Title: Rules to Live By
Author: Heidi Belleau, Anah Crow, Dianne Fox, Lisa Henry, Anna Zabo, and Cari Z.
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 250 Pages
At a Glance: Four very different tales of BDSM, each one well-crafted, with unique characters.
Reviewed By: Jennifer
Blurb: Four intimate tales of power exchange, discipline, risks taken, and pleasures earned.
A list of rules to live by.
In Cari Z’s House Rules, jealousy leads Jonathan to break the rules his lover has established. He can’t decide which he enjoys more: his punishment, or the reward afterward. Good thing he gets both.
A lesson in humility.
In The Harder They Fall by Heidi Belleau and Lisa Henry, spoiled college boy Tad hires a prostitute, but “Daddy” couldn’t care less about what Tad wants. Instead, he’s going to give his spoiled little boy exactly what he deserves.
A cage that means freedom.
In Master Key by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox, Marquis offers Navin the key to the most intimate of locks, hoping it will help them to prioritize their relationship. And it does—until work and insecurities threaten to drive them apart again.
A spool of rope and a desire to be bound.
In CTRL Me by Anna Zabo, a night out between friends turns hot and tempting when Gabe deliberately pushes Tom’s submissive buttons. Then Tom discovers rope in Gabe’s glove-box—and not the type for securing luggage.
Review: This short anthology features four short stories featuring different couples experimenting with or engaging in BDSM. Seeing as there are only four stories, I decided to review each one on its own to give credit where credit is due.
In “Master Key,” Anah Crow and Dianne Fox have crafted a story about an interracial couple beginning to test the waters of BDSM. Marquis has had the desire to experiment before, but he’s never mentioned this to Navin. Navin, meanwhile, is growing frustrated because it seems that he is constantly being pushed aside in favor of work. And it’s true, because Marquis forgets a lot. I mean, his memory is worse than mine. Marquis thinks he finds a solution involving his secret desires, but as always, things don’t go as planned.
I enjoyed the dynamics between Marquis and Navin. They both come from different backgrounds, but they’re comfortable—for the most part—in who they are. More interesting is how they balance power. In his day job Marquis is important and responsible for a lot. He has a lot of power it seems, and he’s always working. He pretty much takes workaholic to another level. He’s just that dedicated. But he craves more, wanting to experience things as a submissive. Navin, on the other hand, has very little power in his family business. He’s pretty much described as his mother’s purse at the start of the story, and I felt for him. His older brother screws up a lot, and makes life difficult for Navin. But while he seems to be a pushover, once Marquis gives him the power, a Dominant side comes out that both men love.
This switch was great. It gave both characters depth, and I cheered for them the entire time. They have their bumps in the road, but what relationship doesn’t?
The second story is “House Rules” by Cari Z, which features two Hollywood stars: one an actor, the other a screenwriter. Shorter by far than the first story, this focuses on Jon at home the night of the Oscars, watching his partner, Alistair, on the red carpet. The description in the blurb makes it sound pretty lighthearted, but it has a lot of depth for such a short story. Jon not only has difficulty being in the spotlight, but a crazy lifestyle when he was younger has left him with HIV. Alistair helps ground him by setting rules for him to go by whenever he’s away from home, filming or doing publicity. After he’s been away for too long, Jon starts to neglect the rules and his health starts to suffer as a result. When Alistair comes home, he has to deal with Jon’s jealousy and the after effects.
This really tugged at my heart. Alistair is a strong, calm Dom who clearly cares for his partner and wants what is best for him. And Jon might be whiny at times, but he grows over the course of the story when he realizes Alistair really does want the best. Even though it did have its serious moments, I laughed hard when Jon received his first smack and he yelled “Jesus Christ!” and Alistair’s simple response was, “The Lord isn’t considered a unit of measurement, Jonathan. Try again.” Brilliant. I think for the next few days every time I utter that phrase, I’ll be thinking of that line.
Next up is “The Harder They Fall,” co-written by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau. This one may not be for everyone. To be honest, throughout I was torn between loving it and being so bothered by it that I didn’t want to love it. But I guess that’s good writing, right?
This one follows Tad, a rich, spoiled brat, as he returns to a brothel in order to get some release. He’s gone before, and in his last visit he got Conor, the newest guy there, and treated him terribly. Seems he has a thing for being in control and abusing people. This time he decides he wants the oldest man there so he can further exert his power and abuse. What he gets might be the oldest man there, but he’s in for a surprise. Instead of being in control, this man, who insists Tad call him Daddy, is in complete control, and Tad is torn between going with it, and leaving. He fights at first, but then he decides to see what happens. He struggles the entire time they’re together and doesn’t just fall for the man, but the ending had a pleasant twist that I didn’t see coming.
Tad is pretty much the stereotypical spoiled rich boy. He hasn’t a care in the world, knows his absent parents will bail him out and do whatever he wants just to save face, and so he lacks all control even though he thinks he has it all. Daddy is pretty straightforward for the most part. He’s a Dom, he treats Tad like a little boy (and girl, sometimes, which disturbed me a bit), and expects his commands followed. The push and pull of their meeting was what kept me reading, because I wanted to know what followed. Even though Tad was a complete jerk to Conor, I did feel for him. Sure he has money, but as he points out later in the story, once everyone—friends included—have their money, they leave because that’s all they expect from him. So, though he’s terrible and has no empathy whatsoever, he was still a mildly sympathetic character. I would actually like to read a full story between them to watch Tad’s progress.
Finally, last but not least, “CTRL Me” by Anna Zabo. Tom and Gabe work together coding and share a cubicle. After a breakup with his girlfriend, bisexual Tom is asked out for a drink by Gabe, who he’s had a crush on since he moved to Pennsylvania. In Gabe’s car, he finds rope. Of course, Tom is a sub, and this immediately turns him on, but Gabe isn’t gay. And this isn’t a date. Or is it? Turns out it is, and not only is Gabe also bisexual, but he’s a Dom, and he’s wanted Tom for just as long.
Gabe and Tom click really well together. Their time out—and in—just felt natural, and I didn’t really think I was reading a first date between them. There was a lot of chemistry between them. Gabe has a thing for shibari—rope work—and Tom is eager to participate. He loves being tied up. The two just complement each other really well. Both are strong in their roles, and both enjoy and dislike the same things when it comes to BDSM. I would have loved if the story continued on to the party on Saturday where Gabe is going to demonstrate rope work on Tom. Heck, I’d like to read beyond that to see how they deal with dating at work, pushing each other to the next level, and so on.
As a whole, this anthology is fantastic. It really has something for everyone, and because the stories are fairly short, you might be able to try something new. All of the authors crafted fantastic stories with characters I cared about.
You can buy Rules to Live By here: