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.
Dustin always thought he was straight. After all, he had been married for a long time although not happily, but the night he walked into the local bar and pool hall and saw Brandon he felt an immediate and unexplained sexual connection to him that he had never felt before for anyone. It was clear that this attraction was not one sided as the emotion between them was palpable, and the first 15 – 20 pages of the book were so intense I could feel the chemistry and the hunger. Unlike Dustin, Brandon always knew he was gay since he was 13 and only realized he was bisexual when he discovered women at 21.
They played one of the most exciting games of pool that night but they were so confused about their feelings that they were distracted and definitely not at their best. When the game was over they were exhausted just from the emotional high of being close to each other. They left the bar but the other game continued as they made out in the parking lot, it seemed for hours, as neither man wanted to let the other one go home. It was obvious that this was one make-out session that had “to be continued” written all over it.
The next few weeks were a time of discovery and the guys made the most of them, but once the novelty wore off for Dustin he had many issues to contend with, not the least of which was his family, and whether he was with Brandon because he cared for him. While I understand the reasons why Dustin would be unsure about his feelings for Brandon and couldn’t decide whether he was on the rebound from his wife and just wanted someone who was everything she was not, I found his constant internalizing and angst hard to take. He couldn’t make up his mind whether he loved Brandon and he spent the last 50 or so pages in the book trying to figure out if he’s gay, bisexual, in love with Brandon, or on the rebound.
Dustin was coming off of a 10 year marriage to a woman who was the harpy from hell – insecure, whiny, unfaithful and, based on her characterization, she was a bitch with no redeeming traits so it’s no wonder that Dustin was leery about being involved with another woman. Strike 1. The other important woman in his life was his mother who was very controlling and she interfered in her adult children’s lives because she had no life of her own and did her best to make them unhappy if they didn’t do what she wanted in every aspect of their lives. Strike 2. Another reason for him to be with Brandon. However, Dustin at almost 30 years old was still being manipulated by his mother and he seemed to also be afraid of his eldest brother, the homophobe. Of the supporting characters Kate, Dustin’s best friend, came across as the most sympathetic and relatable. His family, all of whom were homophobes (except for his sister) seemed a bit over the top, especially his eldest brother whose character didn’t have a single redeeming quality, and his mother probably would never be a candidate for mother of the year.
This book had a lot of promise and I was enjoying it immensely until it hit a speedbump and Dustin’s characterization didn’t do it for me anymore. This is obviously a talented writer but I just could not connect with or relate to Dustin in the latter part of the book as he seemed to go to pieces and needed validation from just about everyone about his sexuality. Two minor characters were introduced late in the book for the sole purpose, it appeared, of trying to help Dustin decide what he was and if his feelings for Brandon were a case of “gay for you;” but even after his one night stands it still wasn’t clear to me if they achieved their purpose. He had sex with the woman (it wasn’t on-page sex) which made it obvious he was still attracted to women as well as men.
Since this novel is 296 pages, clearly the author was not constrained by the length of the book to resolve Dustin’s issues and wrap up the story in a more coherent way. I thought there was way too much angst and soul searching, and for me the book fell flat in the end – it was as if L.A. Witt had run out of steam and couldn’t decide on the conclusion. On the other hand the story started off great. The dialogue was wonderful and very, very funny, the pacing throughout most of the book was fast, much of the story was exciting and the emotion was so real I couldn’t help but be moved by Dustin’s and Brandon’s situation. The sex was hot, intense and sensuous, and there was one scene where they were kissing in the rain that was so romantic it gave me goose bumps. Rules of Engagement had some of the best sex scenes which were so exciting they made me tingle. 😀
I’m rating this book as 4 stars for several reasons, despite my dissatisfaction with some aspects of the story, and it was difficult for me to rate. I really like the writing which in some parts of the book was exceptional, however, even though three quarters of the story was very good the rest was incomprehensible to me. I could not deal with all the angst and constant questioning “Is it rebound or love” and after a while I felt like saying – make up your mind already.
Overall, I recommend this book because it’s a fun read for the most part, it was intensely emotional, the dialogue sparkled, Brandon was charismatic and three dimensional, and the sex was off the scale. If you love an indecisive man and lots of angst you will love Dustin and Rules of Engagement. L.A. Witt is definitely an author that I will try again.
Rules of Engagement is available from Dreamspinner Press November 30.