MASQUERADE is a haunting tale of two people who fall deeply in love. One a creature of the night, the other a child of the sunlight. The interaction between them is sweet and touching. Well-drawn characters and Ms. Ashley's captivating characters make MASQUERADE a very enjoyable read.
Romance Reviews Today
He was a very old vampire, weary of living, weary of coming alive only in the darkness of the night.
For three hundred years he had wandered the unending road of his life alone, his existence maintained at the expense of others, until the advent of blood banks made it possible to satisfy his ever-present hunger without preying on the lives of the innocent and unsuspecting.
And yet there were times, as now, when the need to savor fresh blood taken from a living, breathing soul was overwhelming.
He stood in the dim shadows outside the Ahmanson, watching groups of happy, well-dressed people exit the theater. He listened to snatches of their conversation as they discussed the play. He had seen the show numerous times; perhaps, he thought wryly, because he could so easily sympathize with the Phantom of the Opera. Like Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's tragic hero, he, too, was forced to live in the shadows, never to walk in the light and warmth of the sun, never able to disclose his true identity.
And so he stood on the outskirts of mortality, breathing in the fragrance of the warm-blooded creatures who passed him by. They hurried along, laughing and talking, blissfully unaware that a monster was watching. It took no effort at all to drink in the myriad smells of their humanity – a blend of perfume and sweat, shampoo and toothpaste, face powder and deodorant. He sensed their happiness, their sorrows, their deepest fears.
He waited until the crowds had thinned, and then he began to follow one of the numerous street beggars who had been hustling the theater patrons for money and cigarettes. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless men roaming the streets of Los Angeles. On any given night, you could find a dozen or more panhandlers lingering outside the Ahmanson, hoping to score a few dollars that would enable them to buy a bottle of cheap booze and a few hours of forgetfulness. If only he could drown his past in a pint of whiskey.
Silent as a shadow, he ghosted up behind his prey.
After tonight, there would be one less beggar haunting Hope Street.
He was there again, standing on the corner of Temple and Grand, his long angular face bathed in the hazy amber glow of the street light.
Leanne felt his hooded gaze move over her as she left the side entrance of the theater and made her way toward the parking lot across the street. Behind her, she could hear the excitement of the waiting crowd build as Davis Gaines, who many considered to be L.A.'s best Phantom, appeared at the stage door. She agreed with them. Davis had the most incredibly beautiful voice. And he was always generous with his time, signing programs, answering questions, posing for pictures. It was her dream to one day be cast in a leading role, to make her mark upon the world. To have people shouting her name, clamoring for her autograph, a photo.
She was about to unlock her car door when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she whirled around.
It was the tall dark man she had seen on the corner. Up close, he was taller and more handsome than she had realized. His face was made up of sharp planes and angles, totally masculine, totally mesmerizing. His hair was black as pitch. Straight as a string, it fell well past his shoulders. His eyes were an intense shade of blue, deep, dark. She stared into those fathomless eyes and had the ridiculous, yet inescapable feeling that she had been waiting her whole lifetime for this moment. This man.
“I did not mean to frighten you,” he said in a deep resonant voice. He held out a theater program. “I was hoping you might sign this for me.”
“Why on earth would you want my autograph?” she exclaimed. “I'm only in the chorus.”
“Ah, but you have such a lovely voice.”
She laughed softly. “You must have excellent hearing, to be able to pick mine out of all the others.”
His smile was devastating. “My hearing is quite good for a man my age.”
Leanne's gaze moved over him curiously. She didn't know how old he was, of course, but he didn't look to be much more than twenty-five or twenty-six, thirty at the most.
He offered her a Sharpie, one brow raised in question.
“Who should I make it out to?”
“Blackthorne.” She gazed up at him intently. “Why does that name sound so familiar to me?”
She nodded, then took the pen from his hand. “This is my first autograph, you know.”
Looking over her shoulder, he read the words as she wrote them. “To Jason, may you always have someone to love, and someone to love you. Leanne”
He felt a catch at his heart. Someone to love...ah, Jolene, forever lost to him. Leanne's resemblance to his first and only love was uncanny.
He smiled his thanks as she handed him the program, his gaze moving over her face, lingering on her lush lower lip before moving to the pulse beating in her throat. She was small, petite, with skin that looked as though it rarely saw the sun. Her hair was the color of sun-kissed earth; her eyes a deep, luminous green fringed with thick dark lashes. She wore a black tee shirt with the Phantom logo, a pair of black tights that clung to her shapely legs like a second skin, and sneakers.
Jason clenched his hands at his sides as he fought the urge to draw her into his arms, to touch her lips with his own, to sip the warm, sweet crimson nectar that flowed in her veins.
She frowned up at him as she capped the pen and handed it to him. “Is something wrong?”
“No. I was just wondering if we might go somewhere for a drink.”
She knew she should say no. There were a lot of crazy people running around these days, obsessive fans, stalkers and serial killers, and yet there was something in Jason
Blackthorne's eyes that made her trust him implicitly.
“I know a little place not far from here,” she suggested with a tentative smile.
“I'll follow you in my car,” Jason said, somewhat surprised by her ready acceptance of his invitation. Didn't she read the papers? Muggings and rapes and murders were rampant in the city.
A faint grin tugged at his lips as he crossed the parking lot to his own car. Indeed, he mused as he slid behind the steering wheel, she would be far safer with one of the city's low life’s than she was with him.
The bar was located on a narrow side street. He knew a moment's hesitation as he followed her inside, and then sighed with relief. There were no mirrors in sight.
They took a booth in the rear. She ordered a glass of red wine, as did he.
“So,” Jason said, leaning back in his seat. “Tell me about yourself.”
“What would you like to know?”
His gaze moved over her face, as soft as candlelight. “Everything.”
“I'm twenty-three,” Leanne said, mesmerized by the look in his eyes. “I'm an only child. My parents live in Burbank, but I have a small apartment not far from the theater.” She smiled at him, a shy intimate smile. “Someday I hope to make it to Broadway.”
“Have you a boyfriend?”
You have now.
Did he speak the words aloud, or was her mind playing tricks on her, supplying the words she wished to hear?
“How long have you been with the play?”
“I hear it will be closing soon. What will you do then?”
“I'm not sure.”
“How long have you been acting?”
“Actually, this is my first role. I’ve always wanted to be on the stage and I decided, what the heck, why not go for it? So, I tried out for the chorus and they hired me.” She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her folded hands. “What do you do?”
“I'm a cop.” The lie rolled easily off his lips.
“You're kidding!” He didn't look like any police officer she had ever seen. Dressed in a white shirt, thigh-length black coat, black jeans, and cowboy boots, he looked more like a movie star than a police officer.
One black brow lifted slightly. “I take it you don't care for the police.”
“No, no, it's just that...” She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “It’s just that you don't look like a policeman.”
“No mustache.” Leaning forward, she ran the tip of one finger over his upper lip. “Every cop I know has a moustache.”
Jason grunted softly. “And do you know a lot of cops?”
“Not really. Where do you work?”
“That's a rough area.”
Jason shrugged. “I like it.” Their drinks had arrived during their conversation, but neither had paid much attention. Now, Jason picked up his glass. “What shall we drink to?”
Leanne lifted her glass. “Long life and happiness?” she suggested.
“Happiness,” he repeated softly. “I'll drink to that.”
“And long life?”
His gaze was drawn to her throat, to where her pulse beat strong and steady. “Long life is not always a blessing,” he said quietly, almost as though he were speaking to himself. “Sometimes it can be a curse.”
“A curse! What do you mean?”
He dragged his gaze from her neck. “Just what I said. I've seen too many people who have lived past their prime, people with nothing left to live for, with nothing to hope for but a quick death, an end to pain.”
“I don't agree. Life is always precious.”
He leaned forward, his gaze burning into hers. “And do you think you would like to live forever?”
“I know I would.” She laughed softly. “This conversation is getting too morbid for my taste. Tell me about yourself. What do you do when you aren’t making the streets safe for the rest of us?”
“Nothing very exciting. Read. Watch tv. Ride my horse.”
Her eyes lit up with interest. “You have a horse? Where do you keep it?”
“I have a small place up in the hills, nothing elaborate.”
“Oh. I've always loved horses. Do you think…do you think I might be able to ride yours sometime?”
Jason frowned. “I sleep days, so I usually ride at night.”
“How romantic,” she remarked, her voice suddenly low and husky. “Perhaps we could go riding together some evening.” “
Jason swallowed hard. Was he imagining things, or was she suggesting more than she was saying? The thought of holding her close, of having his arms around her waist, of burying his face in the wealth of her thick dark hair, flooded him with desire. His gaze moved to the pulse throbbing in her throat once again and he glanced away lest she see the sudden heat, the hunger, that he knew was burning in his eyes.
“It's getting late,” he said, tossing a handful of bills on the table. “I'd better let you go home and get some sleep.”
“We don't have to go,” Leanne replied, reluctant to see him leave. “I'm a bit of a night owl myself.”
“Then we have more in common than a love of horses,” Jason replied dryly. “Perhaps we could go to a late movie tomorrow night?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I'll pick you up at the stage door.”
Leanne gazed into the depths of his eyes, felt the attraction that flowed between them, an almost tangible bond, as if their souls had found each other after traveling through years of darkness.
She had been born for this man.
The thought entered her mind, quiet and unshakable, like the answer to a prayer.
AMANDA'S VAMPIRE ROMANCES
THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT