After years of traumatic military service have taken their toll, Jason Diovardi is pulled off active duty until he is more mentally stable. One of the strategies to help him deal with his PTSD, aversion to touch, and other emotional problems is to assign him an AI Companion. Jason isn’t happy about having a Companion in his home, as interacting with others is incredibly hard for him in a myriad of ways. But he agrees, if only to get himself in shape to go back into the field.
When Jason goes to select his Companion, he ends up choosing a mated pair, Chase and Shade. Both men are trained caretakers, but after a traumatic experience of his own, Shade is not officially on duty. But as he and Chase are bonded, both men will be coming to live with Jason.
At first, having Chase and Shade in his home is just as hard as Jason expected. He continues to work himself to exhaustion with exercise and isn’t really comfortable eating in front of them or even being around them. In fact, Jason spends most of his time locked away in his exercise room, needing the security of his safe space. Yet he knows he must work hard if he is ever going to get better, and Chase and Shade are kind and incredibly patient with him. Slowly, Jason begins to take steps toward improvement, being able to spend more time with the men, feeling more comfortable leaving the house, and growing accustomed to touch. In fact, for the first time in a long time, Jason is actually happy. What’s more, he is having feelings for the men, feelings they seem to return. But moving from friendship to something more is scary for Jason. And he faces added uncertainty as it looks like he may soon be returning to the field. But with Chase and Shade’s help, Jason may just be able to figure out what he wants for his future and to claim the happiness he has long been missing.
I don’t normally read a lot of hurt/comfort stories, but I was drawn to this one because of the AI element and I am really glad I picked it up because I really enjoyed Rule of Thirds so much. Wayne has created a novel that is both moving and engaging, and I found myself unable to put it down. Two things really struck me as helping make this story work so well. First off, we get POVs from all three men. But more than that, we have the opportunity to really view and understand Jason through Shade and Chase’s eyes. They are both caretakers and they are committed to helping Jason recover. So their conversations and interactions provided some great insight into Jason and what he was dealing with and how he can be helped. The other thing that really enriched the story is Shade’s own past. He has different trauma than Jason, and he has come a long way, but he is still dealing with a lot of emotional issues and probably always will be. Not only does his experience give some perspective to the reader, but Shade is able to relate to Jason and understand him in a way that really provides Jason a lot of support.
The pacing here is so well done, as Jason’s recovery felt natural and realistic. Sometimes Jason has small victories, and other times setbacks. And sometimes those victories are immediately followed by a need to retreat and be alone. There is often a one step forward, two steps back sense to things, but overall there is enough forward progress here that it felt rewarding as a reader. I could believe in his success and I thrilled along with all of them when things went well. Jason is scared and overwhelmed, but as hard as it all is, he is committed to his recovery and is willing to push himself to get there. And Chase and Shade are patient and kind and understanding, supporting him every step of the way. The story can be dark at times, and my heart hurt for some of Jason’s struggles, but it was also so incredibly rewarding.
As with Jason’s recovery, the growth of their relationship also comes at an understandably slow pace. When the men first meet, Jason can’t even stand being touched. Even having the other men too near him is overwhelming for him. So quite reasonably, it takes a long time to move to a point where Jason has a comfortable friendship with them, and longer to move to love. Their physical relationship is just barely starting as the book wraps up, and there is very little detail given. But what I found incredible is how moving Wayne is able to make those small scenes. Not just moving, but intensely intimate and sensual, with just a few short descriptions. It is incredibly well done and I found their relationship very powerful, despite the fact that there isn’t much sexual detail.
A few notes here. First off, we know that Jason and Shade both suffered greatly, and we know in broad strokes what happened to them, but the abuse is not detailed on page. However, if you have issues reading about physical abuse, be aware that both men had very traumatic pasts. Also, while this book technically falls in the sci fi category due to the fact that Shade and Chase are AI, that is really the only aspect of this book that feels at all futuristic. It reads as completely contemporary in every other way.
So overall I just loved this story. I found myself moved by Jason’s journey and really rooting for him to find happiness again. I enjoyed the dynamic between him and Chase and Shade, and the way the Companions are able to reach him in a way that most people are not. So if you are looking for a warm, romantic, and rewarding hurt/comfort story, I can definitely recommend Rule of Thirds.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.