Dustin Walker has no idea that avoiding the search for Mrs. Right could send him into the arms and bed of Mr. Right Now. According to Dustin’s mother, he should be out looking for his next wife so he won’t be the divorced black sheep of the family. Instead, he passes his free time at a local bar and pool hall, where he meets someone who’s everything his ex-wife wasn’t: funny, caring, faithful… and male.
Is Brandon Stewart just Dustin’s way of getting over a bitter divorce? Can Dustin really care for him, or is it simply that Brandon is the complete opposite of his ex-wife? Dustin keeps their affair as quiet as possible, because if it continues, he knows he’ll eventually have to come out to his homophobic family or walk out on the man he’s trying not to love.
Rules of Engagement is likely to appeal to those fans who love a lot of angst to their men and don’t mind the weak ending, which is barely a happy ending at all. The book starts off with Dustin out for a night in a bar and happens to find something incredibly intriguing at the pool table. Although the source of his newfound desire is a man, Dustin is overwhelmed by his attraction to the other man and can’t help acting on it. Thus begins a rather passionate affair which hits a bump when Dustin realizes the social and family ramifications of being with another man. Only after much angst and sexual experimentation can Dustin be assured of his feelings and try to re-start a relationship with the one he desires most.
The story seems divided into parts. The first 200 pages or so are filled with tons of sex scenes, as most of the relationship’s progression happens during the sex scenes. The men learn more about each other and their pasts in short conversations before, after, and pausing from sex. In between the numerous sex scenes are scenes of Dustin with his family and their overt manipulating, homophobic nature. So the reason for Dustin’s coming angst is well telegraphed and allows for a reader to be sympathetic when he does freak out. The last 100 pages are filled with Dustin’s angst filled melodrama as he struggles to find validation from every possible source while denying the obvious and only listening to any negative source. He completely disregards his own thoughts and any supporting characters, only to wallow in indecision and fear for the majority of 100 pages. Clearly, you must love angsty men to not throw the end of the book against a wall.
Thankfully I like such men so Dustin didn’t bother me at first until his characterization gets a lot weaker as the story progresses. Brandon is a strong character and an often dynamic force as his self confidence is tempered by compassion and understanding, although not without his own limits. Brandon’s attraction and desire for Dustin is clear and understandable and the plethora of erotica scenes attest to the hot, steamy sex they have all over the place. I could have done with a few less sex scenes but the saving grace is that each scene does progress the relationship, sometimes just showing another kink and sense of humor, and sometimes exposing flaws and weaknesses. Thankfully the scenes do not become rote and repetitive for the most part.
Unfortunately this does not help Dustin’s character since he spends 2/3rds of the book happily engaging in a gay relationship while telling himself it doesn’t matter what label is placed on his newfound sexuality. Yet as soon as Dustin is outside of his little bubble with Brandon, Dustin agonizes over his sexuality, the label, what it means and how his family will react. He allows societal and family fears to completely overwhelm his own intelligence and renders him indecisive and incapable of action on numerous occasions. Unfortunately even at the end of the book, Dustin still struggles with being unable to express his desire and feelings, thus showing how incredibly little he’s grown emotionally throughout the course of the book. Here the story looses steam and can’t decide where Dustin should go. The book finally ends with a hanging scene, leaving numerous problems unresolved including the huge issue of Dustin’s family, and the happy ending is barely a weak happy for now…maybe.
The writing has a few moments of inspired humor with witty dialogue and some entertaining back and forth commentary between the men. The various secondary characters are forgettable and totally unimportant from Dustin’s family to friends and even the two one night stands later in the book. None of them are important except as a piece of Dustin’s emotional journey to acceptance of his sexuality, which I am not wholly convinced he even accepts at the end. The book is interesting and moves at a quick pace, but could have been tighter with a much better ending. However readers who love a lot of melodrama will go along for the ride without too much frustration. Be aware though the ending is not a strong happy ever after as I’ve said, so especially after the emotional investment the characters attempt, this may be a let down for some readers.
Overall I didn’t mind reading this particular offering but it doesn’t stand out as fabulous and has some considerable frustrations. If the book had been around 200 pages, cut some of the sex scenes, and tightened up the angst to its essential purpose, the impact would have been much sharper. But that’s just my opinion so be sure to check this out and see for yourself.
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