything, leaving them both at a loss.
Mike awakens in a hospital with a devastating injury and no recollection of the attack. As the only survivor, his memory may be the key to national security. Mike struggles to cope with his injury and Will struggles with his new role in Mike’s life.
For Mike and Will, “No Flag” meant “come home alive.” Will has Mike back rather than a folded flag, but in the aftermath of war, can they rebuild the life they had before?
How about a yummy taste?
Chapter One: The News
July 7, 2012
Bombs exploded on the evening news, one after the other. Body parts flew past the camera. The headline across the bottom of the screen read: “20 Army Intelligence Officers Dead.”
“Early this morning, a bomb exploded in the Army Intelligence building, killing twenty American soldiers from Platoon 518,” the blonde newswoman reported.
Will Kelley squinted as the fuzzy security images played behind the woman’s head, searching through the chaos for reassurance. Nothing. His heart pounded and he tried to swallow but found only dry air in his mouth and throat. The female reporter described the weapons used and structural damage done in vivid detail, which made for sensational television, but failed to answer any questions for the people at home. Victims’ families had to be notified before the media could release their names. So, Blondie would lose her job if she read the list in front of her.
“What the hell are you doing, man? We open in thirty minutes and you’re watching television?” Seth, his roommate, demanded from the doorway of the living room.
“Answered your own question, didn’t you?” Will responded.
“Are you ready?”
“No.” Will did not take his eyes off the screen. “I’ll drive myself.”
The report flashed to an increase in allergies in children, so Will switched to another station while typing “Attack on American S2 Building in Afghanistan” into Google. It wouldn’t be that easy though. So, Will tried several more combinations of search terms before finding a video shot by an insurgent involved in the attack. The camera shuddered. Focused on different areas of the chaos. Men ripping clothes off soldiers. Looting. Bodies blown to bits. A man removing computer hard drives. And only one face. On the severed head of Major Evans.
“Will!” Seth jabbed him in the shoulder with a pen. Will forced his eyes away from the computer. “What happened?”
“Mike’s platoon was attacked. Twelve survivors.”
“Shit,” Seth said. “Can you call…?”
Will took a slug from the nearby water bottle. “Who? No one will talk to me. I’m not my husband’s family.”
Seth stared at him for a long moment and said, “I’ll have Casey cover for you.”
Will stood and shook his head. “Why? I can’t do anything here except watch the same videos over and over. May as well see if I can make some money.” He shut his computer and set it on the side table. “Meet you there. I won’t be too late. Promise.” He had to stop himself from scoffing as the meaningless word left his lips.
“Will…” Seth began.
“You wanted me to move, I’m moving! Go. I’ll be there.” He walked toward his bedroom, Seth’s gaze burning into his back. Stopping to throw a glance over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t tell Casey. I can do without her mother-henning me.”
“Thanks.” Will climbed the steps and closed his bedroom door. He leaned against the wood cutting him off from the rest of the world. His gaze roamed the four walls decorated with art prints, a whiteboard, and his wedding picture. Will strode over and fingered the golden frame. Behind the glass lay a photograph of Will and Mike in tuxes in the middle of their first dance. Their smiles easily outshone the gold on the frame. Mike had always been handsome with broad, built shoulders and muscular pecs, leading to abs you could grate cheese on.
But none of that stood out to Will, not on their wedding day of the year before. Mike’s blue eyes radiated a strength and hope. Will removed his wedding band to read the promise inscribed: No Flag.
Please keep your promise, Mike, Will thought as he took a deep breath and tore himself away from the picture and the crushing memories it brought. He had a job to do tonight.
This book was originally published in 2013, and the second edition seems unchanged.
Captain Mike Kelley is a military intelligence officer and West Point grad who’s spent a lot of time in counterintelligence and translating threats. He’s near the end of his commission and has no plans to re-up. It’s 2010 and President Obama has instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a policy that is meant to somewhat protect gay servicemembers from dishonorable discharge.
Mike is an orphan, and he made his way through life carefully, using ideals like respect, honor, and sacrifice as cornerstones of his life. He’s looking for a submissive partner who would be interested in Domestic Discipline, which–in my woefully uninformed opinion–means that one partner has authority, and the other follows the rules of the home, which they could form together. Mike has very specific ideas about domestic tasks, in that he has a “right” way and all other ways are not acceptable. Mike meets Will while out at a gay bay in Philly. Will is a bartender, but he’d like to own his own place, more of a coffeehouse for LGBTQ folk to feel safe.
Will is intrigued by the Domestic Discipline, and attracted to Mike. He’s not so sure about Mike’s OCD habits, or punishments for not meeting Mike’s exacting standards. And, he’s REALLY not into the military, especially since Mike’s work is highly classified. Their relationship grows close pretty quickly, within months Mike asks Will to move in and, in early 2011 when marriage equality is still being debated, there are two months until the end of Mike’s commission he asks Will to marry him. Though their marriage isn’t recognized by the military, Will agrees on one condition: Mike does not re-up. Mike doesn’t, but with mere weeks before his commission expires a surly commander tells Mike he’s being deployed to Afghanistan.
An arcane bit of military regulations allows commanding officers to extend commissions for up to one year following the expiry of service. This Stop-Loss program makes a big rift for Mike and Will, who were just about to open a business together. They do their best to navigate a fledgling marriage, new business, and transglobal interaction via Skype. The discipline part of their marriage is tricky to navigate remotely, but it’s helpful for both men to keep this piece of normalcy. Will’s friends are highly skeptical, with his female best friend making all sorts of trouble, to interfere with Will and Mike’s marriage–with some unexpected chicanery and definite violation of personal boundaries.
During deployment Mike and Will have a mantra: No Flag, which means Mike commits to make every effort to come home alive. They say this to one another every sign-off from every call. Mike’s stress levels are high, and Will’s being as accepting as he can of all the secrecy, but once Mike’s base is bombed and he can’t tell if his husband is alive or dead it marks a new level in Will’s commitment to Mike.
I liked this one a bunch, and I was glad for the reminder of the rapid changes our society has undergone in the past 10-15 years. Repeal of the prohibition of gay service members, national marriage equality, and enhanced efforts to make veterans whole, be they amputees, or suffering depression/PTSD. Mike is the only member of his unit to survive the blast and subsequent raid, and he has vital information that could save thousands on American soil, if only he can remember/relive those horrific memories. It’s interesting that so much of the story (the first half) is told in flashback, and when we finally reach the “present” we experience flashback through Mike’s fractured memories. Both Mike and Will are compelling characters, though I will admit to loving Will more than Mike, whose OCD is a little nerve-wracking. I will admit to not quite understanding the nuances of Domestic Discipline versus a 24/7 D/s power exchange, but I think it was made adequately clear that both Mike and Will benefited from this experience. They seemed to have a deep connection that was only strengthened by their adversity.
Mike is a different man when he’s returned to Will, mostly due to his lack of confidence following amputation. He is not sure he can be the man that Will needs, that Will will find him less attractive, and that his disability will render him unable to exert his discipline. This seems to be mainly resolved by the end of the book, but it’s still early days of his recovery. Also, this is the first book in a series, so I’m left with the feeling that there will be further conflict and PTSD moments for Will and Mike to weather. I would definitely read on.
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
Liz Borino has been telling stories of varying truthfulness since she was a child. As an adult, she keeps the fiction on the page. She writes stories of human connection and intimacy, in all their forms. Her books feature flawed men who often risk everything for their love.
When Liz isn’t writing, she’s waking up early to edit, travel, and explore historic prisons and insane asylums—not (usually) all in one day. Liz lives in Philadelphia with her two cats.