Title: By His Rules
Author: J.A. Rock
Publisher: Loose Id
Length: Novel

Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance

Rating: 4.5

Aiden Cole is an aspiring actor, supporting himself as a waiter and hoping to go to grad school.  He is also a submissive and craves finding a partner who can truly make him feel like he can give up control.  Aiden’s past dom/sub experiences generally left him feeling unsatisfied; most of the men he meets are merely playing at the scene, and none give him the true submission he really desires.

One night Aiden connects with dom Scott Runge.  Scott is hard core in a way that both appeals to and scares Aiden.  Aiden knows that Scott will truly master him and demand total obedience and submission, even though he can be brutal and mean. However, Aiden soon finds that  Scott has no interest in Aiden’s needs or pleasure, nor does he make any effort to create a mutually satisfying relationship.  Scott only seeks his own pleasure and is violent and verbally and physically abusive. Aiden is willing to stay with him because he wants the submission so badly, and there is a part of him that thinks he deserves this kind of treatment.

After a few months with Scott, Aiden has basically fallen apart.  He is starving himself to death so his body will appeal to Scott. He is battered and bruised and in constant pain.  He is unable to sleep or function normally. Scott has convinced Aiden that trying for graduate school is a foolish notion and Aiden no longer is making an effort to complete applications.  Eventually he loses his job and can no longer afford his apartment, moving in with Scott even though part of him realizes it is a mistake.  Aiden blames himself for every problem with Scott, always assuming it is his failures that are keeping things from working.  But things get worse and worse, and an incredibly violent night finally sends Aiden running from Scott’s home.

This first part of the story is incredibly intense and hard to read.  The abuse Aiden suffers is really horrific and in many cases hard to stomach.  I will be honest, there were times I had to skim passages just because it was so painful to read.  But I was also totally caught up in the story, knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel for Aiden, and this kept me eagerly reading on, looking forward to seeing good things finally happen for him.

The good thing comes in the form of Keaton Hughes.  Aiden and Keaton had crossed paths at a club and Keaton was quite interested in the young man, but seeing him with Scott made Keaton think Aiden was not into his brand of BDSM.  Now Keaton and Aiden reconnect again through Aiden’s friend (and Keaton’s student) Hera.  Hera comes to Keaton for help with Aiden when she sees how broken and damaged he has become after Scott.  Keaton offers Aiden a safe place to stay and someone to talk to, not intending to pursue a relationship, but just to be a form of support.  Keaton can see clearly that Aiden is a total mess.  He is broken, angry, scared, and full of self-doubt.

As the men begin to develop a mutual attraction to one another, Keaton proposes a domestic discipline relationship with Aiden. Domestic discipline is explained as a relationship where the dominant partner makes the major decisions and enforces rules designed to be in the best interest of the submissive.  The dominant partner also hands out corporal punishment to the submissive for failure to follow these rules.  As Keaton explains to Aiden:

A true domestic discipline relationship isn’t play. Dominant and submissive aren’t roles the partners assume and shed at will. The partners live together, love one another, share dreams and desires and ideas. But one needs the other’s rules, boundaries, certainty, and guidance. The other feels a deep need to provide those things.”

“Is this what you’re into?” Aiden asked.

“It’s what I’m into,” Keaton said. It was a relief to finally admit it to someone he genuinely cared about. “It’s what I need.”

Although the idea is totally foreign to him, Aiden desperately craves the submission and needs someone to guide him through getting his life back together so he agrees to give it a try.  Keaton’s rules require him to take care of himself, eating three meals a day and sleeping eight hours a night.  He must be respectful and tell Keaton when he is afraid or unsure.  Under Keaton’s care, Aiden once more begins to blossom, starting to return to the vibrant man he used to be.  But Keaton still struggles with so much self doubt and anxiety and the process is not easy. Yet over time, it proves to be exactly what they both need.

So this story is totally intense, but felt incredibly emotionally gratifying.  After the horrors Aiden suffers with Scott, his time with Keaton is like walking into daylight. Keaton is patient, kind, and so nurturing.  He is totally dominant while still caring for Aiden and making sure to provide for his needs. As hard as the first part of the story is to read, it is such an emotional release to finally see Aiden happy and loved.

I’ll be honest that the domestic discipline concept freaked me out a bit.  The idea of turning your life over to someone else, even someone you love and trust, is hard for me to imagine.  Part of it is that my first exposure to this idea came from hearing about very religiously conservative families where the husband is dominant over the wife in a very traditional sense.  The idea of spanking your spouse when they misbehave seemed hard to imagine and certainly rankled my feminist mind. However, when I took a step back and looked outside of that lens, it is really not that different from other dominant/submissive relationships, especially those with total power exchange.  Domestic discipline seems to take a less sexual approach; the punishments are not designed to be stimulating or for sexual gratification. But the idea of allowing someone else to see to your pleasure and happiness and make decisions on your behalf to achieve that is not so different.

In this case, it is so clear that Aiden is lost.  He is completely incapable of taking care of himself, physically or mentally.  Keaton provides the care, structure, and support that he needs. In exchange, Keaton gets Aiden’s total trust and submission, and the ability to make decisions.  The have a mutually satisfying relationship, full of love and sweetness (and hotness).  So even though I can’t imagine this type of relationship myself, I think Rock convinces me as a reader why it works for them.

I found this book totally fascinating and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The structure of the story, with the intensity of the first part and then the calm of the second, gives you such a cathartic feeling.  It is like I could finally breathe and relax, and the reader experience totally echos Aiden’s emotional experience.  I think that the first part of the book could have been shorter without diminishing the intensity, and I would have liked to see Aiden get some professional help rather than relying solely on Keaton.  But overall I found the story interesting, gripping, and emotional and even though parts were tough to handle, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.