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Rules of Engagement, by Ann Bruce

By now, anyone who reads my reviews knows that I have a *ahem* slight *ahem* bias against short stories—particularly when these are romances. Mostly because, in my experience, very few writers can pull off the character development that I, as a reader, need to see in order to believe in any sort of future for the characters.

As far as I’m concerned, the only rule an author cannot break in a romance of any stripe (historical, erotic, suspense, sweet, what-have-you) is having the characters reach the point, by the end of the story, where they could go on and be happy together. There doesn’t have to be a wedding, babies, picket fence nor rose-colored-glasses happily ever after—but I must be able to believe that these people have worked through enough of their issues, individually and together, that a future together is not just possible for them, but highly likely.

Not much to ask, right? But it usually takes a few hundred pages for me to reach this point.

Well, I’m happy to tell you all that this is a short story that completely turn my preconceptions about length and character development upside down. “Rules of Engagement” is a contemporary erotic romance, only some 65 pages in length, and the author sets up the hero’s character in less than two of those pages. Can you tell I’m impressed? and happy?

But I won’t gush (much).


After being shot three times in the chest and left for dead by his last lover, Jake Duquesne decides the middle of nowhere is a good place to recuperate. And it’s perfect… until someone decides to sneak up on him, gun drawn and cocked. Unfortunately for his would-be assailant, Jake’s ability to overpower is legendary — in more ways than one.

Waking up handcuffed to a strange bed wasn’t part of Katarzyna Delaney’s plans to heal after being jilted at the altar for the third time. Jake’s dark sensuality, however, makes her realize plans should be flexible. Even without a wedding, she decides she can still have all the intense sexual perks of a honeymoon — and there’s no one more intense than Jake.

Right away, there’s a huge hot button for me here. A woman who is in her late twenties, who has been engaged (and jilted) three times, yet is still a virgin? No matter how many older brothers or how intimidating they turn out to be (for the record: I happen to have three older brothers myself) a woman doesn’t remain a virgin that long unless she wants to. Which is perfectly fine, please don’t get me wrong, but which in this case conflicts with Katarzyna’s actions during the story.

Lets go back to Jake and how Ms Bruce starts the story with a bang. Here are a few paragraphs:

Jake Duquesne was on that razor-thin edge between consciousness and sleep. He could almost feel himself about to fall on the side of the latter. Just a few more moments and he would be dead to the world.


Jake hastily corrected himself about two seconds later when instinct snapped him to instant alertness. From years of practice, his entire frame was tense but utterly still as he waited patiently for that sound that didn’t fit in with the rest.

It was several long, silent moments before he heard it again—footsteps. Someone was outside, taking slow, measured steps toward the front of the cabin. A well-meaning stranger would not be taking such care to be quiet.

Without a second thought, Jake grabbed the Beretta under his pillow and rolled noiselessly over the side of the bed and onto the floor. He landed on his palm and toes and quickly rolled again onto his back.


His heart thudding heavily in his chest, he retrieved his gun, flicked off the safety and started bear-crawling on his hands and toes toward the back of the five-room cabin.


Heart working madly to pump adrenaline through his veins, he swiftly made his way around to the front of the cabin, taking care not to snap any twigs or branches on the ground, unmindful of the nicks and scratches from the rough exterior walls of the cabin on his back and arms.

This is a writer not telling me anything—she is showing me. Excellent way to set up a character, to show the reader that this is a well trained, intelligent man—without using any of those words. How cool is THAT? All the action sequences, as well as Jake and Katarzyna’s interactions, are done this way—showing, not telling.

Ms Bruce’s writing is also very vivid and economic during the sex scenes—no purple prose here. Writing a believable sex interlude is not easy, and she manages it beautifully each time. Furthermore, these scenes do advance the plot and further the relationship between the two main characters, highlighting their initial chemistry, their instinctive trust of each other as well as its limits.

As far as I’m concerned, though, Katarzyna’s character’s background (a detective) coupled with her behaviour with Jake at the cabin, simply don’t jibe with her virginity. I had to willingly erase that from my awareness in order to enjoy the story. For example, I can buy that a woman would have a good “first time” experience, even if there is some pain involved, but I don’t think it quite believable that she would climax the way that scene is written. By the same token, the next scene, in the shower, is excellent. He’s careful of her, and she’s giving with him.

All in all, I am very very happy to have read this story, and will be looking for more by Ms Bruce.

This is an 8 out of 10 for me


  • Kim
    April 23
    3:01 pm

    Great review AL! I want! I was all set to buy this book last week. I went to Miss Ann’s website and my ADD inflicted self got all distracted by the shiny Before Dawn. It was really very good and now you have reminded me to go back and get this one. *shakes fist in air* Darn you AL, my TBR pile out of control.


  • *blushing* (Or is the heater on too high in my office?)



  • Azteclady~Nicely done.I swore I hated both anthologies and short stories…but lately, IDK, are they getting better or are we more selective???

    What the hell with all these Jake’s and Nate’s?????? Sula says we need a character named Nate Jacobs.


  • lisabea, the universe is conspiring to show me the error of my ways–will post about it shortly (hopefully)

    Ann, you gotta write more, woman!!! *begging puppy eyes* pretty please?


  • AZ – I keep writing, then I keep deciding it’s crap I can’t reveal to the public and have to start over. *sigh*


  • […] AztecLady paid me an awesome compliment when she said I show, not tell, in Rules of Engagement.  To be honest, I don’t make a conscious effort to follow the show-don’t-tell rule.  When I write, I’m showing you what I see and hear in my head.  That’s it. […]

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